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  • 04/23/13--11:20: Readers' Survey
  • Time is running short to participate in a survey of Rhizome readers organized by Nectar Ads (who organize the art-related advertising that you see in our sidebar).

    Many of you will have seen my recent post "Breaking the Ice," which has generated a lively discussion about the editorial direction of this site (not to mention the role of community at Rhizome); think of this as an easy and anonymous opportunity to weigh in on the debate. If enough people respond, we'll share some of the insights we get from this in a follow-up post.

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    Still image from Peggy Ahwesh, Strange Weather (1993). Single-channel video with sound.

    Ed. – Strange Weather will be shown at the New Museum this Friday, April 26, at 7:00 PM as part of “The Art of PixelVision: A lecture and screening by Peggy Ahwesh” curated by the author. “It Wasn’t Love” by Sadie Benning is on view at the New Museum as part of NYC1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star through May 26.

    In 1987 a low-cost and lightweight video camera that could record moving images on a standard audiocassette appeared in toy stores. The PXL 2000, or Pixelvision, was mass-produced and marketed by the child-focused Fisher-Price, and at $100, it was the cheapest self-contained camcorder ever made. With a molded plastic body powered by six AA batteries, it was also significantly lighter than any other moving image camera on the market in the late 1980s. In some ways, the PXL 2000 was an early glimpse of a world in which cameras can go anywhere and be operated by anyone.

    Today Pixelvision is a technological unicorn: rather than a mass cultural phenomenon, the format is now a shimmering pre-digital memory. Marketed to teenagers with the slogan “You’ve always been heard, but now you can be seen,” the imagery produced by the PXL 2000 was a pale shadow of the glossy and colorful TV commercial that heralded its arrival. The camera’s technological appropriation of audiotape for video recording resulted in an extremely lo-fi aesthetic, grainy and high-contrast. Video requires far more data than audio tape is designed to hold: about four minutes of footage could be recorded on a single cassette with a resolution of 100 vertical lines at 15 frames per second. The degraded quality probably contributed to the camera’s commercial failure. It would have been hard to convince a teenager enthralled by the saturated color and slick editing of commercial television (the kind at work in the Fisher-Price ad campaign) that the PXL 2000 offered an adequate substitute. Production and marketing of the device stopped in 1988, and it now has an almost mythological aura.

    "BMX Freestyle." Television advertisement for Fisher-Price PXL 2000 (1987). 

    If teenagers were unimpressed with the limited tonal range of Pixelvision images, the pictures’ ghostly quality appealed to some avant-garde filmmakers, who began to use its distortions for aesthetic ends. James Wickstead, the camera’s inventor, said that he had in fact insisted on keeping the device “simple and crude” and cited Ingmar Bergman as a stylistic progenitor.[1] As recently as the mid-2000, odes to PXL’s artistic possibilities stressed its technological primitivism. “Filmmakers love what they describe as Pixelvision’s dithering, a process designed to fill in the information between the pixels but resulting in unpredictable fluctuations in the image quality from frame to frame. Dithering, they say, calls attention to the properties of the recording medium in the same way that Jimi Hendrix’s use of feedback called attention to the properties of the electric guitar.”[2]

    Perhaps it was this seemingly in-built modernism that inspired filmmaker James Benning to give the camera to his 15-year-old daughter Sadie in 1987. The younger Benning gained attention in the early 1990s for her Pixelvision films – also the stuff of lore – which she shot in her bedroom. Featuring herself and her friends along with shots of toys and handwritten texts, her works were charged with an erotic teenage energy. The most well known of these is “It Wasn’t Love” (1992), which combines shots of baby dykes posturing and slow dancing to Billie Holliday with views out of a window onto a sleepy suburban street. The narrative, told in a retrospective voiceover, concerns a Hollywood-style romance between two women. The intimacy of Benning’s films is intensified by the PXL 2000’s lens, which allows for extreme close-ups without adjustment, while the shoddy image quality and unsteady shots impart an unstudied realism. At the same time, her carefully constructed montage (often read in terms of a DIY aesthetic popular in the early 90s) systematically undercuts the cinematic fantasies described by the narrator.

    Still image from Sadie Benning, "It Wasn't Love" (1992). Single-channel video with sound. Image courtesy of Video Data Bank.

    The sophisticated weaving together of mainstream film and avant-garde aesthetics in “It Wasn’t Love” was largely overshadowed by Benning’s own biography in her reception as a filmmaker. She became a darling of “New Queer Cinema,” showing at gay and lesbian film festivals and speaking about her approach and her subjects in terms of her own sexuality and subculture. In a 1993 interview with Linda Yablonsky published in Bomb, Benning noted how her practice relied on a certain domestic interiority. “I guess it’s because the world’s not safe, my bedroom is. It’s my space and all my things are mine, and there’s no one there, passing judgment. Out in the world I see a lot of things and can be influenced.”[3] Benning’s diaristic aesthetic fit in well with the autobiographical impulse that ran throughout the “1993 Whitney Biennial,” in which it was included by curator John Hanhardt; the visibility of her work helped codify Pixelvision’s aesthetic in terms of personal narrative and an increasingly visible queer subculture.

    Although Benning is the artist most often associated with Pixelvision, she was not the only artist to use the camera. Peggy Ahwesh began using a PXL-2000 in the early 90s; she bought hers at a yard sale for $25.[4] In 1993 Ahwesh made a feature-length film shot entirely in Pixelvision. Set and shot in Florida, Strange Weather observes four 20-somethings on crack during a single afternoon, tracking their addiction in paranoid freak-outs, tense phone conversations with dealers and laconic engagements with the camera as they wait for a hurricane to hit. Ahwesh uses the gritty quality of Pixelvision to create an aesthetic of documentary realism, despite the fact that Strange Weather is a work of fiction (Ahwesh’s collaborator Margie Strosser wrote the script and they worked with actors). The film ends with a long monologue shot in a single eight minute take. As Ahwesh recalled in a 2003 interview with Scott McDonald in Millennium Film Journal, “It’s a cliché from cinema verité that the longer a shot goes on without a cut, the more believable it is as reality. It was great working with Pixel because, even though I’d imagined the scene many times, I had to reinvent it when I shot it—so that it looked like the first time I was seeing it, like in a documentary.”[5]

    In Ahwesh’s hands, the close proximity possible with PXL feels more claustrophobic than intimate, producing an anxious tedium that mirrors the affect of the characters. The fragmented and jumpy camera work also does far more than depict the psychological and physical effects of intoxication. Strange Weather produces a complex picture of technologies’ (chemical and visual, among other kinds) impact on and presence within bodies and minds. The effects of this storm are still being felt. 


    [1] Andrew C. Revkin, “As Simple As Black and White; Children’s Toy is Reborn as an Avant-Garde Filmmaking Tool,” New York Times, January 22, 2000. Online. Accessed April 11, 2013.

    [2] Henry Jenkins, “Taking Media in Our Own Hands,” MIT Technology Review, November 9, 2004. Online. Accessed April 11, 2013.

    [3] Linda Yablonsky, “ Sadie Benning,” BOMB, issue 44, Summer 1993. Online. Accessed April 11, 2013.

    [4] Conversation with Peggy Ahwesh, December 22, 2012.

    [5] Scott McDonald, “Interview: Peggy Ahwesh,” Millennium Film Journal, no. 39/40, Winter 2003. Online. Accessed April 19, 2013.

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  • 04/24/13--22:03: Seven on Seven 2013: Recap
  • This past Friday, seven artists and seven technologists, working in pairs assigned by Rhizome, took up residence in workspaces across the city. The rules of engagement were simple: they were given one day to make something, which would be made public the following day at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven conference, presented by HTC.

    Seven on Seven can have the feel of an Olympic figure skating mixed pairs event in which the pairs have never met before. Part of the drama is around whether they hit the triple axel, so to speak: will their projects be any good? But there is another dimension to the drama as well, which has to do with the conversations and relationships that unfold on stage, the sparks that fly when two interesting minds come together.

    What follows is a description of the projects, as well as the sparks, that came out of Saturday’s event.


    Morozov has earned a reputation for having a sharp tongue as a result of his biting critiques of intellectual laziness in techno-culture. In his keynote, he struck a more diplomatic note, re-affirming his belief in the importance of technology: "The message, especially in my book that just came out, is that technology is very powerful." He emphasized the importance of looking at the histories of art and technology history in tandem, as a way of understanding the origins of old ideas that are packaged as new solutions. In particular, he called on artists to create friction and complexity where technologists offer oversimplified solutions.

    As the conference continued, it became increasingly clear that there are technologists out there who do have a keen understanding of the complexity of their field. One of these, without a doubt, is Alex Chung, who presented in the leadoff slot with artist Paul Pfeiffer.

    Animated GIF extracted from Giphnosis (2013). Website with downloadable screensavers.


    Pfeiffer and Chung's project Giphnosis is a website offering two downloadable screensavers, each comprising a series of tiled animated GIFs. One features a fragment of The Shining: aquaking Shelley Duvall in the corridor of Overlook Hotel, wielding a large knife. The other stars an ensemble of five cats who look to the left, the right, up and straight into the camera, in perfect synch.

    Pfeiffer and Chung clearly came into this collaboration with shared interests. Both use moving image media as a kind of database of shared raw materials; Pfeiffer subjects his source material to digital manipulations, while Chung’s startup Giphy allows users to find looped, animated images on the Web. Their presentation was rich with ideas, including a comparison between Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1926) and the animated GIF file format, as well as the revelation that Giphy was inspired by Chung’s interest in Wittgenstein.

    In particular, Pfeiffer and Chung found a shared fascination in the idea of the loop. In an effort to determine why this cultural form holds so much power over our minds, they turned to the idea of hypnosis, reasoning that the constant repetition of media imagery in the age of the 24-hour news cycle has a kind of hypnotic effect on viewers. By offering their own looping imagery, Pfeiffer and Chung position Giphnosis as an act of resistance against this type of media bombardment. In a kind of self-administered experiment, it might be used to re-program one’s mind through exposure to looping images.

    It might also be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    Constant Update (2013). Single-channel video with sound.


    For their contribution to Seven on Seven, Al Qadiri and Caldwell created a video work with an original musical composition. White words appear against a black background, one after another: “Constant... Continual… Dread.” On the soundtrack, a steady stream of digital alerts play over a steadily building rhythm. The effect is hypnotic and anxiety-inducing in equal measures.

    In the "About" section of the project website, Al Qadiri and Caldwell describe the video as "a work dedicated to the exploration of data-related anxiety. The rate of updates and notifications required of society, from media outlets to social networks, is stressful to say the least…This site will never be updated."

    Al Qadiri and Caldwell used the term "infobesity" to describe the feeling of bloating that comes from indulging in an excess of information. Both clearly had strong feelings on the matter; a which can be seen in their past work: Caldwell is the founder of a tech company that launched an ad-free social network,, while Al Qadiri often appropriates technological content, such as beats drawn from videogames, and turns it against itself. This message of data desaturation may seem incongruous for an art and tech conference, but Constant Updatelikely inspired many in the audience to turn off their glowing LED screens—for a short time, at the very least.

    Audience volunteer Diego high-fives technologist Tara Tiger Brown after designing and printing his first 3D model based on instructions from the audience. Photo by Jesse Untracht-Oakner.


    Martin, a self-taught artist and musician, and Tara Tiger Brown, maven of maker culture, found a common ground in their shared passion for informal education. During their daylong collaboration, they decided to teach themselves a new skill: 3D modeling and printing. They set out to make a model of a balloon dog à la Jeff Koons; the results were amateurish, but endearingly so.

    Building on this experience, Martin and Brown devised an experiment to conduct on stage at Seven on Seven. They asked for a volunteer from the audience with no prior knowledge of 3D modeling or printing, and invited a man named Diego onto the stage. Members of the audience (many of whom presumably know a great deal about 3D modeling) were asked to guide Diego through the process of making and printing a simple model by posting messages to Twitter using the hashtag #3DHelper.

    The signal-to-noise ratio on the Twitter hashtag was quite low, and soon the experts in the audience were shouting their advice directly to Diego, allowing him to successfully fabricate a small 3D-printed badge with his name on it. Even if the hashtag proved not to be quite the right tool for the job, the broader point was made: informal and collective pedagogical models can be both generative and fun.

    But even if Twitter didn’t pan out perfectly as a collaborative tool, it was an important part of the experiment. At a time when educational institutions are rushing to add paid online courses to their curricula, the use of network technology to support a more collective model of learning can be seen as an act of resistance with profound political implications.

    Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Harper Reed demonstrating friendfracker (2013)Online service for use with existing Facebook accounts.


    With the online service friendfracker, users of the popular social networking website Facebook can slightly reduce their overall number of “friends,” or people with whom they are connected on the site. When users log into the service using their Facebook account, friendfracker will randomly delete some of their “friends.” A message appears onscreen informing the user how many friends have been deleted (a randomly selected quantity, between 1 and 10), but they are not informed which friends have been deleted.

    Lozano-Hemmer and Reed embarked on their collaboration with a shared interest in collecting personal data. Reed confessed that he often collects a lot of data about himself for “no reason,” saying that “it might be important someday.” As Giampaolo Bianconi observed in Rhizome’s liveblog of Seven on Seven, the duo “asked one of the most asked questions of our time: what do we do with all this data?”

    From their shared interest in data, Lozano-Hemmer and Reed (echoing Al Qadiri and Caldwell) moved on to the topic of erasure. In their presentation, they offered examples of erasure that included artworks (Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased Willem de Kooning Drawing) and technology projects (Snapchat, in which users can send messages to one another that automatically self-destruct after a pre-determined amount of time).

    But what makes friendfracker so compelling is not just that it is an act of erasure. Self-erasure online has many precedents: in 2005, Cory Arcangel deleted his Friendster account in front of a live audience in a performance titled Friendster Suicide, while Giphy founder and Seven on Seven participant Alex Chung has gone to great lengths to erase himself from the Web. friendfracker offers something else: it injects uncertainty into one’s online social life. Because any of one’s “friends” may be deleted, it asks users to rethink the importance they place on their online social connections.


    Screenshot of Dabit (2013). Online lottery and charitable donation service.


    Dabit is a platform that uses humans’ inherent irrationality with regard to lotteries as a way of driving charitable donations. The site collects contributions for a list of pre-selected charitable foundations; 50% of each donation goes to the charity of the donor’s choice, while the other 50% goes into a kitty. At midnight each day, the kitty is paid out to one of the donors from the day.

    After what must have been a fairly heroic coding effort by Chasen, and a less heroic beer-drinking and logo design effort on the part of Ritchie, the site went live at Seven on Seven—although it has since been taken down while its organizational status is formalized. By the end of Ritchie and Chasen’s presentation, $953 had been raised. According to the website, $471 was paid out at midnight to an anonymous donor.

    For Ritchie and Chasen, the project emerged out of the idea that Seven on Seven participants often view technology as a way of cultivating "good" behaviors. As Ritchie put it, Dabit "appeals to both the best and the worst." As with any lottery, the house (in this case, the charities) always comes out on top. It is possible to “game” the system by making a very small contribution in hopes of winning a big prize, but the pair decided to allow this kind of behavior; they see the money paid to individual winners as a form of charity as well.


    Jeremy Bailey demonstrates “Big Penis Mode” at Seven on Seven 2013. Photo by Jesse Untracht-Oakner.


    Bailey and Uhrman's project turned attention to the presentation itself as a cultural form in need of reinvention. Taking the approach that presentations can be thought of as a kind of game, they developed a system that allows presenters to earn points for moving about dynamically onstage, for earning Twitter comments, for being loud or for earning applause. The game is a basic augmented reality system, with the typical PowerPoint deck replaced onscreen (TEDTalk style) by a video image of the presenter overlaid with text and graphics, such as a score that hangs above their head, showering them with coins when they earn a reward.

    Following a pitch by Uhrman that felt at times like a stand-up routine (she explained that her common ground with Bailey was a shared narcissism and desire to “win” Seven on Seven), Bailey (clad in rather revealing cut-off shorts) demonstrated the project, moving manically about the stage and throwing glowsticks to the audience while keeping up a high-energy, high-volume commentary in order to earn the highest possible score. He also revealed that he’d been up all night working on the project, which is not surprising—it had no shortage of bells and whistles, with networked data, live video and real-time 3D graphics, and it worked without a hitch. 

    The show-stopping moment, though, was when Bailey and Uhrman invited moderator John Michael Boling to present the last feature of the project. As a way of boosting the presenter’s confidence, their system includes "big penis mode," which superimposes a 3D animated penis over a presenter as they move about the stage. (It really loses something in the telling. Just look at the picture.) Boling handled this with supreme aplomb as the audience broke down in laughter, observing that "Google Image search results for me are going to be bad."

    "Big Penis Mode," while hilarious, does warrant some serious thought: why, when we try to invoke confidence and power, do we always have to rely on the male symbols we inherit from a patriarchal society? It’s certainly not Bailey and Uhrman’s fault that the big penis plays the role that it does in our cultural lexicon; their project could even be seen as a satire of this. The big penis certainly looks ridiculous. Still, it’s a question that could be thematized in future versions of Bailey and Uhrman’s project – once Bailey manages to catch up on his sleep.


    Crowley had a difficult week; after a close shave at the Boston Marathon (he was several miles from the finish when the bombing took place), he came down with a 24-hour virus on the allocated one day for collaboration. Still, he and Magid gamely continued to talk via Skype as much as possible, presenting their project at the conference as a dialogue rather than a finished work.

    What was immediately clear from their conversation was that the two had a great deal in common. A former student of NYU’s ITP program, Crowley is the co-creator of projects such as Pac Manhattan, a real-life version of the iconic videogame played in the city streets, as well as the location-based social networking platforms Dodgeball and Foursquare. Magid is a contemporary artist who has won acclaim for embedding herself in systems of surveillance and power, from CCTV operators in Liverpool, England to the Dutch Secret Service. As a result, they have a shared interest in individuals’ relationship with the wider systems that surround them. If they had time to make a project, it might have been something that makes visible the workings of these systems, something like Bruce Nauman’s Performance Corridor for the technologically-mediated city.

    It also became clear, though, that there were important differences in their respective approaches. Crowley is a founder of social networking sites, Magid is a social networking refusenik. Crowley builds systems and collects data that might (someday, somehow) be useful, whereas Magid is interested in the aspects of systems where they begin to break down, uncovering the human drives that run throughout seemingly rational, impersonal systems. At one point in the discussion, Crowley shared that he often collects data that he has no known use for, such as the output of a heart-monitoring device. In a moment that recalled Christian Nold’s project Bio Mapping, he recounted looking back at his data at one point, suddenly realizing that his heartrate had spiked during his purchase of an engagement ring. For Magid, this represented a moment of beauty within a seemingly impersonal data stream. “You should give a data visualization of your heartrate to your fiancée,” she suggested. “It’s so much more beautiful than a photograph.” 

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  • 04/25/13--04:00: Datamoshing the Land of Ooo
  • Screenshot of work in progress, David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    David OReilly is a 3D animator’s 3D animator. Embracing a stripped-back aesthetic that foregrounds the very processes of animation, OReilly—whose past short films include award-winning titles "The External World" (2011) and "Please Say Something" (2009)—is recognized as much for his astute grasp of dark, abstract comedy as for his unique approach to visual design. Drawing on glitch aesthetics, underground Japanese Manga and the most parasitic of Internet memes, OReilly forges original compositions from the debris of contemporary culture.

    On April 1, Cartoon Network aired an episode of primetime television series Adventure Time that was written and directed by OReilly. Entitled “A Glitch is a Glitch,”[1] the episode tells the story of a villain who creates a computer virus to delete all of the other characters in the show, with the exception of his love interest. The other characters must weed out and destroy this glitch in the system.

    “A Glitch is a Glitch” arrived a couple of weeks before a new ‘viral’ trailer for Superman reboot Man of Steel, which also used glitchy datamoshing techniques to deliver its message. It seems significant that as glitch aesthetics take root in the Hollywood mainstream, a young animator, who has creatively embraced glitches for years, would make a television cartoon devoted to weeding them out.

    Screenshot of work in progress, David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    DR: How did you become involved with Adventure Time?

    DO: Pen (the creator of the show) was a fan of my short films and got in touch in early 2010. At the time I was making The External World and wasn't able to jump ship, so it was put on hold. About a year later I had moved to LA and we ran into each other a few times and started talking about it again.

    DR: At what stage did the music producer Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) become involved with the project? 

    DO: Steve is a friend and knew I was doing this early on. We were originally planning on doing a completely different intro that he would score, so he sent over some tracks during production. In the end we didn’t have time or money to do that intro, so the end credits sequence was born.

    DR: Were there any restrictions and/or stipulations on what you could do with the show?

    DO: Creatively, Pen really wanted me to do my own thing. The writers on the show are really good, and I would have been happy to animate one of their storyboards—but he really wanted me to do all that stuff myself. I can't think of a precedent for that. It may be the only animated show in history to let a total outsider write and direct an episode. As far as restrictions, there were a few because ultimately it's for children's TV. A few jokes were cut or toned down, which was frustrating at the time, but I'm proud of what made it to air.  

    In-progress footage from David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    DR: A Glitch is a Glitch features a clip from another work of yours where a grey, doll-like woman swallows her own hair. In Adventure Time, the clip arrives through the window on a floppy disc taped to a brick. Jake and Finn watch the clip, which then seems to bring the glitch into being. There’s a couple of references here to the Japanese film, Ring (1998), in which a VHS tape must be watched, copied and passed on in order that the "original" viewer not die. Your doll woman in particular echoes and subverts a memorable motif from the Ring franchise, having the long-haired spectral figure literally eat herself like an ouroboros.

    DO: I think that was misinterpreted by the fans. That clip isn't an earlier work—I made it alongside the episode and released it a week before. For that scene I was kind of thinking about those shock sites you see when you're younger. Back in my day it was tubgirl or goatse; they were passed around and became these enigmatic things you had to see. Kids now are way more exposed to that stuff—and probably at a far younger age. A lot of people complained that scene was too extreme for kids' TV, but I think people don't give them credit for what they can tolerate. If they have the Internet they're pretty much exposed to the open mouth of hell at all times. 

    Process images, David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    DR: The shock value of your work is often emphasised by your allegiance to cute—kawaii—figures. Adventure Time feels like a good fit for that contradiction to play out. Do you have any major influences when it comes to addressing this balance? Other than Goatse, of course. 

    DO: I should say the scene of the girl eating her hair wasn't about shocking the audience, it was about getting Finn & Jake to feel sick. Only a few seconds of it appears in the actual episode.

    In general I never think about shock value in any project because it implies there’s no meaning behind the images. Surprise might be a better word; I'm interested in using animation for ideas that it isn't typically used for. Of course, some people were shocked, but that’s mainly because they expected a regular 2D episode—and the story existed outside of the show's canon.

    DR: In your essay Basic Animation Aesthetics, you talk about bringing consistency and coherence to the 3D worlds you create. At a few points in the Adventure Time episode, as the glitch tears through the Land of Ooo, things get stripped back to their elements, which in this case appears to be the software interface itself . I wondered whether you could talk about restrictions in relation to 3D animation. How did you force yourself to “think outside the box” with this project? 

    DO: In general I try to find ideas which justify being in 3D animation. On this project, I wanted to focus on glitch as a narrative device. I had been doing that stuff a fairly long time ago, but my interests shifted to story, so I abandoned it for a while. This was a chance to really use both these interests in one project.

    It’s a back and forth between what works for the story and what's interesting visually; you can't structure a narrative around a bunch of interesting visual ideas and vice versa. The world being deleted allowed for a lot of visual corruption of things so that seemed to fit.

    Still image from "Treehouse of Horror VI" (1995), segment entitled "Homer3. Episode of The Simpsons.

    DR: I was reminded of the 1995 episode of The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror VI," which featured a segment titled "Homer3." I couldn’t resist this reference I found on Wikipedia: "One of the key shots in Homer3 was where Homer steps into the 3D world and his design transitions into 3D. Bill Oakley considers the shot the 'money shot' and had a difficult time communicating his idea to the animators." I wondered whether you could think of an equivalent, troublesome "money shot" in your AT episode? 

    DO: There were a lot of technical hurdles. In general, doing stylistic glitch is easy compared to doing good character animation. Mixing the two gets very tricky though. One of the hardest things was corrupting the scene near the end of the entire broadcast so that the earlier clip is superimposed over Finn & Jake to give them an idea (i.e., using glitch as a kind of thought bubble). It was easy to storyboard that idea, but making it work properly took a lot of grind.

    DR: How much of the "stylistic" glitching came directly from "real" glitches? In other words, what processes did you use to introduce random, glitchy elements into the design process? Did you have to cheat to get the "stylistic" results you wanted?

    DO: It was all generated from "real" glitches—but since everything is run through compositing software and sort of controlled you could also say it was all fake. The glitches needed to begin locally—inside objects—then spread out until they became part of the scene itself. The local stuff was done by generating a ton of sprites that had random pixels move outwardly to create the colorful flourishes we associate with video compression. These had a decent amount of control—a blob of glitchy stuff could move around a scene, for example. Once the scenes were fully animated and rendered the global full-frame glitches were done. There was some jpeg corruption added on top of the battle scene at the end.

    Screenshot from design process, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    Screenshot of work in progress, David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    DR: Some of the behind-the-scenes images you sent me are overlaid with interface elements that appear as part of the glitches that engulf Jake and Finn. This made me think again about the hand-drawn corrections made at the design stage (the scribbles repositioning Jake’s thumb, for instance). Your work merges and disguises the layers that exist between design, interface, 3D environment, characters and story. All of them are blurred via post-produced digital effects that seem to mimic the story itself (with characters having to literally swallow themselves in order reboot the glitchy world of Ooo). I wondered if you could say something about all these story arcs, design self-references and post-produced "mistakes"?

    DO: In every case with design, it has to be intentional. Even if there are chaotic elements, it still has to be intentional or controlled in some way—otherwise you're just showing off the tools and probably not communicating an idea. Some people might disagree but that's my feeling about it.

    There's a kind of back and forth between software and idea that goes on when I work in 3D, because to me it’s weird NOT to acknowledge that everything is fake and animation is basically an optical illusion - but it’s still ultimately a medium to get ideas across. I don't want style or design to be center stage—it’s just something that happens in the translation process from brain to screen.

    DR: To my eye some of these effects look painterly, like video codecs corrupted on purpose, or what is commonly referred to as "datamoshing." Could you let us into some of the processes you used to make that painterly aesthetic? 

    DO: There was a few layers of stuff going on. Some effects were applied as part of the 3D scene and others as a post-process. The painterly aspect of compression comes from the codec trying and use motion data over a static image, so that image is pushed and smudged around leaving these colorful trails and blotches.

    I also generated a lot of moiré patterns for the "time tunnel" sequence. I’ve wanted to use moiré effects for a while, they’re another example of the computer generating seemingly organic results from limited input. They're also really damn pretty.

    DR: You’ve talked in the past about viewers becoming used to 3D aesthetics over time, meaning that a technical approach "that once would stun an audience with its realism now barely has any effect." [2] I wonder whether you think glitch can become more than just another addition to the "rapidly expanding aesthetic library"? [3]

    DO: Glitch in its current incarnation will date like everything else. It’s a motif associated with jpeg and DivX compression, and we won’t be using those formats forever. In the 80s & 90s, there were a lot of analog errors being explored, and the errors in the 2020s will probably look a lot different.

    Screenshot of work in progress, David OReilly, "A Glitch is a Glitch" (2013). Episode of the television series Adventure Time.

    DR: A lot of your distinctive visual style stems from the way you strip back the clutter of 3D design. Was there ever a chance you might have stuck with the 2D look of Adventure Time

    DO: I don't think so. As much as I loved getting to know those characters and trying to write for them, I also really love 3D. I still feel it's at its earliest stage and I get excited about doing ideas that only work in that medium. 

    DR: I'd like to move on to the question of how your work circulates on the Internet and feeds into a culture of artistic re-use. You recently released all 65 character rigs from your project The External World, allowing anyone to modify and re-use them in their own (non-commercial) projects. Have there been any surprising results from doing this? 

    DO: It's still early days with those, I haven't seen more than a few tests done with them. One animator has decided to use them for 51 animation exercises. I’d like to see them do interactive stuff, but that may take a while.

    DR: A few months ago you collated some of your creative influences for a Russian design magazine. Who inspires you at the moment?

    DO: The Adventure Time storyboard writers are awesome (literally all of them). In 3D I like the work of Andrew Benson and Robert Seidel. In comics I can’t get enough of Chris Ware and Jason. About 100 other people. I can't list them all off because I'd think of another 100. 

    David OReilly, "Mindsploitation Timelapse" (2013). Single-channel video with sound.

    DR: You recently shared a video showing the design process behind your cover for Mindsploitation, a book by Vernon Chatman. What are you working on next?

    DO: I had been working on that book for about a year. As with every project, I never talk about it. As much as possible I try to maintain the lowest expectations from people. 

    DR: And finally, do you have any advice for young, aspiring visual designers? The next generation of glitchers and creators!

    DO: It's hard to not use clichés for questions about advice. Most people say the same thing over and over, which 99% of the time is a way to dodge it. Here is some random crap I would tell my 15 year old self: get off social networks, finish every project even if you think it's bad, be happy to have free time and use the hell out of it, do more drugs, keep a diary.

    This conversation between Daniel Rourke and David OReilly took place between April 10 and 24, 2013, on Google Drive. 



    [1]The Glitch is a Glitch is not available on YouTube or Vimeo – here instead is an unofficial, unendorsed link to the episode from the darkest recesses of the web

    [2] David OReilly, “Basic Animation Aesthetics,” 2009, 7. 

    [3] Ibid.


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    Screenshot of Oliver Laric, An Incomplete Timeline of Online Exhibitions and Biennials (2013). Web page with text and still images.

    Rhizome is pleased to present a new artwork by Oliver Laric, An Incomplete Timeline of Online Exhibitions and Biennials (2013). Initially intended for inclusion in BiennialeOnline 2013 organized by ARTPLUS, the work is now launching as part of the Rhizome ArtBase instead.

    Initially billing itself as "The first exclusively online biennial exhibition of contemporary art," BiennaleOnline 2013 convened 30 leading international curators to select a total of 180 artists to be included in the project. Initially, as ArtFCity reported, the site planned to charge $80 for access in its first week, followed by a $10 subscription fee thereafter; later, organizers said it would employ a "pay what you want" model.

    For his submission to BiennaleOnline, Laric compiled a list of exhibitions and biennials that had taken place online between 1991 and the present. The list is not meant to be definitive, but to offer an introduction to the great many precedents that the organizers of BiennaleOnline might have cited. 

    In the end, a more careful look at these precedents might have been useful for ARTPLUS. Their format requirements were narrowly defined; for example, Laric was not allowed to include any outgoing URLs in his work. Ultimately, ARTPLUS was unable to find an acceptable way to display an HTML-based artwork within the exhibition, and so Laric yesterday asked curator Martin Germann (who Laric credits for being supportive throughout the process) to notify the organizers of his withdrawal from the show.

    Rhizome has added this work to the ArtBase not for its merits as an art historical resource (although it will undoubtedly be useful for many researchers), but rather for its as value as an example of online site-specificity. The work engages not only its intended exhibition site (the BiennaleOnline) but also the less tangible "discursive site"[1] in which it is situated. 

    In particular, it touches on an issue that was discussed in a recent must-read article by Caitlin Jones for Mousse Magazine:[2] the history of new media is often treated by critics and art historians as if it functioned within a "specialized field of its own,"[3] having no contact with or relevance to "the mainstream art world."[4] Laric's work can be seen as a response to this fallacy, an assertion of one artist's belief that these histories are, of course, thoroughly intertwined.

    Disclosure note: Laric's piece makes mention of an online exhibition curated by Michael Connor for Rhizome in 2005.


    1 Miwon Kwon, "One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity," October Vol. 80 (Spring, 1997). p 103.

    2 Caitlin Jones, "Conceptual Blind Spots," Mousse Issue 38 (April 2013). Online. Accessed 25 April 2013.

    3 & 4 Claire Bishop, "Digital Divide," Artforum Vol. 51, No. 1 (September 2012). Online. Accessed 25 April 2013. Also quoted in Jones.

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    Gary Viskupic, poster for HPSCHD, 1969

    For the next few Mondays, we're going to be test-running a weekly feature that spotlights some tantalizing looking events from Rhizome Announce, in New York and around the world. More in-depth event listings, as well as open calls and job listings, are always available here.


    Hackney, London, UK

    Thursday, May 2: Pyramid Schemes | A Collaborative Project

    The White Building

    48 contemporary artists and writers each submit short texts that describe and visually depict architectural spaces, which are collected in a book and projected as a "panoramic cityscape." Referencing both ASCII art and Apollinaire, this event is going to tie in nicely with part two of Tom McCormack's series Emoji, Emoticon, Text, out tomorrow. 

    Troy, NY

    Thursday, May 2: The Films of Laurie Anderson with Special Guest Pauline Oliveros

    EMPAC Concert Hall

    This. "The 8PM presentation will be capped off with a screening of a silent film to which Anderson and Pauline Oliveros play together." 

    New York, NY

    Friday, May 3 / Saturday, May 4: Essential Repertoire: John Cage & Lejaren Hiller, HPSCHD (pictured)


    Because a performance of John Cage's first foray into computer-based work should be a must-see for frequenters of this site. Because it is described as a "mass media orgy." As with any orgy, make sure to bring your smartphone. #massmediaorgy

    New York, NY

    Saturday, May 4: Perambulant

    Rivington St., between Bowery and Christie

    This entry in the New Museum's IDEAS CITY festival brings together live performances and workshops exploring the theme of the body in urban space. It includes a Butoh-inspired street performance of the children's book Madeline. 

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    Ryder Ripps, Screenshot of portion of project website for Hyper Current Living (2013).

    Tilda Swinton hasn't reappeared in her box at MoMA since Ebertfest, but there's a new endurance performance in town. Through May 5, Ryder Ripps, artist and co-founder of and digital agency OKFocus, will be living and working among the music studios at Red Bull Music Academy in a residency space that he designed with Chen Chen and Kai Williams. Wearing a karate uniform featuring bull-themed graphics, he will be drinking cans of Red Bull and generating new ideas for artworks and online projects.

    Ryder Ripps, Self-portrait with costume for "Hyper Current Living" (2013).

    A visualization on the project website displays the number of Red Bulls consumed and the number of ideas generated; all ideas are shared online via Twitter; at press time, 9 Red Bulls had been consumed, and 71 ideas generated. Example:

    Ripps' ill-advised endurance performance could be seen as a distillation of many of the worst things about being an artist today: the over-emphasis on hypertrophic creativity and easily digestible ideas, the ever-present superego injunction to produce and publish, the endorphin rush that comes from positive online feedback (and the terror of the negative - or of the lack of any attention at all). Ripps' project makes these conditions visible, suggesting that they are at work not only in his performance, but, to varying degrees, in nearly all cultural production in the age of social media.

    Hyper Current Living is a direct collaboration with the Red Bull brand, or at least created with their explicit knowledge and permission. As with The Jogging'scontribution DISImages or the 2012 exhibition Brand Innovations for Ubiquitous Authorship, Ripps' performance suggests a fascination with the power of branding and an interest in working with brands and embodying their "values," while also developing a brand of his own. This is distinct from the appropriation of a logo à la Warhol or the adoption of a corporate persona à la the Yes Men; it is living and working according to the strange logic of contemporary marketing. Hyper Current Living is art in the age of biobranding.

    Hyper Current Living runs from April 28 through May 5, 2013. It is accessible online only.

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    Artwork from ASCII Art Dictionary (possibly 1999). 

    This is the second in a three-part series to be published on Rhizome. The first part, exploring the history of the emoticon, can be found here. The final installment (forthcoming) will explore the history of the emoji.


    Following in the footsteps of Baudelaire—and paving the way for the Surrealists and the French New Wave—early 20th-century artist Guillaume Apollinaire cultivated a cerebral taste for the most sensational elements of modern life. A poet by calling and a publicist by trade, Apollinaire seized on the outrageous whether he found it in the avant-garde (he coined the term "Cubism" in praise of early paintings by Braque and Picasso) or mass culture (he called the serialized tales of fictional super-villain Fantômas "one of the richest works that exist.")  Apollinaire’s poetry fed on the chaos of Paris in the early 1900s. Take this representative passage from 1909’s "Zone": 

    You read handbills, catalogues, posters that shout out loud: 
    Here’s this morning’s poetry, and for prose you’ve
    got the newspapers, 
    Sixpenny detective novels full of cop stories,
    Biographies of big shots, a thousand different
    Lettering on billboards and walls,
    Doorplates and posters squawk like parrots. 

    Apollinaire’s 1918 book Calligrammes delved further into its source material, imitating its typographic forms to create pictograms in which the text echoes the image. For obvious reasons, the calligrammes are notoriously hard to translate, but to give you some idea: the following picture of a woman wearing a hat is made up of a text about a woman wearing a hat: 

    Guillaume Apollinaire, Extrait du "Poème de 9 fevrier" (1915).

    In this one, the Eiffel Tower addresses the reader: 

    Guillaume Apollinaire, "Salut monde dont je suis la langue éloquente que sa bouche Ô Paris tire et tirera toujours aux allemands" (Published in Calligrammes, 1918).

    In "Il Pleut," Apollinaire rendered the rain as cascading letters, suggesting the interplay of natural phenomena with his beloved billboards and street signs. 


    Guillaume Apollinaire, "Il Pleut" (Published in Calligrammes, 1918).

    Glossing Calligrammes in a letter to a friend, Apollinaire wrote that they were "typographic precision made in a period when typography is winding up its career brilliantly, at the dawn of the new means of representation, cinema and the phonograph." If Apollinaire was correct that typography was witnessing a brilliant period, he was wrong that it was winding up its career. 

    As for cinema and the phonograph...


    Handbills, catalogues, posters that shout, and posters that "squawk like parrots" all betray a modern impulse that found its fullest expression in the full-page Sunday comics, which freely layered text and image while juggling—whoosh! splat!—their connotative and denotative values. 

    Early picture shows—nephews of the Sunday comics—employed narrators who stood in front of the screen and talked to the audience, explaining what was going on or making jokes. The movie theater was marketed as an oasis from the chaos of urban life, but as screens got cheaper and more portable, moving pictures took their logical place in the city, which was everywhere. People could offer explanations or crack jokes themselves. 

    The two categories of representation that Apollinaire defined—“typography” on the one hand; “cinema and the phonograph” on the other—collapsed into each other on the World Wide Web, which hyperbolized the vernacular of the modern city. 

    It’s no accident that today’s Web-romantics embrace the same aesthetic and social agenda as a previous era’s city-romantics. Aesthetically: speed; sensation; the blending together or overturning of traditional forms; one-upmanship; creative trickery. Socially: pluralism; agonism; the wisdom of crowds; justice in numbers and witnesses. 

    All of which could be summarized as: the sheer nearness of everything to everything else. 


    Early interfaces for the Internet offered only official characters from the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). 

    Developed and codified in the early 1960s through an obscure and prolonged collaboration between corporate technologists and government bureaucrats, ASCII (pronounced "ass-key") is based on the English alphabet, and comprises the characters we now recognize from contemporary computer keyboards.

    Some of the most interesting artifacts of the early Web were termed "ASCII art," and consisted of pictograms and other visual patterns made from ASCII characters. The emoticon is an early, and relatively simple, example. 

    ASCII art was an aesthetic foreshadowing of what would become the culture’s social vision for the Web: the Internet would be the paradisaical city of our dreams; the ultimate melting pot; the high-tech global village we’d been promised. Home to a natural, nearly-inevitable democratic virtue, it would be a place where your identity could merge with the crowd, and even be shed entirely; and a super-speed air-tram could transport you from uptown to down in the amount of time it takes to register for a gonzo pornography subscription service. 


    Just as the fresco thrived in the chapels and mansions of Early Modern Europe, the golden age of ASCII art took place on Usenet in the 1980s. Usenet improved the functionality and expanded the scope of bulletin board systems; the trick was abrogating the need for a local server/hub, and instead transferring information just from one to server to the next, and the next, and back and forth and so on—similar to modern day peer-to-peer file-sharing programs. Usenet took advantage of the Internet by creating an interface that was cognate with the Internet’s structuring conceit: decentralization, an important idea in the US in the 1980s.

    In addition to the emoticon, the foundational works of ASCII art were "Spying at the Wall" and "Silly Cows." "Wall" and Cows" were, like the emoticon, iterative and multi-authored, and the three works can be seen as the earliest known "Internet memes." 

    The purportedly first version of "Spying at the Wall" was composed of two underscores, an "m," another underscore, two "o"s, another underscore, another "m," and two more underscores. It conjures a little peeping Tom, wide-eyed, hands braced; a rapt but inscrutable gaze traveling endlessly through a burgeoning World Wide Web, peering over "the wall": 


    Initial variations sought only to add emotional complexity. 

    ASCII art techniques developed quickly. The kind of line drawing seen above developed into “Spying” animals such as these: 


    But in other animal variations, line drawing took a different shape:


    Developments in the genre can be understood by comparing this simpler, presumably earlier, butterfly: 


    With this more elaborate, presumably later version: 

    In the above image, the wall serves little purpose, except to tell us that the butterfly is in repose, not flight. The idea of 'spying' remains visually underdeveloped. 

    In “Horny giant girl spying at the wall,” neither the conceit of the wall nor the spying seem to serve any purpose whatsoever, except to bait the audience into giving themselves over to another fixation entirely. 

    The original iteration of “Silly Cows” was more complex, and so its variations were less free-form. 

    Though the premise, like “Wall,” gave rise to an interest in anatomy:




    ASCII artists took the form in many different directions, but the most common model they claimed for themselves was the graffiti artist. So there came to be “Oldskool” and “Newskool” ASCII art, neither named in reference to the date of its development, but rather in reference to a vibe; and so ASCII artists, somewhat vertiginously, became obsessed with rendering words out of and within images.

    For example, this undated scene, by an artist calling her or himself “ejm,” not only pictures the weather but remarks on it: 

    This more famous piece from 2007, by artist Roy, was done in a Newskool style and, somewhat ominously, renders the phrase “closed society” mostly out of dollar signs:


    Roy, Closed Society (2007). Screen capture of ASCII artwork.


    The introduction of graphical interfaces for the Internet put an end to the high period of ASCII art. The most common graphical interfaces for the Internet are called "Web browsers." These interfaces interpret many different character sets and file formats and establish a sense of continuity for users engaged in sending and receiving billions of fractured electronic signals around the globe.

    The first commercial Web browser, Mosaic, was released in 1993. The first video live-streamed on the Web was a June 24, 1993 performance by SoCal garage rock group Severe Tire Damage, whose bassist at the time was the chief scientist at Xerox, a company in the middle of developing live-streaming software. 

    The following years saw several different companies—Windows, Apple, and RealNetworks, mostly—frantically trying to codify Internet video and image formatting. 

    These years saw two other, related developments: the creep of Internet culture into popular culture at large in films like Hackers and The Net (both 1995), and the first recognizable net-native avant-garde art movement. 

    Mid-90s artists such as Vuk Cosic, JODI, and Alexei Shulgin were grouped under the term “,” and while the work under this label was various, all of it shared a desire to disrupt the system of continuity that had been introduced by Web browsers and codified by corporate Web design. 

    Art collective JODI, for instance, made websites that would pop open so many windows that browsers would malfunction and close down. The strategy was called “browser crashing.” 

    Throughout the 90s, net.artist Vuk Cosic worked primarily with ASCII characters. His most famous work is "ASCII History of Moving Images," from 1998.

    The series renders iconic scenes from the history of cinema and television in ASCII characters. With selections from Eisenstein, Hitchcock, and Antonioni, the series climaxes with Cosic's most brilliant choice. Nowhere else in Cosic's work is his representational mode so perfectly at odds with the aim of the original work. And it was eerily apposite for Cosic to finish his series by transforming an early representation of an act whose depiction would become central to so much of our Internet culture. 

    User FILMDATA01 updated the artwork to YouTube in 2008—Cosic's ASCII rendering of a scene from the 1972 film Deep Throat

    The look of Cosic's “ASCII History of Moving Images” was borrowed by the Wachowski brothers, who, somewhat poignantly, used it in their 1999 film The Matrix to imagine what a simulated city might look like to someone who could see through its illusions. 


    ASCII art only ever flourished as a truly popular genre in the form of emoticons, which in the 2000s were eclipsed by the Japanese Corporation SoftBank's supplemental character set of “Emoji.” (Emojis will be the subject of the next and final installment of this series of essays.) 

    ASCII art persists now mostly as a connoisseur's medium. 

    The majority of extant ASCII artworks remain undated, but this rendering of Apollinaire's “Il Pleut” was probably created after artists in the medium started historicizing themselves, maybe some time around 1998, the year the “Dancing Baby” became the first Internet meme to attract the attention of corporate media, appearing on news stories and making its way into Fox's Ally McBeal.


    Personally, my favorite piece of ASCII art, also undated, is a map of Leopold Bloom's path through Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses, which Joyce started writing the year Calligrammes was published. 

    A painstaking labor of love, and a work that knots together its form and subject to make visible the conditions of its own historical occurrence, the image recalls the dream of a city knit together by people’s stories and desires—a world wide web that never came to fruition. 

    Jorn Barger

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    Brent Watanabe, for(){};(2013). Projection-mapped video game on canvas.

    A collection of items from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the Web, taking a brief look at creative works that bring gaming literacy to the canvas plane.

    Brent Watanabe, for(){}; 

    Brent Watanabe, for(){}; (2013). Projection-mapped video game on canvas.

    Playable art by Brent Watanabe features acrylic hand-painted canvases mounted on a wall which function as the setting for a video game, with sprites projected onto their surfaces:

    In for( ){ };, there is no beginning or end to the game, just collecting and wandering, birthing and consuming, an arbitrary point system rising until your inevitable death and the birth of another generation. It is a game mechanism without the game. An addictive but essentially aimless experience. 
    The piece is a triptych of playable acrylic paintings, controlled by the viewer using a NES controller.

    (Artist's project page)


    Shinobi Marilyn

    Ashley Anderson, Shinobi Marilyn (2012). Digital print.

    A collection of pieces by Ashley Anderson that were inspired by an act of appropriation: the famous Pop Art icon was used as a backdrop in the video arcade game Shinobi (SEGA, 1987). After discovering this, the artist then made a series of prints in which Marilyn's image is re-created using visual elements drawn from video game culture.


    Still image from Shinobi (SEGA, 1987).

    Ashley Anderson, Magoo (2012). Digital print.

    Ashley Anderson, Super Mario Clouds (2012).Digital print.

    Here is a talk by the artist explaining the background to the series:

    (Ashley Anderson's website)


    Kristoffer Zetterstrand  

    Kristoffer Zetterstrand, Wanderer (2008). 33x37 cm oil on canvas.

    Kristoffer Zetterstrand, Fighters (2007). 20x20cm oil on canvas.

    Kristoffer Zetterstrand, Dante and the Three Beasts (2007). 20x20cm. Oil on canvas.

    Zetterstrand’s work (since 2002) has combined space, perspective, historical fine art and the presentation of video games. As the artist explains,

    I work with painting. For some years I have experimented with virtual still lifes, often in the form of stage design in which I explore how two-dimensionality (and painting) relates to computer-generated 3D worlds. I am interested in visual spaces created online, in computer games and 3D programmes, and especially in what happens when the illusion is shattered and the underlying construction emerges -like when there is a bug in a computer game. I am interested in visual failures, which I try to use in my painting. Among other things, I have produced paintings based on the landscapes that you can see only if you are “dead” in the online game Counter-Strike, and paintings with motifs created by crashed landscape generators used in film and computer game production. Presently my work process is like this: I start by sketching the motif in 3D on the computer, where I can move the scene about, rearrange pictorial elements, redirect the light, reposition the camera, and so on. I sculpt the architecture and the various parts of the environment and dress the parts in different textures, which I often sample from images of my own earlier paintings, from pictures I have found on the net and screen dumps from computer games. I also use a lot of material from my art archives, which comprises some sixty-thousand paintings. While working with a sketch on the computer, the simpleness of the tools means that I can follow my impulses and try out new angles, change backdrops and pictorial elements, redirect the light, rearrange the shadows, etc. For me, the 3D programme is a tool that I use intuitively when I construct my motifs. The scenes are often influenced by the dramatic composition of computer games, where familiarity with some kind of mythology is essential in order to play the game, in a similar way as an artist relates to art history. That the end result is painting is a prerequisite of my work. The physical aspect of painting and the space it allows for improvisation and painterly reformulations of the motifs are the most important parts of the process. You could say that when it comes to the painterly part of my work process, I improvise on a theme that I have determined on the computer. 

    (Artist’s website)

    Alice Shintani 

    Autoestrada, 2008. Acrylic resin on fabric. 40 x 50 cm.

    Alice Shintani, "Atari Series," 2008-2010.

    A series of paintings, made from 2008 to 2010, that are based on graphics and isolated sprites from the old Atari console game River Raid.

    (Artist's website)

    Tiananmen Squared by Casey Weldon


    Casey Weldon, Tiananmen Squared.

    Following on from the Atari-inspired artworks by Shintani, this piece inspired by the game Combat was a submission to the Gallery1988 Old School Video Game Show.

    More links:

    Possibly the first video-game inspired paintings, by Mark Dagley.

    Deadly Towers, a series of paintings by E*Rock based on the isometric level architecture of NES games.

    Interview with artist Alex Paik.

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    Over the past couple days, my inbox has been filled with pleas for deadline leniency from bleary-eyed artists around the world who, presumably upon stumbling from their beds after several weeks of napping, suddenly realized that proposals for Rhizome commissions were due imminently. Never fear: we hear your pleas. You now have until May 15. Get cracking!

    I would like to remind you of several salient facts. Awards are typically between $1,000 and $5,000. Four of the awards will be given to artists from New York. One of the commissions will go to an artist (from anywhere) with a proposal for a socially-engaged project to take place in New York. Three commissions will be given to projects that engage with Tumblr. I'm not sure of the math, but some grants will also go to artists who are not from New York and engaged neither socially nor with Tumblr.

    As always, members will vote for one of the commissions; voting will now open on May 16. 

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    I woke up early that morning with the intention of helping to fake a TEDx Conference.

    I prepared tea and oatmeal in the usual way. Then I opened a Google Drive document, in which more than ten people were convening for the last-minute plotting of our hoax. My partner woke up and settled in on the couch with her computer, and opened the same document. I was at my desk, in my usual place, watching the traffic pass our apartment in the sunshine. The clock turned over slowly, towards 10:00 AM, when the fake Conference would begin. 10:00 AM, Pacific Time. It was 1:00 PM Eastern Time, where some of the other members of this plot were located. And it was 5:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time in Summerisle, where the non-event would not take place.

    Summerisle is not a place. If you Google it, the first result will tell you that it is the fictional setting of the 1973 film The Wicker Man, in which a police inspector travels to a small island off the western coast of Scotland in search of a missing teenage girl. He discovers a pagan society that believes in a collection of natural magic and fertility rituals. I won’t spoil the entire film for you, but suffice it to say, human sacrifice is involved. Our plot, hatched in a late night conversation between the two central planners, was a mashup of cult film fan performance art and Internet-savvy TED-culture satire.

    The following fake events took place that day: the island of Summerisle, looking to infuse their society with a much-needed dose of spiritual energy and innovative thinking, hosted a TEDx Conference, after which a number of the presenters and guests were sacrificed to guarantee the success of the island’s agricultural economy. We performed this entire drama using nothing but social media, predominantly Twitter. We crafted a simulacra of an event, live-tweeted a fiction and attempted to make it as real as the Internet could manage.

    I was invited into the plot fairly late in the game, via one of my back-channel lines of communication. “If there was to be X, would you be interested in taking part?” I replied yes, and received a link via email. Inside Google Drive, the conspiracy: a timeline, a list of names, and the general idea of what will happen on the date and time in question. Over the next week, the document grew in complexity. The names of the fake conference talks were added, and their themes elaborated. Characters were born as their Twitter accounts were registered, and their back stories were seeded with innocuous tweets to nearly no followers. Places on the island were described, so that we might refer to them simultaneously. Tweetable quotes were written for the TEDx sessions that we could all post simultaneously, as if we’d heard them spoken aloud, and at the last minute, the brilliant idea of fake PowerPoint slides was made a reality, thanks to some clever computer screen and lighting effects. The images were shared so that all of the tweeting characters could upload them as if taken with cell phone cameras. My partner and I went out into the woods, and devised a way to film Vines—short looping six-second films that are posted to Twitter via an iOS app—and save them for later posting. We did our best to recreate the “Blair Witch” aesthetic in the coniferous forest of the Pacific Northwest, pretending we were running for our lives through the woods of the Northern UK.

    Most of our energies, though, were spent in faking the conference, rather than the sacrifices that followed. As the process went on, I came to understand that without the foundation of a fake conference, the descent into horror would have no point of reference, no literary fulcrum, and the tweets would cascade out into nothingness. By setting the stage with a bit of fakery and allowing the TEDx conference to percolate through our social networks, we drew our audiences in, creating a sense of normalcy which would be shattered as soon as the knives came out.

    And this was the major lie. I was never personally concerned about the potential consequences of staging of an act of violence on Twitter, because the moment anyone attempted to ascertain where precisely this violence was occurring, they would see the Wikipedia page revealing that Summerisle is a fictional locale. On the other hand, with the TEDx conference, we all exploited the trust of our social networks. Our fake Twitter accounts prattled away, posting silly observations and chatting with each other, as we enjoyed mocking some of our less favorite (real life) personalities. But with our real Twitter accounts, through which we typically voice our real opinions and observations in a way that we hope people will generally take seriously, we retweeted the postings of our fake Twitter accounts. By association, we shared our followers’ trust of us with these non-persons, these digital patsies. Among all of our past tweets—the articles we’ve shared with our real Twitter accounts, the experiences we broadcast, the history-making events we’ve witnessed, the photos of breakfasts we’ve taken—are these lying tweets like black marks in our streams. They are not ironic “retweets do not imply endorsement” posts, but as precisely the opposite. We knew that retweeting these tweets implied reality, and we used that to give our fairy tale the weight of truth.

    And a fairy tale is what it was. The talk titles and subject matter were ridiculous, each a parody in and of themselves. One talk implied that bees’ honeycomb is a social network—rampant nature/technology metaphorism (as well as a veiled reference to an important precursor):

    Another supposed solar industry CEO played fast and loose with renewable energy statistics and environmental ethics, claiming that not using solar power was the equivalent of literally pouring oil on the ground. Some of the fake conference slides included photos of women in suggestive outfits, in a mockery of the sexist attitudes present at many conferences:

    And one talk about magic and ecology specifically mentioned Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, two presenters previously “censored” by the TED organization for giving insufficiently scientific TEDx presentations. And some people in our networks responded to this, either mentioning that this non-event strained credulity, or that it was it was “all too typical” of the sometimes poorly organized nature of TEDx events (there being so many—over 5000 from 2009 to 2012).

    This is not the first fictional story that I’ve told via Twitter, and I imagine it won’t be the last. There is a range of stories that you can tell with any medium, and TEDxSummerisle is merely one type of story that the medium of social media enables. To be precise, the medium was not just the online platforms we used (Twitter, Vine, and the various image services that we used to post content to the Internet). The medium was also live-tweeting, the performative act of witnessing and reporting an ongoing live event to people who may or may not care about it.

    While this story shared certain characteristics with other forms of fiction, the element of trust that it relies on is unique to social media. We needed to harness the trust of our networks in order to give credence to the fake TEDx conference.

    I have no idea how many people were involved with perpetuating this fiction, either in planning or in performance, either with explicit knowledge of what was planned, or following along as it happened. Perhaps some who came across the performance became aware of the fiction and embraced it, helping to propagate the story. Perhaps others were taken in for a while, and annoyed or angered by our duplicity. There were at least twelve people deliberately taking part, perhaps as many as forty at the climax. I could not give the real names of more than eight, and I have met only one of them in real life, though I have known many for years. Given that we do not really know each other, have no collective existence, and our artistic studio was a Google Doc, to what extent was TEDxSummerisle even an artwork performed by artists? I might think of my part in it as an elaborate experiment with story-telling and online mediums, but I could not begin to guess the details of how others consider their roles.

    And what record of this work will there be? How long will the tweets remain, saved as part of the continuum of a hashtag? Can they really be recorded in this way, if they are not seen in the context of all the other tweets anyone might have seen in their timeline, before we inserted this tangent into their social media sightlines? It’s better if they disappear, of course; sudden presence followed by sudden absence. At the appointed time, at 12:30 PM Pacific Time, 3:30 PM Eastern Time, and 7:30 PM GMT, we took our collective bow in the form of one last post, a link to a disclaimer—a Tumblr post—saying that what was real was that it was fake. There is no TEDxSummerisle and there never was.

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  • 05/03/13--03:43: "Art and Not Bits and Bytes"
  • Last Friday, Rhizome published a new artwork by Oliver Laric that was originally made for BiennaleOnline, but which could not be shown because HTML code and outgoing links were (surprisingly, for an online biennial) proscribed. Today, BiennaleOnline organizer David Dehaeck fires back in the pages of El País, saying "The BiennaleOnline is about art and not bits and bytes."


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    On April 20, 2013, a nice spring Saturday, some brilliant minds from art and technology met to share the ideas and projects that emerged from a one-day interdisciplinary collaboration. For those of you who were unable to join us for Seven on Seven this year, below are videos from each presentation so you can see their presentations for yourself. 


    Seven on Seven 2013: Keynote by Evgeny Morozov 


    Seven on Seven 2013: Jeremy Bailey + Julie Uhrman 


    Seven on Seven 2013: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer + Harper Reed 


    Seven on Seven 2013: Cameron Martin + Tara Tiger Brown


    Seven on Seven 2013: Paul Pfeiffer + Alex Chung


    Seven on Seven 2013: Fatima Al Qadiri + Dalton Caldwell


    Seven on Seven 2013: Matthew Ritchie + Billy Chasen


    Seven on Seven 2013: Jill Magid + Dennis Crowley

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    In Part Four of our ongoing genealogy of queer computing (Part One, Part Two, Part Three), we introduce a second generation of queer scholars who made important contributions to the field of computer science, and from whom we may trace a direct connection back to those familiar foundational figures.

    On June 20, 2009 at 4pm at The Hampstead Quaker Meeting House in London, a memorial service was held for Professor Peter Landin. In attendance were his family and the friends whose lives he had touched over the last 78 years. It was a collision of worlds, a sudden mixing of two communities that Landin had kept separate his entire life. Landin's friend and colleague Olivier Danvy likened the event to the memorial for the French mathematical logician Jean van Heijenoort, author of From Frege to Gödel (1967).[1] In the early part of his life, van Heijenoort had been the personal secretary and bodyguard of Leon Trotsky, the famous Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army. Van Heijenoort left service only two months before Trotsky's murder in Mexico City by Stalinist assassins, but was a devout Trotskyist until his death, publishing extensively on his relationship with the revolutionary figure and editing a volume of Trotsky's correspondence before his own death in 1986. In attendance at van Heijenoort's funeral, Danvy recalls, were two disparate groups of people: on one side the logicians, and on the other the Trotskyists, each one incapable of communicating their own sense of importance of the man to the other.

    Peter Landin had also led something of a double life. He was a foundational figure in computer science, and a pioneer of programming language design based on mathematical logic and the Lambda calculus. He was responsible for the invention of the first abstract process virtual machine—a kind of software emulator of a real world computer—ever defined. Many modern programming languages—such as JavaScript, the programming language that underpins much of the Web—make use of or fully rely on Landin's work on functional values, and have implementations based on his definition of a "closure," a programming function that “encloses” a set of variables so that it can be used in different contexts. Yet there was more to Peter Landin than this. All his life he had been a political radical, and since coming out in the 1970s he had been an active member of the Gay Liberation Front, protesting and campaigning on behalf of gay rights in the UK and abroad. His home on Rona Road in Camden had been a famous gay commune, and from the dinner parties he hosted many movements and collaborations were born.[2] And so on this Saturday afternoon two worlds met to commemorate his passing, and once again there seemed an impassable divide between these two parts of Peter Landin's life, these two worlds he simultaneously occupied. 

    Landin was part of what we might describe as the second generation of influential queer figures in the field of computer science. This lineage is not simply chronological; there is a direct, genealogical connection between early foundational figures such as Alan Turing and Christopher Strachey, and those who lived through the pioneering gay rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The clearest queer lineage that begins with Alan Turing leads to Robin Gandy, his longtime friend and associate. Gandy first met Alan in 1939 as a student at Cambridge,[3] but they became particularly close when they were stationed together during the War and in the years following, and remained friends until Turing's death in 1954.[4] Gandy was never very explicit about his sexuality with friends and colleagues, but he and Turing seemed to share a mutual understanding and often discussed men and sex in a coded, joking way both in person and through correspondence. Landin shares a similar lineage with Christopher Strachey, having spent as brief period as Strachey's assistant after meeting in a bizarre set of circumstances that unite a number of key figures. Similarly, Landin spent a brief period as Christopher Strachey's assistant, the two having met in a bizarre set of circumstances that unite a number of key figures.


    Peter Landin was born in Sheffield, England on June 5, 1930, eleven years after Robin Gandy and eighteen years after Alan Turing. The only child of an accountant father who had been disabled in WWI, he was educated at King Edward's Grammar School. Later, at Clare College Cambridge he completed a mathematics degree in a rushed two years, and then attempted the very difficult Part III course, but came away with only a 3rd class degree. As Landin tells it, he was unsure of what to do with his life after college, which led him to a now-infamous group of early computer science pioneers:

    When I ceased to be an undergraduate, and because of being fast-laned through all these things and leaving with a rather ambiguously low grade degree I was very uncertain of what to do with my life and spent the next six months in a Sheffield reference library trying to avoid making a decision about my life. I used to go out to a cafe just around the corner from this reference library … and one day I was having my coffee in Fields cafe, and a voice came booming across the crosswise tables, and this voice said "I say didn't I see you reading Principia Mathematica[5] in the reference library this morning?" And that's how I got to know the legendary Mervyn Pragnell who immediately tried to recruit me to his reading group.[6]

    Mervyn Pragnell is the mysterious figure orchestrating many of these early connections.  He is not only responsible for introducing many of these figures to one another, but also for introducing them to the lambda calculus of American mathematician and logician Alonso Church, which was essential to the development of a mathematical theory of computability. Not much is known about Mervyn Pragnell, as he does not appear to have ever held an academic post or published any research paper. Nonetheless, he was fascinated by mathematical logic in general, and Church's lambda calculus in particular. Much as with Landin, he was known for hanging around London bookshops approaching individuals he saw purchasing volumes on mathematical logic and recruiting them for a reading and discussion group. In an interview from 2000, Rod Burstall—one of many important logicians to get his start in Pragnell's groups – recalls that, while looking for a logic text in a London bookshop, he asked a man whether the shop had a copy. "I'm not a shop assistant," the man responded, and "stalked away," only to return to invite him to join the informal seminar where he would meet Peter Landin and, subsequently, Christopher Strachey.[7]

    The sessions were held illicitly after-hours at Birkbeck College, University of London, without the knowledge or permission of the college authorities.[8] Pragnell knew a lab technician with a key that would let them in, and it was during these late night sessions that many famous computer scientists cut their theoretical teeth. This also appears to be the place Landin would first meet Strachey, and it marks the beginning of an important intellectual relationship between these two men. It is unclear how open either man was about his sexuality at the time—Landin, who identified as bisexual, would marry his wife Hanne that same year, and their marriage would last until 1973—but the connection is nonetheless meaningful, as it shows how intimately linked the world of computing was at this time, and how powerful these connections would be to research and development within the field.

    Thus in 1960, nearly a decade after Strachey's love letter generator and six years after the death of Alan Turing, Peter Landin was taken on as a research assistant to Christopher Strachey, who at the time was an independent computing consultant working out of his home at 9 Bedford Gardens in Kensington. Having left the National Research and Development Corporation (NRDC), Strachey formally started activities as a private consultant on June 1, 1959. By 1960 he was fully occupied with a number of contracts, many of which he had begun while employed by the NRDC. Strachey took Landin on as a full-time employee specifically for a contract with the Ferranti electrical engineering and equipment firm, for whom he had agreed to deliver a scientific autocode – the term for a family of "simplified coding systems" or programming languages devised for early computers – for the company's new Orion computer. Landin set upon the project with great ambition, imagining an innovative compiler that functioned "as an automatic product of the semantics of the autocode, matching its forms to semantic representations of the instructions of the machine, and generating LISP expressions that could be executed."[9]

    [9 Bedford Gardens, London]

    While Landin was working for Strachey full time, he was not fully occupied by the Ferranti project, and with Strachey's encouragement he spent much of his time on a theoretical study of programming languages. It gave Strachey a certain satisfaction to be able to claim that he was funding "the only work of its sort being carried out anywhere (certainly anywhere in England)."[10] Whether due to this split in the time spent on the Ferranti project, or due to the overly ambitious and theoretical work Landin was attempting with his compiler, the work was never fully finished, and required additional work by Ferranti's own programming department to bring it into workable condition. Still, the research Landin began here with the support of Strachey was foundational to his study of programming languages. It allowed him to clarify his ideas about programming semantics and led to the publication of "The Mechanical Evaluation of Expressions" in 1964,[11] which showed how to translate programs into lambda calculus and defined the SECD machine, a landmark virtual and abstract machine that emulates a hardware environment within which lambda calculus expressions may be evaluated.[12] Landin hoped this work might form the basis of the design of future computers, and in many ways it has.


    As Landin was conducting research and raising his children, a cultural shift had begun. In the US and Canada a transformation was underway. The former had seen the now infamous Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village and the beginnings of a social movement for gay and lesbian rights. The Gay Liberation Front, or GLF, was formed by thirty-seven women and men who broke ranks with the conservative homophile establishment and urged a candlelight march in response to the riots. The GLF first took hold in the UK in 1970, growing rapidly over the next three years before splitting into a number of spin-off organizations such as the London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, many of which still thrive today. In 1971 it issued a manifesto comprising  a list of immediate demands, including the decriminalization of homosexual acts. While the law criminalizing homosexual activity that led to the arrest of Alan Turing had already been overturned by the Sexual Offenses act of 1967, that legislation set out explicit terms by which homosexual acts would be deemed legal, namely mutual consent, a minimum age of 21, and that sex take place in private between no more than two people. Thus, it was far from the end of the struggle to end homosexual persecution, and in many ways it marks the beginning of a long legal battle that is still ongoing.

    1970 would be a transformative year for Peter Landin as well. The previous ten years had truly shaped his career, but he was set to undergo a massive change. In 1964 Landin had ceased working for Christopher Strachey and, through contacts provided through their relationship, was "brain drained" to the US and—along with his wife and two small children children—he moved to New York City to work for Univac, then a major computer manufacturer. The family first took up residence in a hotel, but after asking for a home with a garden they were moved to a half-house in Greenwich Village. Landin published several key works during this time period, perhaps most famous among them a short work titled "The Next 700 Programming Languages" (1966), in which he gave a witty account of how all programming languages of the time were just sugared[13] versions of the lambda calculus.[14] By 1966, Landin was tired of the corporate world of New York City, and so moved with his family to Cambridge, MA to take up a teaching position at MIT. Still, he was disheartened by what he saw as a secretive environment that shunned collaboration, along with a group of colleagues with very different ideas about the logic of programming languages. And so in 1967 he was tempted back to London with the chair position at Queen Mary College, where he remained for the rest of his career.

    Then suddenly, in 1970, Landin made the abrupt decision to walk out on the discipline of computer science. After serving as the evaluator on a student's PhD committee, he decided that the field had become too theoretical and retired. Having attained the position of full professor, he was given emeritus status and continued on in a reduced capacity at the university for the next forty years, but for Landin something had changed and he was no longer interested in the kind of innovative research that had occupied the previous fifteen years of his life. It was also during this time that Landin's personal life underwent a transformation. In 1973 he separated amicably from his wife, though he remained close to her and his children for the rest of his life. He was also becoming involved with the GLF and other burgeoning gay organizations, and was even arrested during a gay rights protest in London.[15] A regular on the lawn at Hampstead Heath, frequent dinner party host, collaborator, facilitator, and activist, Landin underwent a substantial transformation as he moved from one life into another. 

    It is in this period that Peter Landin's life begins to recede from view. The archive fails, and forty years are devoured by the impassable partition that he erected between his personal and professional life. No doubt there exist many people who could share fond memories of Peter's activist years and his role as an organizer and friend, but these stories have not yet come  to light.[16] Instead, it is his professional service and contacts that remain. What little that exists in the way of memorial and biography has been produced by university colleagues, and while it is currently unclear what will happen to Landin's papers, correspondence, and materials, too often in such cases these details are deemed "personal" and are either excluded or reserved until some future date. Toward the end of his life, Landin became "convinced that computing had been a bad idea, giving support to profit-taking corporate interests and a surveillance state, and that he had wasted his energies in promoting it."[17] It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that there exists almost nothing online about the last forty years of Landin's life and that, despite his influential role in the development of the field of computer science, Landin did not own a computer, a television, or a car.[18]

    This is, in part, the reparative work that this essay hopes to accomplish. In linking the professional accomplishments of these men with those personal parts of their lives that even they may have deemed inappropriate for public discussion, my hope is to create a queer archive that links foundational developments in the history of computer science to explicitly queer figures and politics. It is, in part, a refusal of the separation of these worlds, and an acknowledgement of the way in which the sexual lives of these men are part of the historical significance of contemporary computational technologies. It's not that these facts have been hidden or are not known, it's that there is often a compulsion for historians to pass over them in silence. As with Landin, many of these figures have only recently passed away, and many others will be gone in the coming years. As a result, preserving these histories is of particular importance, as is producing an archive that reflects the complex divisions and connections that constitute these lives and this history.

    [1] Olivier Danvy, "In Memoriam Peter Landin," Vimeo.

    [2] His colleague Richard Bornat notes in a commemorative article in the Formal Aspects of Computing journal, that "It was at one of his dinner parties that those who reinvigorated Gay Pride marches in the mid 80s met, just in time for the battle over clause 28" Richard Bornat, "Peter Landin: a computer scientist who inspired a generation, 5th June 1930 - 3rd June 2009," Formal Aspects of Computing (2009) 21: 394.

    [3] The two met at a party in which Gandy was arguing in support of the Communist line in the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland. For many years Gandy was a member of the Communist Party, yet somehow escaped scrutiny even after the controversy surrounding the Cambridge Five, the group of Soviet spies believed to have been recruited through the Apostles society at Cambridge.

    [4] Gandy was a mathematician and logician, but not technically a computer scientist. In this sense he does not neatly fit into this history, but as one of Alan's closest friends he was the strongest link to his life and work until his death in 1995. Moreover, while Gandy's work in mathematical logic was not explicitly in the field of computing, it should be clear by now that the fields share a common history and are very much aligned.

    [5]Principia Mathematica, mentioned previously with regards to Turing, is a three-volume set of texts written by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, published in 1910, 1912, and 1913 respectively. It is an attempt to derive all mathematical truths from a well-defined set of axioms and inference rules in symbolic logic. It is widely considered to be one of the most important and seminal works in mathematical logic and philosophy.

    [6] Peter Landin, Untitled talk at "Program Verification and Semantics: The Early Work,"BCS Computer Conservation Society Seminar, Science Museum, London, UK, June 5, 2001.

    [7] Donald MacKenzie, Mechanizing Proof: Computing, Risk, and Trust, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004), 273.

    [8] Rod Burstall, "Christopher Strachey – Understanding Programming Languages," Higher Order and Symbolic Computation 13 (2000), 51.

    [9] Bornat, Ibid., 393.

    [10] C. Strachey, Curriculum Vitae (1971), Strachey Papers, A3.

    [11] Landin, P. J. 1964. "The mechanical evaluation of expressions." Computer J. 6, 4, 308-320.

    [12] Bornat, Ibid., 394.

    [13] The phrase "syntactic sugar" was also coined by Landin in 1964 to describe the surface syntax of A Programming Language (APL) which was defined semantically in terms of the applicative expressions of lambda calculus. It has come to refer to any syntax within a programming language that is designed to make things easier to read or to express, that is, it makes things "sweeter" for humans to use, even if they might be expressed more cleanly or succinctly in a number of alternate styles.

    [14] The phrase "The Next 700…" has since been adopted as a kind of meme among computer scientists, spawning a number of speculative papers charting the future of a given field.

    [15] Landin had previously been arrested while on a demonstration with the Committee of 100, the 1960s anti-war group founded by Bertrand Russell. He was sentenced Pentonville Prison, but only lasted a week before he became so bored that he paid the fine to be released. (via)

    [16] In writing this piece I reached out to one of Peter Landin's children, but did not receive a response.

    [17] Richard Bornat, Peter Landin Obituary, The Guardian, September 22, 2009.

    [18] In fact, Peter Landin never learned how to drive. He was well known for biking everywhere he went, even into his old age.

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    Events and deadlines that are on our radar this week: 


    The fifth annual Sight & Sound festival hits town this week, marking the fifth anniversary of the artist-run new media venue Eastern Bloc.  The lineup features such treats as a workshop and street installation by Paolo Cirio, a panel on networked performance featuring the likes of Jennifer Chan and Emilie Gervais, and a performance by Raphael Lyon and Area C that is about "the ingestion of foreign objects and the history of noise as it relates to Futurism, the sound of thermonuclear detonation, and the universal Turing machine." 

    One thought - the festival's theme is described as an exploration of "the rhizomatic and permeating structures of society’s concealed systems." Here at Rhizome, where the word rhizomatic is often on our minds, we tend to think of these concealed systems as being rather un-rhizomatic (at least in the Deleuze/Guattari sense); they are riven with power imbalances and hierarchies. Regardless, les boîtes noires are our bêtes noiresSanté!


    May 11: COLLISIONcollective's open call for technology-based artwork to be included in a summer exhibition at Boston Cyberarts Gallery.

    May 12: Artists, designers, or developers making artistic apps for smartphone or tablet will want to apply for ZKM's annual AppArtAward, which offers three EUR10,000 awards in various categories.

    May 13: Emerging artists living in NY, NJ or New England are eligible to apply to STEP UP, a juried competition for solo exhibitions (with publication) at Real Art Ways in Hartford

    May 15: Published authors who are US citizens over the age of 25 can apply for the fantastic Warhol Arts Writers Grant, including a category for new and alternative media. 

    May 15: Deadline for Rhizome Commissions (awards of $1,000 to $5,000 for artists in various categories). Toot, toot! That's the sound of our own horn.

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    McKenzie Wark’s new book The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages Out of the Twenty-First Century (Verso, out today in the US and May 20 in the UK) completes his non-trilogy of writings on the SI, begun with 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008) and continued with The Beach Beneath the Street (Verso, 2011). I sat down with Wark to discuss the application and recuperation of SI tactics in the contemporary mediated landscape. 

    3D-printed Guy Debord action figures (2012). Produced by McKenzie Wark, design by Peer Hansen, with technical assistance by Rachel L.

    BB: You’re very upfront about how you didn’t intend to write a “great man” history of the Situationist International, instead incorporating marginalized and forgotten figures. Yet The Spectacle of Disintegration focuses on Guy Debord, especially in its second half, if simply because there is no one left.

    MW: The place were I started the whole thing was just an obsession with two late texts of Debord’s, Panegyric and In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. I think they’re two of the most luminous critical Marxist texts, avant-garde texts, prose poems, of the late 20th Century. It took me a long time to even understand what they were doing. And so the whole thing grew over 20 years, just returning to those texts and trying to figure out a framework for interpreting them. The whole project was somehow leading up to writing about those. I learnt to read French by reading these texts. I just taught myself. And my French is terrible. I make no claims to be a scholar of the language or anything like that whatsoever.

    BB: Debord’s conception of the interactivity of the spectacle seems to be a bit limited in terms of where we are today. I believe you refer to his conception of it as “a one-way street.”  

    MW: One of the premises of The Spectacle of Disintegration is that there’s the myth of the overcoming of the spectacular form in the age of the Internet, but what it does is make it microscopic and distribute it throughout the entire media sphere, so we now have micro-spectacular relations rather than one big macro one. So if you think about the old culture industry, everybody was critical of it, but at least it fucking entertained us! You would have all those flaws that Adorno spoke about, the extorted reconciliation of the ending, the equivalence of exchange values, but at least it was offered to you as something to consume. We’ve moved from the era of the culture industry to what I would call the vulture industry, which is companies like Google. I mean, in terms of culture, they don’t make shit. They just allow you to get to stuff that somebody else made. So now we have to even entertain each other. Go on, make some cat videos! So there’s a sense that on one side there’s the outsourcing of the production of the thing, and on the other what I would call the insourcing of the production of the affect. It becomes everyone’s job, but no one is to expect to get paid for it anymore. It was always a struggle if what you wanted to do was be a creative person, to make any living at all. I don’t know if that got any worse. It was always terrible. But the conditions of its terribleness change with each technical evolution. 

    BB: So now we have all these writers and artists policing the area of ‘we still get paid to do this’. It’s almost like fetishizing outsourcing. Like, can’t we get back to the 1970s when you could make a fuckin’ record and make some money. 

    MW: Yeah, well, no one ever really made any money. That was like a tiny handful of people. The myth of that tends to leave out the real life of working musicians and writers. We sort of focus on and fetishize a few people who made good. It is worth asking—so now we’re in favor of the commodification of culture? Is that necessarily a bad thing? In some ways, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a day job. There’s part of your mind and life that’s completely separate. The fly in that ointment is that whatever version of capitalism this is requires so much affective labor. You’re supposed to be invested in the company and its products. You see people in coffee shops who have become the brand they’re speaking on behalf of, and you’re like, man that’s sad. The Situationists put this on the agenda. They didn’t necessarily have the answers. For example: the idea of détournement, that the whole of the cultural past is a cultural commons that belongs to all of us from which you can appropriate at will—but to correct in the direction of hope. There’s a plagiarism in the correcting gesture. They were thinking about this stuff already in the fifties, and now it's everywhere. We know all of Debord’s major texts are heavily plagiarized. There’s an anticipating in that of the whole of remix culture, but a critique of it as well. To simply mix shit together is not all that. The advertising industry’s been doing that since the days portrayed in Mad Men. You have to do it in such a way that you reveal that culture is really a commons. That’s the sense in which Debord is speaking to the present, even though the tools he did it with are now antiquated. 

    BB: Remix bots like @KimKierkegaardashian seem to be accomplishing détournement without conscious human input. 

    MW: I followed that one for a while; it’s hilarious. I kind of love that stuff because it’s so revealing. The side of culture that’s really a giant automatic repurposing machine. Can you build a bot that would, for example, build sentences? And then flip that into the space where it’s the negative, the critique of that very practice? Can you create protocols using a search engine to generate language? That reveals exactly the great poison sea we’re swimming in.  

    BB: Which kind of feeds into all these recent copyright scandals, like the ones involving Jonah Lehrer and Quentin Rowan, who didn’t even attempt to use arguments about intellectual property being fair game. Rowan could have come out and just been like, I’m just fucking with you guys. 

    MW: It’s a shame. The Society of the Spectacle is really brilliant prose. There’s entire chunks of all sorts of things not even entirely digested into it. Like it suddenly starts to read like Hegel translated into French. That’s because that’s exactly what it is! Or the films Debord makes after Gérard Lebovici becomes his sponsor. I tracked down Martine Barraqué, Debord’s film editor. She explained that all the newsreel footage, you could just buy that, but the feature films, they just straight up lied about what they wanted them for. They created all these elaborate stories like, “Oh, I’m the production assistant to a famous American film director who would like to see something. We need it for three days...” Because that’s how long it takes to copy a piece of a feature film, so it could be stuck into The Society of the Spectacle or so on. You just sort of think, wow, it’s just so friggin’ hard and laborious to steal this stuff outright. And Martine talks about how they had to build whole databases of film by category. The Internet just does all this for you now, but they were kind of inventing a practice of making remix, détournement cinema from scratch. But yeah, we still live with the myth of the romantic author, the creator. This idea that, oh I made that with my own labor, so it must be my property. So it’s like yeah, you and whose fucking army made that? Labor’s always social and collective. Including the labor that produces culture. Let’s not forget all the scandals about often very prominent historians in the US writing about really well-worn topics who can’t even tell the difference between their own prose and somebody else’s. And it’s like, oh it’s an accident, I just forgot to put the quote marks around it. Well, you’re just revealing that all of bourgeois thought is identical with itself. You really have no ideas, you’re just moving it around a bit. 

    BB: If the SI prized concealment almost to the point of fetishization, do their analyses and strategies lose something in a society where concealment has become not only more difficult to achieve but almost undesired? 

    MW: I write in The Spectacle of Disintegration about Debord’s widow Alice Becker-Ho’s work on "gypsy" or rather Romani language as being the source of underworld cant or slang or jargon. Slang not in the sense of how it turns up in hip-hop, but in terms of ways of both concealing and stating at the same time. It’s a  kind of cliché that we live in this culture of over-exposure in which, if you even attempt to secrete part of yourself, you’ll just draw more attention—from companies as well as from law enforcement. But I think there are ways of stating things that are intelligible for "those who are in the know," to use a Becker-Ho phrase. Ways of being public that aren’t quite what they seem. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. We now know that “earnest” was late 19th-Century slang for homosexual. So that strikes me as kind of useful, that you can occupy a place in the disintegrating spectacle but not quite be what you seem. And that struck me as being kind of the last space available. ‘Cause if you try and do a withdrawal thing like the Tarnac Nine, it will get you arrested. And who really wants to be Žižek? There’s only one at a time, occupying a space in the disintegrating spectacle in a certain way. 

    BB: This kind of plays into the whole anonymous with a lowercase “a” thing—the whole fight to be able to create an independent identity on the net and, to take it to an extreme, to be a troll and not to be exposed. 

    MW: What I learned from the comrades in the labor movement back in the day is: always assume you could be under surveillance but not that you are. There’s a certain vanity in assuming you are. So all of your statements need to be able to pass muster. Debord has this lovely riff in, I think it’s in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle where he says, I don’t abjure any of the statements I made to the police, but I don’t want them in my collected works because of scruples about the form. That is brilliant. So those statements would pass muster as literary texts, but they’ve been redacted by a police officer who’s garbled all these sentences. You have to earn even those statements. 

    BB: Does maker culture, and its mass-market mirror of “artisanal” production, have any shared roots with the SI’s emphasis on producing highly-designed, limited-run free journals and books? 

    MW: Yes and no. One wouldn’t want to be part of this whole disruptive technology language, which is pure California ideology [Ed. – “The Californian Ideology” was a 1995 essay by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron exploring the “counter-culture libertarianism” at work in Silicon Valley technoculture]. One would not want to get too close to the petit bourgeois Brooklynization of everything, the organic beard oil for 20 dollars.  But, I think, not just Marxists, but a lot of people with pretensions to critical theory got very remote from practices of making, and to not understand the production technologies of our time is an enormous oversight. To at least know how to make one thing is an extremely helpful way of understanding what production is, what labor is. So with the launch of The Spectacle of Disintegration, I’m doing limited edition Guy Debord action figures that are 3D printed, and we’re gonna release the file to print your own for free. There is something that is really interesting about 3D printing, but it’s a proprietary technology. On the one hand, it enables a certain kind of détournement, but on the other hand is already being recuperated before it’s even on the market. I actually walked past MakerBot on my way here. Just down on Houston, there’s a little showroom down there, and it kind of reminds me of the Apple 2 before the Mac. It’s at that stage. So yeah I really recommend that one do what Debord did in that sense. He learned how to produce journals. He was really good at it. He was a good editor and production manager. The twelve issues of the Internationale Situationniste are really lovely handmade objects. 

    BB: Is the “attention economy” some kind of corruption of the concept of potlatch? 

    MW: The Letterist International journal, Potlatch, was never to be for sale. It was only given to certain selected people and then some other people randomly selected from the phone book. Apparently, it would turn up for sale in those little book stalls along the river in Paris. And it was very, very low-rent. Michèle Bernstein would rent a typewriter and bang out—she was the woman, so she had to do the physical labor—all the texts on the typewriter and then duplicate it. But it was already posing questions about economies of access and attention. You’re in the post-war period, and there’s a myth of production of images and stories, which there was an intimation of back in the 19th Century, but by the post-war period the deluge kind of begins. They paid attention to the strategies of the advertising industry and were looking for ways to create work that partially subtracts itself into another kind of temporality. It’s a sort of partial invisibility to create a different kind of attention for different people. In the critical theory tradition, this is really quite new. For the Futurists and the Surrealists, it was still early days for a spectacle. The Futurists start by taking out an advertisement on the front page of a newspaper. You could still do that in 1909. But I think there’s a canniness about the fact that the attention-seeking strategies of the older avant-garde would no longer work in the post-war period. 

    BB: Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston have developed an algorithm which can, with an approximately 93% accuracy, tell based on a person’s mobile-phone records “where that person is at any moment of the day”, according to The Economist. This seems to, in a certain way, back up some of the SI’s theories. 

    MW: Yeah, Debord is reading Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe, who is this great urban sociologist, the first person who was trying to map people’s pathways, and Debord, riffing off Henri Lefebvre’s The Critique of Everyday Life, is gonna start with the predictability of that. Now we’ve reached the point of real-time analysis and application—which runs almost exclusively to selling you stuff. One thing the Situationists were doing was looking for the free space in the Paris of the 1950s, with this massive police presence and surveillance. In the division between work time and leisure time and its routine, there was still a place of play, provided you live by the slogan Never Work. Well, there is no longer any difference between work and play. There’s no such thing as leisure and non-leisure. We’re all working all the friggin’ time. But when we’re working, we’re goofing off half that time anyway. Does anyone even know when they’re working anymore? I’m talking about in what the Situationists called the 'overdeveloped' world. I do all my work in coffee shops, and I see people constantly juggling stuff that’s either work or not work, god only knows what it is. As the grid tightens, it in certain senses becomes more diffuse. So it’s not to deny how geolocation is involved in surveillance or 3D printing is rapidly becoming proprietary, but it’s to figure out what can you produce within the space of those things that suggests another world entirely.

    Paul-Henri Chombart de Lauwe, map of a young woman's movements in Paris, 1957

    BB:  In your first book, Virtual Geography, you define Global Media Events as “singular irruptions into the regular flow of media”, and focus on four, including the Wall Street crash of ‘87 and Tiananmen Square. Do you think that such “singular irruptions” are still possible in our current mediated landscape?  

    MW: Yeah! In the sense that they were defined in that book as completely unanticipated in the media narratives of the time. And then of course someone comes along and says, “Oh, that crash is just like the last one.” But in the rhetoric of the time it was unthinkable, just as 2008 was unthinkable to all but a tiny handful of folks. So, yes I think there are still interruptions in the narrative space-time, and it’s a question of method. As soon as a weird global media event like that happens, start recording everything, because when the media has no idea what the narrative is, then they experiment with all kinds of weird shit, like interviewing crazy people who would never otherwise be on the air, speculating wantonly and randomly, and that’s the stuff. You capture that, and that gives you a window into that break in the narrative space-time the spectacle can imply. The scariest one I went through personally was 9/11. Truly extraordinary stuff went on the air. You saw people jump out of the fucking building. Live. That stuff’s never been shown on television ever again. The event has been edited down to two or three images. So yeah, I think the method still works. Don’t give me this shit about Twitter revolutions, I was writing about this in the ‘90s! About how things like fax machines play into the space of Tiananmen Square. The first Twitter revolution is 1848, when the telegraph is already beginning to change the space-time in which things happen. We always have the same ridiculous debate about, Ooh it’s the new media, and it’s like, no, events only happen because of the political actors. It’s a total category mistake; there’s no such thing as politics outside of the media. Or vice versa.

    BB: In The Spectacle of Disintegration, you specifically state you don’t want to name the inheritors of the SI’s spirit, yet in five years earlier in 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International, you named a small group, including the Bernadette Corporation, DJ Spooky, and the Critical Art Ensemble. I was curious why you revised your stance. 

    MW: Well, not to slight those folks, but it just struck me in retrospect as a bad idea. Anyone can "inherit" the spirit of the Situationists. One of the sources of this whole project was I was on a Listserv in the ‘90s called Nettime which was kind of like media central for a whole series of avant-garde actions. I thought, I want to write about that, but it was too rhizomatic, so I started by rereading The Society of the Spectacle, something everyone involved probably read, and I said, “Holy fuck, it doesn’t say what I thought it said!” So I got sidetracked into this whole thing. It’s still a project I’d like to do some day. It’s much broader than just one or two groups, and all of them have their locations in a sense, the Bernadette Corporation folds back into the art world, a bit precipitously I suppose. The myth in the art world was that the avant-garde disappeared. No it didn’t, it just had nothing to do with the art world anymore, because when art becomes contemporary art, it’s just another category of commodity production. The avant-garde is now attached to media and design. There’s still a project to kind to recover those stories, extract what’s living and what’s dead, extract the concepts, make it available for folks to do it all over again. Avant-gardes are always extremely historically aware. They just want to deny it and pretend they’re not repeating. 

    BB: Do you see any of today’s social thinkers who stand in opposition to the gadget age, and here I’m thinking of people like Sherry Turkle and Evgeny Morozov, as coming from an SI background? 

    MW: No, and the most common mistake is to mistake the current form of a technology for technology at its basic potential. How many times do we have to do the same old stupid bullshit over and over again? It’s all one-sided and undialectical and frankly very uninteresting. So alright you don’t like technology. Technology is the human. We’re the tool-making species. There is no human independent from its tool apparatus. The question is: does it have to be these tools? Absolutely not. So how does one reimagine the potential, the set of the scientific discoveries and their technical applications, and open up so life could be otherwise? That’s the critical task. There’s an absolute failure to perform the critical task in relation to technology. There’s a kind of "No, I don’t like the iPhone." Well, what the fuck do you like then? What do you want? Describe another world. Describe it to me. For seven billion people.  Among the Situationists, someone like Constant Nieuwenhuys did exactly that, he imagined an entire other planet based on mid 20th Century technology. That’s more of a conceptual exercise than a real engineering project, but it opens a door to asking question about how, well, how do you reengineer cities? So that they’re survivable would do for a start, but better than. We really could abolish work, y’know? Not completely. But we could really get it down to a few hours a day. So, well, how’s that project going? We’re gonna run out of cheap labor eventually. It can’t go on forever. There’s signs that China has turned a corner. They just don’t wanna do these boring factory jobs. Alright, so we’ll go exploit cheap labor in Vietnam. But it can’t go on forever. So that opens the question of, well, we’re only using this cheap labor ‘cause it’s so cheap, sitting there all day with a screwdriver assembling those cheap plastic toys. Now you look at all those plastic toys with ten screws in them. Well, they’re only designed to have ten screws because it’s cheaper to use the labor than to design the fucking thing properly so it snaps together. So at some point technology has to be part of the critical conversation. And that’s where hackspace culture, hacker culture, some of maker culture, is so incredibly helpful. It’s equipping people with a basic knowledge of how our world actually works. But you have to add the question of how could it work better, how could it work differently. And as a totality, not just "I want a better widget." What would be a better system? That’s the whole critical design question. The central question to me now is the avant garde of design. 

    BB: There’s a certain strain of tech utopianism, personified now perhaps in the figure of the late Aaron Swartz, who are for using tech to bring about an “open culture.” How at odds with the SI’s interest in concealment is this?   

    MW: Aaron Swartz’s story is tragic in more ways than one, but you have to ask how politically aware his mentors actually were. Marx says in The Communist Manifesto, who are the forces of social change? Those who ask the property question. And Swartz did. It got him into all sorts of trouble. So I think there’s a kind of reformist dimension to openness, but there’s also an attempt to recuperate the energy of a social movement that has basically decided that all of culture really does belong to all of us. It’s file-sharing. That to me is one of the biggest social movements of the early 21st Century: 'These are my dreams, these are my desires. So I’m taking them back thankyouverymuch.' And then some people, not everyone, go, 'Oh and then I’ll share it with everyone as well, because it all belongs to all of us. We all made this!' So there’s a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between gift and commodity going on there. And it gets recuperated back into industrial structures. The whole of what I call the vectoralist class is attempting to recommodify at a different threshold. Google doesn’t give a rat’s ass who owns whatever it is you’re searching for. It just wants your data and to sell ads at you based on that data. Here’s all this free information, you can have that, but we want you to give up more information than what we’re giving you. If you see it as a political compromise between the fact that information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains, it’s like, Oh we’re just gonna rearrange the chains a little bit. So we need that historical perspective of the shifting of frontiers that respond to the social movement. That’s the crucial bit that’s often missing from popular writing about this stuff. 

    BB: There’s been kind of a second wave of recuperation of the SI since the mid to late aughts. What do you think the drivers of this wave are?

    MW: It’s hard to tell if it’s a pattern or if it’s random. But there were a bunch of attempts in the late ‘80s to tell the story. The famous show was at ICA Boston and the Pompidou Center, which Debord famously refused to attend. And Greil Marcus’ book came out. As the SI said: 'our ideas are on everyone’s mind.' They really understood the boredom of commodity capitalism. While they’re dealing with an earlier phase of it, it’s still true. There’s still something about boredom in the way the commodity responds to desire imperfectly. So maybe it’s just that it still speaks to people. Debord’s widow Alice Becker-Ho just sold the archives to the Bibliothèque nationale for an astonishingly large sum of money, if the rumors are true. She tried to sell it to Yale, I think, knowing that this would provoke the French government into declaring Debord a national treasure, which means that the manuscripts can’t leave the country if the price can be almost matched. There’s a way in which the museum industry and the scholarship industry require rare, special things to base whole careers around. You now have to go the Bibliothèque nationale to see the holograph of Debord’sThe Society of the Spectacle. I saw it in a glass case; I’ve never actually read the manuscript. “Real scholars” have to work in the presence of the sacred aura of the thing. It’s kind of ironic given the nature of the stuff. One of the reasons I like to teach the SI is that all the texts are free in translation on the Internet. It’s everywhere and done by amateurs, but done lovingly. So there is a kind of auto-museological side to avant-gardes themselves. These are the folks who are in this, creating it. Rather than the sense that, now that almost everyone’s safely dead we can add this to a canonic succession and teach it after all. I don’t really care. There’s two competing histories. There’s what I call low theory. This stuff is now part of high theory. I really couldn’t care less. But this other tradition of low theory has already decided that this is stuff it wants to curate and share freely and give away. I’m part of that. 

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    When I first came across ASMR, it struck me as an Internet meme that bordered on a vast consensual hallucination, like the stories of fainting spells that sweep village schools. 

    ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, which sounds quite scientific but was, they say, coined on Facebook by an IT specialist (to be fair, she does reportedly work in the healthcare field, at least). In most cases, ASMR is characterized as a “tingling sensation” (or, unfortunately, a "braingasm") experienced in response to various kinds of sensory triggers. These “triggers” are quite diverse, including close-ups of tactile objects and related sound effects (brushing, rubbing, especially when recorded in 3D), the depiction of tasks requiring great concentration, whispering voices and the classic television show The Joy of Painting. YouTube videos featuring such triggers sometimes reach huge audiences despite their seemingly mundane content; one in which a woman pretends to give the viewer a haircut has 2.4 million views.

    ASMR may be a fad and a made-up word, but that doesn't mean there's not something to it. Some ASMR videos do give me something like a tingle. The scrape of Bob Ross’ knife across his palette; his brush daubing oily color onto dry canvas: these generate tactile sensations that are, in fact, quite pleasurable. Not only that, they are pleasurable in a different way than the real act of painting. Similarly, watching ASMR videos of people folding towels is more pleasurable for many people than the real act of folding towels. It's almost like what is satisfying about them not the tactile sensation itself, but the fact that this tactile sensation is triggered by other sensory inputs. 

    What is going on here?

    Watching these videos made me think of a performance work by artist Stephen Lichty which he performed for me during a 2011 studio visit and subsequently presented for my class at SVA, although no documentation currently exists. In this work, which he refers to as Untitled O.B.E., a single participant dons a pair of video goggles and looks in the direction of their hand. Through the goggles, I saw a live video image of an approximately hand-sized object (a folded, colored handkerchief). Stephen performed a series of operations on my hand and the handkerchief at the same time. As I looked toward my hand, I saw Stephen pressing on the handkerchief, and I felt him pressing on my hand. 

    Then came the big moment. Stephen stopped manipulating my hand at all. Now, as I watched him tap on the handkerchief, I still felt the tapping sensation in my hand. I had developed an empathic link with this object, a phantom handkerchief-hand. And it was a crazy feeling. 

    Untitled O.B.E. strikes me as somehow similar to ASMR, in that a relatively mundane tactile sensation takes on an incredible affective charge when it is triggered through non-somatosensory inputs. I emailed Stephen to ask if he had any more information about the neurological basis for his experiment, and he pointed me to the Brian Massumi article The Archive of Experience. In it, Massumi quotes from the psychologist Daniel Stern's book The Interpersonal World of the Infant:

    For instance, in trying to soothe an infant, the parent could say, ‘There, there ...,’ giving more stress and amplitude on the first part of the word and trailing off towards the end of the word. Alternatively. the parent could silently stroke the baby’s back or head with a stroke analogous to the ‘There, there’ sequence, applying more pressure at the onset of the stroke and lightening or trailing off toward the end. If the duration of the contoured stroke and the pauses between strokes were of the same absolute and relative durations as the vocalization-pause pattern, the infant would experience similar activation contours no matter which soothing technique was performed. The two soothings would feel the same (beyond their sensory specificity).

    For Stern (and for Massumi), the important thing is not the individual sensory input, but the cognitive linking together of diverse sensory events. These linkages form the basis of the infant's understanding of the objective world, and they hold incredible fascination and power, but they gradually recede into the background. As Massumi writes, "the stronger that the awareness of this objective organization of the world becomes," the more these affective links "recede into the state of a trace." 

    Perhaps the "tingle" associated with ASMR videos and Lichty's performance work are a result of the recuperation of these traces, a renewed experience of the sensory links that we forge in infancy, when we first are coming to grips with a world that bombards us with strange new sensations. 

    For Massumi, this recuperation can also be experienced simply by viewing a painting, or indeed any virtual space. In the aforementioned text, he quotes from philosopher Susanne Langer's work on perspective in painting and writes that "the couching of the non-visible [that is, touch, movement, etc.] in visible form can only be achieved if the artist 'departs' from 'direct imitation.'" In other words, what satisfies us in representational imagery is not that it places us directly in another environment, but that it activates the sensory linkages that allow us to experience touch and movement through our visual sense. The appeal of virtual reality may not be in its realism, but in its virtuality.

    "Combined with this is another perversity, an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one. The defect of the real one is so apt to be a lack of representation. I like things who appear. Then one is sure." - from Oliver Laric's Versions (2010), riffing on Henry James' The Real Thing.


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    In April 2013, the most viewed article on Rhizome was Daniel Rourke's richly illustrated interview with David OReilly, animator and director of a recent episode of Cartoon Network's series Adventure Time. The most commented-upon thread was, of course, Breaking the Ice, in which generational differences emerged, future directions were debated, pasts relived, and present staff members reminded of founding ideals.

    We added Oliver Laric's "An Incomplete Timeline of Online Exhibitions and Biennials" to the ArtBase following Laric's decision to withdraw from BiennaleOnline. Later, organizer David Dehaeck fired back in the pages of El País, saying "The BiennaleOnline is about art and not bits and bytes." Got that?

    In the month's longreads, Tom McCormack probed the links between ASCII art and Apollinaire, and Part 3 of Jacob Gaboury's well-researched 'Queer History of Computing' series continued to bring sexual politics into technology history. 

    Daniel Rourke profiled Alex Myers and Emilie Gervais, Megan Heuer delved into Peggy Ahwesh and Sadie Benning's use of Pixelvision, I wrote about Ryder Rypps' Red Bull-fueled endurance performance Hyper Current Living and visited Eyebeam's F.A.T. retrospective, and Alexander Keefe dug up screeds by occultist techno-utopian Xul Solar.

    Our Seven on Seven conference was always on our minds; in case you missed it, check out the videos of all presentations, my recap, Giampaolo Bianconi's remarkably lucid live blog, and profiles of participants Jill MagidFatima Al QadiriJeremy BaileyCameron Martin and Harper Reed


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    Extract from Vertigo (1958).

    As Slavoj Žižek and others have argued, the credit sequences designed by Saul Bass for Alfred Hitchcock's unofficial trilogy of late masterpieces—Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960)—announce the visual motifs of each film and suggest their psychological underpinnings. The broken lines in Psycho are echoed in the slashes of the killer’s knife and the broken pathway from the Bates motel to the old Victorian cottage in which Norman lives, supposedly with his mother. The grid in North by Northwest mimics the Manhattan skyscrapers where Cary Grant’s dopey adman initially toils, as well the train tracks on which he travels as his identity is further and further confused and effaced, and the cornfield in which he famously ducks for cover under the attack of a faceless machine. The spirals that open Vertigo suggest the roads through hilly San Francisco on which Scotty pursues Madeline, the twist of her hair, the staircase that causes his eponymous vertigo to flare up.


    Each credit sequence is echoed by the soundtrack of each film, all composed by Bernard Herrmann. The theme for Psycho is the famous staccato ee-ee ee-ee. North by Northwest is set to an interlocking, pulsating orchestra. And for Vertigo, Hermann lifted the most famous musical phrase from the Liebestod of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde: a rising and falling sequence that fails to ever resolve itself.

    All of which suggests that Hitchcock—a famous tyrant—was actually, or also, one of the most canny collaborators of the 20th century.

    For the title sequence to Vertigo, Hitchcock had an additional, often unnoted, collaborator: John Whitney. A pioneer of computer animation who worked in television in the 50s and 60s and in the 70s created some of the first digital art, Whitney was hired to complete the seemingly impossible task of turning Bass’s complicated designs for Vertigo into moving pictures. A mechanism was needed that could plot the shapes that Bass wanted, which were based on graphs of parametric equations by 19th mathematician Jules Lissajous; plotting them precisely, as opposed to drawing them freehand, required that the motion of a pendulum be linked to motion of an animation stand, but no animation stand at the time could modulate continuous motion without its interior wiring becoming tangled.

    John and James Whitney in their studio, c. 1943-1945. Courtesy of the estate of John and James Whitney.

    To solve this problem, Whitney made use of an enormous, obsolete military computer called the M5 gun director. The M5 was used during World War II to aim anti-aircraft cannons at moving targets. It took five men to operate it on the battlefield, each inputting one variable, such as the altitude of the incoming plane, its velocity, etc.

    Whitney realized that the gun director could rotate endlessly, and in perfect synchronization with the swinging of a pendulum. He placed his animation cels on the platform that held the gun director, and above it suspended a pendulum from the ceiling which held a pen that was connected to a 24-foot high pressurized paint reservoir. The movement of the pendulum in relation to the rotation of the gun director generated the spiral drawings used in Vertigo’s opening sequence.

    John Whitney drawing a Lissajous spiral, 1963.

    The M5 weighed 850 lbs and comprised 11,000 components, but its movement was dictated by the execution of mathematical equations; it was very much a computer. Whitney’s work on the opening sequence for Vertigo could be considered an early example of computer graphics in film—and a clever détournement of military equipment.

    Today is the 65th anniversary of the release of Vertigo.

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    TIME Magazine, May 20, 2013. 


    TIME Magazine, January 1, 2007.

    Jon Rafman, New Age Demanded Microfiche Archive, 2013. Microfiche machine and custom microfiche. 51.5 x 33 x 48.4 cm. Via Future Gallery.


    Sim Chang, from the series Flawless Love. (H/T to jemchan).



    Jonathan Zawada


    Amy Snodgrass, via Internet Poetry


    Steph Davidson, Illustration for Businessweek article on Bitcoin, 28 March 2013.


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