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Articles on this Page
- 10/01/12--06:05: _Five Videos: Anahit...
- 10/01/12--09:51: _The Download: Angel...
- 10/02/12--04:30: _Laura Poitras Among...
- 10/02/12--07:00: _INSERT DISC: a digi...
- 10/03/12--06:44: _3D Printed Weaponry
- 10/03/12--09:00: _Stories from the Ne...
- 10/04/12--05:00: _Inside the Prosthet...
- 10/08/12--08:32: _Five Videos: Jennif...
- 10/09/12--11:26: _Prosthetic Knowledg...
- 10/10/12--07:00: _Inkjet Modernism: W...
- 10/11/12--08:27: _New in the ArtBase:...
- 10/15/12--05:33: _Five Videos: Jemima...
- 10/16/12--06:03: _Artist Profile: Kat...
- 10/17/12--06:55: _Data Space
- 10/18/12--08:20: _This is More Than a...
- 10/18/12--11:10: _Stories from the Ne...
- 10/22/12--08:02: _Five Videos: Zach B...
- 10/23/12--07:21: _Artist Profile: Mat...
- 10/23/12--11:28: _Prosthetic Knowledg...
- 10/24/12--06:44: _A Book is Technolog...
- 10/01/12--06:05: Five Videos: Anahita Razmi's Exile TV
- 10/01/12--09:51: The Download: Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain
- 10/02/12--04:30: Laura Poitras Among 2012 MacArthur Fellows
- 10/02/12--07:00: INSERT DISC: a digital flaneur’s guide
- 10/03/12--06:44: 3D Printed Weaponry
- 10/03/12--09:00: Stories from the New Aesthetic: Oct 11 at the New Museum
- 10/04/12--05:00: Inside the Prosthetic Imaginary: An Interview with Sara Hendren
- 10/08/12--08:32: Five Videos: Jennifer Chan's I Like To Watch
- 10/09/12--11:26: Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: nOdalisque
- 10/10/12--07:00: Inkjet Modernism: Wade Guyton at the Whitney
- 10/11/12--08:27: New in the ArtBase: Twilight Screensaver (1991) for Atari TOS
- 10/15/12--05:33: Five Videos: Jemima Wyman's The Shared Face of the Collective
- 10/16/12--06:03: Artist Profile: Katriona Beales
- 10/17/12--06:55: Data Space
- 10/18/12--08:20: This is More Than a Game: A (very) Brief History of Larp Part 2
- 10/18/12--11:10: Stories from the New Aesthetic
- 10/22/12--08:02: Five Videos: Zach Blas/Queer Technologies' Escape
- 10/23/12--07:21: Artist Profile: Matthew Johnstone
- 10/24/12--06:44: A Book is Technology: An Interview with Tan Lin
Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Anahita Razmi looks at the open secret that is satellite "exile TV" in Iran.
“Iran: one of the fastest developing consumers markets in the Middle East…” That’s how the video clip “Why advertise on PMC“ starts. PMC is the acronym for Persian Music Channel, an MTV equivalent for the Iranian population. The channel is broadcast via satellite and is very popular. I remember watching it several times with friends when visiting Iran.
The clip “Why advertise on PMC" was uploaded just 4 months ago, a significant time as this is amid threats of war and heavy sanctions on Iran. By highlighting the TV advertising possibilities for western brands in the country, the clip gives a particular insight into Iran’s consumer market and media landscape. At the same time, it is leaving essential things unsaid. Most notably in comparing state TV to satellite TV, it neglects to mention that satellite TV itself is completely illegal in Iran.
Official TV stations in Iran are all state owned and mostly show little entertaining, untempting propaganda. The counterparts to these are “exile” TV stations broadcasting from outside of the country via satellite. PMC is broadcasting from Dubai, other Iranian channels are based in London and California. The list of these channels is long, the audience is large.
Despite their illegality, satellite dishes can be found everywhere in Iran. When I was filming last year on the rooftops in Tehran, I saw a sea of dishes more or less hidden on every roof. Mohammad Rasoulof’s documentary “The Dish” is a very informative piece to watch about this subject.
I find this teaser from MBC PERSIA, showing mostly western movies and productions with Farsi subtitles, a very entertaining example of a channel advertising their programming. “You have an opportunity. This is a rebirth,” says George Clooney to the music of David Guetta’s “Titanium.” It might also be seen as a reflection of the producers themselves about Iran’s media reality, as well as the channel’s own working conditions.
The clip also shows that watching satellite TV in Iran might not be so much of an underground political issue as some would like to see it: people want to get entertainment and Hollywood is there to provide it.
Other examples of popular channels fulfilling this need are FARSI1, mainly showing soap operas and game shows, or MANOTO1 that is producing formats like “Googoosh Music Academy” and a Persian version of “Come Dine with Me.”
Even without understanding any Persian, one easily gets what these teasers are about; the formats are standardized and one-to-one resembling western channels.
The decision of the Islamic Republic to ban these channels does not affect their popularity, even though police forces frequently come to private homes and roofs to destroy or take down the satellite dishes.
Furthermore, many channels are forced to repeatedly change their frequencies as the state regularly tries to jam the signals of unwanted media. BBC PERSIAN, a channel broadcasting from London, is very much affected by this chase. This clip was aired as a teaser for the launch of the channel in 2009:
Alongside other formats, the channel is showing news in Farsi, tackling Iranian political issues from a designated non-ideological point of view. Last year, they broadcasted an interview with Hillary Clinton, offering Iranian viewers the opportunity to pose questions via the internet. Also last year, the Iranian authorities arrested six filmmakers, accusing them of having worked for BBC PERSIAN.
Here the fear of the authorities over satellite broadcasting seems to come into play when entertainment is mingling with information: a fear that — while eating popcorn — the revolution will be televised.
— Anahita Razmi
Screenshot of Pond Type interface
This month on The Download featuring an interactive software piece by Brazilian artists Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.
Pond Type (2012) transforms the QWERTY keyboard into a hauntingly beautiful musical instrument for digital poetry. Inspired by Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos's "Pulsar," the artists Detanico and Lain designed a ripple typeface for an exhibition of the poet's work for the Elisabeth Foundation for the Arts. For The Download, they combined the typeface with sound to create an interactive version of Pond Type.
After selecting any text or poem, the viewer is instructed to type slowly and wait for each word to vanish before typing the next. By deliberately slowing down the urge to type quickly, the artists delay gratification and encourage careful listening.
The Download gives a first look to great art for Rhizome members. Start your own digital art collection by becoming a member today.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras is among the 2012 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" award winners, announced yesterday. Her 9/11 Trilogy was included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial film program. My Country, My Country (2006), followed a Sunni Arab doctor running for office in Baghdad. The second film, The Oath (2010) is set in Yemen and Guantanamo. Select footage from her upcoming film on domestic surveillance, which profiles William Binney "a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency who helped design a top-secret program he says is broadly collecting Americans’ personal data" is available to watch on the New York Times' site.
Worth watching her appearance on Democracy Now, discussing how "how she has been repeatedly detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the United States."
As Glenn Greenwald wrote earlier this year:
Poitras is now forced to take extreme steps — ones that hamper her ability to do her work — to ensure that she can engage in her journalism and produce her films without the U.S. Government intruding into everything she is doing. She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices. She uses alternative methods to deliver the most sensitive parts of her work — raw film and interview notes — to secure locations. She spends substantial time and resources protecting her computers with encryption and password defenses. Especially when she is in the U.S., she avoids talking on the phone about her work, particularly to sources. And she simply will not edit her films at her home out of fear — obviously well-grounded — that government agents will attempt to search and seize the raw footage.
That’s the climate of fear created by the U.S. Government for an incredibly accomplished journalist and filmmaker who has never been accused, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing whatsoever. Indeed, documents obtained from a FOIA request show that DHS has repeatedly concluded that nothing incriminating was found from its border searches and interrogations of Poitras.
For the traveler who desires a journey through space and time, a visit to Long Island City is highly recommended. The second iteration of Aram Bartholl's DVD Dead Drop project is available at the Museum of the Moving image until October 27th. Titled INSERT DISC (produced in collaboration with Robert Sakrowski), the project presents a journey to the heyday of artist produced interactive CD-ROM's: the 90’s.
⇸ Around the corner from the main entrance of MMI, one will find a CD / DVD sized slot carved in the side of the museum. Come equipped with a blank DVD-R. Insert the disc. After roughly seven minutes, your disc will be returned – its heat sensitive dye freshly encoded with a complex package containing relics of the past.
⇸ After returning to your personal computer, mount the disc on any Mac or PC (Linux or Windows) with at least a 2.2 Ghz processor and 8 Gb of free hard drive space. The DVD contains a virtual disk image (.vdi) virtual machine compatible with Oracle’s free VirtualBox software. Following the simple setup instructions in the DVD’s README.txt, one will find themselves booting up a Ubuntu desktop.
On the desktop of the virtual machine, the artist has left instructions. Double clicking the “MacOS 7.6” icon on the desktop launches Basilisk II, emulating a Mac Quadra running Macintosh System 7.6 (1997). At this point, one is interacting with an emulation within an emulation – a virtual machine, wrapped in a virtual machine, running within one’s native operating system.
The desktop of the emulated Quadra contains a trove of digital artifacts, software, and easter eggs. The primary focus of the INSERT DISC project is the four interactive artist produced CD-ROMs, seen along the top edge of the above screenshot. These discs have been preserved, Bartholl and Sakrowski having imaged ISOs from the original discs. These CD-ROMs of course are completely incompatible with contemporary systems, hence the emulation. Included in the collection are:
Anti Rom - SASS Collective, 1995
Manuskript - Eric Lanz, 1994
Cyberflesh Girlmonster - Linda Dement, 1995
User Unfriendly Interface - Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski, 1994 - 1996
Also included are Netscape Gold, Internet Explorer 3.01, and NCSA Mosaic(68k) 3.084, all web browsers of the period. Netscape includes bookmarks to the websites of various net.art stars of the 90’s.
One would be wise to refrain from downloading and running the bookmarked JODI piece SOD. This classic hack of Castle Wolfenstein was created in 1999, the year that Mac OS 9 was released. Running this work in the System 7.6 emulation causes the system to freeze.
After killing the Basillisk II emulation, and rebooting the emulated Quadra, one will find that their system disk has been corrupted. One method of recovering from this is to remove and re-add the VirtualBox Ubuntu VM. In some sense this is an ultimate haunting by ghosts of net.art history. JODI's works of this period often worked with the very intent of subverting or bearing the appearance of subverting the viewer's machine. Corrupting one's system disk is perhaps a new achievement for the duo.
While emulation is hardly a new or novel approach in accessing obsolesced born-digital works of art, the specific strategy used by Bartholl and Sakrowski is quite clever. Packaging Basilisk II within a VirtualBox machine provides a highly interoperable platform, with the assurance of a uniformly rendered experience, no matter the host machine (given that it meets the minimum system requirements).
INSERT DISC is a journey to a time when the web was in its infancy. Artists sought to create media-rich, interactive environments by any means necessary. While the 80's saw collaborations between artists and CD-ROM publishers such as Voyager, it is arguable that the mid-90's saw the emergence of more productions from magazines, museums, and galleries due to the steady decline in the cost of production (the cost of a cd burner in 1995 having fell to the "unheard-of price of $995"). Bartholl and Sakrowski have done a wonderful job of providing a relatively stable time capsule, opening a window to a very particular moment in the history of creative production engaged with technology.
Meet Defense Distributed, home of the Wiki Weapon — "A collaborative project to create freely available plans for 3D printable guns." They've just been granted $20,000 in funding from an angel investor. As outlined in an explanatory Youtube video, Defense Dist.'s goal is not to arm the populace, but to liberate information. As explained in their video, if the instructions for 3D printed gun are seeded online, then "any bullet becomes a weapon."
It's good that open-source information is Defense Distributed's major goal, because Stratsys, the company that makes the 3D printer used by Defense Dist., seized the printer from Cody Wilson. Producing a whole weapon, claimed Stratsys, would break laws against home weapons manufacturing. In July, Extreme Tech reported on a user named HaveBlue from the AR-15 forum. HaveBlue used a mid-90s era Stratasys brand 3D printer to make the body of a .22-caliber pistol. HaveBlue's creation utilized a commercial chamber fused with a 3D-printed body. Said HaveBlue: "It's had over 200 rounds of .22 through it so far and runs great!" HaveBlue went on to remind readers that manufacturers have been using 3D printing for modeling and design purposes for a while. His gun was simply the first with 3D printed plastic parts to be tested by someone at home.
HaveBlue's 3D printed gun.
Anab Jain of Superflux told the magazine Dezeen that Defense Dist. is a symptom of the transforming dynamic between consumers and manufacturers: “The old rules and regulations about who is the designer, who is the manufacturer and who is the distributor change when people have the tools and opportunities to become the designer, manufacturer and distributor themselves."
It's all too easy to imagine a future where rebels or criminals rely on 3D printing to produce weapons cache. While we haven't arrived there yet, ours is certainly an era of infinite reproducibility available on an increasingly smaller scale. In the future, it will likely be not only the legality of home weapons manufacturing but also questions of copywrite that will come to define this issue. Now that the idea is born, taking away the tech is only a minor snag.
"This letter was sent to a Russian student by her French friend, who manually wrote the address that she received by e-mail." Mojibake diacritics translated to Cyrillic by the postal employees via The New Aesthetic
On Thursday, October 11, please join us for the upcoming event: Stories from the New Aesthetic:
The New Aesthetic is an ongoing research project by James Bridle, investigating the intersections of culture and technology, history and memory, and the physical and the digital. For this event, Bridle will be joined by Aaron Straup Cope and Joanne McNeil to discuss stories related to these ideas.
James Bridle is a writer, publisher, and technologist. He writes a regular column for the Observer (UK) and his writing has also appeared in Wired, Domus, Icon, and widely online. He speaks worldwide on the intersections of literature, technology, and culture, and writes about what he does at booktwo.org.
Aaron Straup Cope is currently Senior Engineer at the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Before that, he was Senior Engineer at Flickr focusing on all things geo-, machinetag-, and galleries-related between 2004 and 2009. From 2009 to 2011, he was Design Technologist and Director of Inappropriate Project Names at Stamen Design, where he created the prettymaps project.
Joanne McNeil is the editor of Rhizome. She is a 2012 USC Annenberg-Getty Arts Journalism Fellow. Her writing has appeared in Modern Painters, Wired (UK), the Los Angeles Times, and other web and print publications.
Thursday, October 11th, 2012 7 p.m.
at the New Museum Tickets
For more information on the project, check out Will Wiles' "The Machine Gaze" for Aeon Magazine.
Gloves for Two, Sandie Yi Crip Couture (2001)
Sara Hendren is an artist, researcher, and writer who explores how design and art practices can inform techno-scientific research and knowledge-building. She is the writer-editor of Abler, an online ‘think space’ where art and design are linked together with high and low-tech prosthetics, both practical and speculative, to explore questions about ability, disability, the normalized and medicalized body, and more. Abler juxtaposes posts featuring assistive technologies normally relegated to the field of rehabilitative medicine with questions concerning smart cities, cyborg transhumanism, and the future of democratic communities.
I Skyped with Sara about the politics of abled and disabled bodies, the artist as amateur, and our hopes for a cyborgian future.
Ana Avarez: You’ve written that Abler is one big umbrella project for your work. Can you talk about the ideas driving the site?
Sara Hendren: Abler brings together four streams of interest: First, an interest in the innovations of the high-tech prosthetic fields. Second, I’m interested in tracking the tradition of artists who have been working on prosthetics very broadly defined—a more metaphorical notion of the “prosthetic” as an extended tool that becomes a proxy, or a substitute for experience. For artists, the prosthetic becomes very subtle and associative, pointing to tools for needs we don’t even know we have. Third, I’m looking at ideas about the cyborg and the future of bodies: how we negotiate our dance with machine parts of all kinds, and whether the enhancement and augmentation they promise is tempered enough by good critical conversations. And then fourthly, I’m pointing to what are commonly called “assistive technologies”—the very medicalized devices that lots of people use but that don’t get much analysis as design or culture. Everything from crutches, to wheelchairs, walkers, ankle braces.
Those four fields tend to exist in more or less separate worlds. But all these things have much to say to one another. Abler puts them in adjacency online, along with critical writing, in a form that juxtaposes these ideas against one another and creates cross commentary to try to mix those categories. And ultimately to ask: Who is being assisted by what kinds of technologies? And what kinds of assistance do we want in the future?
The whole project has been to create a blog that’s not just a story-chaser, a popularizer of technology; neither did I want it to become an academic exercise, denouncing the politics of technology development as inherently oppressive. I wanted to take some of the really interesting questions about normalcy and abnormalcy, dependence and independence and look at artworks, design, and engineering work that all address these issues. I wanted all those conversations to exist in one place, to be rich and generative and ultimately really exciting because of what they provoke in the imagination and also the critical conversations they spark about abled and disabled bodies.
It seems like we are going to be using the words “disabled” and “abled-bodied” quite a bit. I want to first ask you, not necessarily for a definition but more of a complication of these terms: what does it mean to be able or disabled and how is that tension addressed in your work?
People who work in disability try to keep raising the idea that being “disabled” is not a fixed and assigned identity. It is not about a body status or a capacity level, but much more about this very complex, changing, evolving, and perhaps temporary, perhaps longer term, political state—in some ways, similar to how we’ve come to understand the slippery designations of race and gender. The built environment and socio-political institutions all make allowances and disallowances for certain kinds of bodies and capacities, and those affordances have ripple effects in cultures, creating abled-ness and disabled-ness. And disability is a status that is always in flux: you enter into different seasons in your life where you are more or less bodily and cognitively able to access those institutions, avenues of social mobility, and so on.
People working within disability studies also think about the ways that bodies and lives get commodified by notions of independence, autonomy, and economic productivity. So there’s a larger conversation there to be had about measuring worth and the ideally productive body. Defining who is “able” has everything to do with assumptions about the market economy.
What started Abler for me was a desire to stay away from this notion that only people who are disabled have a political interest in their own rights. There’s something really interesting and provocative about looking at disability politics and technology within these larger questions about economic structures and power dynamics. It makes us ask: what’s the kind of future we want to create? What kinds of bodies and minds do we want to foster and create greater possibilities for?
Floral Leg, The Alternative Limb Project
When I was reading your work on Abler I was most excited by the idea of what role the artist or designer has in this field. You present the idea of the artist as an amateur that is in a perfect position to go into a prosthetic field that is technologically specialized and add input. You also look into the notion of the role of an artist in society in a broader sense, that instead of just conjecturing and aiming critique at things, artists can have a real, generative, and purpose driven change in people’s lives. I was wondering where you place yourself in that spectrum?
I am really interested in what my own amateur background as a visual artist brings to what critic Brian Holmes has called “expert cultures” in medicine and biotech. The way I am interested in working in those communities, as you said, is not only in a critique from the gallery about a dystopian technological future. What I am more interested in doing is working alongside experts in engineering, science, and medicine in a collaborative way.
I’m also getting trained in building low-tech adaptive technology. I started working with the assistive device center at the Perkins School for the Blind, who I found through the Adaptive Design Association in New York. They collaboratively develop and build tri-wall cardboard devices, mostly for children, all highly customized. A number of these users have multiple, complex atypicalities in their bodies beyond blindness, so these designers work with tri-wall, which is incredibly physically robust, to make these provisional, temporary prosthetics with a single user in mind. They’re totally custom and they’re low cost. There’s so much radicalism there: It’s not the kind of industry-driven, high-tech engineering and gee-whiz- manufacturing that you normally see in prosthetics. It’s a low-tech practice that’s an overlooked, undervalued corollary to high-tech design.
Next I’ll be trying to think what other more speculative cardboard devices could be made, how else they might point outward from their diagnostic uses. In this way, the artist is partly a fabricator, partly mediator, between the formal and informal cultures, linking specialists and labs where there’s a lot of cultural caché and an ability to drive the agenda for development, and then these low-tech engineering practices that are really off the radar. With Abler and my other projects, I want to construct devices, situations, and critical conditions by which people who tend to be invisible in these conversations get a more public voice.
In one of your articles you mention eyeglasses as one of the most successful prosthetics that either hide or reveal difference. Your Abler article about hearing aids has a great quote that touches on this same tension:
“[T]here’s presuming that a hearing impairment is an inherent lack, and therefore asking, ‘How well can we ‘hide’ a functional hearing aid, to blend in with the flesh surrounding it?” And then, instead, there’s asking: “What would a visually striking hearing aid look like? What would make you want to wear it? If we grant visibility to this kind of aid, how does it alter our view of its user?” And, most provocatively: “What else might a hearing device do, that’s so far not been imagined?”
Could you talk more about the importance of granting visibility to disabilities as a tool for changing perceptions?
People ask me that a lot—what is the goal of the design research here, is it to provide most discretion possible so they feel that their disability is sort of masked, or is the design research really for making these things much more outward?
I think for eyeglasses you take it from being this deviation from normalcy to being this positive, original trait. I think that is important in transforming our notions of abled and disabled bodies, and how these are assigned negative and positive labels.
Eyeglasses have become so naturalized and desirable to people because you think of them purely as a handbag, as an accessory; they’ve really become quite transformed. So it’s interesting for instancwwe that hearing aids still carry so much stigma. People report being treated as if they know less than they used to, or as if they are cognitively disabled when they are not. There are assistive technologies that we register as this really medicalized need and these other technologies that we completely take for granted as being prosthetic tools. Graham Pullin, who wroteDesign Meets Disability, wrote that this is one of the most interesting and productive tensions to think about—in what situation is discretion desirable, and in what situations is a much more performative and visually striking product desirable? Ideally there are places for both, where people can make choices.
Beyond practical tools, I’m particularly interested in finding ways to temporarily estrange ourselves from our received ideas about technologies, to reconsider how we are using them. Artists are particularly good at doing that work: repositioning, hacking, inverting technologies to help us see them again. What experiences we’re gaining, what experiences we’re shutting off from ourselves—I’m interested in a truly open-handed posture towards how we implement technology in our lives. Not with a kind of suspicion or paranoia, and also not with a submissive and thoughtless consumption.
One of the things that piqued my interest most when I read your work is your ideas surrounding the cyborg. What is the cyborg to you, and what does this cyborgian future entail?
There tends to be either an overly sanguine story about the cyborg self—like, in the future, there will be no disability because, “Oh these legs don’t work anymore? I’ll just strap on new ones.” Or, conversely, there’s a kind of dystopian fascination with our dependence on technological proxies. People either imagine the liberatory cyborg, where we merge bodies and machines in a way that is clean and utopian, or where: Yikes! We’re all going to die, because the machine overlords—they’re coming! But both of those stories make a big leap over harder questions.
One of the things I say a lot when I lecture is that people with disabilities who are using assistive technologies every day are our richest resource of wisdom about the cyborg-self, about how we integrate technologies into our lives. They’ve been doing it in significant ways already, everyday, for a long time. But because we have these notions of assistive technologies as medicalized, and a kind of a medical-tragedy story we tell ourselves about these people, we have ignored them as a knowledge resource. We’re too busy consuming and replicating this very futuristic idea of the cyborg monster.
With Abler, I’m trying to engage a nearer future that is manifestly open, to suggest that there’s always contingency. We choose what to do with what we make. We should enter the post-human with our wits about us, with our critical eye on these things. Feminist and disability scholars have both long asked: Where is there recognition for experiences that involve dependence, or inter-dependence? How do we make a culture that affords space for those experiences, instead of continuing our obsession with one kind of useful-able-bodied-autonomous-unfettered self? I’m not sure interdependence is a thing we want to wholly eradicate from the human experience. I want an alternative to the idea that absolute autonomy is the only desirable state of being.
Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jennifer Chan considers web videos before and after the age of Youtube:
The notion of hospitality prompts me to think of radical openness— an approach that accounts for anomaly, dissent, and oddity. Openness is widely associated with participatory nature of the Web 2.0, but by nature of the longtail, not all information on the web is useful. As the use of “YouTube video” has become interchangeable with “online video”, I’m going to explore what amateur video looked like before and after YouTube’s advent in 2005.
“All Hail The Necrowizard!”
In the early 2000s, simple Flash animations like Stick Death and Return of the Necrowizard were a source of cathartic entertainment for bored youngsters on the internet. These animations could be found at game portals and entertainment websites like Newgrounds and AddictingGames.com. Originally hosted on Stickdeath.com — which is no longer active — Stick Death included short animated webisodes that depicted stickmen performing antisocial gestures to themselves and each other.
StickDeath, Auto Thefts, (2002)
Return of the Necrowizard (2006) is a fan video for an acoustic Black metal band called Impaled Northern Moonforest. Promoted through their hokey website and online video, the DIY music project consisted of Josh Martin and and Seth Putnam (now deceased), who are former members of a grindcore band Anal Cunt. In this video, poorly drawn witches, frowny moons, and upturned crosses satire the androcentric sadness of Black metal.
Author Unknown, Return of the Necrowizard, 2006.
V is for Vernacular
Within an art context, “vernacular” is employed to describe something as “referential” to a certain medium. Whereas in postcolonial studies, vernacular means “culturally specific”. For example, a screenshot is vernacular to the computer screen or browser as medium for internet art. Meanwhile, in Bollywood movies, vernacularity manifests in frontal zooms of deities’ faces, which are used to devotional affect for Indian audiences. Often made by internet users with online audiences in mind, vernacular video is video about video; it is video that speaks to a particular cultural audience, video that talks back to media culture. In 2007, Tom Sherman predicted shifts to increasing crudeness and intertextuality within video-making practices:
“The use of canned music will prevail… Recombinant work will be more and more common… Digital effects will be used to glue disconnected scenes together…filters will be used to denote psychological terrain.”
Web-based video today is ridden with meta-narratives– layered references to acts, events and objects on and offline.
There might be an air of casual professionalism attached to the “pro-am” title, but according to Olia Lialina, what we largely think of as as “amateur” has shifted since the early days of the internet. In The Vernacular Web 2, she describes two kinds of amateurism: 1) a “full-blown relationship between a new medium and its first users” who built personal homepages from scratch in the 90s and, 2) the personalization of formulaic social network profiles.The latter is self-aware and indifferent to the web as medium; the former is earnestly not. Lialina’s observations posit that there was and is a consolidated set of authentic amateurisms that died with the shutdown of Geocities in the 90s. Soon, cultural critics such as Andrew Keen would dismiss amateur content as biased and unreliable in its abundance. But how is it possible that amateur sensibility (as style and value) would ever disappear when it lives on in the vernacular videos of today? Artists learn from non-artists while non-artists make things that look like art.
Late Moves in Vidding
While the internet may extend socialization, it is also accommodates for users’ basest interests. “The pornographic images of war… are the reflux of the animal instinct that our economic and social structure has repressed,” writes Matteo Pasquinelli on the obsessive voyeurism of 9/11 imagery in the aftermath of the disaster.
Chris Korda, I Like To Watch, 2002. LINK
Likening the desire for negative news and instant infotainment to (sex) addiction, Chris Korda’s I Like To Watch (2002) juxtaposes Twin Towers attacks with porn and masturbation to critique the shock-driven mediation and reception of the 9/11 attacks.
Lady GaGa, Bad Romance, The Sims 2 HD
On a lighter note, media fandom in this play-by-play remake of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” in the Sims 2 environment is uncannily professional. Vidding, or the practice of re-cutting televisual media to found soundtrack has been popular since the 90s. These days slideshow videos, cover songs, 800% slower remixes and visualizers exist coterminously on YouTube. Within Sims vidder community, one of the aesthetic goals of media fandom is to produce near-exact remakes of music videos within the Sims environment. Meanwhile, other users seek to create their own TV shows with Sims characters as fan fiction.
Cute is a profound affect that embodies kitsch without redundancy. From cat videos to babies playing with ipads, the affect of cute is a view count pull in user-generated video.
jubduk, Little Seal in the Altitudes (2011)
In Little Seal in the Altitudes (2011) jubduk staggers, flips, repeats and reverses layered footage of a baby seal waddling on ice. Edited in the style of noisy repeated cuts from Passage a L’Acte, his quixotic editing deconstructs and layers the seals’ struggling until it no longer appears charming— to make anaesthetic an aesthetic experience. After all, irreverence is the best strategy for entertainment and political resistance under a quickened attention economy.
The Exotic and The Naive
Because vernacular video has thoroughly dissolved into the fabric of social web — where video art coexists with cat .gifs and breaking news— video-making is now a challenge of seduction. With 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, the work of artists will be competing for attention from professional vloggers, holiday filmmakers, and art students. In democratizing the ability to upload videos longer than 10 minutes, supporting subtitles and high-definition videos, YouTube is solidifying itself as a converged space for media consumption, whether it’s televisual, cinematic, or musical. Pluralism and fragmentation of aesthetics are contingent to conditions of radical openness. Users everyday life with amateur conventions; recall phonecams videos at concerts and protests, the confessional talking-head vlog, parody ads, dance videos and fan-made karaoke songs.
Cultural amnesia, or the inability to be fully aware of the Nineties internet subjectivity informs my fascination for the amateur. Something seems inherently sincere and unabashed about unsyncopated transitions and scrolling text that runs for too long. Artists might choose to work in an amateur manner not only out of convenience, but for the way it harkens to the effortlessness and naivete of early web design. Amateur aesthetics won’t be disappearing anytime soon, but artists who share their work online will try to distinguish their efforts from the rest of the internet. They will attempt to create rarity, to inject information value into their work, to alleviate the intellectual abstraction of contemporary art. Artists will create their own contexts for showing their work.
It might look like I’ve shown you a bunch of garbage from the web, and that’s what it is. In its abundance, amateur video is art that doesn’t look like art, but its co-option by artists demands us to consider it that— and I like to watch.
Uncomposed (after Titian after Giorgione) by Georgie Roxby Smith [GIF by PK]
A collection of items from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the web, looking at a Fine Art archetype today.
Uncomposed (after Titian after Giorgione) by Georgie Roxby Smith
Renaissance art piece composed as contemporary New Media machinima, a 21st Century Venus
3D machinima, video, found image, found sound
Made specifically for Composite at Gallery One Three Uncomposed (after Titian after Giogione) deconstructs Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, itself a composite, the landscape and sky being completed by Titian following Giogione’s death in 1510. The work was a landmark of its era, reflecting a new shift in modern art with the inclusion of a female nude at its centre. Employing three-dimensional computer graphics and elements of Giorgione’s original masterpiece, Roxby Smith replaces his stylised renaissance figure with a fantasised digital body transplanted into an augmented hyper real landscape. In the likeness of her present day artist, the 21st Century Venus will not lie still for her voyeurs, obstinately returning the male gaze from her new digital paradigm, Sleeping Venus awakes.
Machina by Claudia Hart
Framed digital art piece is a 3D animation of a sleeping female nude subject in the classical pose of Venus / Odalisque - a two minute example of the twenty minute work:
“Machina” is a 3D animation portraying the compressed time and space of painting, shows a dreaming character whose slow, drowsy movements articulate all of the minutia of a single moment. “Machina” uses the most advanced techniques of virtual reality simulation, and a series of animations that result in a representation that is sensual and organic. Occasionally, Machina opens her eyes to gaze at the viewer, in a moment of transformation, allowing the object of our gaze to subject us to hers. Based loosely on works such as Titian′s Venus and paintings by the Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens, “Machina” is meant to introduce sensuality into the virtual realm by employing an idea of beauty as defined by a woman.
Video Link | PK Link
Love Is All by Alejandro Gómez-Arias
While the Odalisque / Venus is a serious genre in Art, it has been said to also be a circumnavigational way to provide fantasy and titillation to patrons. In this piece, we have the first known example of pornography developed with the Kinect camera. It is surprising that (to the best of my knowledge) the technology has not been used to create pieces to explore the human form, so for better or worse this is the only known example to date. The video was uploaded two weeks ago, but has since been removed. Here are some animated GIFs of the piece:
Eye-tracking Fine Art: Odalisque a la culotte grise (Matisse), and the proposal of the “opsieme”
According to cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, recognizing letters and their combinations — called graphemes — and then creating an interface between what’s written and what’s articulated (phonological awareness) is the way to gain access to the lexicon that we use to communicate. If we indeed pay attention to the basic elements that compose the written sentence, we find letters, syllables and words. However, the smallest significant element of the sentence is probably the grapheme, since the whole understanding process derives from it. The grapheme is the written equivalent of the oral phoneme. It is comprised of the smallest group of letters making a phoneme. For example, in French, the phoneme [o] has several graphemes : o, au, and eau. Unlike a letter, a grapheme represents better the phonology of a language, or what a language sounds like. The French language counts 130 graphemes.
Does this same concept apply to a painting or an image ? Just like in the reading process, the image undergoes several mutations between the retina and the sensory areas of the cerebral cortex, whereby the basic components of the image (forms, colors, orientation of the lines) are dissected first and then transmitted to the visual areas. It is only then that the image is reconstructed, and that it will be confronted against other known representations that are stored in our memory for an identification of the present image. Dismantling, reassembly and identification are the three steps in the process of the visual representation, whether artistic or natural …
… Fixation can be equated with the time necessary to identify the smallest significant visual unit in an image. Just as a phoneme is the smallest articulated unit, and a grapheme is the smallest written unit, we suggest opsieme as a designation for the smallest significant visual unit : « opsie » – from the Greek ops, opsis, which means eye, vision and « eme », suffix which signifies basic unit.
Untitled, 2010. Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen; eight panels, 305 x 69 in. (774.7 x 175.3 cm) each ; 305 x 586 in. (774.7 x 1488.4 cm) overall. Collection of the artist. Photograph by Lothar Schnepf.
The language of Wade Guyton’s mid-career retrospective at the Whitney emphasizes that, like any other user, Guyton approaches technology unenlightened as to its inner workings. Choosing to make his printer drawings, in which images from books and magazines are printed on, Guyton rendered simple marks in Microsoft Word. Unlike other users, perhaps, Guyton is aesthetically excited by technologies limitations and preconditions, viewing them as an element of chance in his work.
The exhibition, made up mostly of inkjet on linen paintings, aptly shows Guyton’s modernist collaborations with new technologies, reinscribing the greatest hits modernism within a different context. Transparency, monochrome, and the readymade all make their expected appearances. A four panel transparent window, with printer drawings of works by Frank Stella, Duchamp himself, and others, emphasize his investment in 20th century modernism while referencing obliquely computer technology as a low-tech window and bulletin board.
The printer drawings play with material images from books and magazines. This emphasis on origin and location contrasts with his engagement of technologies that have done so much to dematerialize our engagement with images. One inkjet painting does come from a “source file”: it contains an image of Kenneth Noland’s True North (1961), scanned, printed, and disturbed by five runny black disks. More explicitly minimal works—an inverted woodpile or inkjet on wood sculpture—round out the show.
One line of metallic Us, displaying a remarkable illusion of transparency, manages to stress a subtext of individualized industry pervasive throughout the show. Thought the artifacts are industrial and repeatable they are also personalized, born out of a decisive collaborative process between the artist and the machine. The U sculptures, which have both an industrial style and a linguistic shape, manage to undo the complicity between the customizable and the commercially ubiquitous.
Untitled, 2002. Epson DURABrite inkjet on book page, 10 3/8 x 7 3/8 in. (26.4 x 18.7 cm). Collection of the artist. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.
Letters make various appearances in Guyton’s work, though relegated to U and X: printed Us dangling over flames, layered or half-printed black Xs. Essential letters of the text/Twitter/Internet lexicon, here they are utilized more as repeatable marks from a computer. Further enforcing the everydayness of the works are their frequent constructive failures. Perhaps the printer has mauled every canvas and drawing. One noteworthy early experiment on linen was cut sharply; the cut hangs limply against the wall, serving as an almost unsettling reminder of technology’s strength over fragile materials.
Guyton’s most consistent obsession is with the relationship between objects and their physical space: their space within the gallery as much as their physical provenance. Untitled Action Sculpture (Five Enron Chairs) presents a color scale of Marcel Breuer-designed Cesca chairs that originally graced Enron’s corporate headquarters, while many of Guyton’s printer drawings are shown in glass display cases lined with blue linoleum, like that of Guyton’s studio—bringing with the printer drawings something of the site of their creation.
Works created for specific locations are also present: gray canvases made for the walls of a Guyton show in Europe, and new stripes especially for the Whitney. The stripes—taken from the familiar endpaper of a book—have been exploded, and display a structure to the image not dissimilar from Ben-Day dots.
Following a similar statement by Robert Rauschenberg, Duchamp had by 1961 announced, "Since the tubes of paint used by the artist are manufactured and readymade products, we must conclude that all the paintings in the world are 'ready-mades aided’ and also works of assemblage.” The colors here may come not from tubes but inkjets, but the works emerge more as validations of strategies than reinvestigations or expansions.
Untitled, 2008. Epson Ultrachrome inkjet on linen; eight panels, 84 x 69 in. (213.4 x 175.3 cm) each; 84 X 587 x 1 ½ in. (213.4 x 1491 x 3.8 cm) overall. Photograph by Lamay Photo.
There is a new addition to the ArtBase's collection that we are rather excited about: TwiLight (1991-1997), a screensaver for Atari TOS by Dragan Espenschied, Alvar Freude, and Peter Scheerer. There are two points to be excited about here: first, TwiLight now holds the crown of being the oldest piece of software in our collection. Second, Espenschied has amazingly completely reconstructed the screensaver's various modules as in-browser simulations, using the original graphics and HTML marquees. On the following page one can see what is a relatively accurate representation of the original software. If you'd like to run the original software in an Atari TOS compatable emulation (or vintage hardware), the orignal software can be download here: LZH (925 kb), ZIP (939 kb).
Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jemima Wyman looks at camouflage as a tactic of grassrooots collectives:
The thronging, faceless mass convenes….Let’s go visiting. Let’s occupy. Let’s be the unexpected guest.
For the Liverpool Biennale, I invited the community to create a soft analog network that was woven out of second-hand camouflage and hunting t-shirts. For the next several weeks the community has, and will be claiming territory within the FACT building through weaving a large-scale communal skin out of individual combat clothing on hula-hoop looms. This skin is visibly hand-made and warms the cold concrete walls. The weavings are made in the space together as a group, the title Collective Coverings, Communal Skin. We occupy the space, through constructing a shared skin, and transform conflict into comfort.
Hannah Arendt’s philosophical ideas on reflexive judgment stipulate the importance of visiting and imagining positions beyond the self in order to consider the moral dimension of actions and decisions, so as to exist with an enlarged mentality. The quickest way to go visiting is to slip into someone else’s skin or share in a communal covering. I’ve been using fabric and masking in my practice as both an empathetic device and a resistance strategy for some time. By crafting metaphoric skins that individuals can wear, or a community can share in, we bring awareness to the politics of embodiment (being) and spectacle (seeing).
This work developed from a feminist position and a desire to equalize the gaze, to make it reciprocal. To overcome the standard objectification of the female body, I started to cloak, exaggerate and extrude through fabric skins. The bodies that I represented and researched were ones that desired to be looked at and listened to in a reciprocal exchange whereby they weren’t oppressed by their circumstance.
With the selected five videos, I thought we might participate in some philosophical anthropology and visit groups that don the mask while using online media for the specific purpose of empowerment. Traditionally within western art the position of authority was behind the camera, representing the other through colonizing eyes. The decentralization of image production and on-line presentation has allowed for an empowered self-determining subject to have two-way communication with mass participation.
Let’s start with the Zapatistas: They use technology strategically to promote international discussion around their cause and to bypass the Mexican government. There is a poetics to their movement, women are included, and it is primarily non-violent. The balaclava (or ski mask) is the shared face of the collective, it is the all-in-one and the one-in-all.
“Behind us are the we that are you. Behind our balaclavas is the face of all the excluded women. Of all the forgotten indigenous people. Of all the persecuted homosexuals. Of all the despised youth. Of all the beaten migrants. Of all those imprisoned for their word and their thought. Of all the humiliated workers. Of all those who have died from being forgotten. Of all the simple and ordinary men and women who do not count, who are not seen, who are not named, who have no tomorrow.” (Member of the EZLN/ Zapatistas, Major Ana Maria quoted in “Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory” By Richard Gilman-Opalsky)
In this video Subcomandante Marcos acknowledges the importance of independent media to challenge dominant ideology and to report on social struggles that cotemporary world news refuses to cover.
Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos: Indigenous Peoples Rights, Globalization, Neo-Liberalism.
A couple of months ago, Peaches and Simone Jones organized a flash mob film shoot with a colorful balaclava clad crowd. Through aural and visual mimicry, they display their solidarity with Pussy Riot, the punk feminist art collective. In a multi-colored peacock protest they stare out and shout, “We are all Pussy Riot!”. The video condems the Russian authorities who have Pussy Riot on trial and promotes their cause with a link to petition at the end.
Free Pussy Riot! #freepussyriot
For quiet some time feminist activists have employed masks as a form of resistance. In 1985 the Guerrilla Girls formed to protest inequities with the international art world. In this video they wear a variety of confrontational gorilla masks. They recount their pseudonyms, with off-camera laughter and canned clapping, the humor is bubbling away between members. The language present in the video “After all, we could be anyone…..We are everywhere” reiterates the potential power of the mask to transform the individual into the mass, or in this case give historical omnipresence to those typically not allowed that privilege.
Guerrilla Girl Secrets
Like the Guerrilla Girls, Black Bloc fights against oppressive institutions although they take the palette of black as their mask, for face and body. Black Bloc uses the fused costumed social body as a device in militant protests. The group’s tactics were first used in Germany in the 1980’s. Their visual effect is comparable to zebra camouflaging techniques. The zebra’s stripes create a moiré effect within a herd, a communal skin that appears to be of a much larger animal; this confuses and creates fear in the apex predator and discourages an attack. In this video there is mention of the visual effect of their militant tactics, that it is intended as theatre to remind oppressive institutions and the police state that “the people still have the power”.
Black Bloc - Introduction
Less physically violent than Black Bloc in their attacks is the Anonymous group.
Their online presence has been prolific and most demands and attacks have been directed at Internet censorship and surveillance. They wear the ultimate corporate body mask — the suit — while protecting their identities with a mask that has a long history dating back to Guy Fawkes in the 1600’s. The group’s visual popularity has grown since Occupy protestors around the world adopted Anonyomous’s trademark mask. Like the balaclava, the Guy Fawkes likeness provides visual solidarity in protesting oppressive power structures. Thus, divergent perspectives have found a community in the same face. This final video aims to promote their anti-censorship Wikipedia-style structure TYLER due to launch in December 2012.
Anonymous Project Mayhem 2012
The use of masks in conflict, protest, and civil disobedience has grown rapidly in the last two decades. This development has occurred in tandem with the proliferation of imaging devices that record our every move, and a rapidly growing public disillusionment with governmental and financial institutions. Marginalized groups have a lot to lose in not protecting their identity. Masks create a single visual identity for groups, providing collective power, as these videos demonstrate.
Constant Screen (2012) limited edition poster to accompany 'Constant Screen' video installation
Much has been made of our networked present’s utopic possibilities, but it feels like a wave of anxiety and skepticism is emerging to counter the web optimism of individuals like Clay Shirkey. Is it right to read your work as an investigation into how usage of the Internet may not be altering how we think, feel, and interact for the better?
At the heart of my practice there is tension between fascination and wariness with new technologies, specifically the meshing of mobile telecommunications devices and the Internet. It is not an ambivalent position but it is conflicted. So yes - in part.
On the one hand I am intensely excited by the simultaneous nature of display, consumption and production that these interfaces encourage. I also understand the conditions of the digital (binary code that can be endlessly replicated) as fundamentally supporting information overload and excess, but see so many possibilities in embracing the torrent of information rather than attempting to oppose it.
At exactly the same time, I am wary and perhaps even frightened at moments. I can be a bit of a conspiracy theorist and as Internet space becomes ever-more commodified and our online lives are increasingly channeled through multi-national companies I do worry. I don’t, for example, like the feeling of being locatable through the GPS facility on my phone. I am a bit of a McLuhanite (I keep returning to, and re-turning ‘the Gutenberg Galaxy’) and when he states “any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment”, my response is to question what type of human environment is now being created and what type of human? Are these rapidly mutating environments ones that are conducive to human beings – or at least the human being I want to be?
Last year I spent quite a lot of time researching case studies of Internet addiction. And I think about this, as I lie awake at 3am browsing news stories on my smartphone feeding my insomnia rather than sleeping. I think about this, as I sit on the London Underground and everyone is on their mobile phone, e-book reader, or games console. And yet I can Skype my brother in Australia, half a world away and see his face in real time.
So I suppose I’m happy with this tension as I find it very productive as an artist. It feels quite honest too. Technological utopias and dystopias exist at once and together.
We previously talked about how smart phones and other portable technological apparatus are making the phenomenon of spatial and temporal displacement an everyday thing: a person can be standing on a train platform in London, speaking to a friend in Beijing, and checking a news feed from Cairo. I wonder, what are your thoughts on the rapid development of augmented reality?
I think it is the pace of change that makes it a very exciting time to make artworks. We are living at a time of incredibly rapid technological and social change with the rise of network culture. We are increasingly immersed in the digital, as Eric Freedman states “Computational space has become part of lived space”. Our perception of ‘lived space’ is now one of augmented reality, where vessels of the virtual are an intrinsic part of our intimate communications and immediate surroundings. Living in this moment is in many ways utterly confusing as well as intensely exciting; how can we formulate anything that is a response when everything is constantly new?
This constant newness means it’s more difficult to really familiarize yourself with something – to develop expertise or interrogate what something does at a deeper than surface level. However it is important to realize this rapid technological change is not happening to everyone everywhere. I have real concerns about the technological divide. If you look at the statistics of global Internet access you can see how the access to these technologies is entrenching global inequalities. And on a more local level there are sections of the population in the UK left out of numerous conversations by these changes.
In a way it feels like we’re living in a time where the physical and virtual realms have already collapsed into each other. In a way I can see traces of this idea within your work. Is it something you are interested in?
Yes. I am intensely interested in the interplay between the physical and the virtual, and how reality is vested and shared over both realms. Because of this I don’t talk or think about the virtual and the real in oppositional terms. Maybe this has always been the case in the sense of the virtual world of the imagination existing alongside and within the physical world. But the virtual world as it is articulated now is very different. Hito Steyerl describes digital circulation as being “about an audiovisual politics of intensity… about how to be immersed without drowning, or to be embedded without falling asleep and happily surrendering your feelings to a pervasive military-entertainment complex.” This virtual is a specific set of constructs that are ever-increasingly commodified and colonized by geo-political and commercial forces – but also populated by masses of user-generated content – home-made videos, unending blogs and so on. I see the intersection between these two realms of technology super-powers and the individual summed up in the aesthetics of the backstreet mobile shop, and the domestic familiarity of hand-held devices.
In my artworks I try and explore the physical properties of this virtual. The wiring, servers, LED lights, reflective screens, aluminum casings, the motherboards, tiny memory cards –and the physical activity of the body as we interact with it. This is why in my installation ‘Constant Screen’ against a large back-projected screen I decided to show some moving image works specifically made for displaying on small screens such as mp3 players. All the wiring formed part of a network drawing that enmeshed the viewer.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
I have a background in sculpture and installation and although I have been responding conceptually to the Internet in my work since 2006, it is only since 2011 that I have started to engage with moving image and digital artworks.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
During my time at the post-graduate diploma at Chelsea College of Art and Design, our course leader Babak Ghazi really pushed us to do something in a territory we were unfamiliar with. I had never made a video up to this point and felt like it was a good opportunity to try something new. It started a whole chain of experiments, which I am still conducting.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I did my undergraduate at Liverpool School of Art (now the Art and Design Academy at Liverpool John Moores), then a post-graduate diploma followed by an MA at Chelsea. It’s all been interdisciplinary fine art.
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
I am really still interested in collage, and in a methodology of collage as a way of understanding and making sense of the ‘Infosphere’. I think in a sense for me everything is digital now – in terms of my ontological condition fundamentally changing – so notions of the traditional and new technology merge. The properties of the medium maybe traditional but the approach to using it is what’s more important.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
I have been involved in discussions with AIR (Artist’s Interactions and Representation) about developing a campaign on artists getting paid. So often the assumption is that you will pay the AV technician for work done for an exhibition but not the artist. I don’t think that’s right – if both experts are necessary both should be paid. I’m also involved from time to time with Artisan which is a network of media, arts and fashion creatives who are interested in Christian spirituality. I’ve been involved in setting up and running a couple of artist-led projects in Liverpool but not yet in London.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
I’m self-employed and get the majority of my income through artist educator freelance work, though I’ve also done some commissioned work, residencies and some arts project management. With the artist educator stuff I mostly work in gallery contexts at the moment, with organizations like the South London Gallery and TATE. I focus on working with participants on creating a discursive space where critical thinking and questioning can take place – this is an approach that underlies my own practice.
Who are your key artistic influences?
Cripes! This changes but consistently for a couple of years I have returned to Hito Steyerl and Jason Rhoades’ work.
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
I stopped collaborating for a couple of years with other artists as I can be a little bit autistic and really get sucked into projects in an intense way and I felt that I needed to step back from some collaborative stuff to focus again on my own practice. I’m considering a few possibilities again at the moment and just starting a research residency with the MFI group at John Latham’s Flat Time House.
Do you actively study art history?
Yes where it intersects with a line of questioning I’m following.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?
In addition to the artists and theorists I’ve already mentioned Shaviro’s ‘Post-Cinematic’, BAVO’s ‘ The Art of Over-identification’ and Franco Bifo Berardi’s ‘The Soul at Work’ have both been really helpful over the last year.
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
I think the display aspect can be really challenging because the nature of the medium means it can be viewed on so many different platforms. I struggle sometimes between wanting to really control this and the work to be seen in a set way and wanting the work to live in different ways.
Rather than hewing to a tight editorial voice, New York-based quarterly CLOG selects a singular subject for each issue and promises to unpack it “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means.” The most recent issue takes on the architectural typologies of the modern data center – both studying the physical reality of information infrastructure and imagining new figurations that might better reflect our digital age.
An overwhelming proliferation of short essays—44 features total in the slim, 127 page volume, each only a few pages in length—function as historical background, case study, research exercise, conjecture and pure architectural folly. All, however, are predicated on the existence of a unique spatio-temporal relationship in our contemporary society between architectural form and digital technology. As quoted early in the issue, Mies van der Rohe claimed in a 1950 address to IIT “wherever technology reaches its real fulfillment, it transcends into architecture…it is the crystallization of its inner structure, the slow unfolding of its final form.”
Positivism aside, this blurring between what constitutes a “building” versus what you might, depending on your level of technological sophistication, call “infrastructure,” “wires,” or just “ugly stuff,” has a long dialogical history. Modernism’s persistent obsession with the factory and Reyner Banham’s “A Home is Not a House” essay in Art in America (April 1965) both display a certain shared affection among architects for the utilitarian – are the windowless concrete monoliths that house our Instagram photos and most intimate Google queries a holdover from that industrio-fetishistic era? Or do they simply have no need to perform for us any longer? Luiz André Barroso and Urs Hölzle pull contemporary Warehouse Scale Computers (WSCs) into that same discourse, noting that “perhaps most importantly, WSC designers – software, hardware, mechanical, electrical, environmental, thermal and civil engineers – don’t erect a building and then populate it with computer gear but instead design one massive computer whose chassis just happens to look like a warehouse.”
These buildings, designed for use by non-humans, are having an increasingly hard time fitting into our human environment. They have squeezed out of our offices and urban centers to the margins – simultaneously actual spaces like Prineville, Oregon and retrofitted long line telephone equipment buildings and nominally heterotopic virtual places like our black boxed smart phones and the ubiquitous Cloud. Though the iterations and proposals included in Data Space seem still to take their cues from the science fiction of Cold War archetypes – think British country estates and underground lairs – the question of an aesthetics of data storage is an apt one. For both human and non-human use, the “real” materiality of the aforementioned objects seem to be constantly in flux.
As noted by Jonathan Liebenau, contemporary information theory takes its cues from Euclid, referring to data as a “dimensionless quantity.” The infinitesimal contained within four walls, alternately meant to obfuscate their purpose and attract consumer attention from the outside world, is a strange notion and a tall order placed before designers: to find a counterpoint between the data byte and “the human soul” – each one, writes Liebenau, “an entire world, each one an infinity.”
70 Black & White Illustrations
Softcover, 5.5 x 8.5 in.
Gloriana via darkismus
It is tempting to view the wildly different natures of Stateside boffer larp – the rubber-swords-in-the-woods fantasy romps – and the Nordic art-house scene in terms of sociopolitics, not least because the majority of people I've spoken to on the topic have made the point before me, in some cases quite bluntly. Eleanor Saitta, a security consultant who's been a participant in the Nordic scene for some years, suggests that the demands of the Nordic school of gameplay — the willing surrender of an element of your consciousness to a collective experience, rather than simply playing a 'flat character' from off the peg — is "maybe a little too socialist in character for your average American".
Indeed, with its growing catalogue of worthy (if occasionally blunt-edged and sensational) experiments in experiential dystopia, the Nordic school of play looks to be, at a very abstract level, an explicitly political project that leans leftward, interested in reflecting reality with a view to interrogating the truth of the human condition, and perhaps to improving it with the knowledge brought back.
Boffer larp, at the other end of the spectrum, looks like pure escapism - about as political as dressing up with your neighbourhood gang on Halloween. But Stark suggests I'm looking for boffer's politics in the wrong place: it's not in the game's content so much as its structure. In her paper "We Hold These Rules To Be Self-Evident: larp as metaphor for American identity" [States of Play, 171], she advances the theory that the original tabletopper RPGs (and the boffer fantasies that are their direct descendants) can be read as The American Dream in ludic form, "an idealized vision of the archetypal immigrant's journey in which no one is left behind and everyone inexorably rises in stature. Boffer larp does more than reflect American values; national values structure the game."
Boffer larp's reliance on large casts playing in large outdoor spaces means that money matters start raising their heads early on, and there's an argument to be made that this — plus the legendary litigiousness of the United States — is inimical to the more arty or experimental forms of larp. Once your monthly game has become a business, there are bottom lines to meet... and regular customers to keep happy. A set-up like Knight Realms won't play a 'world-ender' plotline; why risk killing the golden goose if it's still laying?
Hence the episodic nature of such campaigns: each instalment comes loaded with threat and jeopardy, but the game-world is 'rebooted' between episodes, returned to a stable state ahead of the next disruptive narrative. As with an series of cookie-cutter fantasy novels, there's always another volume, full of locations and characters you already know, and experiences for which you have some sort of precedent — not to mention the expectation of enjoyable escape from reality.
Boffer larp, then, like pulpy fantasy fiction, could be considered a project that neutralises the threat of Otherness by familiarising certain limited examples of Otherness within a fictional space whose intrinsic Otherness is sufficiently familiar. As an imaginative act, it demands a number of layers of separation between the player's true identity and their played character: you are playing not only someone who isn't you, but you're playing a someone who you could never be, among people you could never meet, in a world that is explicitly not the one in which your true identity resides.
The Nordic style, by comparison, delights in keeping the layers of separation as few and thin as is possible: characters that are a warping or expansion of the player's own personality, played in a world that (with varying degrees of abstraction or symbolic reduction) reflects the one within which it is nested.
Or, to put it another way: trad larp takes an individualist approach, wherein the players — equalised/normalised, at least in theory, by the complex rules and stats surrounding character generation and interaction — must make their own mark on a imaginary world that was designed specifically for them to make a mark upon. Nordic play, by comparison, is interested in character as changed and influenced by the game's narrative.
"The very first thing you need to do once you start playing this game is to choose your highest hope. If you have one, choose a better one. If you can't, don't play. In this game, you are supposed to create a new moral standard, and the choice is part of the gameplay. If you start with an old highest hope, how can you expect to have a new morality and new idea of what is good?" — Ari-Pekka Lappi ["Playing 'Thus Spake Zarathustra,'" States of Play]
The quote above is taken from an essay entitled "Playing 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'". Lappi's choice of the seminal philosophical text on walking away from mainstream morality is telling, set as it is amongst accounts of games which, to a greater or lesser degree of abstraction, attempt temporary walkings-away of exactly the type that Nietzsche was interested in. Consider Emma Wieslander's Mellan himmel och hav , which simultaneously critiques gender essentialism while immersing its players in feminist theory, making them experience a different spectrum of gender as something more than a gedankenexperiment, and System DanMarc, the cryptofascist urban dystopia; these are not outliers.
Other recent or in-progress games include Kapo, set in a prison run by its own inmates; Dublin2, another dystopia, based on EU immigration policy; Valve, a persistent campaign in the Helsinki region wherein shadowy conspirators literally kidnap other players, bundling them into vans pulled up on the hard shoulder. In 2011, a game called Just a Little Lovin', exploring the impact of AIDS on the New York gay scene of the early Eighties, came in for a public drubbing in the Swedish newspaper Expressen, albeit a tame one by US or UK tabloid standards.
If the tragedy of AIDS is not shocking enough, then the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin-ness of Gang Rape is guaranteed to get both ends of the left-right spectrum in a panic. Part critique of rape culture, part experiment in ludic mechanics, its designer openly declares "don't play this game unless you're in a good place mentally, and really think you are up for it. It is not meant to be fun to play." [emphasis mine]
Society conditions us to view play of any sort as inherently childish, and Nordic larp challenges that assumption by literally, playing around with the biggest and most serious questions of all. There's something deeply — and, to some, disturbingly — postmodern about Nordic larp's more ambitious games. The entire scene, the philosophy, is saturated with the recognition of the subjectivity of experience and identity, but this is seen neither as boon or bane: it's just the default political assumption of its predominantly young demographic. Hence Nordic larp looks to me both leftist and utopian, but it's a young individualist sort of leftism, informed by Marx but not kneeling at his feet: a network-native take on identity fluidity which, perhaps, could only have emerged in small stable nation-states with a strong social security system.
Saga Preview via ranh
Larp presents a toolkit for exploring that postmodern morality landscape, as well as tools for building bridges and dismantling the roadblocks encountered therein. The Norwegian larp organisation Fantasiforbundet has been working with the Peace & Freedom Youth Forum in Ramallah, Palestine, in the hope that they might not only bring a new form of imaginative play and entertainment to young Palestinians living under the shadow of conflict and oppression, but perhaps also to show how pretending to be someone else can bring an understanding of their experience and outlook which may have been lacking before. Perhaps this is what Holmas meant when he spoke of larp "changing the world"; I share his hope, if not yet his optimism.
Boffer larps, by comparison, seem to fail at modelling our more insidious social ills in a useful way. Of the long-running Knight Realms, which features the usual fantasyland panoply of humanoid sub-races, Stark reports that "[i]n-game racism also produces liberal-minded anxiety. Although racism is written into the game, the concept that all men, dwarfs and gypsies were created equal is hard to shed. [...] In other words, few players practise the racism dictated by the rules maybe because tolerance is so ingrained in players out-of-game, maybe because racist assumptions — even imaginary ones — create real-life discomfort." [Stark, 132]
The phenomenon is intriguing, but I find myself wondering if Stark isn't wearing rose-tinted lenses here; couldn't the failure to 'play' the game's racism be rooted in the players' recognition of the mutual privilege they share outside the game? Does racism — remnant of our tribalist instincts that it is — perhaps feel wrong when directed at someone who you know, at some level, to actually be one of your own?
I make no solid claims, here, because I don't feel I can defend them using only secondary sources. But Stark's discussion of the more workaday sexual disparity in Knight Realms offers a supporting riff:
"... despite the game's strong female population, few women have achieved titled in-game power. In the course of the game's thirteen year history, there have only been a small handful of female knights - six out of about forty — and only two women have been appointed ladies of the land, out of about twenty-five appointed lords, though five women have married into noble titles in-game."
There's little sign of liberal hand-wringing over that particular manifestation of privilege... if people are unwilling to play world-appropriate racism in Knight Realms, why isn't there a similar hesitation over world-appropriate sexism? After all, feudal states aren't exactly known for their enthusiastic enfranchisement of women, while our understanding of racism in similar settings is more limited.
Perhaps it's partly down to the American liberal psyche, which has internalised the existence and wrongness of racism, but which still struggles to see the ubiquitous influence of kyriarchy in the social fabric. Perhaps it's partly because, in the case of the gender disparity in Knight Realms, the physical trigger of the character's otherness — her femininity — is likely to be explicit in the physicality of the player. By contrast, you wouldn't get the same triggers for racist responses from the non-baseline-human characters in Knight Realms because, beneath the layer of make-believe, they still look just like One Of Your Lot.
Or perhaps these issues don't crop up in boffer larp because that's not what people play it for. In this, it lies close to its roots in American re-enactment groups. "The intent of re-enactment," explains a former Sergeant 1st Class of the US Army, who uses larp and re-enactment as 'safe zones' in which he can explore his post-PTSD outlook on the world, "is not to offend but to entertain, enlighten and educate." [Stark, 151] Elsewhere, another re-enactor mentions his group's refusal to perform Nazi salutes or fly swastika banners, despite the otherwise obsessive attention to detail of the hobby. Some things, apparently, are just a step too far.
But perhaps not so for the Nordic school.
The scene that documents itself
"When larping, we are given the chance to test out things we cannot or should not do outside of the safe frames of the game. If I had been in a situation similar to this in real life, I would have fought these feelings with my ethics, my intellect and my ideals. But because it was a game, I could let these emotions and impulses show me what kind of a person I hope never ever to become.
And that knowledge, and the process by which it was gained, was a hell of a high." [Elin Nilsen, States Of Play, 11]
Neonhämärä via darkismus
Nordic larp is both a godsend and a curse to a writer; there's enough source material to drown in. The peripatetic Knutepunkt conference has been producing books that collect the best papers of the year into one place, and many of them are freely available as PDFs; in the last few years, videos of the paper presentations have been appearing on YouTube. There is, naturally, a wiki . There's enough primary material floating around to form at least a dozen doctoral theses, and that's before you even start looking at interdisciplinary intersections.
That said, you'll want to do a proper search of the literature before you begin. The academic influence on larp is clear to see in its nomenclature, in its intense self-theorisation; indeed, the scene is already producing its own larp-focused PhDs. True to its network-culture demographic, however, the openness and conviviality of the Knutepunkt circuit stand in stark contrast to the more staid conferences of the liberal arts, resembling science fiction fandom conventions — an important nursery for larp of all types — far more than literary symposia; open discussion and dialogue are not just important to the scene, but central to it. It's as if the community itself is a collective author, a gestalt entity — an interesting counterpoint for an artform where authorship is inherently unstable and slippery.
All this would be of some note even if larp were just another branch of the plastic or narrative arts as we already know them. What’s fascinating about larp is its seeming potential: all art could be considered software which interacts with the localised cultural operating system running on the platform of our minds, but larp goes one step further, achieving its aesthetic affect by kludging, amending or outright rewriting that code — hacking it, in other words. If mainstream larps are the equivalent of the homebrew software BBSs of the Eighties, developing and sharing new games to play on their newly-accessible hardware, then perhaps the Nordic school are equivalent to the FOSS hacker hardliners, trying to see how completely they can PWN the machine. Pure diversion and escapism have been sidelined somewhat in favour of philosophical and ideological exploration. The language of theory is everywhere, including many scene-specific coinings and neologisms: 'narrative bleed' (not always as undesirable as it might sound, apparently); 'diegetic briefings'; 'fictional positioning'; 'formal transparency'. 'Metagaming'.
Nordic larp seems to be evaluated primarily in terms of its design (in which sheer scale or operational expense play roles minimised or inverted from those they play in the boffer mainstream), its theoretical daring or sociopolitical controversy, the level of affect induced in players, or a combination of all three. Fun is fine, of course, but out on the experimental edge it takes a back seat.
Like other artforms before it, larp has spawned its own little academy. Perhaps its techniques and rhetorics will spread, osmose into other disciplines, metastasise — become another conceptual toolkit through which we can observe, interrogate and manipulate the world, and ourselves-in-the-world.
"The rules-light nature of Nordic games keeps the illusion of the game world intact." [240, Stark]
Equinox via danielleblue
The growth years for tabletop RPGs saw more than a few morality scares based around the timeworn concerns of the baseline puritanical, and boffer larp stands ready as target for more of the same: the identification with and/or acting out of world-views that are false, deviant or outright Evil (where 'Evil', as always, refers to the morally untenable as defined by the moral majority). People imagining themselves to be something other than Americans — well, what more could you possibly want to be? There’s something fundamentally unAmerican about wanting to be anything other than American, after all (indeed, it's the contradiction under the weight of which the constructed American identity is currently collapsing)... and anyway, pretending to be someone else is kid’s stuff. Or maybe girlie-stuff. Certainly not man-stuff.
Stretch these imaginative exploits out all the way to Nordic levels of reconceptualising the self, though, and there’s something even more terrifying — not just to the mind of Middle America, but to hierarchists everywhere. Viewed from atop the ivory tower of governance and control, larp techniques start looking a fair bit like indoctrination or brainwashing tools — tools whose use should be regulated, if not outright banned. (The authorities, of course, may continue using them to defend Our Freedoms; Big Brother knows best.)
These tools are, like all technologies, neither good nor bad – but nor are they neutral, per Kranzberg . Even though a chisel isn't a weapon, it can cause harm when used carelessly, and I find myself wondering what sorts of accidents we might see when arrivistes start rummaging around in the larp toolbox just for the lulz. After all, Stark and others tell tales of real-world relationships destroyed (and created) by the shockwaves from in-game events, and of sexual orientations reassessed in the wake of the more ambitiously sociopolitical games.
Stark suggests that "intense larp gameplay creates an altered state of consciousness", and as I read game-design papers from the Knutepunkt circuit I kept hearing echoes bouncing back from Timothy Leary's psychedelic theories of "set and setting". Implicit in both is the idea that not only is the mind plastic, but that experimenting with that plasticity is something akin to a duty, a possibility for personal development that shouldn't be passed up by those brave enough to take the plunge and step outside of themselves; a willing step toward becoming one's own post-Nietzschean ubermensch, if you like. So we might say that the Nordic larp scene is pioneering the development of a new toolkit for meddling with identity and empathy; a non-invasive intervention methodology based on consensual manipulation of environmental triggers and narrative framing.
Stark remains confident that the risk of psychological splashback is pretty low, thanks in part to the design of the Nordic games, with their pre-game workshops, safe-words and debriefings, but thanks also to human nature: "larp can't release something in you that isn't already there", she says, and mentions the Nordic scene's practice of selective ostracism, which is in part intended to keep risky or problematic players at arm's length from the hardcore stuff: people deemed 'unsuitable' are not encouraged to return, not embraced by the community.
My concerns linger, based on a rather bleak and cynical view of the sort of behaviours that, regrettably, are already there in most ordinary people, buried under layers of social protocol and the keeping-up-appearances of modern civilisation. I ask Stark what she thinks a disastrously failed larp might look like.
"We already have a great example of that, actually," she replies. "Have you heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment?"
Previously: This Is a Game: A (very) Brief History of Larp Part 1
Do pop back for part three, wherein I'll further probe the permeable membrane between roleplay and reality, and argue that larp techniques represent an erosion or thinning thereof, potentially positioning the form at the vanguard of contemporary countercultural praxis.
Last week, Stories from the New Aesthetic, part of Rhizome's New Silent Series, took place at The New Museum of Comtemporary Art.
The New Aesthetic is an ongoing research project by James Bridle, investigating the intersections of culture and technology, history and memory, and the physical and the digital. At a panel at South by Southwest this past March, Aaron Straup Cope, Ben Terrett, James Bridle, Joanne McNeil, and Russell Davies discussed ideas related to the project, which sparked a series of responses and ideas from artists, writers, and theorists across the web.
For this event, Bridle was joined by McNeil and Cope again to share their stories related to these ideas.
Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Zach Blas (Queer Technologies) considers escape as radical hospitality:
The art of escape is the art of constructing an indeterminate form of energy from the encounter and interference with a regime of control. The art of control is not to destroy this energy but to transform it to a new form of energy, one amenable to regulation.
—Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century
Escape figures as a crucial tactic of resistance against neoliberal governance and contemporary forms of oppression. Escape is a multiplicitous gathering of concepts, practices, sensibilities, acts, and affects; these variations on escape have been named exodus, desertion, nonexistence, illegibility, and idealism. Importantly, escape not only expresses a desire to exit current regimes of control but also to cultivate forms of living otherwise, or living autonomously. Escape, I would argue, is about radical hospitality: it is a collective attempt—aesthetic, conceptual, political—to eradicate forms of control, exploitation, and domination, which just might make the world more hospitable to all.
Escape can be a leaving behind or withdrawal, such as various art schools and autonomous universities like The Public School and SOMA. Perhaps these gestures are best described by The Edu-factory Collective as an “Exodus from the Education Factory.”
Escape also relates to tactics of imperceptibility and illegibility, focused upon evading informatic capture. Media theorists Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker have recently described the current century as an “era of universal standards of identification,” referencing technologies that bind identification with locatability, such as biometrics and GPS. “Henceforth,” they write, “the lived environment will be divided into identifiable zones and nonidentifiable zones, and nonidentifiables will be the shadowy new ‘criminal’ classes–those that do not identify.” In The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, they hypothesize about nonidentifiable action, suggesting that “future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence.” Such tactics stress the development of techniques and technologies to make one’s self unaccounted for. Anonymous’ own social media networking site Anon Plus and artist Sean Dockray’s “Facebook Suicide (Bomb) Manifesto” evoke such an imperceptible escape as they strive to depart from social media networks that data-mine, market, police, and surveil.
Escape takes the form of refusals against normative and oppressive logics, calculations, and measurements, often rejecting structures of legitimation and recognition from the state. Consider Against Equality’s queer critique of gay marriage, a refutation of the institution of marriage as heteronormative and perpetuator of economic inequality.
If escape is a politics, then it is one that positions itself against forms of political representation. Political theorists Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos state quite clearly that politics must be a refusal of representation. What this suggests is that a politics of escape concerns itself with autonomy and transformation, changing the very conditions of political and social possibility while fleeing neoliberal control.
I have chosen videos that articulate an art of escape in these contexts. While these works might at first seem disparate from each other, they illustrate the broad, coalitional potentiality of escaping. Notably, this is not an exhaustive list of the possibilities for escape today, but these five videos do make visible some contemporary itineraries of escape currently under way.
Amyl Nitrate’s Feminist Lesson on Art, Life, and Desire
Whereas in the disciplinary era sabotage was the fundamental notion of resistance, in the era of imperial control it may be desertion....This desertion does not have a place; it is the evacuation of the places of power.
—Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire
In Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, 1970s Britain is in a post-apocalyptic state when Queen Elizabeth I is transported to see the future of England. Groups of punks roam the city of London, and early on in the film, we get to watch what appears to be a lecture in a feminist autonomous classroom. Amyl Nitrate offers the female students a lesson on making one’s desires become reality. She points out that if one does this, art is no longer necessary, but of course, what the film actually reveals is that art is the very thing that drives political and social transformation.
This film had a tremendous impact on me as a teenager, and this scene in particular has always stuck with me. There is the obvious fusion of aesthetics and politics around pedagogy, which links to histories of feminist artistic education centers, like Womanhouse. I also can’t help but connect this to the work I’ve done with The Public School in Los Angeles and Durham; this scene almost reads as a prototype for these more recent experiences I’ve had with radical pedagogy and exoduses from the university.
While Amyl Nitrate evokes the by now familiar slogan of “art into life,” the scene remains a visceral depiction of deserting into politicized pedagogy.
Jacob Appelbaum’s Digital Anti-Repression and Mobile Security Workshop at Occupy Wall Street
Illegibility, then, has been and remains a reliable resource for political autonomy.
—James C. Scott, Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
Jacob Appelbaum’s workshop meticulously lays out the problematics of informatic surveillance and control as well as potential pathways around them. Desires to escape data-mining, biometric recognition, and GPS locatability often exceed the technical capacities of people to enact such forms of resistance. Thus, to make becoming illegible or nonexistent to these technologies accessible on a mass scale requires immense technical insight and collective action. The Tor Project, one such free software project that Appelbaum has helped develop, attempts to enable online anonymity.
In a similar context, I am currently developing a Facial Weaponization Suite in response to emerging studies that link successfully determining sexual orientation through rapid facial recognition techniques. The suite provides sets of masks for public protest, such as collective masks that allow you to wear the faces of many with a single mask. One mask, the Fag Face mask, is generated from the biometric facial data of many gay men’s faces. This facial data is gathered into a single three-dimensional plane, and when plotted together in 3D modelling software, the result is a mutated, alien facial mask that cannot be read or parsed by biometric facial detection technologies. The Fag Face mask proposes a queer politics invested in escape, illegibility, and refusal.
Electronic Disturbance Theater’s Transborder Immigrant Tool
But what would it really take to lose yourself in the abstract spaces of global circulation?
—Brian Holmes, “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure”
Brian Holmes once explained that the Global Positioning System is an Imperial infrastructure, a military technology that has become rapidly liberalized. In the traditions of tactical media and hacktivism, Electronic Disturbance Theater uses cheap cellphones to guide those crossing the Mexico - United States border to water caches and help centers. EDT has described this aesthetico-political gesture as routing around GPS to arrive at a Global Poetic System, a kind of dérive, a practice they call Science of the Oppressed (named after Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed). The Transborder Immigrant Tool escapes from imperial infrastructures and opens to a radical hospitality that re-imagines citizenship, nationhood, and borders of all kinds.
Dean Spade on Critical Trans Politics
[Queer idealism] is not simply a mode of fantastical escapism but, instead, a blueprint for alternative modes of being in the world....escape itself need not be a surrender, but, instead, may be more like a refusal of a dominant order and its systemic violence.
—José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
In Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and The Limits of Law, Dean Spade articulates a politics that strives to go beyond recognition, inclusion, or incorporation through law. Spade explains how administrative norms, such as the enforcement of gender categories, produce disastrous results for trans people. Dean’s conception of trans resistance invests in the yet to be imagined and impossible: not more gender categories but the outright abolition of gender categories, not prison reform but the total destruction of the prison industrial complex. Perhaps this impossibility is the moment for escape into queer idealism.
Surviving and Love in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Nothing is less passive than flight.
—Paolo Virno, “Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus”
Fassbinder’s 1974 film depicts a hostile, racist world, inhospitable to those who think, feel, and love differently. I want to end with this scene because it simultaneously emphasizes the affective strains placed on those in political battles as well as the creative drives cultivated during struggles to survive.
While the characters Emmi and Ali might escape their horrible world, in their love and struggle, they bring forth another world. After Emmi suggests that they go away where no one will know them, she states that once they return it will be different, “everyone will be nice to us.”
In Escape Routes, it is suggested that to think and practice escape we must “cultivate the sensibility to perceive moments when things do not yet have a name.” Is this not exactly what Emmi and Ali do as they imagine their world? Whether we call the world that Emmi and Ali will through their love utopia, an instance of queer idealism, or a desertion, they place their bets on a better unknown by attempting to withdraw from oppression.
I’m not really speaking critically about the language of advertising exclusively. I’m not sure it’s possible to do that without lapsing into a fairly dysfunctional rhetoric. I think within its traditional logic, this visual language functions in my work where it's drawn into conflict by other elements that it struggles to accommodate without having to be addressed. I intentionally want to polarise cliché characteristics, particular to advertising, within a process of trying to articulate other systems of representation in relation to them, such as that of a physical, three-dimensional form in a digital space. For me it’s very challenging to create and maintain a level of heterogeneity among different elements and control how they overlap and resist each other within the same work.
With the LCD screens you’re referring to I see their physical qualities as indistinct from any other quality the work presents as a whole in terms of their potential. I chose them partly because of their ubiquitous presence in the landscape. They have no branding, which in this case would interrupt their relationship to the images. They only display portrait, which interests me in their reference to other, more historical modes of display. They also have tempered glass faces that extend to the very edges of the whole unit so there’s no visible casing and no visible transitions on their surfaces. This adds a really severe flatness that I think interacts fully with the digital space the screens open onto and pronounces that (apparently) impenetrable surface explicitly. I think these qualities permeate the images being displayed and shift the way they're viewed.
I don’t want the mode or form my work takes to be consumed passively in the discussion around it. I feel a level of responsibility in determining why I should choose those screens and not, let’s say, an NEC Pro display panel, despite the fact the content can be arranged to work across both formats. I want to express this and be reflexive about it. I don’t think there is anything that escapes some kind of symbolic value. As ugly as it sounds, a canvas is full of meaning before anyone has made a painting on it and once they have, the painting doesn’t erase the canvas.
There is something quite magical and immersive about the landscapes you have pieced together in your two dimensional series, AAW (2012). The use of the traditional landscape format creates an aesthetic at odds with many people’s conceptions of digital or post-internet art. Do you feel that these works highlight the artificiality and construction of those environments or, rather, use technology as a tool to further the continuum of maybe a more traditional medium like landscape photography? Or both?
Before I source these images, they are already overloaded with signs belonging to landscape photography, art (in a more general way), pornography, the history of cinema, internet aesthetics and so many other recognisable forms and dialogues packed with clichés. The field I usually source the material from, I look to because of different ways it is now able to borrow from other images and build meaning into it’s own. I try to think about the way technology used in the process has been employed instrumentally to achieve this. These images are already the product of endless reproduction and their constituent parts intertwine evermore seamlessly. I don’t think it’s possible to determine which aspects of an image are ‘artificial’ in their construction anymore. I think the meaning this usually designates is stripped down and abstracted by new methodologies the digital environment gives rise to and accommodates.
I feel if images are being talked about in a way that’s relevant, the progression of traditional systems of representation should be focused on trying to evaluate and express how they are operating now in relation to technological realities that have transformed our encounter with them. Whether they appear as autonomous, physical objects or can be interfaced with onscreen. If the aim is to try and crystallise these things, I think the repurposing of digital technologies involved with images, in the broadest sense, is vital to art. One area of interest in this is that it allows me to work with images in a digital space and play with how they are produced in a way that feels very physical. I relate this to how I see the same technology mediating my environment in other ways. With the Autumn/Autumn/Winter series you’re talking about, the re-rendering process can be used to try and describe a set of relations technology has to images. I think it’s a perception of the digital space as tangible and real that helps create the sense of immersion you mention.
How do you work differently with appropriated images versus your own sculptures? What role does creating these intricate and incredibly time-consuming forms (see PBLOBZ, USB OPTIONII, 2012, Frame from Slideshow) have in your later processes of digital manipulation?
The background imagery of the content, which displayed on the screens at Jerwood for example, was a mixture of both reproduced imagery from works I’ve already made, such as video stills extracted from a mixture of my own footage and sourced material. These became part of a digital slideshow presenting as different surfaces, or options, against which the animated image of a sculpture was situated.
These screen-based works began with a very physical process; the production of a crafted, labour-intensive object that I made out of Plasticine with my hands. I enjoy trying to find ways of tricking myself into believing wholeheartedly the end result of this process will be a sculpture, which adversely gives it the potential to generate material and works within my process. I like the idea of squeezing everything out of it. The photographs I know I’ll take, I pretend will be used on my website to show the work in physical space, or as a reference when the object no longer exists or has left my studio*. It allows me to consider the resulting images as documentation in the traditional sense; the kind outmoded by digital technologies that have made it really transmutable. This is what interests me about Artie Vierkant’s series, Image Objects and also Parker Ito’s recent show in New York, The Agony and The Ecstasy. The situation gives me a lot to work with as the physical objects make their blurry transition into “digital non-space” as you put it earlier. The value people see in visible labour and craft is useful to me, as is the want for a tactile, tangible, three-dimensional form and spatial depth. It makes it worthwhile moving the object between a realm where these qualities belong, so naturally, to the physical, into a digital space that takes ownership of them and holds them up at a distance.
The possibility of an ongoing conjunction of media, processes and forms really interests me. An idea I’ve spent quite a long time with is Rancière’s notion of 'pensiveness', in images, as a potential to extend an action or a process and its ends in relation to the way we are able to evaluate and talk about aesthetic forms.
The curator of your upcoming exhibition (10/12/12-11/18/12) at The Green Room (London), Ché Zara Blomfield, and fellow artist Daif King, have both expressed an interest in the potential for digital art to say something relevant about contemporary society’s new forms of commodity fetishism. Does your process of turning flat images from glossy magazines into a “multi-dimensional landscape of space,” in your words, reflect an interest in the explosion of traditional systems of commodification?
Although I've said a LOT of stuff I don’t think I can claim ever having described those images as a “multi-dimensional landscape of space”. Although I think it is something someone wrote to sell my work ;D
Perhaps it’s important to try and start with the traditional idea of this fetishism, which attaches itself to commodities (in the Marxist sense) and use it in contrast. In the giant leap from this, to more contemporary ideas of what commodity fetishism can mean, different relations, in the way they are expressed as this fetishism, have become far more complex. Perhaps the internet could be sighted as an example nurturing these complexities because of the enormous set of data it makes accessible and reproducible. I think this means that where the relations Marx described between the human, social, political and religious etc. found their expression in the relations between more tangible ‘things’ (in the outmoded sense of the commodity), the objects of these relations are now far more abstract and illusive.
Although I think foremostly, we are still consumers of images, in a short space of time, I've seen the nature of these images changing radically. Where they proliferate in fairly familiar form on the internet, via LCD displays, as you mentioned right at the beginning, or via the array of gadgetry in our pockets, they also take on some really abstract dimensions. Beyond their depictions and our associations with them, I think images themselves seem very changeable, transmutable and personalisable across new formats. As a really straightforward example, I have an extensive archive of Nike ID’s, snapshots I’ve taken of fully customisable images that present as virtual walk-throughs, usually of a shoe. This is after hours spent on the Nike website and I can obviously share and collect them in innumerable ways online. I haven't bought any of the ID's I've designed. At one point I felt the biggest problem Nike faced as a brand, was that they made sportswear. It seems they’ve begun resolving this problem now. Pre-post-internet, I think co-branding exercises between products, individuals and other brands was perhaps a precursor and is still a relevant phenomenon. If I didn’t have access to a computer, perhaps I’d be more inclined to shave a Nike tick in my hair.
If digital art has the potential to speak about newer forms of commodity fetishism, then I think it has to be involved in a very reflexive relationship with technological means that give rise to them. In a simplistic way, the contemporary gallery space operates as a showroom; a place where you'd expect to find the tangible products of art that you can buy, that are also representative of a window onto an artists’ practice. If modes of display, for example, can be used to suggest that 'traditional' objects and images, through which fetishized relations are commonly expressed, are being transformed, or made inaccessible, within this space, as the space itself is supplanted by the digital/virtual environment, the discussion on newer forms of commodity fetishism can open up. If people don't see this in relation to my work (going back to traditional store windows) and the objects being depicted in the images simply create a passive desire for those objects, then I'm more than happy to oblige them a studio visit.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
I guess since I noticed and started to think more fully about the relationships this technology has to my environment, which naturally made it very relevant means to start making work with. In a really fluid way I became aware of this because the same technology presented the most immediate, available toolset to hand. I really struggled getting into a rhythm of working with the inconvenient clunkiness of producing objects that were both beyond my skillset and means.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
See above…and above : )
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I’ve done about nine years of straight art education, which included multimedia and design. I finished the Art Practice MFA programme at Goldsmiths in 2010.
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
Recently sculptures I’ve made, that are ‘reformatted’ for display onscreen, were produced using screwed up newspaper, Mod-Roc and Plasticine. I think these materials have a really domestic feel to them. I like the way Plasticine has a lot of personality and can be endlessly re-shaped and crafted. Sometimes when I think an older object I’ve made has reached the end of its life and I’ve got everything out of it that I can, I end up salvaging the Plasticine from it and using it in the production of other sculptures. I like the idea that even this very physical material, used to make something finished and seemingly static, lends itself to being re-shaped and reproduced into other forms.
If the tangible qualities, relating to the corporeal nature of a physical object, can be drawn into dialogue with the digital space in which they’re encountered, maybe this creates room to talk about the very odd overlaps, where attributes usually specific to each get very blurred. I would like this to start speaking about the way default categorisations, such as the digital and the physical, can be complicated and seen as inextricably bound up in each other to a point where these categorisations come into question.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
Creatively, I just don’t have time or energy to focus on anything else. For me the prospect of making any decent work means focusing all my effort on trying to develop my process. Although this also involves absorbing and trying to deal with as much material on and offline as I can. I have reading lists that I know are growing way too rapidly for me to ever have enough time, in one lifetime, to get through them!
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
I do some work at one of the bigger art institutions in London, within their development team. Although I couldn’t say this has any specific bearing on my practice as an artist, I have seen the inner operations of a big, public institution demystified. Ha ha, how sinister! I’ve had some fairly invaluable experiences as a result.
I’ve also done quite a bit of modelling work since my early twenties and I think this relates in some ways to my practice that are very obvious and in other, less obvious ways. The situation on set/location during a shoot makes it really easy to take up an extremely detached position in front of a camera and however many people involved. Then I feel fairly comfortable and relaxed. When friends try and take a picture of me if we’re out or something I feel far less comfortable. Despite this, I look at the images from a shoot and often feel I’m not looking at ‘myself’. I think it’s pretty vein as I know then, the reason I don’t like having a picture taken elsewhere is because I think it might capture a more ‘real’ version of me…in bad light, with my eyes half closed, while struggling to put some food in my mouth hahaha...I mean it can be a lot simpler, but the fundamental difference between the staged image and the one that captures something true, such as a facial expression you’ve never seen yourself pull, remains. Perhaps this truth, captured in an image, is harder to anticipate and far more shocking in it’s appearance than our expectations of all it’s cliché falsity. This translates in lots of other, perhaps more banal experiences that I can relate the sensation to.
Who are your key artistic influences?
Wow. Pass? Specific to art or not, although there are many, I think I only want to mention the ones whose work I’m looking at on a fairly regular basis and people around me who have been very generous in what they’ve given to my work. Ché Zara Blomfield (the director of The Green Room) woke me up to the emergence of a lot of artists who are spread pretty far and wide, although not online, where they form a cohesive community. She pointed out some really significant shifts that felt very dispersed, via the most hard-line approach to online research I think I’ve ever seen. I think it’s obvious when you look at her programme over the year long Green Room project. The eight artists involved are doing their first London solo shows and that list includes Petra Cortright, Daif King, Artie Vierkant, Jon Rafman, Rafaël Rozendaal, Kate Steciw and Anne de Vries. I’m also the only English artist involved. Make of that what you will. The community I think these artists operate within online has created a very relevant dialogue. It’s the first time I’ve felt linked to a community of artists, via shared concerns, that has informed my practice in a really productive way, although I still feel very new to this in relation to how it’s begun influencing me.
In a more general way I think filmmakers and writers have had a far greater impact on my practice than artists. Despite this, I’m very aware that I want my work to be engaged with other work that’s producing a dialogue I think is relevant. Usually this has a lot to do with it’s relationship to non-art related fields that I’m interested in and would like my work to talk about. I really enjoy seeing how other artist's are talking about concerns I share. I think it's a good way of gaining perspective on the moment.
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
Not really beyond the experience I mentioned above and obviously this is neither art community or collaboration in the usual sense.
I collaborated with Dan Shaw-Town for about three years, throughout my degree, rather than on a project. We made all of our work together and didn't have independent practices at the time. We were actually interviewed together for the MFA at Goldsmiths, on the basis if we were accepted then it would be as a collaboration. We were bombarded with way too much information to continue working together when we started there, although we still had a really productive conversation going and an understanding of each other that I haven't experienced with anyone else.
I also collaborated with four artists on a public sculpture commission for Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport a few years ago. Peter Joslyn, Magali Reus, Tim Bennett and Dan Shaw-Town. There were a lot of meetings in boardrooms and the process felt something akin to The Apprentice, in that it doesn't really matter what you're selling, as long as you can sell it. I remember one meeting with a military expert who gave advice on having the material we intended to use treated so that, in the event of a bomb blast, the sculpture wouldn’t shatter and create secondary projectiles that might kill people. He told us the most common cause of death in such a blast is usually due to these secondary projectiles, namely glass, flying across the terminal as a result. When someone is talking about these things in relation to a sculpture you’re going to make… I guess it made me feel a very long way from my studio, but I also learned how to work with a relatively large budget : )
Do you actively study art history?
I think having an informed approach to making art necessitates studying art history to some extent. Where there are gaps, it can sometimes be profoundly obvious in work that should have them covered in relation to its context. This has never struck me as a good thing.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?
Yes, it’s something I enjoy a lot even though, often, it involves spending a few years with a text and just going back over it and over it, especially where philosophy’s concerned. I love the way it’s meaning and relevancy changes over time. Where I’ve found philosophy and critical theory really challenging and useful I’ve enjoyed trying to unpack it and get to grips with it. Once I feel I’ve managed I think the reward is seeing complex ideas translate into even the most simple aspects of my life. Writers that I often come back to are Bataille, Benjamin, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Rancière…I think The Emancipated Spectator is a truly amazing book. The list goes on but I guess these are just the ones I’ve liked over a very long period. I’m also reading, while writing this, Parker Ito’s recent DIS magazine interview and Claire Bishop’s recent Artforum piece, Digital Divide (which I’m finding…difficult). Earlier today I read a long conversation with Katja Novitskova on cmdplus via Twitter. I mean it’s endless, but I love how I can dip into this information when I feel I want or need to change my perspective.
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
All that I’ve encountered, in the sense I enjoy thinking about them. In relation to my own practice I don’t want anything to escape consideration but I think that’s specific to my work in the way I want it to manifest physically.
Around the exhibition of ‘new media art’, it can be very challenging to lots of well-established conventions related to display and the space in which these challenges can be met. I think it’s amazing watching new forms and modes of work occupying different spaces, both virtual and physical. I’m excited by the way this often dovetails neatly with the technology I’m familiar with and seems to be moving at a pace that’s current. I feel as though a lot of the work I’m interested in is making demands of itself that its history is too young to answer. In this sense I think it’s genuinely experimental in the concerns of its production, display and exhibition and that’s a really exciting prospect.
In honor of the approaching second birthday of the release of Microsoft's Kinect, we will take a brief tour of the experimental technology that preceded it. But before we begin, it is worth noting a few facts about the Kinect we know today, a piece of technology that almost overnight changed the development of contemporary interactive art by being powerful and affordable. 'Project Natal', as it was originally known, initially used a system called "Time-of-flight" which had origins military laser radar systems, but changed when a start-up called Primesense, an Israeli company made of ex-military engineers, were trying to sell their consumer-focused product:
the PrimeSense technology uses a proprietary technology called “light coding,” rather than the time-of-flight cameras used by of its competitors. Time-of-flight emits strong pulses of light and measures the delay in their return to calculate positions.
“Time-of-flight came from laser radar systems with military applications,” said Aviad and Inon. “[But] the DNA of the PrimeSense technology was from day one for the consumer market.
“There are a lot of differences between PrimeSense and time-of-flight cameras in general. PrimeSense has achieved a breakthrough on price and performance. The performance we generated through the device is better in a long list of parameters [than time-of-flight].”
“It was the most natural place for the technology,” [Inon Beracha, CEO of PrimeSense] said.
Apple has a history of interface innovation, of course, and had recently introduced the iPhone with its paradigm-shifting multitouch UI. PrimeSense’s system went one step further: It was multitouch that you didn’t even have to touch. Apple seemed like a natural fit.
Yet the initial meetings hadn’t gone so well. Obsessed with secrecy, Apple had already asked Beracha to sign a stack of crippling legal agreements and NDAs.
He shook his head. Why didn’t he want to do a deal with Apple? No need. The technology was hot. He could sell it to anyone. “Apple is a pain in the ass,” he said, smiling.
A decision which certainly benefitted artists, as it would likely that the technology would be 'locked-in' with Apple, and Microsoft's efforts would have taken longer to reach everyone (as well as possibly more expensive - it has been noted that PrimeScene sell their sensor circuit boards to Microsoft at $10 each )
Now, let's introduce ourselves to previous gestural interfaces, some of which are surprisingly older than you initially think ....
ANIMAC (early 1960s)
This, admittedly is not a system to interact directly with computer information, and is more closer a relation to MOCAP technology. However, it relates to the Kinect in the sense that gestural information from a participant is used to direct the animated information output, in the same way as the Kinect's own skeletal detection system works:
Perhaps one of the earliest pioneers of this analog computer animation approach was Lee Harrison III. In the early 1960s, he experimented with animating figures using analog circuits and a cathode ray tube. Ahead of his time, he rigged up a body suit with potentiometers and created the first working motion capture rig, animating 3D figures in real-time on his CRT screen. He made several short films with this system, called ANIMAC …
… It was while he was at Philco that he decided to chase his idea of systematically creating animated figures. His concept was to view a stick figure as a collection of lines that could be independently moved and positioned to form an animated character. Each of the lines would be displayed on a CRT and controlled with a vector deflection of the CRT’s electron beam. Each figure would be composed of bones, skin, joints, wrinkles, eyes, and moving lips, all drawn in sequence to create what Harrison called a “cathode ray marionette.”
Here is a video which features some of the visual output the machine was capable of (you will need to move to the one minute twenty mark):
Pantomation (1977 - 1979)
An early gestural graphic system which was initially designed for music scoring and performance art:
Pantomation was a very early tracking chromakey system from the 1970s. Originally intended for music scoring, the system was adapted to other styles of performance art. While crude by modern standards, the concept was decades ahead of its time; it can reasonably be considered an early forebear of systems like Microsoft's Kinect.
Videoplace (1985) by Myron Krueger
Another example via VintageCG, advancing with a much more digital and creative approach:
Videoplace, developed in the mid-1970s, but with work continuing through the late 1980s, was a pioneering creation of full-body interactivity and virtual environments. It contained 25 different environments (or interaction patterns) in which people could engage. He coined the term “Artificial Reality” to describe what he was striving to create.
Probably the biggest leap in gesture technology so far (to the point that the company owns many patents which are employed by the Kinect). Running on a Commodore Amiga 1000, here is a demonstration featuring colourful dancing, virtual musical instruments and Weird Al Yankovic!:
This is the future of Kinect Musical Performance. Vincent John Vincent invented video gesture control virtual reality with Francis MacDougall in 1986. By 1991 they had a fully dynamic immersive video gesture control virtual reality system. Vincent started performing around the world in 1986. He created a whole new genre of performance technology and hundreds of virtual performance instrument scenes, including musical scales, soundscapes, virtual drum kits, virtual juggling, virtual dance and a world of other creative landscapes. He is the President and Co-Founder of GestureTek, the worlds leading Video Gesture Control company.They and their company, Gesturetek, wented on to invent may more video gesture control products, including interactive surfaces and 3D video gesture control (2000), which is the technology behind the Kinect. GestureTek holds over 18 patents, and has licensed patents and technology to Microsoft for the XBOX, and to Sony for the PlayStation, etc. www.vjvincent.com ,www.gesturetek.com
Michael Lowcock wrote this Song " Far beyond the sighted mind".
What does the Kinect's 'Light Coding' technology look like? Here is a video using infra-red goggles to see the emissions which calculate the depth of what is in front of it:
Infrared photography using a Kinect by Ahmed Hamdy:
Kyle McDonald's class notes for creative use of 3D technology are also an interesting read
And for more examples, check out the posts from Prosthetic Knowledge tagged "kinect."
Over the past 15 years, poet, novelist, and filmmaker Tan Lin has been at work creating an "ambient" mode of literature that engages a set of practices including sampling, communal production, and social networks, addressing issues such as relaxed copyright, boredom, plagiarism, and the commodification of attention.
He has written 10 books, most recently Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking; Insomnia and the Aunt; and HEATH COURSE PAK. His video work has screened at the Yale Art Museum, Artists Space, the Drawing Center, and the Ontological Hysterical Theatre. He is currently finishing work on a novel, OUR FEELINGS WERE MADE BY HAND. He teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.
We talked by Skype, G-chat, email, phone, and used Google Drive in real-time to talk about the many different uses of technology in his work and what its implications are for the future of literature:
In your books, especially HEATH (plagiarism/outsource) and Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, you introduced people to a new idea of what a book of literature can be. For these books, in their various versions and associated events, you incorporated everything from email to Twitter, programming languages to RSS feeds, Google Translate to Post-it notes. What led you to use so many different forms of technology in the creation and publication of a book? How would you define a book?
People forget that a book or codex is a technology. My interest with HEATH and 7CV was to treat the book as a distinct medial platform through which a lot of ancillary information passes, much like a broadcast medium like TV or a narrow-cast medium like Twitter or Tumblr. Reading is information control, just as a metadata tag is a bibliographic control. So I wanted to highlight the book’s medial and time-based underpinnings.
How would you prepare someone who has never read a Tan Lin book to read one of your books?
It’s a little hard to say. I think a book is something consumed slowly over many years—it’s a little like watching a plant reproduce. What are HEATH and 7CV? I’m not sure, but maybe a delayed reading experience that involves Course Paks, marketing departments of publishing houses, seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, RSS feeds, and Post-it notes. And, of course, other books—with 7CV, The Joy of Cooking—and with plagiarism/outsource, blogs that chronicled Heath Ledger’s death. Why insert The Joy of Cooking into the title of 7CV? Because it was the cookbook my family used to become American and because I thought the title would increase Google hits. I consider Google a mode of (loose) autobiography. A book in Google Books, like someone’s search history, isn’t really a book; it’s data connected to other data, and it’s searchable. Reading, like autobiography, is a subset of a search function.
Why did you print Post-it notes in HEATH?
After the Zasterle edition of HEATH came out, I was often asked to read from it, but it’s long and I had difficulty controlling and seeing what I should be reading, or even seeing what’s important, so I stuck Post-it notes to cover up parts of the text and in that way made a more streamlined and visible (at least to me!) version. It’s like a paper map to me, inserted in a digital production. When the book was republished by Counterpath, we photographically reproduced the pages covered with Post-it notes. In the new edition, the Post-it notes look like you can run your fingers over them, but they’re just photographs (of a book) after it gave up some textual matter. Books change over time and they’re blind; they give up information as readily as they gain it. What is a book today? I have no idea.
In an interview with Katherine Elaine Sanders for BOMB, you stated that "Reading is a kind of integrated software." Could you elaborate on this?
Integrated software is a genre of software that combines word processing, database management, and spreadsheet applications, and communications platforms. This genre has been superseded by various full-function office suites, but I was interested in reading modelled in that way, i.e., different kinds of reading, each with specific functions. I mean, you read Harlequin romances differently than recipes, and you read Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets differently than you read Excel, and you read experimental Japanese novels differently than you read text messages, and in terms of documents processed by software, you have distinctions between, say, end-user manuals, bills of sales, Unified Modeling Language models, and legal contracts. These are genres of reading, and they’re housed or processed in the same generic platform that I call “reading.” So reading is an application that processes or assembles varied kinds of material. I was interested in creating works of literature that could be read like recipes or spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations.
What does the process of software authoring entail and why does it interest you?
I think it’s a way to talk about new modalities of reading. In software engineering, the authoring is sometimes implemented with what are called frames, where kinds of (reading or processing) functionality are packed into frames, and where a frame is “a generic component in a hierarchy of nested subassemblies” (Wikipedia). You’ll have word processing frames and graphics frames, etc., and these individual frames can be linked in a unified programming system. This enables you to embed graphics and spreadsheet functions into a text document, or you can have shared graphical contexts, where material pops up in multiple frames at the same time—this, I think, is what is happening in 7CV with its graphical elements, text elements, processing text instructions in the form of prefaces (so-called “source” material) and meta data tags. I also inserted other languages: Chinese and machine codes. 7CV has various things in it that look like captions or interfaces or even bits of source code, and I was interested in the difference between a caption and bit of machine code in a book. If you look at the handwritten Chinese text in 7CV (it was written by my mother) you'll notice that it was put in upside down by the typesetter! This is not true of the machine-generated Chinese, provided by Google Translate. But at any rate you have a complex ecosystem of different languages in single publishing/reading platform.
I assembled both PowerPoint works similarly. Bibliographic Sound Track was compiled from SMS, IM chats, video game walk-throughs, Tweets, Tumblr entries, PowerPoint bullet points, photographic slides, the overhead transparency, the text box, the couplet, the book page, the fading film titling sequence, etc. PowerPoint is a multimedia ecosystem that encompasses a wide variety of reading practices, and where each slide or page is a frame: modular, linked to other frames, and encompassing various platform specific reading or communications functions. So here was a generic poem, where a poem is the most varied collection of different material that could be read continuously in a time-based manner with a definite run time. Reading can be looped. That, I think, is the definition of a poem today!
What are the differences between your PowerPoint works and your print books?
The most obvious difference is that when you read a book or codex, the only thing moving is your eye; with the PowerPoint works, both text and eye are moving. In this sense, PowerPoint makes reading autonomous and it sets it in motion, literally: Individual slides are animated, slide transitions are animated, and the piece overall is software that is processing information. That’s why we turned out the lights during the screening and projected large: No one expects to go to the cinema and read a book on the screen, one word at a time, but that’s kind of what I wanted to do. The most beautiful thing is a book that could read itself! So reading is a kind of integrated software or the frame technology that manufactures software, and a book is the software application that is manufactured.
from The Ph.D Sound, 2012
But I think there are a lot of similarities between digital and print-based reading experiences. The PowerPoint pieces, like my books, all bracket reading in a larger perceptual (and social) field that includes smells and sounds, i.e., they situate reading in a larger geography or reading environment. People tend to forget that reading is a kind of all-over experience, and it takes place in a particular room or in a particular moment of childhood. So the idea was to not confine reading to a particular object (book) or platform (PowerPoint) but allow it to expand outwards into the social space around it. I was more interested in what might be called the general mood of reading: the overall atmosphere or medium in which we experience our daily thoughts and perform actions—what Heidegger termed Stimmung and the psychologist Daniel Stern calls affective or amodal attunements. Bibliographic Sound Track is a mood-based system, but so is HEATH. And these mood-based systems, which are common to Zen meditative states, are bottom-up, non-directed, allotropic modes of general receptiveness rather than top-down, attention-based focus on specific objects or things. A book, at bottom, is a very general and very generic thing (that we happen to be reading).
But a Zen meditative state isn’t reading is it?
My print-based and web-based works both tend to operate with the minimum amount of material necessary needed to constitute what we call reading. I’m interested in the forms of non-reading and boredom, which surrounds all reading and aesthetic experience as its customary default. I mean I like it when works are boring. When I go to see a Cage performance or a Merce Cunningham dance, I am bored half the time. There’s nothing wrong with that. 7CV is about skimming material, appropriating other titles (like The Joy of Cooking) and indexes, and extending the book by enlisting 30+ grad students at The University of Pennsylvania to spin off what publishers would call ancillary titles. Can 7CV be made more interesting by individual readers? Absolutely. This is common in academia, a profession defined by writing books about other books, i.e., generating secondary source material. But there’s no reason secondary source material cannot be more interesting than original source material. Do you have to read 7CV to have read it? Not at all. Moreover, there are many ways to not read a book: you can leaf through it, read reviews or synopses of it, or just lie and say you read it when you didn’t. I was at Columbia where I got a Ph.D. in literature, and there were about 250 books on my orals reading lists—books I had to be able to talk about—but I probably only read a third of them. In fact, though, I had read all of them, just in different ways.
Your PowerPoint work Bibliographic Sound Track carried a perfume track and a live Twitter feed when it was projected at Artists Space, and The Ph.D Sounds carried a live DJ set. Why did you present these pieces as you did?
So that the reading was like a book only to the extent that the book is regarded as a porous, unstable, and provisional platform for the dissemination of information. We tend to think of books as interiorized devices, linked to solitude and self-enclosed spaces; and they deliver something, like meaning, up to the reader. But I’m not so interested in knowledge in that teleological sense; I’m more interested in the dissipation of knowledge, unfocused attention, and generic receptiveness. It would be nice if a book could reduce the amount of knowledge in the air. I’m equally interested in the public and communal architecture of reading practices as they intersect with individuals and park benches, the subway and the seminar room. Why can’t a book be more like a perfume? Or a door? Or the year after we graduated from college? A perfume is a communications medium just as literature is. Moods, furniture, restaurants, and books are communications mediums. What is it that Warhol said? “I think the right hormones can make Chanel No. 5 smell very butch.”
So how is the experience of reading your works different from a more conventional novel or a Hollywood movie?
Usually you go to a movie or read a book to experience an emotion: Hollywood and even independent cinema is excruciatingly good at eliciting (i.e., manipulating) feelings in the audience—that’s why most people read novels and go to movies, and directors like Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke play with this by artificially manipulating an audience’s emotions via specific cinematic genres. Michel Houlbecq does something similar with literature, but less effectively to my mind. Think about the tragedy of “Dancer in the Dark” presented as a Broadway musical! But I think that reading that ends in an emotion is lame; I like it more when literature generates not a distinct emotion or feeling but a more generalized overall mood, and I like this more because I think it’s more reflective of the way we actually spend most of our lives. Psychologists have identified something like 6 major emotions, but the thing is we don’t feel them very often, which is a good thing because most of them are quite unpleasant: disgust, fear, anger, etc.
You’ve stated that some of 7CV (and plagiarism/outsource—HEATH) were “self-plagiarized,” and obviously the title The Joy of Cooking was appropriated. What role does plagiarism and appropriation play in your work?
Plagiarism is less meaningful as an economic concept today than it was 15 years ago, which is why, from a legal standpoint, at least if you follow Posner, it is connected to notions of detrimental reliance. When plagiarizing something adds to a work’s value, or increases the number of page hits, which is common when you take something in the poetry world and redistribute it, then notions of plagiarism don’t seem avant garde at all. Take a look at publishing ventures that use Tumblr as a platform, such as Troll Thread, sisteract, and Gauss PDF. Nor should 7CV or HEATH be construed as avant garde or difficult in that limited sense. With the migration to cloud-based computing and paywalls and unsearchable gardens, this is changing. Pretty soon, content will be tethered much more tightly, yoked to proprietary systems themselves like Facebook, and ideas of plagiarism as a strong concept will no doubt surface again. Both 7CV and HEATH were about how information, like news or advertising or a meme, is meant to be circulated as much as possible. This is true of communications mediums generally but it used to be that literature was opposed to such ideas of free or unpaid circulation. So the first edition of 7CV can still be downloaded free on Lulu.com or purchased as a perfect-bound book (it lacks a “real” cover) for less than the cost of the Wesleyan University Press edition. Suzanna Tamminen, the director of WUP, has not had any problem with this or at least she hasn’t written me about it.
How have your books been received?
In the case of HEATH, it got bootlegged as soon as it went out of print after a few months. And you have to understand the economy of experimental poetry titles. HEATH was published in an edition of 300 by a small house in the Canary Islands. And there are various versions of 7CV, many out of my control and put up on Lulu now by other authors. It’s possible that they are more interesting together than apart, which is to say they are more interesting as communications mediums or blips in a publishing and distribution system than as literary mediums. HEATH has a copyleft agreement, which is a specific kind of licensing agreement, attached to it. A publishing house in Vienna, Westphalie Verlag, bootlegged the book last year, reprinting the volume and selling it without my knowledge. I think it got presented at the Berlin Art Book Fair this year but I’m not sure. In this case, the publisher did not have the image files for the web sites that I initially sampled―Blimpies and Jackie Chan Green Iced Tea―so when he re-sampled the corporate web sites, he got different images. So here, web-based photos lifted from corporate web sites functioned as a new (pictorial) date stamps for the edition, thereby extending the edition into a new time frame, where the book has a kind of time-keeping device or stopwatch built into it. I wish I had thought of this, but I didn’t.
How has Internet culture affected your work? How has it affected literature in general?
Most of my recent work overlaps the development of what is called Web 2.0, although the PowerPoint works might encompass Web 3.0―where the web appears to do one’s thinking (or writing/reading) for one. The movement of software to participatory, web-based platforms, along with the growth of user-generated content, informs both 7CV and HEATH. Both these books are marked by real-time updating of materials, customization of existing content, an increasing interpenetration between digital formats and the physical artifact known as the book, most notably via metadata standards and folksonomies. In this sense, the model for reading, like book making, is changing. As I mentioned, literary studies represses its medial component―which is why literary studies is distinct from media studies at most universities. And literature generally tends to repress its time-based elements. So when you read Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” a poem that is all about time, most people don’t care that they read line 2 at 3:36 and line 17 at 4:15—but I think that’s an altogether more interesting way to read literature. I like a novel with a stopwatch in it; but even more, I like a novel that is a stopwatch.
For me, I think of reading as data management rather than passive absorption on a couch, though these dichotomies are ultimately false. Reading is and probably always will be a bit of both. At any rate, ideas about information processing are altering the contours of printed and digital works. Suddenly the book is just one element in a larger system of textual controls, distribution models, and controlled vocabulary systems. This is certainly true of the two PowerPoint works. I mean what are they? Are they poems or are they more like Twitter feeds? They don’t seem like PowerPoint presentations because they’re weak didactically and they don’t make a point. They are inflected by communications devices, but they do have a rhythm, which poems tend to have! And likewise with Twitter. Is it a broadcast medium using a pull system much like an RSS feed? Or is it more of a storage device, like a scroll or a poem? The idea of a network as a platform for collaborative work (rather than software housed on an individual’s desktop) might be applied to a book, no longer regarded as discrete, stand-alone object but as something that gets updated on a periodic basis in a social network. But this may not be that new an idea. After all, David Hume praised the printing press because it made it possible to issue countless emendations, revisions, and new editions.
Can you state briefly what you see as the future of the book?
Let’s return for a moment to the bootleg by Westphalie Verlag in Vienna. Did the publisher David Jourdan in this case create what, under U.S. copyright law, would be termed “strong” copyleft where the derivative work is “based on the program” and has a “clear will to extend it to “dynamic linkage”? At this point, we are talking about software development licensing, shared libraries, primary access to source code, site linkages, share and share alike provisions, and software pools. My question is: Can a book be made to look like the authoring of such software, caught in a complicated licensing and development system? I think so! Maybe that’s the future of the book: to look like a licensing agreement regarding the future dissemination of its own information.