Articles on this Page
- 05/12/14--07:15: _How to Speedread Pr...
- 05/13/14--07:30: _Larping Off the Grid
- 05/14/14--09:11: _Go Fucking Do It
- 05/15/14--07:36: _A Surf Session with...
- 05/20/14--09:56: _Stealth Infrastructure
- 05/20/14--21:00: _Aleksandra Domanovi...
- 05/22/14--09:15: _The Unfinished Busi...
- 05/23/14--07:30: _"How does one conne...
- 05/27/14--07:15: _Artist Profile: Edw...
- 05/28/14--08:00: _Rhizome is Open (So...
- 05/29/14--08:00: _The Accidental Arch...
- 05/30/14--07:19: _Five Years Later, K...
- 06/03/14--06:56: _Occupy #normcore, S...
- 06/04/14--08:25: _Poetry Under a Home...
- 06/05/14--08:19: _Wavelength: Modular...
- 06/09/14--08:14: _Displacement is the...
- 06/11/14--07:00: _Art, Bed and Breakf...
- 06/11/14--08:01: _Internet Subjects: ...
- 06/12/14--08:00: _TO ALL THE PEOPLE W...
- 06/16/14--08:43: _July 2: NYC poetry ...
- 05/12/14--07:15: How to Speedread Properly
- 05/13/14--07:30: Larping Off the Grid
- 05/14/14--09:11: Go Fucking Do It
- 05/15/14--07:36: A Surf Session with Cory Arcangel
- 05/20/14--09:56: Stealth Infrastructure
- 05/20/14--21:00: Aleksandra Domanović's Internet Realism
- 05/22/14--09:15: The Unfinished Business of a Yugoslav Internet
- 05/23/14--07:30: "How does one connect a country to the internet?"
- 05/27/14--07:15: Artist Profile: Edward Marshall Shenk
- 05/28/14--08:00: Rhizome is Open (Source) for Business
- 05/30/14--07:19: Five Years Later, Kev Has a New Website
- 06/04/14--08:25: Poetry Under a Home Shopping Network Sky
- 06/05/14--08:19: Wavelength: Modular Youth, A Speculative Playlist
- 06/09/14--08:14: Displacement is the New Translation
- 06/11/14--07:00: Art, Bed and Breakfast: The AIRBNB Pavilion
- 06/11/14--08:01: Internet Subjects: #Uberwar and the "Sharing" Economy
- 06/16/14--08:43: July 2: NYC poetry event with Kev, Bunny Rogers, and Brigid Mason
There's an underlying assumption in most of the thinkpieces spawned by emergent speedreading apps: that you'll be using them to catch up on the massive assortment of thinkpieces you don't have the time to ingest.
Velocity, Spritz (which is actually proprietary tech, not yet an "app"), and the 2006 web-based spreeder all facilitate speedreading via a method known as Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). RSVP, as spreeder marketing copy explains, focuses on "silencing subvocalization" (which, in turn, is defined in Velocity's copy as your "inner voice"). spreeder and Velocity accomplish this by basically flashing words at you really fast. Spritz adds its own "Optimal Recognition Point," often a vowel, in red so as to excise time-consuming eye movements. In each case, the eye is presented here as the blood-brain barrier, with the text ever trying to pass through it more efficiently. This is a rather unique method for dealing with the stresses of the war-like domain of the longread; now you can "read" everything.
"If only I'd known about RSVP while in college, I may have actually gotten through all 1,000 pages of Tom Jones," writes Jim Pagels in Slate. The initial impulse to question Pagels' purity of spirit should be quashed. No one can read Tom Jones the way Fielding's initial audience did in 1749 (unless someone were to construct an immersive VR world, complete with memory wipes, to enable full reading-experience). And, indeed, the first page or so of Tom Jones goes down easily enough on spreeder, if only because it is primarily table-setting. Stick the first couple of paragraphs of The Manifesto of the Communist Party in there, and you'll get the gist, but you begin to see the delicate impact of the loss of subvocalization. The twin delicious names "Metternich and Guizot" cannot be chewed over, nor can the inadvisable nostalgia associated with the phrase "French Radicals and German police-spies" be indulged in, even briefly. You'd think the opening throes of On the Road would fare better, with Keroauc's infamous Words Typed Per Minute, but (of course) you can't hear him. Without the inner voice, text becomes a kind of data cinema (the rhetoric of "streaming" is here well deployed), and no author is yet writing for a stabilized delivery-rate of text. Fiction has yet to find its Michael Bay.
An exception could be interactive storytelling platform Twine, where pace can be controlled to create dread, such as in the more helpless sections of Michael Lutz's my long, long legs. An assaultive, controlled pace could generate some interesting contortions of the political thriller (once defined by Bruce Sterling as "science fiction which includes the President").
But speedreading seems primed for another form, already existent, one in which words are already stripped of their meaning so as to batter the reader into submission: Dadist poetry. The hectoring anti-explainer humor of Tristan Tzara's "To Make a Dadaist Poem" (1920) comes across full-bore, and the utter divorce from actual language of Hugo Ball's "Gadji beri bimba" feels much less forced when delivered to you, rather than picked self-consciously off a page. Kurt Schwitters' high-velocity poetry loses the intricacy of its indentation and italization, but
No more of this! --
piston! sprocket! carburetor!
-- these are the words of the new poetry!
from "Lighting a Fire, 1914," works even better stripped down into single words flung at your screen. It's not akin to being in the audience of Cabaret Voltaire in 1916, but it's far more pertinent. The question is less whether the copygenerators of the Thinkpiece Archipelago will reconfigure their craft according to the stresses of the WPM, than how the next iteration of the avant-garde might address the banishment of the human voice from the act of reading.
Pictured: Hugo Ball at Cabaret Voltaire, 1916.
Courtesy of Isaac Eddy
The year is 2020, and four months ago, a federal mandate required everyone to wear a biometric device that would not only track physiological and behavioral characteristics, but transmit this personal data to the public and the government in real time.
The company that invented this device—ePublik—never intended for their technology to be used for government surveillance. Acting in protest, its engineers have found a way to unlawfully hack the device and temporarily disable the live stream. Those courageous enough to disobey government surveillance for brief moments of unmonitored alone time are joining what the media has called the Aloneing Movement.
This was the scenario put forth in Private(i), a participatory performance of future fiction that took place in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for one weekend this April. Set in 2020, Private(i) functioned as a historical reenactment of 2014, a nostalgia-inducing retreat for Aloners who longed for a time when leaving the grid was still an option. Participants were given the chance to spend short spurts of Alone time in secret hiding spaces throughout the sprawling industrial complex.
Courtesy of Jason Schuler
The performance began in a conference room in the Navy Yard's Building 92, where participants were asked to listen to a product demonstration for a vague new ePublik product. About a dozen news articles that span from 2012 to 2020 were posted to the wall, suggesting a not-too-unimaginable vision of the near future. One article from 2018 recounted this story: A man almost dies from being attacked by a swarm of bees, but is rescued by an Amazon.com drone carrying an EpiPen; the biometric data transmited from his bracelet had alerted athorities of his medical situation and exact location.
Ten minutes into the product demonstration, it became clear that the presentation was a front for an undercover escape mission. We were quietly ushered into the building's basement, where we were stripped of our phones and each assigned a tour guide to help us navigate the outdoors. With an experienced "Aloner" named Karla as my guide, I met several other performers who had carved out private spaces on various roofs, boiler rooms, stairwells, and a box truck.
Courtsey of Alessandra Calabi
The box truck was perhaps the most awkward stop on the route: I sat on a hand-painted pillow amongst a handful of deflating balloons under a banner that said "Happy Birthday." A man with pigtail braids and a guitar in his lap introduced himself as David and handed me a store-bought brownie with a lit candle in the middle. When I blew out the candle, he began to play the acoustic and asked me what I'd wished for. Not exactly the type of experience I imagine when thinking about solitude.
A stop that felt more appropriate came later, when a guy on a rooftop handed me a plate and asked me to throw it against a wall. The adrenaline spike and elevated heart rate would have sent red flags to authorities had my biometric device signal not been jammed.
Courtesy of Alessandra Calabi
Pretending to rebel against wearable technology in the year 2020 was definitely the closest I had ever come to larping (Live Action Role Playing), and while I didn't necessarily glide into my role as easily as I had hoped, I did see the potential for larp as an artistic context in which to experiment with possible responses to hypothetical realities that, sooner or later, may become our own. As others have pointed out, larping (particularly as it is practiced in the Nordic Larp community) can be a powerful catalyst for sociological reflection, political activism, and social change—allowing participants to become distanced observers from the world in which they live while engaging experimentally in an alternative reality that could describe what is to come.
In the world of 2020 set forth by Private(i), the word hacking is more often followed by "out of" than "into." In 2014, we most often understand hacking to mean "getting into" somewhere we aren't supposed to be, and we fear the breach of our own privacy when unknown vigilantes pry into our accounts. But if the future is anything like how the artists behind Private(i) predict it will be, the only way to protect our privacy will be to become hackers ourselves, creating glitches in the system that binds us.
Neoliberalism is not merely destructive of rules, institutions and rights. It is also productive of certain kinds of social relations, certain ways of living, certain subjectivities….at stake in neo-liberalism is nothing more, nor less, than the form of our existence—the way in which we are led to conduct ourselves, to relate to others and to ourselves.
—Dardot & Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society
Users of the app sign up for free (of course) and determine a personal goal. They then set a deadline and decide on an amount of money they would like to risk losing if they fail to meet it. To finish, the user designates a third-party who serves as the arbiter of the goal. On the deadline, the app sends an email to the designated supervisor verifying their success, or otherwise.
In the words of Go Fucking Do It: "If they state you have reached your goal, nothing happens. If they state you haven't, we charge your card once" for the amount selected. The app's creator, known as levels.io, wanted to provide a platform to help people achieve personal goals, everything from "quitting smoking to running a marathon to asking out the girl they've been in love with but didn't dare to."
For my trial run of Go Fucking Do It, I selected a task that commonly plagues the freelance writer: meeting an imminent deadline (in fact for the first draft of this very review). I apportioned a few weeks, with my editor as supervisor. I couldn't help but view my use of the app as a kind of insidious comment on the exposure economy that reigns over bourgeois creative fields: I could have just as easily used the wager to motivate myself to design my first shoe line, send my portfolio to prospective galleries, finish my personal website, or any other uncompensated labors that some endure as a matter of course. Indeed, Go Fucking Do It is perfectly positioned to profit from me defaulting on my obligations to be a good neoliberal knowledge worker, where I am drawn in by the empowerment inherent in setting my own rate for the opportunity costs of not progressing towards my idealized self.
Nowhere in the user experience does Go Fucking Do It explicitly note that the developer fully absorbs the penalty fee itself. Only when reached by email did levels.io confirm my suspicion. (Though apparently other users inquired about the notion of the proceeds going to charity: In press materials, levels.io explains that "the money doesn't go to charity"—not because this would completely strip the app of the revenue generating potential, but because "that would make people less inclined to actually reach their goals.")
But perhaps the more remarkable aspect of Go Fucking Do It is that the digital technology at work is about as rudimentary as possible. The app consists of three basic elements: a front-end website/user interface, the establishment of a secure credit card connection, and an automatically scheduled email to the supervisor. The operative yes/no input comes from your designated human judge. Except for that most essential monetary transaction, all labor is carried out by the consumer. The app reflectively administers its subject's own anxiety, idling in the background with nothing to lose and everything to gain. In perfect techno-capitalist logic, Go Fucking Do It assumes no risk and performs no labor—it is the ideal "lean" startup.
The simpler the design of the user experience, the more complicated the ways in which it relies upon new norms of sociality. Today, it's widely observed that networked, private entities replace the social regulatory function of the state. Go Fucking Do It is simply the logical extension of this same development, encroaching further into the realm of the old modernist goal of engineering the good productive Liberal—creative, happy, socially engaged—albeit now at digital scale.
In their diagnostic of the neoliberal subject, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, Dardot & Laval describe this as the general "mutation of the institution into the enterprise." In an accelerated economy that runs at digital speed, no corner of existence is outside the realm of private engineering. What kind of governmentality persists when we are impelled into pursuits of productivity and happiness wherein private entities stand to directly profit from our (self-)discipline?
Perhaps in part due to this general collapse of community, institutions, and traditional norms of sociality under networked capitalism, we're increasingly enjoined into competition, engaging in data entry as a natural correlate of "living." Go Fucking Do It slips neatly into this very subjectivity, going a step beyond asking you to "share" your goals and accomplishments by monetizing a sort of shame and failure, literally operationalizing unbridled faith in market forces as a protocol for the self.
Go Fucking Do It is not only the name of the app but also a mantra for a brogrammer ethos that disguises its own privilege in Emersonian auto-didacticism. It is here where everyone is an entrepreneur-in-waiting; free to move, self-directed, emancipated from state or institutional constraints, limited only by their own loathsome inability to self-manifest infinitely achievable personal goals.
That levels.io taught himself to code is perhaps pertinent. One the first of many projects he embarked on was a machine to legislate his enlightened self-reliance on a demographic of "lazy" subjects, whose inefficient approaches to orderly accomplishment of life goals could just be cured by coercive adoption of market logic, if only they would sign up and give it a try.
On Saturday, May 17, artist Cory Arcangel will present a solo exhibition and pop-up store, "You Only Live Once," at the Holiday Inn New York-Soho, featuring a new clothing and lifestyle merchandise line, Arcangel Surfware. We met for a session at his Brooklyn apartment to talk about surfing tricks and habits, gear, and how things change for each generation of surfers.
Can you start by showing me something from your browsing history?
Most, I'm not going to say all the time, but more often than not, my deep surfs revolve around late 80s/early- to mid-90s metal. (Laughter.) I've been going deep into Steve Vai lately.... Here's all my Steve Vai searches.
Wow, that's a lot of Steve Vai.
And look, it's a continual interest over months.
Dating back to April 2013.
Probably my history got erased at that point, but this is as long as the history goes back. My favorite Steve Vai video is this "How to be Successful" Guitar Center Session one he did. Have you seen this?
No, I haven't.
This is the video. But my trick lately is to type in somebody that I like, a musician, and then type a year after it, and keep typing an earlier and earlier year and find out what is the earliest video of them on youtube. Like if you type in Guns N Roses 1986, you get videos of them playing in tiny, horrible clubs, you know what I mean?
So that's my trick. Lately, I have done that with Steve Vai, the Melvins, Pantera, Guns N' Roses, Van Halen, Godflesh, Joey Beltram (whose dream was to be a metal producer). This is an amazing video [referring to Steve Vai]. If we link to anything it should just be this video.
This is Steve Vai speaking at a Guitar Center?
Yeah. He's interesting because he was actually the protégé of Frank Zappa, which a lot of people don't know. So Steve Vai was in the Frank Zappa band when he was—I think—still a teenager. Look how cool he looks. So this is, to explain to people reading the interview, one of his Guitar Center lecture/performances edited into a kind of self-help video. We're just gonna watch this; it gets really amazing.
Anyway, so this is a good example. After many many months of trawling in the middle of the night, this is the gold I was looking for. Self-help from Steve Vai. I'll show you the Melvins one. It says 1984, I don't know if its 1984 but its like really early. And then the other one that I saw lately was Guns N Roses 1986. That one's amazing. "Don't Cry"—them playing it acoustically with nobody paying attention. It's so cool. Anyway, this would probably be the most emblematic of my surfing. This is really pretty much it.
Surfing as a cultural practice has obviously changed so much because of things like Facebook. Do you think that is more difficult to actively follow some research thread (such as 80s/90s metal) as opposed to just receiving a flow of content that's being presented to you, configured in a certain way depending on when you log on?
Yeah, I do think that it's harder now in a certain way. There are a lot of structures that have been built up that are quite good at manipulating your attention. And that stuff didn't really exist maybe even ten years ago, right? There weren't sites that were like glue for your attention. k10k and Slashdot was as close as you could get, at least in my world. Something like Upworthy is a really good example of these really destructively honeypot link things. So yeah, I think it is a lot harder now just to mash around on the internet. I don't think its worse. I wouldn't put a hierarchy in terms of what's better or worse, but it is different.
The word surfing, to me, suggests a more self-guided exploration than scrolling allows.
Oh yeah, scrolling! That's the new thing. Lazy loading is a time killer! OMG. I can lose an hour, easy, like a drug addict, with a lazy loading page.
When you told me you were doing Arcangel Surfware of course I thought it was for surfing in the ocean. I should have known... Maybe you're not making a value judgment, but the project is a kind of intervention into internet practice today, which involves quick flicks at the screen at in-between moments. Like, you're on the train for 10 min, or you're at dinner for 30 seconds and you're scrolling. So the thing that you proposed with Surfware, getting comfy and getting into things, suggests a different mode of attention.
Maybe it's a mode of attention thats becoming obsolete in a weird way. I still go pretty hard though at night. Because the laptops are so light now. So I'll go pretty hard.
Down the rabbit hole.
Yeah like maybe at 9, 10 pm, like on the couch. But I do agree with you, I suppose there are different ways to surf now. Like on my phone, I'll grind hard on New York Times, I mean, I'll straight wear that battery down on NY Times' "most emailed"! Hahaha.
Speaking of modes of surfing, can you tell me about your Subway project?
Yeah. It's a series of movies I've been making which are basically desktop video screen captures of me surfing different websites. So each movie is a different website. So the one that's up in my show in Denmark ("All The Small Things," Herning Museum of Contemporary Art) right now is called Freshbuzz (subway.com) and it is an hour long video of me surfing Subway.com, both the actual Subway.com, but also the kind of auxiliary parts of the Subway brand—so it also includes Subway's Facebook, Vine, Pinterest, & Youtube accounts. It's presented right now in a cinema so its kind of meant to be seen as a kind of cinematic piece—a movie. It's pretty intense. Freshbuzz (subway.com) is 60 minutes long.
Cory Arcangel, Freshbuzz (subway.com) (2013-14). Single-channel video, 60 minutes. Installation view, "All The Small Things," Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, 2014. Photo: Sacha Maric.
It's like elongating the experience of looking at websites.
Yeah, its the exact opposite of looking at the NYTimes on the subway. It's sitting down in a dark cinema and being pounded. I've done OfficeMax, Starbucks user forums, Dunkin' Donuts, and as mentioned above I've done Subway. So there are four at the moment in the series. The Dunkin' Donuts one is an hour and a half. I hope to make more. I'm looking at Cracker Barrel at the moment.
I thought the Subway one was about health because Subway is very healthy I think.
Yeah, I mean a lot of my interest in that end of it, the fast food end of it, is about like, health, yeah, to be honest. Personally, thats how I'm interested in that kind of stuff. I know that sounds so boring. Uuuugh.
It's an interesting shift, because you're the Pizza Party artist. [In 2004, Arcangel and Michael Frumin made Pizza Party, a software tool that allowed users to order Domino's via a command-line interface—Ed.]
Yeah, I have a long history of making artwork that engages quite aggressively with fast food culture.
You would only eat fast food not that long ago. Now you have a rice cooker.
I don't even think I drank water until I was thirty. It's true. Seriously. [Laughter]
The body is a common thread among a few things you have going now. Super comfy surf clothes, subway, and the pool noodles, which you described as "accessorized."
Yeah, the surf pieces are about forcing cinematic narrative onto surfing but they are also a little bit related to my own personal experience, which is health, the body, etc, etc. So it's complicated and at the same time of course, like a lot of my works, they do kind of stem from a kind of dare or a kind of joke, or a, I wonder whether people can handle this, sort of thing. And yeah, the noodle sculptures are really just "bodies" as well.
So on the one hand your work is creating space for surfing and contemplating the web at a different pace. But on the other hand, you have projects like Continuous Partial Awareness (2008-2009)—basically a long list of project ideas, delivered both as a lecture and a publication—which fully conform to, even celebrate, the pressures on our online attention.
I don't have a real political stake, one way or another, but the situation is definitely changing—which is great because it means there's always new opportunities to play against or play with it. And when I did that Continuous Partial Awareness thing in 2008, I had noticed that the situation of "computing" was changing, and it was changing pretty quickly—on the internet, or with culture. And now its almost unrecognizable, even since then. Now everything is so fractured so much, you know? So now, to be honest, I'm just trying to keep up now. I'm an oldz now.
Only the bots can keep up now.
Definitely, yeah, one of the more exciting things lately in the last couple of years is bot culture. It's interesting that it's unclear whether a lot of sites these days are bots or not, and I think that's really one of the more cool things these days on the net.
Is your New Yorker Tumblr a bot? [What a Misunderstanding! (2009) automatically appends the titular phrase to the weekly New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.]
Yeah, What a Misunderstanding! is a bot. I have several bots I've made over the years but that's the latest one.
What about the Spotify one?
Ooops, forgot about that one, but yeah, that's the latest one. It's a Spotify bot—titled On and On—and it's basically an Applescript which runs Spotify which broadcasts to Facebook. I know that's a mouthful, but if you run it, it looks like (on Facebook) you are listening to the song Like A G6 by Far East Movement all night every night in the middle of the night. It starts at like, 9 pm and goes till 7 am or something. The code will be released as a zine at my May 17th pop up show. Have you ever seen my site solitaire-weekly.com?
I never saw that one, no.
That was kind of like a bot site but actually it was human done. That's the thing, some sites out there on the net these days, … it's unclear if they are bots, or just really depressing human efforts. solitaire-weekly.com is a really depressing invisible human effort.
It's often a fine line with your work.
LOL. I didn't tell anybody about it when it was happening. I didn't publish it because i didn't want people to know it was an art piece. I'll show it to you. How do you spell solitaire? It was a webisode series. There was a new episode every week, of solitaire. This was the last episode. I mean, you probably understand. That's all it is.
Did you see this Webdriver Torso YouTube channel? It seems that these videos are being uploaded automatically as a test for some kind of streaming tool, and they're quite elegant: a red and a blue rectangle accompanied by computer tones, ten seconds long. There are almost 80,000 of these videos on their channel, and it's not clear exactly where they're coming from.
It's funny because the role of the artist has been under pressure from amateur production for a while now but now it's under pressure from bot production.
Yeah, yeah. It's not under pressure but its certainly .. five years ago, I think a lot of artists were looking at things on YouTube and being like "uh, that is better than anything I've ever made." And now you're like looking at some robots like, "uh, that is better than anything I've ever made." So yeah, I kind of agree with you. And it means were in a really fun time right now. We're competing against these kind of things ... it's fantastic.
When I saw the Surfware photos I thought about Spirit Surfers...so yeah, it made me think about how surfing has been changing, and keeps changing.
I think that was a really special time for all of us, … the del.icio.us/surf blog era. I was happy to have participated, at least just through del.icio.us in that kind of community and I think of it very fondly now when I think back on it. I mean I made so many friends on del.icio.us. Like IRL friends. Who I still email every day. It's true, I think it might be the last social network that I really made good friends over. It doesn't mean that it can't happen again, but in my mind, that was my social network. That was like my jam, you know?
But you know, even del.icio.us was a kind of step towards organizing people's attention. Before that it was much more chaotic, and you could come across something like Alexei Shulgin's bla-bla links and just have no idea where it came from… You know, I lost my delicious account.
Oh because it was probably sending that update to an old email.
I think my del.icio.us account is still up but I don't use it anymore.
We're not kids anymore.
I know! I think my delicious account started in '03 and so actually it's, I can't imagine that, but it's been over ten years since everyone was on del.icio.us. It makes me feel like old or something, which is kind of cool. I don't mind getting old. But its good to talk about all this stuff. Like therapy.
Cell tower disguised as fir tree, Bedfordshire, UK. Photo: Dragontree.
"The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision. "
– The Critical Engineering Manifesto, 2011-2014
My first conscious contact with telecommunications infrastructure came in the form of a telephone call that simultaneously rang for about a hundred people.
It was called a party line and was common in the 80s in rural New Zealand and other areas too sparsely populated to justify a unique telephone cable to each household. Instead, the telco ran just one line out from the nearest exchange as though the whole community were a single address, and then wove it across the hills, through wooden T-poles, stitching farm to farm.
It worked like this: each farm was given a ring pattern similar to a phrase of Morse Code. Our antique phone with its wooden housing and little metal bells would ring with a dozen different patterns a day, but the rule was that you'd only pick up when the call was for you.
Naturally my sisters and I broke that rule once or twice, trying to keep a lid on our giggles as we lifted the wrong pattern. Though the system practically implemented wiretapping, we knew listening in on others was wrong and, apart from the odd prank, our Party Line worked quite well. As far as I knew the whole world was wired that way, that telecommunication anywhere would imply an open infrastructure with a contract of trust at the center.
Looking at the Party Line from a system design perspective, you could say the filtering and addressing workload was pushed onto us to cut costs on switching infrastructure. But we didn't think of it like that. It seemed no more work than answering to your name.
Years later, I was in a convenience store in Auckland with my then-girlfriend when I saw my first mobile phone (apart from those in films). A man in a suit was talking loudly to his magic black brick and clearly enjoying the spectacle of himself as a high-tech telepath. Then the thing actually rang. I always wondered if it was actually his first call as he almost dropped the phone in fright and then snuck his red face out the door, leaving us and the clerk ripe with chuckles.
Like many Kiwis, I swore to never own a mobile phone. With paranoia in NZ at a healthy peak, people said "they can track you" and "who wants to be hassled all day?" But soon enough we let them in the back, and hearing a ring in the street followed by "where are you?", that infectious anxiety, became commonplace.
I was living in Melbourne in 1999 when the antipodean market flooded with phones. All eyes were on the phones. No one seemed to notice of the cellular infrastructure being expanded to support them. No one seemed to care how it all worked.
Cell tower disguised as pine tree, Stafford, UK. Photo: Geordie Samurai2.
THE PHYSICAL LAYER
Throughout the history of telecommunications, it is advances in materials science, computing (analogue, then digital), and signal processing that have contributed most to today's distributed and complex communications infrastructure.
Signal processing was almost singularly responsible for making possible a domestic market for internet access by creating a means of repurposing existing infrastructure. Dial-up (as it was known) crept in as an epiphyte. It piggy-backed on existing copper-core telephone lines to provide connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) with nothing more than a modem required at the user-end. This vastly reduced the load on municipal engineers which would otherwise be ripping up streets to lay a whole new layer of optical or other network fiber.
By the late 90s, network infrastructure accessible in the West (from switches and routers to server hardware) had become cheaper, smaller, and more performant. The Digital Subscriber Line system (DSL) and its popular ADSL variant were to replace dial-up in cities. It offered vastly improved bandwidth and eliminated disruption of telephone calls by passing signal along the same copper at much higher frequencies (a trick for which we can thank information theorist Claude Shannon).
In the US, the Federal Communication Commission had already approved unlicensed production of wireless networking devices under the 802.11 specification in 1985, but it took until 1999 for the 802.11b (2.4GHz) and 802.11a (5GHz) wireless specifications to emerge. Soon low-cost, low-power, wireless networking hardware, ranging from antennae to chipsets, was pouring off production lines, sparking a fever of wireless access points in much of the Western world.
The modem, router network switch, and wireless access point soon merged into one forgettable little object, further disappearing the computer's physical network layer from view, perhaps behind a pile of magazines on the desk. And with the rapid infrastructure rollout that followed technological advances driven by entirely new markets, the internet quickly grew to near-ubiquitous proportions.
For users at its end-points, the internet seemed to just slip right in; first into walls and then into the air itself.
It wasn't so easy for the cellular network, however.
Cell networks had no pig to ride. By design, they depend largely on roof-bound, bulky installations of antennae, amplifiers, transceivers, and other hardware components which make up the cellular Base Transceiver Station, or BTS. It's the BTS, affixed to those things we call cell towers, that facilitate wireless communication between a phone and the network beyond.
So unlike internet infrastructure, a cellular BTS needs to be out in the open, to be atop so many tall things, before it can meet the promises of mobile telephony. Contradicting the neat, integrated enclosures of the phones that it serves, cellular infrastructure comes into the world as a rooftop horizon eater, an encrustation of poised vertebrae in signature, off-white plastic; blank blooms from a machine world seemingly indifferent to our own.
Cell tower disguised as flagpole, Gorseinon, Wales. Photo: Veritas Vita.
Strangely enough, despite all the stuff of cellular infrastructure, on roofs and poles in and around cities, the prevailing idea was that mobile phones communicated via satellite and that all these towers were something to do with TV.
It's not hard to imagine operators might actually want their infrastructure to be misunderstood this way. Better that than inviting analysis and discussion—becoming the subject of debate.
Cellular infrastructure hadn't been up long before a spate of personal injury lawsuits were filed in the U.S against Motorola, NEC, Nokia and Siemens from people claiming they had been made ill by mobile phones.
Probably the first clandestine case was that of Christopher Newman who filed a suit against Motorola in 2000, accusing the company of producing a phone that gave him a malignant tumor in his brain, a phone he'd been using for an estimated 342 hours since 1992.  Even though the case was lost (also losing an appeal) it sent a shudder of fear, uncertainty, and doubt through the industry and anyone that owned a mobile.
Researchers on either side of the production line scrambled to conclusively determine if there might be a danger to mobile communications, despite the FCC's assurances that both the devices and licensed infrastructure were well within the compliancy framework for safe radiation levels.
A decade later an October 2012 ruling by Italy's Supreme Court concluded that a business executive's brain tumor was in fact linked to his heavy use of a mobile phone, reigniting the debate and giving many the feeling that this had all dragged on too long.
Enough to drive any CEO to drink were further studies examining whether cognitive effects, altered sleep states, or blood-brain barrier breaches might also be symptoms of long-term mobile phone use.  This, coupled with a surge of complaints from those claiming to have Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Disorder (convinced that the FCC levels for radiation don't take their condition into account), soon shifted the focus of questions to cell towers themselves.
Cell tower disguised as palm tree, Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: Julian Oliver.
In recent years, any cellular infrastructure near schools, on top of kindergarten roofs and hospitals has became a source of anxiety. Meanwhile, public opinion and books by supposed experts (Levitt 2000, Davis 2011) further condemned the structures, which in 2013 were the subject of panic and protest in India following a worrying study by the NSCRI, a prominent cancer institute in Kolkata. 
The most extreme symptom of anxiety toward cell towers came in February 2014, in the Old City of Acre in Israel. Five people were killed and ten injured when a gas tank was deliberately exploded in an apartment building. Investigators concluded that the explosion was an attempt to sabotage cell towers installed in the empty top floor of the building, rented to the operators by the building's landlord (a widespread trend in Israel of late).
Three locals were convinced by rumors that the towers were the cause of an elevated incidence of cancer among residents in the Old City. To right this wrong, they climbed up to the top floor and placed a gas tank charge next to the hidden tower, hoping to destroy it.
To this day, there is still no indication the debate will ever subside, fuelled by fear-mongering, pseudo-science, vested interests, and a litany of weakly conclusive research for and against. Meanwhile, network operators continue to rein in public opinion with prolific counter-research and trying out new strategies, like camouflaging their hardware infrastructure.
Cell tower disguised as lamppost, Milton Keynes, UK. Photo: Norfolk12.
Due to its surreptitious nature, it's difficult to say when and where the covert communications project took root, but around 8 or 9 years ago cellular infrastructure in cities throughout Europe and the U.S. quietly began disguising itself, or at least trying to.
These towers in hiding became known as Stealth Cell Towers.
Perhaps the operators saw it coming, but it didn't take long for a global army of radio geeks to equip themselves with RF scanners and spectrum analysers and take to the streets. For a dedicated few, finding and unmasking the expanding taxonomy of stealth towers, and posting pictures of their kills on busy forums, is a point of pride and humor with disguised devices that include oddly mimicked foliage, faux architectural elements, or hastily painted textural overlays.
BTS disguised as bricks, Lincoln, UK. Photo: V70PDB.
I joined the hunt a little late, in the form of a commissioned project, but soon found my share, including a new and far more stealthy species.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
In 2012, Abandoned Normal Devices, a Liverpool based organisation, wrote to me asking to commission a work for the next edition of their festival. I'd long wanted to devote some sustained time to looking into cellular infrastructure as a topic of inquiry, so offered them a project called Border Bumping which looked at contradictions of territory when cellular infrastructure from one country bleeds over the border and into another.
Every cellular BTS has three primary identifiers: a Mobile Network Code (or MNC), a 2 or 3-digit number identifying the tower operator, a Mobile Country Code (or MCC), a 3-digital number indicating the country the BTS is licensed to operate within, and the Cell ID, a unique and longer number identifying the BTS itself, wherever it is.
The MNC is used by phones to determine if the BTS is one they're allowed to register with (home network or roaming partner) whereas the MCC denotes the country in which the BTS resides — visible most notably upon receiving the welcome message when crossing a border.
The Border Bumping project is primarily interested in the MCC part. Using software I wrote installed on traveler's devices, it notes when a smartphone near the border registers with a BTS over the other side, reporting itself to be in that country without actually being there. This is something that generally happens to travelers traversing a border by boat, car or foot—or to those living very near a border.
These moments of bleed or discrepancy between network and national territories are then uploaded to a central server by SMS, where the national border is redrawn to reflect reality from the cellular networking perspective. MNC, MCC, and other data relating to that "bump event" are rendered alongside.
Finding the actual tower to which a given device is registered is what led me to hunt and archive stealth cell towers, pointing a 110cm directional antenna reminiscent of a fish skeleton at suspicious lamp-posts and studying the output with spectrum analysis tools on my laptop.
It wasn't until Border Bumping was invited as the basis of my artist residency at the University of Buffalo, New York State, that I came across a new, rather disturbing breed of stealth cell tower.
Julian Oliver with directional antenna. Photo: Matt McCormick.
I was at the U.S. side of the border with Canada, on the edge of the Niagara River, shooting a short documentary about the project with the film director Matt McCormick. Communication infrastructure of all sorts lines this border, from civilian cell towers to marine radio and NY State labeled flat-panel cellular antennae.
Pointing my tripod-mounted 1M GSM directional antenna across the water I tried to pin-point a tower covered in base stations I'd seen over there the day before. Not having much luck at that point I took a break while Matt chatted with a local with fishing tackle asking questions about what we were up to. Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings it was no wonder.
I pulled out my phone to consult the app, checking what network I was on and found I had registered with a BTS operated by AT&T Mobility with almost perfect signal quality and power (represented in dBMs). That was very strange, I thought, as the only BTS remotely close enough to justify that kind of quality was a flat panel directional GSM antenna up on a pole bearing the New York State Police logo.
Were AT&T customers and their partners on the border with Canada being routed through police hardware? Having built and programmed my own BTS I knew this to be technically possible - simply set your MNC to that of AT&T Mobility and no one's the wiser. If so, I had found a Man in the Middle, where state law enforcement was masquerading as civilian communications infrastructure.
Photo: Matt McCormick.
Cities are cradles. Nests made of carefully knitted infrastructure holding us up.
When a city's infrastructure is exposed - a hole in the pavement, arteries under sun - we're reminded of our dependence on a deeper physical reality and our implicit vulnerability as a result. We're reminded that our cities are engineered and technical places as much as they are natural expressions of the Human and the Social, whose buildings echo ancient grouping of people at work, play, or home.
What we expect from infrastructure is that it works, because when it doesn't , it isn't. We want infrastructure to seamlessly integrate with the existing world — in the ground like water rather than an accessory above. After all, infrastructure is here to support us; an expression of what may be our most endemic myth, that the world is here for us.
But with every receding seam, from cable to code, comes a techno-political risk. Without edges we cannot know where we are and nor through whom we speak.
The family farm in New Zealand still has no GSM reception. Meanwhile here in Berlin, my chosen home in Europe, I sit at a desk programming my own GSM BTS using free and open source software, infrastructure I'm not licensed to use.
From yu to me (2014). Still frame from single-channel video with sound.
"Every map of the internet looks the same."
Multi-directional trees, hubs and spokes and branches, clouds of varying density: to Alex Galloway, writing in his book The Interface Effect, the many attempts to visualize information society all begin to look the same. Maps of the internet, he argues, tend to conceal more than they reveal; the main purpose they serve is to dazzle the beholder with the complexity of it all.
Where does this leave the visual artist who aims to represent the internet today? Galloway raised two possible strategies—the glitched-out aesthetic of artists like JODI, who disrupt the workings of the internet, and the "counter-cartography" of artists like Bureau d'études, who attempt to map the power relations of control society. In his book, Galloway wasn't satisfied with either of these approaches—the former because it seemed to aestheticize the very systems it set out to break, and the latter because it offered its own totalizing image of the world—and he left the problem of representing the internet as an open question.
A distinct and highly promising approach to this problem emerges in Aleksandra Domanović's new film From yu to me (2014), premiering on Rhizome today. Through a range of archival materials and several interviews, the film sketches a history of the internet in Yugoslavia through the assembly of small-scale technical, bureaucratic, and biographical detail.
One of the film's paradoxical merits is that it never strays from its modest focus while somehow managing to offer critical insight into the surrounding historic events. From yu to me narrates a history of the top-level internet domain (TLD) for Yugoslavia, .yu, and the arrival of internet infrastructure in the country just as it began to break apart. It does so through a wide range of archival footage and several interviews, most importantly with the two women computer scientists who administered the domain: Borka Jerman-Blažič and Mirjana Tasić. Their accounts take place amid sweeping historical change—the fall of Communism, the rise of the internet, and the onset of globalization—but the film does not traffic in grand narratives. We listen at some length to explanations of the technical standards used by pre-internet computer networks in Europe and the formal education received by women computer scientists in 1970s Yugoslavia, but UN sanctions against Serbia warrant only a brief mention.
Thanks in part to this leveling of the normal hierarchy of information, the film generously accommodates a wandering mind. This sense of openness is also helped along by the wide range of archival footage and the computer-generated image of a robotic hand that appears over certain scenes, evoking the hopes and fears and melancholy associated with human-technology relationships.
While watching From yu to me evolve over a period of months, I began to think about it in relation to the work of American artist Allan Sekula. Beginning in the 1970s and continuing until his death in 2013, Sekula developed a photographic and moving image documentary practice along the lines of what he called "critical realism," which he defined as "a realism not of appearances or social facts but of everyday experience in and against the grip of advanced capitalism." Perhaps the most thoroughly realized example of Sekula's critical realism is his 1996 work Fish Story. Produced over a period five years, Fish Story brought together photographs and research gathered by visiting ports and traveling on container ships, meeting with shipyard scavengers and bo'suns and engine room welders. Instead of a cartography of the seas, Sekula offered a partial and eye-level view, tied together by narrative threads woven from numerous conversations.
Fish Story was, in part, a reaction against the prevalence of internet mythology in intellectual discourse of the 1990s. In the catalog for his exhibition of the work at Witte de With in Rotterdam, Sekula wrote:
I am arguing for the continued importance of maritime space in order to counter the exaggerated importance attached to that largely metaphysical construct, "cyberspace," and the corollary myth of "instantaneous" contact between distant spaces.
While the word "cyberspace" is no longer used widely in intellectual discourse, the underlying myth of the internet's separation from everyday reality still persists. Evidence of this myth can be glimpsed in the suggestively immaterial metaphor of the "cloud," and in the abbreviation IRL (in real life), which implies that our internet lives are not "real." This myth of a separation between the real and the technologically mediated—dubbed "digital dualism" by Nathan Jurgenson—is damaging in that it obscures the way things work, hiding (among other things) the power relations and environmental resources that undergird the internet.
If Sekula's response to the fixation on "cyberspace" was to focus on the material flows of the sea, Domanović's response is to focus on the material flows of the internet. In place of the "'instantaneous' connection" derided by Sekula, From yu to me describes incredibly laborious and fragile ones. We learn that the entire nation of Yugoslavia was connected to the internet only because of the efforts of one woman (Jerman-Blažič), that Serbia was denied access to the .yu domain because of the disinterest of international administrators, that the early internet could not accommodate Yugoslavian characters, and that telecommunications transmitters were often targeted during the war.
Where Sekula proposed a critical realism, perhaps From yu to me is a kind of internet realism: an approach to the problem of representing the internet that foregrounds its status as a material infrastructure and a site of human labor, one that is best narrated from the eye-level, open-ended point of view of the artist-documentarian rather than the gods-eye view of the cartographer. The representations of the internet that emerge from such an approach may not be as all-encompassing as a map, but they will certainly not all look the same.
Aleksandra Domanović used to own an international sampler of domain names: aleksandradomanovic.sk, aleksandradomanovic.rs, aleksandradomanovic.si, aleksandradomanovic.eu. It's usually enough for an artist or other public figure to claim their name on .com, and Domanović did, but by staking out real estate in the top-level domains governed by Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia, and the European Union she reminded herself, and anyone else paying attention, about the friction of states and networks, names, and domains. Domanović was born in Yugoslavia, and when it was gone her citizenship drifted. If for some of its users the World Wide Web appears boundlessly ephemeral in comparison to the permanence of statehood, in Domanović's experience of recent history, states and domains alike are tools of control that can be surprisingly fragile and flexible.
The domains in Domanović's personal collection, which have since expired, sketched an outline of those ideas. Her new video adds details. From yu to me is about the history of the internet in Yugoslavia, or what used to be Yugoslavia.
It's hard to talk about the internet and Yugoslavia together. The domain name assigned to it—.yu—is a curiosity, because the country that gave it its name coexisted with it only briefly, and in that time only a small population of specialists used it. What's more, during the Balkan war of the early 1990s, the Serbian government that claimed Yugoslavia's mantle was disconnected from the internet by UN sanctions, and .yu was administered by independent Slovenia. From yu to me—the title describes a distance, but not a linear one measured by the spatial or temporal coordinates of maps and timelines; rather, it covers a system of overlapping forking paths.
Here are some facts about .yu and .me: In 1989, .yu was registered by a Slovenian agency just as the country seceded from Yugoslavia. After several years' delay, it was reassigned to the so-called "third Yugoslavia" (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1994. Montenegro was issued .me to go with its new UN membership after the nation voted for independence from Serbia in 2006. Through all of this, the .yu domain stayed under Serbian control until ICANN, the non-profit that coordinates the internet's global domain system, finally abolished the domain it in 2010. (Meanwhile, .su—the top-level domain for the Soviet Union, which was registered 1990, fourteen months before the Soviet Union collapsed—continues to exist, as domain holders lobby ICANN to keep it alive.)
There's not really much about .me in From yu to me, though it's noted in passing that Montenegro is making quite a bit of money from it. Domanović's main interest is .yu. She tells its story through interviews with two women—Borka Jerman-Blažič, who registered it, and Mirjana Tasić, who oversaw its transfer to Serbia and administered it until 2007—and ends on a conversation with a curator who acquired the domain for the collection of the Museum of Yugoslav History in Belgrade, following the model of the Museum of Modern Art's acquisition of @. Jerman-Blažič and Tasić share anecdotes of connection and disconnection—how they implemented a closed, national network before Yugoslavia was connected to EARN (the European counterpart to ARPAnet in the United States), the collapse of email when Slovenia was bombed in 1991, the ensuing struggle over the ownership of .yu between Slovenia and the authorities in Belgrade, and email exchanges explaining the need for new domains to match new UN memberships with internet administrators in California and elsewhere who knew and understood nearly nothing about Balkan politics.
Maps barely appear in From yu to me, and though Domanović sets up her interviews with establishing shots that show her in unheard conversation with her subjects in courtyards and corridors, she doesn't give datelines, so there's no way of telling whether footage was filmed in Ljubljana or Belgrade or somewhere else. Geography flickers indistinctly but networks feel solid: they come in alive in the reminiscing of Tasić and Jerman-Blažič, who worked with the massive mainframes seen in the archival footage Domanović uses, and dealt with the daily bureaucracy that accrued around them.
The stories of From yu to me are from a time when email was like the telegraph, a fast way of sending information that people used rarely because it required a visit to specialized facilities. The stories predate many of the utopian and dystopian network fantasies of the nineties—the Declaration of Cyberspace Independence, The Matrix—that imagine the web as an autonomous social space. Instead, the internet is discussed in highly pragmatic terms. There are scattered expressions of wonder at the possibilities of high-speed communications networks, but they look quaint and silly. A drowsy anchor in a beige turtleneck says: "Computers or better TV networks will soon enable us to connect with various databases from different computers," and reads a weather report for England from an ASCII map of the United Kingdom that appears on a little blue screen.
Other than the news clips, all the archival footage in the video is fuzzy on either side and sharp in a square in the center, like a microscope slide, as if to represent the clarifying power of hindsight—a power that Domanovic is reluctant to exploit. From yu to me uses several of the standard documentary conventions—the interviews with experts, who sit in front of the camera and talk to someone sitting behind it and to the side, the use of old newsreels and other stock footage—but not its narrative form. The stories it includes don't add up to a big, cohesive one. Facts about .yu and relationships between them can be more easily extracted from a publication accompanying the video. It has the full transcript of an interview with Jerman-Blažič, and documents such as her email requesting that YUNAC, the Yugoslav academic research network, be connected to the U.S. internet, and a heated exchange about disconnection of Serbia from the internet during civil war.
There are more details about the social spaces around states and domains in From yu to me than there are in Domanović's collection of websites on international servers, but the video, too, is about conveying impressions of these relations rather than drawing some kind of conclusion about them. From yu to me gives a sense of the office politics and working life around an emerging technology, of the meetings and business trips to far-off places necessary to develop an instrument that connects people, that closes the distance between you and me. Those details flesh out a time before .yu was canceled, dead, preserved in a museum collection, and Domanović wants her account of that time to approximate the openness that people who lived then felt, the unfinished work on .yu when a Yugoslavia with internet still seemed possible.
To that end, perhaps, Domanović chose to feature another, unrelated achievement of Yugoslav technology in From yu to me, one that doesn't have an immediate application to the internet, or anything else—the Belgrade Hand, a robotic arm developed in a lab at University of Belgrade in the 1960s. Domanović included both archival footage of the hand and an animated version that unexpectedly reaches into the screen, first testing the weight of an apple, then feeling its fingertips. A technology that fills the social space between bodies has become commonplace, but one that is a body still seems strange. The distance from you to me may be known but the one from us to it isn't.
Previously: Aleksandra Domanović's Internet Realism by Michael Connor.
Mirjana Tasić (centre) at the 30th International Public ICANN Meeting, where the RNIDS Assembly ratified the Letter of Intent with ICANN, signed by a Serbian delegation, in Los Angeles from 29 October to 2 November. Image: Firstsite and Aleksandra Domanović in From yu to me, 2014.
The following interview was conducted for From yu to me, a documentary film by artist Aleksandra Domanović that narrates the emergence of the internet in the former Yugoslavia, with a particular focus on the .yu domain name. The interview was previously published in a new catalogue produced by Domanović and firstsite, Colchester. Borka Jerman-Blažič played a key role in establishing the internet in Yugoslavia just as the country fell apart; she also registered and initially administered the .yu domain name.
Aleksandra Domanović: As Yugoslavia was starting to disintegrate in the early 1990s, it also became connected to the internet. You played a key role in establishing this connection. How did it all happen?
Borka Jerman-Blažič: It was on 6 August 1991 that CERN debuted the World Wide Web, which was to become the basic service of the modern internet. Just two months after, I attended an Internet Engineering Task Force meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I saw my colleagues working on their home computers just by simple login via the TCP/IP protocol and a Telnet user service. I decided to set up a connection to the internet the moment I got home! (All we had was an email service using old transport protocols known as X.400 and X.25.) At that time I was engaged as secretary general of the Yugoslav Network for the Academic Community, YUNAC, on behalf of which I applied for an internet connection. We managed to connect in November 1991; at that time, only sixteen countries had access to the internet, including Yugoslavia.
AD: How does one connect a country to the internet?
BJB: My first action was to set up an independent entity in the country, and that was YUNAC. The whole activity was carried out by me and included getting permission from my employer – the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia – to set up a non-profit holding company to negotiate with future shareholders and prepare legal documents. After that I was able to register the ccTLD [country code Top-Level Domain] for Yugoslavia, .yu. The next mission was to lease a line to COSINE IXI, the International X.25 Infrastructure Backbone Service. As the project leader, I requested that the international line run between Ljubljana and one other European country that already had access to the internet. It was a difficult task – a war, one might say. First, I encountered problems with the federal organs in Belgrade, and then with the project's partners in Sarajevo. The first considered themselves to be the political, and the second the geographic center of Yugoslavia, which was why they both wanted to be the entry point of the international network IXI. Although I was the project leader for the whole of Yugoslavia, I did everything in my power to keep matters connected to the project- coordination centre here in Ljubljana. Slovenia was the northernmost Yugoslav republic, bordering Austria and Italy; it was a logical gateway to data networks in the West.
AD: I am always confused about whether it was Slovenia or Yugoslavia that got connected to the internet first.
BJB: In June 1991, Slovenia declared its secession. According to international agreement, the status quo was guaranteed until February 1992, when Slovenia got international recognition and was accepted as a new UN member. I carried out all the planned activity during November 1991 in Ljubljana, and this month is considered to be the date the internet began in Slovenia as well as Yugoslavia.
AD: So it would be fair to say that the internet arrived in a dissolving country in the Western Balkans and coincided with huge political and social changes that were happening in the region?
AD: To be able to connect to the internet in the first place, you personally registered .yu, the ccTLD domain for Yugoslavia, in 1989. The domain had a very interesting life until it was abolished on 30 March 2010. But it has not quite disappeared – it was acquired by the Museum of Yugoslav History in Belgrade.
BJB: Really, I didn't know this. Am I mentioned there?
AD: I'm not sure. It's their first virtual artefact. The acquisition of the @ symbol by the Museum of Modern Art, New York served as a model to them. For an artist, it is a sign of recognition if a museum acquires your work. To you, it happened inadvertently. Still, I see you as the originator, .yu's creator, whose work has now landed in a museum. Do you see yourself as the author of .yu?
BJB: I don't see myself as an author of .yu because .yu is a two-letter country code, or cc, defined in the international standard ISO 3166. At that time, the late 1980s, the networking people around the TCP/IP stack recognised that generic names like .edu, .gov, .com, etc. were not sufficient for the emerging network, and they decided that in parallel, country codes needed to be registered as internet domains. A country was allowed to register its cc as a top-level domain only if the country had a registered two-letter cc, which all UN members had. For me, as a general secretary of YUNAC, it was sufficient to send a letter to the Network Information Center in New York, with my name as an authorised person and the addresses of the name server. The service for a name server (at the time  we did not have a direct line to the internet, and the top-level-domain name server for .yu did not exist yet in the country) was offered to us by the University of California, Berkeley.
AD: Since we're already discussing ISO standards, before YUNAC you worked on videotext and teletext. Would you say those were the predecessors of the internet?
BJB: Definitely. That was the time when telecommunication services were being developed. Back then we were still using ASCII code, which is based on the English language. The International Organisation for Standardisation, ISO, wanted to introduce code tables for all languages. As the chair of the Yugoslav standardisation committee, I started to work very early on the standardisation of character-set codes for all Yugoslav languages and the country-code standard ISO 3166. Under my leadership, all Yugoslav-language alphabets were standardised in 7-bit code tables and the parallel keyboards. They were registered in the International Register at the ISO in Geneva. Later, the demands of the market were to cover all languages. Here Yugoslavia seemed an ideal candidate, as we knew both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. So I helped develop 8-bit code for networked computers and later on worked on developing the multi-octet character-set tables ISO 10646, also known as Unicode.
AD: This is of course a great contribution to internet literacy in Yugoslavia. In that respect, what you did for .yu is not unlike Ray Tomlinson's appropriation of the @.
BJB: Just as Vint Cerf is considered the father of the internet, one could say I am the mother of the internet in Yugoslavia, the mother of this domain. You must know that back then our knowledge was somewhat limited, electronic communications as they exist today were not present at all, and I just plunged into the field. We were always regarded as one of the Warsaw Pact countries, and even though we weren't a member, we were a socialist/communist country. All of a sudden I found myself in a much more technologically advanced and developed world. To deal with all of these obstacles as smoothly as we did, one must show quite some skill, knowledge, intellect, vision, and intuition.
Clipping from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Singing the Internet's Praises, 29 June 1994. Courtesy Borka Jerman-Blažič, published by Firstsite and Aleksandra Domanović in From yu to me, 2014.
AD: In 1994, the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted you saying, "Information technology helped Slovenia win the war." Can you explain how?
BJB: When the war began, many Slovenian scientists started sending emails abroad with details of what was going on here. This was only possible because our line to IXI, as well as our old X.400 email system, was independent and connected to the internet through the BITNET network gateway in Paris. These emails reached various universities and friends with internet connections, who then informed the public. It allowed for a somewhat different picture of happenings in Yugoslavia to come out. Serbia had misfortunes, of course, due to its aggression against Croatia and Bosnia. This resulted in sanctions from the UN Security Council. Among other things, this meant cutting them off from the BITNET network. Until then, there was a connection between the University of Belgrade and the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, which used an IBM protocol, the so-called BITNET, and this connection was their link to the world. Before the line was blocked I was, along with other experts, consulted about my standpoint regarding this matter. I warned that it would have really bad consequences if they disconnected the line. People in Serbia were already living under a constant information blockade, as the Milošević regime was in charge of all the TV stations. I explained how the computer network served as a link to the world, enabling an exchange of opinions and helping to inform at least the intellectual circles, but they wouldn't listen to me, and the line was blocked. I believe this happened in late 1992.
AD: What happened with the .yu domain and with YUNAC after that?
BJB: YUNAC tried to transform itself into an international organisation following the example of NORDUnet. The idea was to maintain links among the universities and research institutes of what were becoming separate countries, while letting new national educational networks emerge, along with new ccTLD domains. But even this looser arrangement failed. In 1992, the Academic and Research Network of Slovenia, ARNES, a new institution owned by the Slovenian government, was established; YUNAC belonged to its stakeholders and was still independent. At that time, Slovenia still had no top-level domain, as it was still not a UN member, so in order to function ARNES needed the zone files and the DNS service for .yu. During one weekend in July 1992, the people who were later employed by ARNES broke into my laboratory and, using scissors, cut off the line connecting my computers to the switch located in the cellar of the institute, then copied the zone file for .yu. The next day, on Monday morning, I saw what had happened, the lines being cut off and the computer emptied! However, I couldn't do much to solve the situation. We had a new director who didn't want any trouble, as the scientific council of the institute was just approving my laboratory as an independent department in the institute. After several months, I managed to get a new subdomain, @e5.ijs.si, and connected my computers to the internet again. The destiny of YUNAC and .yu was now passed by the director of the Jožef Stefan Institute to the people running ARNES. They secretively maintained the domain for as long as they could, up until 1994, I think. Until IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, demanded that they return it to Serbia and Montenegro, which at that time were still united under the name Yugoslavia. Finally, the domain was abolished in 2010, seven years after the state called Yugoslavia ceased to exist. It is the most heavily used top-level domain ever to be cancelled.
AD: Later you also helped to register another ccTLD, .mk, for Macedonia.
BJB: Yes, I got .mk and maintained their domain name server for five years in my laboratory. The name dispute with Greece is not settled to this day, but I managed to register .mk in 1995 under Macedonia's constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.
AD: You are actually from Macedonia.
BJB: Yes, I was born in Skopje, and I graduated there as well.
AD: What did you study, and how come you moved to Ljubljana?
BJB: I was always good at mathematics, and I excelled at the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy in Skopje. When I graduated, I was immediately offered a position in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Back then, the main task was to educate students on how to calculate accounts for optimisation of different processes. To do so we needed computers that we couldn't get in Macedonia at the time; we also didn't have a postgraduate program. That was the reason I enrolled at the Faculty for Electric Engineering in Ljubljana. But I didn't study computer science; back then it was called cybernetics. My master's thesis was on expert systems. Artificial intelligence was very popular then – it's a part of computer science, basically it's solving equations with the aid of computers. Professor Rajko Tomović from Belgrade, the one who became famous for an artificial hand he created, was our lecturer on expert systems as well. After receiving my master's degree, I had two children and started my PhD.
AD: Tomović participated in a variety of scientific research in the USA in the 1960s; his cybernetic hand was one of the first of its kind. I remember an interview where you said, "The times of technological progress of Yugoslavia in the 1980s vanished into thin air." What kind of progress did you have in mind apart from the internet?
BJB: It was in the second half of the 1980s when Yugoslavia's leaders realised that they had to stimulate technological progress, so they established a federal fund for that, the so-called Matić Fund. There were some rather advanced companies working in that field. For example Sarajevo's Elektroinvest, with car production, or Slovenia's Litostroj, which produced turbines for hydroelectric-power stations. We had a public data network called YUPAC, just as the other developed Western countries in Europe did. The pharmaceutical industry was rather strong as well. IZUM, the Institute of Information Science, from Maribor developed a bibliographical system called COBISS, which connected libraries from all of Yugoslavia. Many of these projects were financed by the Matić Fund.
AD: Which also financed YUNAC later on.
BJB: Exactly. YUNAC was established within the European project EUREKA-8/COSINE, which focused on developing research networks in European countries. The Yugoslavian part of COSINE was financed by the Matić Fund. I remember the beginning of European activities within the COSINE project. We met regularly at the so-called workshops, where some of the Eastern Bloc countries, such as Hungary and Poland, also participated. They were experiencing huge difficulties because they were unable to import the equipment from the West; we on the other hand could, plus we had our own developed equipment. In order to be able to establish networks, they were forced to develop hardware themselves, because CoCom, the United States' Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, controlled the export of weapons and strategic equipment in the so-called Third World countries, which included the countries of the Warsaw Pact. They considered equipment necessary for establishing computing networks to be strategic equipment. We had the benefit of being able to use the software and hardware imported from the West. Most of the IT industry was located in Ljubljana, which was the birthplace of computer science in Yugoslavia.
COSINE implementation led by Jerman-Blažič. Image: Firstsite and Aleksandra Domanović in From yu to me, 2014.
AD: What about today? How do you see the future of the internet?
BJB: Right now, a battle is being waged between different players. America is trying to retain its dominant role on the internet because it's highly profitable – take Google or Facebook, for example. China, on the other hand, tries to copy everything. It also has very strict internet censorship; its firewall filters everything, and the same goes for India. Something similar is happening in Syria; in Egypt, they even disconnected the mobile network during the riots. ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a document aimed at controlling internet information flow, wasn't accepted by the European Parliament, but a new proposal called CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is already being arranged. We, the old generation of internet developers and users, would like the internet to remain free and neutral without filtering the activities of individual users. All information should be processed equally, regardless of its content. The United States had already attempted to change that on various occasions, now with the so-called intellectual rights protection document, SOPA/PIPA. I don't believe that to be the right way. It would lead the future of the internet to a complete "balkanisation." I think it's rather obvious what that means.
AD: Before we end, I have a completely different question. Since you''re from Skopje, do you still visit the city? Have you seen the newly built statue of Alexander the Great on the main square?
BJB: Of course! It's a shame for such a poor country to spend so much of its money on this. And that museum they erected, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, is enormous. Before the earthquake in 1963, when I was just a thirteen-year-old girl, Skopje was a beautiful small city with its own physiognomy. After the earthquake came Kenzo Tange, who constructed all those modern buildings. And what are they doing now? Those triumphal arches are really not appropriate. They made sculptures of professors as horsemen, when in fact none of them ever rode a horse. This statue of Alexander was erected to entertain tourists and authorities.
AD: There's a statue of Alexander the Great in the town of Prilep as well. There is also the Cenotaph for the Fallen Resistance Fighters built by Bogdan Bogdanović in 1961.
BJB: That Cenotaph is beautiful–truly magnificent. But these new monuments, it's not just that they are antique, they are plain ugly. They are out of place, they don't blend in. I firmly believed in a united Europe before. But now, when I think about this whole mess in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, the crisis in Slovenia, I couldn't tell you how the European idea will end.
Borka Jerman-Blažič is a full professor at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Economics, and heads the Laboratory for Open Systems and Networks at the Jožef Stefan Institute. She is a member of numerous international committees, organisations, and associations such as the IEEE Computer Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and FP7 Security Programme Committee. She was a chair of the Internet Society of Europe and is currently chair of the Slovenian Standardisation Committee on ICT, as well as the Slovenian chapter of the Internet Society, and she is a member of the European ICT Standards Board. She holds a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Ljubljana and a PhD in natural and computing sciences from the University of Zagreb.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.
Edward Shenk on The Jogging, 2014
ZK: Let's start with your Theorist works, widely known for their circulation on The Jogging, and, from there, their secondary, unintended circulation on actual far-right and conspiracy theory-oriented Facebook and Tumblr channels. These image macros take up typical conspiracy theory grist (i.e. Chemtrails, Obama, Osama, etc.) but confound conventional interpretation via intermix of language and image. The circulation has been widely commented on; once picked up by a fringe Facebook group, the photos erode these groups' message-making ability. Their composition not as much. As someone long interested in conspiracy theories, their verisimilitude is what first interested me. So, I wanted to get into your methods—how are these composed and what are your research touchstones?
EMS: I became fascinated by these image macros in the summer of 2013 when I'd see the occasional one pop up in my Facebook news feed. Besides content I was also hooked by just the sheer number of them. The people who would post and share them would do so ad nauseam, and it was never just one conspiracy. I began following the same FB pages as they were and saving the jpegs to a folder on my PC that now contains over a thousand macros.
Found conspiracy theory image macro from Edward Shenk’s collection
With mine I'd base the layouts off of just one or two of the originals to get it looking as close as possible. Almost always with a black or white background, some red thrown in there. Only a handful of fonts are used—Impact, Times, Arial Black, Eras Bold ITC, the occasional typewriter- or stencil-based one. The logic of the macros often followed the formula of paralleling two images or magnifying one to expose some heretofore unaccepted truth—image X paralleled with Y to point out that they are actually one in the same Z, or, image X is presented and magnified to show that it contains Y and therefore X is actually Z, etc. There's this manic connection-making like in the darker parts of A Beautiful Mind. If something looks like something else then that is proof enough. There is no such thing as pure coincidence, and that's a hallmark of paranoia.
That's the visual language I wanted to emulate.
And the content? These images are so well-studied, with regard to buzzwords and prevalent anxieties, but not necessarily those exclusive to conspiracy theory-oriented fringe communities (i.e. your references to the death of Brian the Dog from Family Guy, a popular animated television program on Fox).
For content, Brad Troemel and I were looking at a lot of drawings on deviantART and similar sites. The way the macros deal with people and events reminded us of fanart and fanfiction. Whatever the subject matter—Tesla cover-up, crisis acting—there was always the suggestion of a fan-fictionalized version of history. Regardless one's position, a fan-fictional account of an event is either being told by a deluded theorist, or has been propagated since day one by the lamestream media, the NWO, Obama, etc.
I read up a lot on chemtrails1 and false flag acting2; they are my favorites probably because they were new to me. Most of what I read online is on forums straight from the believers themselves. They write with such an urgency and alarmist snarkiness that is infinitely fascinating. In researching chemtrails I came upon this very long email that details methods of herbal detox one can do at home to rid of the nano-particles DARPA and the global elite are having sprayed on us in order to read our minds. I still go back to that one.
Image of Crostino of Beans and Little Neck Clams from Roman's on Edward's Kitchen Tumblr
With that in mind, I wanted to ask you about hate-reading. The internet has given us immediate access to much of its content, mindless and otherwise; hate-reading proposes a dissenting, rather than embracing consumption. I think a lot about it and its benefits and drawbacks. Benefit: field analysis of an idea in a given moment. Drawback: an ineffective/false sense of oppositionality. The Edward's Kitchen Tumblr, which picks up a personal blog aesthetic, detailing experiences in NYC food and cooking, paired with 'poorly-shot' photographs, and Excerpts by T. Kaczynski, which reproduces, in automated scroll, sections of the mailbomber's manifesto seem relevant here.
I guess it's something I think about from time to time. I definitely do it a fair amount. EK was born from a place of hate. I love food, and I love cooking and dining, but aestheticized foodie blogs make me sick. My move to New York definitely made me more aware of that culture. EK was my love/hate letter.
With Excerpts it was different. I've always had a soft spot for Kaczynski. There's a big luddite in me that wolfed down Industrial Society and Its Future with a fucking spoon. It reads like a religious text—like Ecclesiastes. There's a terror and fatalism to it delivered with the same self-righteous tone common among those who think they are predicting the future. Parts of it are excitable nonsense but other parts scream true.
I think about paragraph 173 a lot:
If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can't make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
When I made Excerpts I was thinking about Industrial Society's dissemination. In '95 Kaczynski sent his manifesto to media outlets and said that if they were to print it then he'd end his mail-bomb campaign. If not, then he'd continue. After some debate The New York Times and The Washington Post ended up printing it. But of course, it was this triumph for Kaczynski that led to his downfall. His brother David recognized the language of Industrial Society from his past correspondences with Teddy. David alerted the FBI and soon after they captured Kaczynski.
Edward Marshall Shenk self-portrait
I had the pleasure of attending an evening of poetry featuring yourself, Bunny Rogers, and YouTube guitarist Joey Nikles—you read your writing, Bunny from her newly-published collection, Cunny, and Joey performed original and cover songs of what I could best describe as late-90s mainstream alternative rock. Columbine was the vibe, with the 4/20 date, certain set dressings, its invocation in some ephemera at the event, and teen misery in the poems. And I had this really generative, split feeling as to whether what I'd seen/heard/read was total war on, or intense sympathy with some middle (of the country, class, taste), poetry as a form, and language (branded, crudely sentimentalized, banalized). On this note, I'd also be interested in your position on the broader Alt Lit community, and your work with Bunny.
I'm not sure I have a good answer. I'd like to say there was both war and sympathy. I can't speak for Bunny but I know for myself, I tend to approach writing with both. I have a love for words and clunky syntax. I like rhyme and dumbness. I think late-season episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast are pure poetry, and the language of Benjy's chapter in The Sound and the Fury is beautiful.
Bunny and I found Joey on YouTube one night. We were searching for covers of "Five Steps" by the Davenports, the ending song to the TV show Intervention, and he popped up. We love that song, and addiction is something we both think about a lot. Joey's cover was completely genuine. We contacted him to perform at the reading, he agreed, and he drove up from PA to accompany us. I didn't want to interfere with his performance. I wanted him to do his own thing just as Bunny and I were doing our own things. He also covered NIN's "Help Me I Am in Hell" and performed two of his original songs.
So far as "Alt Lit"—my exposure to it is minimal. I've read some stuff online. I was morbidly disinterested. This collaboration with Bunny began when we met online in 2009. We found each other because we were both obsessed with awareness ribbons. Our practices at the time revolved largely around them. I'd been collecting the magnetic ones off cars, Bunny had been making them from fabric. We'd found a kinship in them.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I made Powerpoints recreationally as a child, I suppose that was the beginning.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I studied painting and printmaking.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, call center boiler room, 2010 Census taker, courier for restaurant supply company, illustrator for a "golf fantasy" novel that never went to press, personal assistant to insurance adjuster/aging hippie (fired), Bed Bath & Beyond sales associate, freelance art handler and graphic designer.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or scrnshots pls!)
1 Ed.: Exhaust trails left by planes that proponents of said theory suggest contain mind-controlling toxins.
2 Ed.: When government agencies use professional actors to play out their faked traumatic event, i.e. school shooting, terrorist attack.
Stop reading. Go pull this post up on your mobile device. We'll wait.
Is the experience more enjoyable than you remember? These new mobile styles (*gestures encompassingly*) are courtesy Jason Huff. His April 27th pull request—a GitHub-centric way of submitting potential improvements to an open development project—was the first outside contribution to the site's code since we open-sourced earlier that same month. (If you still have display problems on your browser/device, create a new issue for us on Github).
Sending a pull request to a non-profit that I love. Check.— Jason Huff (@jsnhff) April 27, 2014
Jason came to us a few months back with a request to fix our mobile experience. Using Chrome's web inspector, he discovered many improvements lying in wait. But it wasn't until we released our code on GitHub that Jason had a resistance-free workflow for bringing these efficiencies and fixes to all of our readers. Of course, in doing so, shit did hit the fan, dependencies failed to compile on Jason's computer, but eventually the process smoothed out.
"Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone." That's Eric S. Raymond in his often-referenced 1997 essay on Linux kernel development, The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
Fast-forward a few years to 2017. The future web, rather than resembling an attention-fueled media circus, is a vast network of pluralistic, inbred Rhizome descendants called YARLs (Yet Another RhizomeLike). If you're just visiting, the cyberfeminist forks are not to be missed. Click here to fork Rhizome.
Back on Earth, Jason begins work on a mobile-friendly navbar.
If you'd like to assist in some way with collaborative development efforts, please email me or shout at us on social media. Rhizome's commitment to building software in-house has contributed to its success in myriad ways, and we recognize that these efforts are funded by your generous donations. Now the work has been done to open up this process to the internet under the GPLv3 license. Thanks Jason!
In mid-January, a Facebook friend liked a status update, causing it to pop up in my News Feed; I've been avidly following its thread ever since. Now at 675 comments and counting, this rich exchange encapsulates the increasing importance of the art-related discourse that takes place on Facebook, and its precarity.
Los Angeles-based artist, writer, curator, and educator Micol Hebron initiated this conversation with a simple request:
Facebookers, what do you think of this: artist Joe Scanlan, an older white male artist, invented a fictional artist, Donelle Woolford, who is female, black, and seems a bit younger than he is. Scanlan hires actresses to 'play' Donelle for pictures and interviews, and he makes the artwork that she 'makes'. He began this project about 13 years ago. Donelle Woolford is in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Here is an interview with Scanlan by Jeremy Sigler. Is this racism? Conceptual performance? Critical discourse on artworld hierarchies? Problematic exploitation? Discuss.
Critics, artists, former students, and, often, Scanlan himself responded, generating a thorough critique of the artist's practice, meaningful discussion about race and gender in contemporary art today, and a crowdsourced bibliography. Strikingly, its ebb and flow mimicked the public dialogue around Scanlan/Woolford in the art press—from curiosity (many had no idea of the project at the outset) to confrontation (stoked anew in May by The Yams' public withdrawal from the Biennial in protest), all in a slow burn. The texture and depth of this response evidenced Facebook's specific ability (for better and worse) to produce engaged networks and make visible their interactions.
The Scanlan controversy and the scale of this particular thread make it notable, but as Rhizome's Community Manager, I witness important conversations on Facebook every day. And they're all totally precarious. What we could identify as a significant body of critical writing is reliant on a monolith, one with a billion users, one that seems vast and infallible—as vast and infallible as, say, MySpace or Geocities once felt. One day Facebook will either cease to exist or have evolved to a point where its "legacy" content can no longer be maintained.
So if we can't rely on Facebook to do the job, how will this valuable material be preserved? This is something we've discussed at some length at Rhizome, where digital legacy is a frequent topic of conversation. According to our digital conservator Dragan Espenschied, this is a particularly complex problem because Facebook conversations aren't objects, which can be easily captured and stored, but practices performed by human users and software.
"All of the detail of this conversation is in who liked whom and who is friends with whom," Dragan notes. Every thread can be liked, as can individual comments. In the case of the Scanlan/Woolford, thread likes can indicate basic endorsement of the conversation, whereas comment likes can delineate affiliation around a given position.
But archiving likes is very difficult. A full list of likes can only be accessed via the Facebook software by clicking through to a pop-up. So screen grabbing—a fairly intuitive way to document the web—proves wholly inadequate for Facebook conversations. One would need to go through and screen grab every minute interaction. And in end, what one is left with is passive documentation, nothing remotely akin to the experience of the website.
Nor, like many webpages, can a Facebook page be downloaded. Facebook doesn't present a simple HTML page to be saved; it presents software that is executed on the user's computer, that through constant interaction with their servers, constructs something that can be rendered in a browser and looks like a page. Facebook exists primarily through their users' interactions with it, calling up new material, of which there is much to be called.
Scrapable content served by Facebook (scripting removed).
To this complexity, there is no straightforward solution. But Dragan has devised a work-around that involves individuals accessing Facebook through a proxy server which records data from their interactions. When you access the web through this intermediary, it would record all of your actions and all of the actions of your browser—bringing up each name when you click on a given comment's likes, when you unfurl the thread revealing older content, when you move through to a pop-up photo, etc. By capturing user and software actions, the proxy server would treat Facebook conversations as practices, not objects.
Nonetheless, even this more comprehensive strategy has its drawbacks. For one, it relies on the erratic factor known as participation; someone will have to take the time to record relevant conversations. Additionally, one is more or less left spending time screen grabbing by a different name—to record an entire thread, one would need to call up every element of that thread (a lot of clicking at 675+ comments), and to revisit the thread whenever new comments are added. Not least, Facebook's privacy controls complicate our understanding of a "complete" record—users may not see comments that are hidden from them, which could omit crucial points, and, by the same token, users might capture and share comments which were only intended to be viewed by a small circle of friends.
Jotted Notes by Dragan Espenschied
To quote Dragan, "The worst cases require the worst tools...this just shows what a terrible system Facebook is to do anything." But for now, this is the proposal we have, and though it has drawbacks, it would be a major step forward. (In fact, Dragan is working to realize this add-on as I write.) Moreover, this situation is a reminder that archive-worthy material all the time occurs in, shall we say, archival environments that are not exactly optimal. Figuring out how to save what's important, preserving access and authenticity, especially as more and more conversation migrates to closed forums with dynamic interactivity like Facebook, will continue to challenge the efforts of all with a vested interest in contemporary criticism.
Mark Zuckerberg status update screenshots were created for satirical purposes and do not represent his actual opinions.
See also: To Bind and to Liberate: Printing out the internet by Orit Gat and I (No Longer) Have a Web Site: Access, Authenticity, and the Restoration of GeoCities by Michael Connor.
Kev in one of his favorite meditation places, an old rock quarry upstate.
Kev Bewersdorf and I had been neighbors for months before we met. When we did, it was because he needed gas for his generator, but I didn't have any.
At that point, he had already deleted all of the images, texts, and music he'd once posted online. But previously, 2008ish, I had followed his work avidly. He used to have a website called Maximum Sorrow consisting of texts and artworks connected with his "philosophy of 'corporate spiritualism' realized through marketing practices and continuous web surfing." Bewersdorf also pursued this interest in web surfing through his occasional participation in Nasty Nets and his role as co-founder of Spirit Surfers (with Paul Slocum and Marcin Ramocki). (For those who can't remember a time before Tumblr, these were surf clubs, or artist-run collaborative blogs to which members would post found and created images, texts, gifs, and tracks.)
Bewersdorf's work back then had an early William Wegman video art feel; so utterly sincere, but so ludicrous, it was hard to know if he was joking or not. For example, he described the making of his 2008 album as a struggle: "I worked very slowly on these songs, writing them down carefully, coming back to them month after month, living with them for a year or two before sealing them off and uploading them to the web." The album, which featured arrangements of default MIDI tracks with eclectic vocal arrangements, was titled Babes, and it featured a photograph of Bewersdorf lying on the hood of a dented sports car.
Kev doing his Chi Kung practice in Rockaway.
I also got to see his performance PUREKev at the Rhizome benefit at the New Museum in 2009, five years ago last night. He followed two musical acts by delivering a spoken word monologue with accompanying projection and a lit candle on a blue carpet. In the monologue, he seemed to be launching himself as a new product, PUREKev, in terms that mixed the language of marketing with that of new age spiritualism. Delivered with great emotional intensity, it was hard to tell whether the performance was self-help or self-satire; it was funny, but painful too. Cocktail party conversation resumed unabated after the performance, and the energy that he had discharged remained in the air, undigested.
I was unaware at the time that PUREKev (which was repeated a month later at Gallery TPW in Toronto) more or less marked the beginning of Kev's five-year public self-effacement from the web. He took all of his previous credited work offline, and created a new website featuring, as Gene McHugh wrote on his blog Post-Internet, "a flickering flame sourced from a .gif of fireworks set off in front of a suburban garage." Kev describes the project as follows:
A small white flame descended down a field of blue space for a duration of three years. I let the flame make leaps through space whenever I felt a leap in my life. I did not know if the flame was leading me or if I was leading the flame. I did not know how long the flame would fall or if it would ever reach bottom. I just stuck with it, meditating upon the flame. I rarely visited purekev.com on the internet - I tried observing the flame entirely through my internal sense of connection. In the evenings I often observed an actual candle flame. After three years the flame became a white page that remained blank for two additional years. The five year time span of this event was an experiment in treating the technology of the internet with the authentic austerity of a ritual practice. My intention was to slow, cool, and deepen the breath of information.
Candle on blue carpet used for Kev's purekev.com meditations.
The use of suburban home video imagery in the context of a project that strove for some kind of transcendence was in keeping with much of Kev's work at the time he began the project. Is it scratching at the possibility of spirituality within consumerism, or is it pointing out the emptiness of consumerist spirituality? It's hard to tell which, or maybe it's both.
As McHugh aptly observed, Kev's self-removal from the web, though less than total, prompted us to recall his early work through our memories rather than our browsing histories, to think back on the work as we first experienced it rather than rewriting our impressions with each visit to an old website. It also generated a less expected result: Domenico Quaranta's Share Your Sorrow, an experiment in collective archiving to which users could submit Kev's images and works for publication. Both of these outcomes are evidence of the project as an interesting intervention into the normal attention cycles of the web.
Before PUREKev, Bewersdorf had often spoken about the fact that the great artists of the time were creating brands, rather than just artworks, and that he, too, was interested in developing his own brand. In keeping with this interest in branding, he initially described PUREKev as "that info which dwells within the product of the Kev."
Because of this brand-heavy rhetoric, it's understandable that people might think of Kev's semi-disappearance as a kind of publicity stunt. Kev thinks of it in other terms.
I had not thought about it before as a "publicity stunt," at the time I was actually going through a powerful death and rebirth experience, a journey through the underworld. With some comedy to make it less intense. I even took the new name "Kev."
It's not incidental exactly that Kev and I met because of surfing—the ocean kind, not the web kind. He was my neighbor in Rockaway, a densely populated sandbar in Queens that is home to New York's only surfing beach and to Kev Bewersdorf. I walked by his house every morning for months to see if there were waves, but we didn't meet until the Saturday after a big flood swept through the neighborhood. I don't really even have a clear visual memory of his old house before several tons of teak collided with it during the surge, knocking off the front porch. I do remember that the old porch was nicer.
Kev Bewersdorf, the day we met, as seen on CNN.com.
About a year and a half has passed since then, and I've gotten to know Kev pretty well. I tried not to grill him too soon or too often about his current work or his internet habits; I was surprised to learn that he has an email address and that he's still involved in Spirit Surfers, and excited to hear that he's writing poetry. Seven months in, he let me read one of the poems.
In all this time, he hasn't mentioned brands or marketing—once so central to his thinking—a single time. He has mentioned his more recent influences:
I have been reading the old Chinese poets: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Han Shan, Tu Fu and some living Chinese poets like Bei Dao. Old Tantric poets like Ramprasad, and living Tantric poets like Dinram. Old Americans - Emerson, living - Gary Snyder.
Kev's embrace of Taoism via these writers is thorough. He seems to enact it in daily decisions, from his choice of jobs (including babysitting my daughter and serving homemade Italian ices) to his routine ocean swims to his occasional lengthy disappearances to the woods. I enjoy hearing about the great intent with which Kev makes every decision, from the opening of a browser tab to the planting of a tomato plant, even if sometimes it makes me want to laugh and/or cringe. It serves as an instructive contrast with my own life philosophy, which is derived from my observations of headless chickens.
In the context of 21st century America, of course, Taosim is as much an aspect of contemporary culture as it an ancient philosophy, translated and refracted as it is through the Transcendentalists and the 60s counterculture and numerous scholars. Thus, Kev, who has always played the role of the quintessential American, does so even in his seemingly un-American disavowal of the consumer internet.
The hybridity of Taoism is what makes it an interesting framework for an act of disavowal. It is the antithesis of contemporary American consumerism, but also a projection of it by way of Walden and Woodstock.
Similarly, Kev's practice over the last five years was a refusal of the internet, but also a way of opening himself up to it. After all, he used email, he surfed the web and posted pseudonymously to Spirit Surfers, he released and then deleted an album, he registered domain names, he acted in films, and he even posted secret websites. More importantly, he wrote poetry about the internet (in longhand) and tried to visit his website through his internal sense of connection with it. Thus, Kev was actively engaged with the internet throughout the last five years, especially when he was away from keyboard.
Thinking of Kev's life over the last five years as a disavowal of the internet is a digital dualist fallacy. We can and do connect with the internet even when we are not on it. Kev practices a particularly mindful way of connecting.
Two days ago, Kev and I spoke on the phone, and he said he was going to share a new work soon. "Even right now I can't imagine that I'm going to post it. I don't know, probably tomorrow in the middle of the night," he said.
Last night, he uploaded a new website, ritual.technology, where he has begun to post Taoism-inspired texts and GIFs. For fans of Kevin Bewersdorf, it will seem reassuringly familiar, but also completely different from what came before.
"Here is one thing I learned for sure," he says of his five-year experience. "You can't delete your self, but you can transform your self."
Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash collaborate during their Seven on Seven work day. Photo: Ed Singleton
Miss Seven on Seven NYC 2014? Now, videos of all the presentations are online on Rhizome's Vimeo page. (Alongside, of course, documentation of all previous editions.) Held on May 3 at the New Museum, participants included: artists Kari Altmann, Ian Cheng, Simon Denny, Holly Herndon, Kevin McCoy, Hannah Sawtell, and Frances Stark, and technologists Nick Bilton, Anil Dash, Jen Fong-Adwent, David Kravitz, Aza Raskin, Kate Ray, and Avi Flombaum.
Take a moment to watch Ray and Herndon debut their spycam app Spyke, Bilton and Denny draw the news, Stark and Kravitz share a steamy, philosophical chat, and more. Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, sets the tone for all of the artists and technologists' work with her keynote on cultural manifestations of the anxiety of living under surveillance conditions. And when you've finished it all, don't miss Rhizome editor Michael Connor's take on the seven big ideas from this fifth anniversary edition.
Photograph: Sean Joseph Patrick Carney.
I saw poet Andrew Durbin read in a light drizzle in the backyard of Essex Flowers, a ground-level flower shop on New York's Lower East Side with an artist-run gallery in its basement. Despite the crappy weather, the patio was packed and I felt lucky to be near the stage with a decent view.
Next-Level Spleen (which was published last year in online magazine The Destroyer) took about 20 minutes to read aloud. Durbin's voice began with a casual cadence, his pace quickening during certain passages—not because he was rushing, but because the text required urgency. The poem begins as the narrator gets ready for a movie night (code for sex) with a FWB at the unoccupied apartment of the friend's father. The narrative setup suggests a sort of New Sincerity/Tao Lin-esque intoxicated banal hipster casual romance scene, but breaks that promise when the plotline of Clueless, which plays on loop on a television screen in the bedroom, becomes the central focus of the piece.
(For readers over 40, under 18 or clueless, Clueless (1995) stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher, a rich, popular high school girl in Beverly Hills, California who falls in love with her unfashionable older stepbrother, played by Paul Rudd. Cher's seemingly shallow and materialistic persona is itself proven only superficial as she sees past the importance of designer labels and social status to recognize the inner beauty of Paul Rudd's supposedly average-looking, but caring, character.)
The lovers ask each other what the film is supposed to mean, giving the narrator the opportunity to draw the listener out of the scene and into an essayistic analysis that proposes Cher as a Baudelaire of Los Angeles consumer culture, a flâneur of great privilege "whose primary objective is to be / carried through urban space without having to engage it / herself." Even the natural aspects of Cher's Los Angeles seem to be a consumerist projection:
The sky is ubiquitous yet culturally specific; its color relies less on place or time and more on how it's branded. Where many poets use fictitious characters or vivid sensorial descriptions to relate the reader to the work, Durbin uses proper nouns pulled from pop culture. (Kyle Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head," Katy Perry, Jay-Z and Kanye West''s "Niggas in Paris", Calvin Klein, MTV, and Michael Bay are just a few of many that pop up within the 1500-ish word poem.) To his mostly young audience, Durbin's brief mentions of celebrities and pop songs carry much more weight than the superficiality they often represent.
When I heard Durbin describe Clueless with these words—
force of astonishment and the singular item of cinema that
produced the self I embody today.
—I reflected on how Cher had influenced me as a girl. Clueless made the valley girl lexicon and superficial materialistic persona that went with it so easily relatable and ripe for imitation. The movie came out in 1995, and I vividly remember reciting proudly memorized lines with my girlfriends by the lockers in middle school. It was fun to pretend to be Cher—it was a way to draw attention.
A grimmer vein of romantic comedy was referenced in a John Kelsey article, also titled "Next-Level Spleen," which was published in Artforum in 2012. Speaking of an art world where "isolation has been systematically designed into connectivity," Kelsey likened today's "hyperrelational artists" to movie characters from rom-coms like Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. In these films, "the abstraction of the body within the screenlike void of the social is performed by actors who seem to Skype their gestures and tweet their lines, reformatting acting for the windowlike stages of Net space." Clueless seemed aware of its place in the cycle of reference and imitation: it seemed drawn from life in Beverly Hills, which was itself a palimpsest of so many movie fantasies, and it also presented this life in a way that could be taken up and reused by its viewers for their own ends. Nearly two decades later, Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached were humorlessly distilled from a thousand pop culture stereotypes and jokes, to be recycled in equally rote fashion by their audiences.
So on a rainy night in 2014, exhausted by the irony that pervaded the 2000s yet unsure about how to be sincere, it was Paul Rudd's character that jumped out at me from Durbin's poem. He was normcore before there was normcore, wearing no name brands in Beverly Hills. If Cher used her privilege to stand out in a crowd while doing nothing to change her surroundings, Paul Rudd used his to disappear in that crowd while dating girls who spoke as if they were giving TEDtalks for world peace. In Durbin's poem, Paul Rudd reading Nietzsche by the pool comes across as just another facet of the Los Angeles consumerist fantasy landscape, but at least he stands for something.
"'As if,' Cher says in the film a total of four times to vent contemporary spleen against misunderstanding." Drawing from Baudelaire, Durbin says of spleen that it is a "tendency in the subject to hate the urban conditions that produce alienating economic and social forces, etc." and that it "means nothing." Cher's "As if" doesn't change her underlying unwillingness to engage with the city around her; it becomes a symptom of this disengagement. In Kelsey's article, this refusal is presented in a positive light: "Spleen, that resistant affect which remains when all others have been channeled as productive labor, surrounds networks but won't be put to work in them." For Kelsey, spleen helps us evade a system that enforces constant productivity; for Durbin, it is simply a symptom of great privilege. Baudelaire, he notes, "depended on his mother for financial support."
So when privileged-but-engaged Paul Rudd was briefly mentioned in Durbin's poem, I felt oh so romantic—sitting in the rain and patiently listening to poetry aloud in the backyard of a flower shop whose roses I could faintly smell from a distance. I fought my generational tendencies to check my phone notifications, yawn/roll my eyes, and/or document the experience, trying to focus on a reading whose content was so my generation, yet whose form was so not; it required an attention span more common in the 90s.
Of course everyone who's been to Forever 21 recently knows the 90s are back—not Cher nineties, Paul Rudd nineties. We all want to be poetic, we all want to be authentic, and we don't quite know how. But we can adopt his look, and we can relate to each other, to ourselves, through the shared experience of the screen, deeply connecting through shallow pop culture.
This post is part of Wavelength, a series of guest curated sound art and music mixes.
Still from the music video for Mount Kimbie, "Carbonated."
"What do you want to make of your life? A cruel question, when it is not a naïve one. What is a life if not a definitive unmaking? Whatever the gibberings of profane man, it is not open to us to make anything of ourselves."
–Nick Land, The Thirst For Annihilation
"Perhaps the young of this generation haven't the stamina to launch the epochal transformation they seek; but there should be no mistaking the fact that they want nothing less. 'Total rejection' is a phrase that comes readily to their lips, often before the mind provides even a blurred picture of the new culture that is to displace the old."
–Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture
Alvin Toffler's seminal book Future Shock (1970) posited the modular man, the disposable person, as one of the fundamental units and products of an urban, post-industrial society. We interact with specific modules of a person rather than the full human.
Modular youth, then, is a play on modular man, and on Youth Mode, the title of a recent report by artists/trend forecasters K-HOLE and Box 1824 arguing that youth is not about age, but about endless adaptability. Modular youth is also the senselessly fluctuating standard to which we compare our own nostalgic and formative experiences ("kids today"); less a fundamental unit of post-industrial society than its abhorrent ideal. If Kevin Spacey in American Beauty embodies K-HOLE's "youth mode," then The Social Network's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg embodies modular youth: ever-curious, pioneering, innovative, boundlessly energetic, and terrifying. The elite, amoral programmer, forging systems, is our answer, for better or for worse, to the progressive, futurist theories championed by Filippo Marinetti: reality is bound to the imaginary, reshape the former accordingly.
Once the modular youth has everything: resources, connections, access, all the information of the world at its fingertips, where to go but inwards, self-consuming? How to grapple with the truth, of being bored, privileged and permitted all: of being individuated to the extreme? How to frame a group so capitalist-realist, so neo-materialist that they can both "readymake" and "unreadymake" objects at will? Here, is the space of more acidic, cynical outlooks on consumerism and its bounty, where modular youth rages to find a foothold, somewhere in the intersection between The Rules of Attraction and Serial Experiments Lain.
Take the recent nostalgia-realist teen film Palo Alto, in which there's one vague, stale mention of a blog. All other forms of social media or cellular connection are completely absent. The ideal young viewer, in 2014, watches Palo Alto and says, "That was my experience." (We're so elite, that we control our own past). This is the ultimate ideation of modular youth: falsifying, crystallizing myths through modern media and technology. They slide fluidly between references to industrial, post-industrial and digital culture because they can, because this movement is the function of privilege. Thus, the shifting axis upon which modulation occurs.
On an aesthetic level: young people produced by internet culture are the most comfortable with jarring, bleak alienation, with schizophrenic media, its broken images and distorted, fragmented sounds. The music of modular youth flirts with newfound technology, then immediately disposes of it. The synth, represented here in early compositions from Dick Hyman and Klaus Schulze, evokes expansion, technological (and in some ways ecological) progress. If the synth is representative of a tangible, malleable material, then the distortion and reverberation of known physical objects (voices, guitars) on some tracks would be the unwieldy ecological situation bending backwards to eventually engulf the traditional whole.
With this playlist, we wanted to gather a series of aural objects that ultimately evoke a wasteland in which the modular youth roams. Our hope is that these tracks stumble and crawl through a barren landscape of chewed up materials. All this ruin manifests in a mood, found in the overlaying Perec-esque poetry of the titles: "Where Will You Go When the Party's Over?" Anywhere, because, really, "Life Ends at 30." This is Toffler's "throw-away society," one of barren potentiality, in which the promise of accelerated, cybernetic bliss turns to ruin, and liberalism is taken to its limits.
1. Dick Hyman: "The Minotaur"
2. LA Vampires Goes Ital: "Streetwise"
3. Madteo: "Vox Your Nu Yrs Resolution"
4. Klaus Schulze: "A Few Minutes After Trancefer"
5. RAUM: "In Stellar Orbit"
6. Sun Ra: "There Are Other Worlds"
7. Lorenzo Senni: "Digital Tzunami"
8. Cabaret Voltaire: "James Brown"
9. MM/KM (Mix Mup/Kassem Mosse): "MM/KM End to Funk"
10. Mount Kimbie: "Carbonated"
11. The S.O.S. Band: "Take Your Time (Do It Right)"
12. Jam City: "Club Thanz"
13. Malcolm McLaren: "Jazz is Paris'
14. Sensate Focus: "X"
15. Warren G (ft. Nate Dogg): "Regulate"
16. Brian Eno and David Byrne: "Regiment"
17. Archie Bell and the Drells: "Where Will You Go When the Party's Over?"
18. Pete Swanson: "Life Ends at 30"
19. Whitehouse: "Why You Never Became a Dancer"
20. Anne-James Chaton: "Pop is Dead"
21. The Weeknd: "The Party and the After Party"
22. Slowdive: "Souvlaki Space Station"
23. Pita: "Get Out"
24. Copeland (ft Actress): "Advice to Young Girls"
government, can only be obeyed. It is
therefore of no use except when you
have something particular to command
such as: Go buy me a bunch of carrots.
— John Cage[i]
Translation is the ultimate humanist gesture. Polite and reasonable, it is an overly cautious bridge builder. Always asking for permission, it begs understanding and friendship. It is optimistic yet provisional, pinning all hopes on a harmonious outcome. In the end, it always fails, for the discourse it sets forth is inevitably off-register; translation is an approximation of discourse — and, in approximating, it produces a new discourse.
Displacement is rude and insistent, an unwashed party crasher — uninvited and poorly behaved — refusing to leave. Displacement revels in disjunction, imposing its meaning, agenda, and mores on whatever situation it encounters. Not wishing to placate, it is uncompromising, knowing full well that through stubborn insistence, it will ultimately prevail. Displacement has all the time in the world. Beyond morals, self-appointed, and taking possession because it must, displacement acts simply—and simply acts.
Displacement never explains itself, never apologizes. In 2010 at Columbia University's "Rethinking Poetics" conference, the Mexican-American poet Mónica de la Torre, in the middle of her presentation, broke out, full on, for ten minutes entirely in Spanish, leaving all those who pay lip service to multilingualism and diversity angry because they couldn't understand what she was saying. De la Torre thereafter resumed her talk in English, never mentioning her intervention. No symbols where none intended. Comprehension is optional; displacement is concretely demonstrative.
Globalization engenders displacement. People are displaced, objects are displaced, language is displaced. In a global circulatory system, there is no time — and certainly not enough energy — for tracing the long supply chains that lead to understanding. Instead, there is a blinkered lack of understanding, ultimately yielding to resignation. Nobody seems to notice anymore. Advertising signs in ballparks are presented in foreign languages, completely incomprehensible to the vast majority of the meatspace audience, addressing instead the far-flung televised, webcast audience; bypassing the local for the unseen, the unknown, the elsewhere.
Jens Haaning, Arabic Jokes, 1996. Poster for public spaces in Copenhagen.
Translation is quaint, a boutique pursuit from a lost world; displacement is brutal fact. Translation is slow food: a good meal with friends, in a warm environment, a bourgeois luxury; displacement is not being able to read the menu in fluorescent-lit refractivity that appeared out of nowhere onto Main Street. Translation is the faux-nostalgia for the LP; displacement is the torrent-laced, mislabeled MP3. Displacement is a four-dimensional object, at one expanding and contracting, unified while exploding, devouring everything in its sight.
"Syntax" said John Cage, "is the arrangement of the army."[ii] Legislated by the laws of grammatical concord, syntax sets chains of linguistic assimilation into motion, a situation whereby words are forced to adapt to words surrounding them, formally and sonically. Cage views language as being expressive of a societal politic, and therefore ripe for contestation: "This demilitarization of language is conducted in many ways: a single language is pulverized; the boundaries between two and more languages are crossed; elements not strictly linguistic (graphic, musical) are introduced; etc. Translation becomes, if not impossible, unnecessary."[iii] Shattering language into pieces as a political act. Picking them up and putting them back together the wrong way as an act of liberation. Creative misuses of language like homophonic translations and mondegreens as models of playful anarchy. Question linguistic structures, question political structures.
Computer networks are also arrangements of the army, but their logic is already that of displacement, pulverization, crossed boundaries. As citizens of these networks, data packets are by nature both stable and nomadic; they offer a parallel for the movement of bodies in space. Moving in bulk, data packets course through networks like charter groups on holiday tours or Bangladeshi workers trundled off to UAE labor camps. Buffered and queued — resulting in variable delays and throughput depending on the network's capacity and the traffic load — they are dispatched through labyrinths of nodes, borders, switches, gateways, routers, and immigration checkpoints. Aping the mechanics of the RAID drive, displacement spits its subjects across the globe, redundantly segmenting and replicating them — one part can easily be swapped out for another — thereby minimizing chances for loss while increasing chances for totality.
We have faith that data packets will constitute themselves as promised but often that proves to be false: the high-def video we were seeking is merely a cellphone grab, held up shakily for ninety minutes at a screen in a dim theater. In our computational ecosystem, these spurious artifacts take on the characteristics of an unwanted guest. We invite someone for dinner, but they don't behave the way we wish: perhaps they're unkempt, or rude — we toss them out. But sometimes they sneak in unawares. The malware, keylogger, or Trojan horse that surreptitiously slips in under the guise of a pirated program, movie, or link, settles in, becoming a part of the household. Sometimes we have no choice but to accommodate our displaced guest.
Displacement, on a larger scale, is no different. Acid rain is displaced weather. Petroleum is displaced prehistoric life. Nuclear waste from Fukushima washing up on the shores of California is displaced industry. Melting polar ice caps are displaced Ice Age. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is displaced geography, a displaced landmass comprised of displaced rubbish. These riotous amalgamations of displaced color and form — accidental collaborations between nature and man — are permanent reefitecture for fishes.
Plastic bags twisted around branches of trees become year-round foliage, transforming bare winter oaks into everblues and everreds, technicolor displays that make New England Octobers pale by comparison. Seasonal narratives take on a rouge character: older bags, their shape deformed by sunlight and rough weather, disintegrate into fluttering flaglike shreds before being blown off the trees by gales. Those same gales attach fresh bags to the trees, blossoming anew each day.
A tree grows to devour a metal grate that once served as its protector. The tree now becomes the guardian of the grate, swallowing it whole, nestling it deep within its core. A state of détente: the tree doesn't die. Instead, it adapts like the man who, in midlife after complaining of stomach pains, discovers that he has been carrying his conjoined twin unbeknownst to him within his belly all these years, fetus in fetu. Displaced tumors as fetuses; displaced fetuses as tumors.
Zoe Leonard, Tree + Fence, 6th St. (Close-up) (1998, printed 1999).
In Hong Kong after a typhoon, 150 tons of microplastic nurdles were blown into the sea, so small and numerous that they could never be gathered. They washed ashore and became a part of the beach; beachgoers now prefer nuzzling these new spongy, pliant grains between their toes to the natural sand. PCBs are displaced toxins, permanently enmeshed in the river's mud. Removing them would only stir up their noxiousness, so they slumber in the riverbed undisturbed for eternity. A part of the river's ecosystem for so long, it's hard to remember a time when they weren't there.
Retained foreign objects are displaced industrial items which have become lodged inside of living bodies, coexisting with organs and flesh for years without incident or detection. A bullet shot into a boy's face remains comfortably embedded for the next eighty years. The bullet's heat sterilizes it; once lodged, infection is impossible. Unnoticed, life goes on. Metal melds with bone: plates in legs, silver in teeth. A teenager swallows a pen, where it remains in her stomach for a quarter of a century. Finally removed, it still writes. Surgical tools left in bodies are known as retained surgical items. One man is found with sixteen of them inside him. Doctors remark on his body's amazing ability to get used to things.
Displacement is modernism for the 21st century, a child of montage, psychogeography, and the objet trouvé. Appropriation is the engine of displacement, mechanically moving unimpeded toward its goal. Trading in binaries — this either can or cannot be appropriated — appropriation eschews messy questions of morality, ethics and nuance. A boundless annexing machine, it sucks indiscriminately. The consequences are low — transnational, networked, fast-moving and ubiquitous, terrestrial law can't begin to compete. Instead, appropriation abides by the law of the network, which is the law of open architecture, of select-all. Flexible and cunning, it always finds a loophole.
Screen capture of nastynets.com.
The digital ecosystem is a decontextualizing machine, wrenching pieces from their constituent structures and flinging them across the globe. In this context of no context, meaning becomes pliant. Detached from their original circumstances, artifacts aren't devoid of meaning; instead, they acquire new meanings, nestled into new frameworks. By dismantling the precisely constructed framing apparatuses that uphold any ethos, poetic, or politic, appropriation effectively knocks the legs out from under ideology, rendering the subject neutered, little more than a deflated bag of bones.
Appropriation is a cipher, cobbling together bits and pieces willy-nilly, resulting in bizarre Frankensteinian artifacts: iPhones cloned with TV antennas and USB ports; PDFs of books with pages pieced together from various editions, in various languages, editions, fonts, and font sizes; some pages are upside down, others are missing entirely; Hollywood blockbusters with hard-coded Telgu subs; Tollywood blockbusters with singed-in Urdu subs. There are ten Harry Potter books in the Chinese series as opposed to the seven penned by J.K. Rowling. Appropriation thrives on provisionality, the craft of the kludge — it's ugly but it works. Quantity over quality: trawl in deep enough waters with a wide enough net and you're bound to catch something. Take it now. Sort it later. Or never sort it. Compile & stockpile. Redistribute & resell.
Sampling and remixing are based on borrowing. Borrowing is translation. Polite and neighborly, it involves exchange and social discourse, agreed upon terms and conditions. Sampling is the art of mindful recontextualization. You sample a riff of a James Brown song, building your song off it; you don't simply re-present the whole song and call it your own. Likewise, remixing bears the hand of the mixer, marked by an individual aesthetic. Remixing is a game of telephone, a conversation, mindful of the version which proceeded yours and the version which will follow. "I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used," said Jimmy Page, commenting on his reworking of preexisting material. "I always made sure to come up with some variation."[iv] Appropriation, on the other hand, is effortless and brutal, dumbly picking things up whole and dropping them whole into new situations. Anonymous and authorless, displaced versions are replicas and knockoffs, indistinguishable from one another except in metaphysical ways: conceptualization, contextualization, and distribution.
Robert Smithson didn't make paintings of the sky; instead, by reflecting it in a mirror, he displaced it, fusing it with the earth, dropping squares of blue into seas of green. Blazing azure one day, smoggy grayish-yellow the next, Smithson's gestures were at once formal color studies, quiet mediations on nature, and political statements on ecology. The mirror is a displacement machine which appropriates all that passes before it. A pre-programmed automaton, the mirror employs no judgment or morals, indiscriminately displaying all that passes before it. Reflect something emotional, the mirror becomes emotional. Reflect something political, the mirror becomes political. Reflect something erotic, the mirror becomes erotic. The mirror works around the clock, reflecting a dark room all night long when its inhabitants are sleeping, or an empty apartment all day long when its inhabitants are at work. Like its cousin the surveillance camera, the mirror displays scads of dark data, but unlike the NSA, the mirror has no memory: every image passing across its surface is ephemeral. Great crimes are committed before mirrors; no one is ever the wiser. If this mirror could talk... The mirror, then, is closer to a movie screen than CCTV, a surface upon which images are projected/ reflected in reverse. But unlike the movie screen, the mirror never goes dark. Smash the mirror, disperse the image. Toss the pieces in the trash, they continue to dumbly reflect.
Robert Smithson, from the series Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1969).
The displaced text is a mirror, taking on the hue of whatever it is placed near. Displaced authorship solely consists of determining what the text will reflect. Reflect something emotional, you have written an emotional text. Reflect something political, you have written a political text. Reflect something erotic, you have written an erotic text. Mirrored writing is not writing: it is copying, moving, and reflecting. Editing is moving. Want to alter your text? Move it elsewhere. The displaced text's natural environment is in the network. Born of copy-and-paste, everything about the displaced text is circumstantial and temporary. Ricocheting across the networks, the displaced text restlessly replicates, morphs, and self-distributes. The text assumes the affect of a mirror, offering a curious kind of utopianism which should not be confused with nihilism except that, like all utopias, it indirectly advocates a tabula rasa; like most utopias, it has no concrete expression.
The displaced text is always recycled. Recycled language is politically and ecologically sustainable, promoting reuse and reconditioning as opposed to the manufacture and consumption of the new, counteracting rampant global capitalist consumption by admitting that language is not able to be owned or possessed, that it is a shared and endlessly abundant resource. The digital ecosystem with its replicative and mimetic processes yields limitless resources — too much is never enough.
Yet — and this is where it gets interesting — the displaced text's entwinement with the latest technology, its scraping, warehousing, and hoarding of data, its celebration of baroque excess and fetishizing of waste, aligns it with nefarious global capitalist tendencies. In addition, there's an imperialistic aspect to it, a colonizing imperative. Like a virus spreading rapidly across networks, it threatens to take on the character of a huge multinational monster. All of these contradictions are part of the discourse of displacement, inseparable from its processes, production, and reception. The limits of the network are the limits of its world.
Displacement is a shift away from linear models of political orientation: neither left nor right, progressive nor reactionary, but swirling and sideways. The right tries to seal borders and legislate displacement out of existence, oblivious to the flows that whirl freely around it. Meanwhile, the left still holds out hope against hope for translation — can't we all just get along? Displacement, instead of responding to difference with understanding and consideration, responds to difference by swallowing it whole.
Odd things appear: retained foreign objects. Things that I don't understand. Things I didn't ask for.A system update will, unbeknownst to me, drop things into the midst of my environment. I have no idea they are there. I panic and wonder whether I can go back to an earlier version. I can't. Notwithstanding that, I begin to toy with the idea of going back to the previous system, the one I knew, the one I was comfortable in. There is no going back. I struggle, I whine, I eventually adapt myself to it; the displacement, once obtrusive, becomes the new normal — at least until the next upgrade. I don't move them — generally they can't be moved — so I live with them. I learn to accept them, even though I might not understand them. My computer has thousands of such displaced items on it. I can't translate them. The song that shows up in iTunes. I can't tell you where it came from. I wish I knew. The song has no identifying information, no ID3 tags, no provenance. But I like it. I tame it by tagging it, domesticate it by filing it on my hard drive. It becomes mine.
[i] John Cage, M: Writings ’67–’72 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, ) from Foreword, unpaginated.
[ii] John Cage, M: Writings ’67–’72 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, ) from Foreword, unpaginated.
[iii] John Cage, M: Writings ’67–’72 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, ) from Foreword, unpaginated.
[iv] Vernon Silver, "Stairway to Heaven: The Song Remains Pretty Similar," Businessweek, May 15, 2014 <http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-15/led-zeppelins-stairway-to-heaven-vs-dot-spirits-taurus-a-reckoning>, accessed May 28, 2014
Left to right: Bava and Sons, Coast.biz; Jon Rafman, Juan Gris Dream House; Charles Broskoski, Untitled (Iris); David Kohn architects, Carrer Avinyo; Etienne Descloux, Visitez ma tente. Photograph by Noah Rabinowitz.
If Google had a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, who would they exhibit? How would their installation compete against the Artsy auction exhibition? Would a Young Incorporated Artist feel more comfortable representing Tumblr or the USA?
Biennales have long been recognised as vehicles of internationalization and globalization in the worlds of art and architecture. Founded in 1895, with its younger sibling the Architecture Biennale following in 1980, the Venice Biennale is perhaps the most well known of its ilk. Although structured around a thematic exhibition in the imperially-named Arsenale, a significant attraction is inevitably the soft state play that occurs between the national pavilions. But in a world where the certitude of nation states is increasingly coming up against a new dominance of multi-national business, it is perhaps surprising that outright corporate pavilions aren't more of a Biennale mainstay, beyond the aggressive sponsor interests that keep national pavilions afloat.
It is in these international waters that the organizers of the (insistently unofficial) AIRBNB Pavilion positioned their project during the opening weekend of this year's 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Programmed by four graduates of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London–Alessandro Bava, Octave Perrault, Fabrizio Ballabio and Luis Ortega Govela–this "pavilion" consisted of three concurrent exhibitions held in rented Airbnb apartments across the city. These showed works by a large cast of international architects and artists, including Jon Rafman, Marlie Mul, Hayley Silverman and Some Women (Morag Keil) on the artist side, and m-a-u-s-e-r, Unu La Unu and Raphael Zuber amongst the architects. Most architects contributed drawings of built or under construction housing projects, whilst the artists were asked to produce imagined interiors, a winking indictment of the role of the artist in contemporary economies. These were mostly printed digitally, for ease of install, tacked like provisional building site notices in bathrooms and by bookshelves, although some artists chose to spill out into mini installation, with Martti Kalliala and Jenna Sutela producing a unique printed curtain for the main bedroom, and Ilya Smirnov sending a stuffed bird via Amazon Prime to accompany his somewhat abstract CAD sketch. The classical soundtrack for Rafman's video of his Jean Gris Dream House (2013)–which included Léo Delibes's "The Flower Duet" sequence from Lakmé, recently used in British Airways adverts–could be heard throughout the apartment.
Left to right: Unu La Unu, House with an outside room; Jasper Spicero, Untitled; Go Hasegawa, House in Gotanda. Photograph by Noah Rabinowitz.
Only open for three days, the pavilion bought into a franchise that is increasingly popular amongst young artists and curators: find a temporary space, install artworks, document, distribute widely and then move on. This was fitting to the context, but was nonetheless also affecting. The architectural sketches, often presenting dramatic alterations of the domestic setting, became strangely elegiac when set in the interchangeable apartments of the global Airbnb city. Inside the apartments, and away from Venice's constant press scrum and picture postcards, you might get the sense you could be anywhere. As the curators detail in an excellent text produced with the architecture weekly Fulcrum for the exhibition: "it is finally certain that people adapt to architecture more than architecture adapts to life."
Left to right: Marlie Mul, Untitled; Stewart Uoo, Confessions; m-a-u-s-e-r, Top 13 Favourite Homes Worldwide. Photograph by Noah Rabinowitz.
Similarly, the visual art felt poised between critical intervention and somehow the obvious thing to encounter in someone else's apartment. Stewart Uoo's video Confessions (2013) was playing on loop on a Macbook Pro left open on a bed–I swear just like my own room when I left it three days ago. A rendering of a clean white-windowed cell by Olivia Erlanger was hung as backdrop to a jacuzzi. The 20th century desire for art to be incorporated into life has left art almost lifelessly comfortable within the products of Apple Incorporated. Most anarchic was Adam Cruces, who managed to come and draw in shaving foam on the mirror. The visual art of course sat perfectly in the context, working through clever quips on real and imagined visions of space. The unaddressed curatorial question was to what extent it might problematise the context.
In fact, this is the question raised by the pavilion more generally: how does an exhibition, such as this, reproduce pre-existing conditions of production, or of life, and to what extent can they challenge or castigate them? At what point does complicity turn into compliance?
The "sharing economy" turns everything in your life into monetizable assets, "democratizing" access to them even as it imposes new social and technological firewalls on the city and domestic space. At the same time it dismantles any worker solidarity through appealing directly to the entrepreneur-as-individual. These are invisible class vectors that will be no stranger to anyone in the art industry. Next time you're at an opening and you find the work boring, consider that these emergent capital formations are what you're looking at as much as anything. The AIRBNB curators were on top of this, and what's more managed to redistribute this as image back into the network that produced it. Perhaps you should rent out one of your museum rooms to them at your next biennial?
The Urgency, the new DVD release from Extreme Animals (Jacob Ciocci and David Wightman), is a "visual album," like Beyoncé by Beyoncé, but any similarity to Beyoncé begins and ends with format. Beyoncé is too serious, too straight—the wrong kind of urgency. Her hooks have never found their way into the pop-punk power ballads of Extreme Animals, which mix club disco, heavy metal, and chiptunes with maximalist, strobing montage.
If there's a diva who is muse to the duo, it's the fickle Katy Perry, whose songs are sampled on two of The Urgency's eight tracks. Inspirational Katy Perry, who dedicates a rousing anthem to everyone who has ever felt like a plastic bag. Party girl Katy Perry, who gets wasted every Friday night. Bisexual Katy Perry who kissed a girl and liked it and wants to see your peacock-cock-cock. Dom/sub Katy Perry who yearns to be poisoned by aliens and is also the tiger who you will hear roar.
Katy Perry is the generic spirit of mass culture that Extreme Animals exploits in their music videos (visual tracks?). As the inclusive chanteuse, a many-faced jester of a diva, more of a pronoun than a proper one, she embodies mass culture's capacity to be anything to anybody; she personifies its endlessly renewable chain of possibilities for audiences to identify with something temporarily rather than make any final identification of it.
While the music Extreme Animals samples tends to be immediately recognizable—the theme song of the Harry Potter movies, a Katy Perry hit—the visuals tease recognition by offering identifiable forms and formats but obscure content. There's a snippet of a dragon cartoon that you might have glimpsed once in the eighties, or maybe you didn't, but at least you can identify with the experience of sitting in front of the television on a Saturday morning and watching it, or something like it, without knowing what it is, who made it, what happens in it. There's a clip from a cable access show, which you can recognize as such from the grainy light on the set even if you've never really watched cable access shows. There's the vlog, the teen who broods at the webcam, slices of her suburban bedroom framing her head. The forms of pop culture, the mass-market hardware that disseminates them, and the vernacular media consumption habits that congeal around them, flicker and intermingle in the rapid cuts and strobe effects and multiple layers of Extreme Animals' videos.
My description makes it sound like what Extreme Animals does is a pure play of signs and mediums, but their extreme empathy takes this play below the surface—they're making art from the stance of an audience instead of an artist. They're feeling what people feel when they turn to media to feel something, and mixing media to intensify their own audience's sense of that feeling. When Extreme Animals perform, as they did at the launch event for The Urgency at the Silent Barn in Brooklyn last week, Jacob Ciocci goes into a trance, headbangs, screams and jumps. He immerses himself in the rage and frustration of not getting what you/we/he want from media—wanting what it promises, which is more than it ever gives.
"THIS IS DEDICATED TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD THEIR LIVES WRECKED BY COMPUTERS, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND THE INTERNET": this dedication appears in The Urgency's first frames, and the message of sympathy and support unfolds in the final track, "Positive Mental Attitude." "I'm in a box," says a little old lady. "You don't think it's true? Just look at the edges." Her fingers point to the window that the viewer sees her in, to the screen and the monitor that the window appears on, and maybe even to the DVD box that The Urgency comes in. The boxes multiply, they get smaller and smaller, the old woman swims in a sea of apps. This track is light on music and heavy on talk. It urgently searches for meaning and explores the ideas that Ciocci writes about in the six-page zine accompanying the release: "The Boxes are cell phones, screens, computers, TVs, movie theaters, or books… [T]echnology itself is a box, and so is science, religion, pop music, organic food, and yoga," he writes. "The Boxes are interconnected traps that snare us deeper and deeper inside." Boxes shape the screen on the third track, where a half dozen tween girls lip sync Katy Perry's "E.T." for their webcams: "Take me/ ta-ta-take me/ Wanna be your victim/ Ready for abduction." Katy Perry is Extreme Animals' muse because she is the consummate maker of boxes. Producing box after box through the same body, she reminds audiences how all these boxes are made of the same cardboard. Katy Perry is Extreme Animals' muse—and like any muse, she's far away from the artist. Extreme Animals identify with the other users whose muse she is too, to make an art that tries to sing its way out of a box and into its audience.
The Urgency is available for download or mail order from Undervolt.
All images: screen captures from Extreme Animals, The Urgency (2014).
On December 4, 2011, Bunny Rogers uploaded an image of a rose to cunny4.tumblr.com; six months later, she began to post short poems to it on a regular basis. She writes serially about desire and addiction and sex and being a woman. This year, she translated these poems to the printed page with a highly crafted 237-page clothbound book, Cunny Poem Vol. 1, which features artwork by Brigid Mason.
Five years ago, internet artist Kevin Bewersdorf took all of his images, music, and texts offline, changed his name to Kev, and published a new website featuring only an image of a flickering flame. Kev now writes poetry about the internet, inspired in part by his Taoist practice. He writes slowly, holding the ideas inside for long periods of time until they crystallize.
This event marks Kev's first public reading of his poetry and the New York launch of Cunny Poem Vol. 1, via a presentation by Bunny and Brigid that will include sculpture, music, and poetry.
Rhizome public programs receive major support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.