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Articles on this Page
- 11/06/14--09:09: _Making Internet Local
- 11/07/14--08:05: _Rhizome Today: Next...
- 11/10/14--09:43: _Rhizome Today: A clue!
- 11/11/14--08:34: _Rhizome Today: LINE
- 11/12/14--09:51: _Bodies on the Line
- 11/12/14--12:26: _Catfish Homes: Airb...
- 11/12/14--16:55: _Artist Profile: Wic...
- 11/13/14--06:43: _Rhizome Today: Sooo...
- 11/14/14--07:25: _Rhizome Today: The ...
- 08/27/14--06:30: _Artist Profile: Fem...
- 11/17/14--08:22: _Rhizome Presents: L...
- 11/17/14--08:28: _Rhizome Today: #DL14
- 11/18/14--11:58: _Rhizome to Restore ...
- 11/19/14--07:42: _Rhizome Today: Beyo...
- 11/20/14--07:17: _Chubz: the Demoniza...
- 11/21/14--07:05: _Rhizome Today: Conv...
- 09/03/14--09:00: _Prosthetic Knowledg...
- 11/24/14--08:30: _Rhizome Today: Chop...
- 11/25/14--09:27: _Artist Profile: Jea...
- 11/26/14--07:58: _Rhizome Today
- 11/06/14--09:09: Making Internet Local
- 11/07/14--08:05: Rhizome Today: Next on KRON 4 — Drones!
- 11/10/14--09:43: Rhizome Today: A clue!
- 11/11/14--08:34: Rhizome Today: LINE
- 11/12/14--09:51: Bodies on the Line
- 11/12/14--12:26: Catfish Homes: Airbnb and the domestic interior photograph
- 11/12/14--16:55: Artist Profile: Wickerham & Lomax
- 11/13/14--06:43: Rhizome Today: Soooooo Sentimental
- 11/14/14--07:25: Rhizome Today: The New Whole Foods Market in "Laptops and Lattes"
- 08/27/14--06:30: Artist Profile: Femke Herregraven
- 11/17/14--08:28: Rhizome Today: #DL14
- 11/18/14--11:58: Rhizome to Restore and Present Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs
- 11/19/14--07:42: Rhizome Today: Beyond the Very VEVO
- 11/21/14--07:05: Rhizome Today: Conversations at the Edge (of a Square)
- 11/24/14--08:30: Rhizome Today: Chop Suey's Poet Moon
- 11/25/14--09:27: Artist Profile: Jeanette Hayes
- 11/26/14--07:58: Rhizome Today
Map of East End Net, London. Via.
Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point [...] It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills.
- Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
Thus is described the rhizome, the symbol of the internet age. When Michel Foucault said that the 20th century may one day be called Deleuzian, it is doubtful that this is what he intended. And yet, the language of this young, networked century so far is mimicking the speech of the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
The language of Deleuze and Guattari is employed by everyone from the Israeli Defense Forces to this arts website, including any number of for-profit and non-profit startups in between those poles. War machines, companies, NGOs, and arts organizations all find utility in a philosophy that describes systems moving according to programmatic algorithms, breaking through what was solid, and re-writing the codes of meaning. War, commodities, society, and art all function according to their own programming. The public is coming to terms with the knowledge that the internal coding of networks is what defines future possibilities in the 21st century.
And yet, we are often too quick to tell ourselves that this programming can be rewritten for the greater social good. In our enthusiasm for the rhizomatic fruits of this new century, we often neglect the technology itself, replacing it with our ideas of what the technology could be. It is far easier to wield ideologically expedient speculative fictions than to develop socially expedient tools.
Consider what might be the most rhizomatic technology of them all: the mesh network. In words it is the perfect rhizome. Independent nodes set up the same piece of software in their network router. Every router connects to every other router, forming a multi-dimensional web with no central point to be disabled. It is "legion," to use a familiar term from contemporary parlance: each point is not a separate unit, but n-dimensions of distributed power. Some routers are designed to connect to each other ad hoc, over the air, without needing any wires between them. Even cell phones can connect in such a mesh, promoting a vision of infinite, pocket-sized nodes, deployed at a protest or as a hedge against infrastructure-destroying natural disaster. They could be manufactured in bulk, as cheap as a Raspberry Pi, solar-powered, disguised as innocuous light fixtures or other small appliances. The mesh network vision is of a rhizomatic network that is local, horizontal, self-healing, non-hierarchical, and scalable. Philosophically, its kung fu is perfect—bending like a reed in the wind against any foe, whether deployed by Occupy, by Egyptian revolutionaries, against censorship, war, flooding, poverty, or ISPs. In language, it is everything we expect from the future, the fantasy of certain post-structural technological desires.
The rhizomatic computer network, as an idea, is almost as old as Deleuze and Guattari's oft-cited tomes. The original ARPANET network topology was meant to route packets around network outages, but had fixed addresses and routing procedures. Usenet, on the other hand, launched in 1979, allowed any number of independent host servers to connect to each other and route messages through the system to the end users. It didn't matter where and when those servers connected, the message would eventually reach recipients as it propagated throughout the system.
ARPANET diagram, 1969.
Cellular phones were also a precursor to the idea of mesh networks. The cellular concept was first proposed by Douglas H. Ring and W. Rae Young in 1947, and deployed by the Japanese NNT cell network in 1979. Unlike other radio telephones, the cell network passes a particular handset's call between a number of towers as it moves through these local "cells." Rather than have a central tower antenna that must broadcast across an entire city to every device, multiple small towers share the load between them to cover a wider area and preserve radio wave bandwidth.
Usenet still made a distinction between servers and users, and cell networks route communications between handsets only through towers and their centralized backbones. These not-quite-analogous scenarios hint at the truth of mesh networks: they are not as much of a mesh as they are described to be. Centralization is as much a natural feature of technological systems as rhizomes. A fully-connected, large-scale mesh network is extremely impractical. If each node actually has n-1 connections—a connection to every other point in the node—that means that a mesh network must have n! connections total. As the network grows, the number of necessary connections grows exponentially.
Most mesh networks are, therefore, only partially mesh networks. There are backbone nodes, with stronger transmission capabilities, handling most of the traffic through a possibly asymmetric, and yet relatively centralized structure. A business with fiber optic lines installed can handle much more traffic than your WiFi router at home, and so the network favors those nodes for efficiency. A mesh network is not a mesh, but various groupings of stars, trees, hubs, and other shapes of network topology.
Semi-connected mesh networks still have weak points, bottlenecks, and vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can be designed out of the system, to emphasize quick routing and redundancy while not creating superfluous connections. But then the network is not as ad hoc and fluid. It is less like a rhizome, and more like a forest of trees.
If the mesh network software or hardware isn't working, as sometimes happens, then a mesh topology is beside the point. The One Laptop Per Child program, which designed a laptop costing less than $100 to be used in developing countries, was built with ad hoc WiFi meshing support so that internet connections could be shared between computers. However, in practice the feature was buggy and hardly used.
The mesh network is also limited by its own edges. TOR software encrypts web traffic and bounces it around internal layers of a worldwide mesh network, allowing users to connect to the internet without their content being tracked. However, it can only encrypt material inside its network, and when the traffic exits the TOR network to connect to the rest of the internet, it is potentially vulnerable. The same goes for AWMN or Guifi.net—at some point the mesh network must connect to the rest of the internet if it wants to access the content there.
If a mesh network is going to be fluid and open, that can leave it open to abuse and surveillance. When it was announced that iOS 7 would allow Apple devices to connect in mesh networks, this was heralded as a game-changing feature. Indeed, apps like Firechat that allow chatting over mesh networks have become quite popular, especially in places like Iraq, where an internet shutdown saw droves of users picking up the app. However, the app makers were quick to warn that such mesh connections did not mean secure communications. If anybody can easily join the mesh and help route traffic, that does in fact mean anybody. And allowing even obscure access to anonymized data has proven to be as great a security risk as full access.
Any mesh network must use standard data transmission means: pre-existing phone lines and cables, WiFi, or other radio signals. While the mesh may route traffic around holes if particular pathways go offline, it still must be able to maintain connections. Radio jamming, cutting cables, or even shutting off the power grid can still shut down a mesh network in ways it cannot heal. The mesh overcomes certain vulnerabilities but that does not make it any more magical than the sum of its technological parts.
This is not to say that mesh networks have no value. Freifunk, a mesh network in Berlin, and the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network (AWMN) in Greece were perhaps the two first widespread, public mesh networks. They were inspired as a way to improve the sluggish installation of broadband capable networks in their areas, and are still in existence today with a large number of nodes. Guifi.net, another mesh largely in Catalonia and Northern Europe, has grown to surpass them. Each node is just as capable of any other in shifting traffic around the network, and out of the network to the rest of the internet—but these meshes are partial meshes. Particular nodes handle the majority of the traffic. The topology of these mesh networks is like like a public transit system. It can't connect to everyone's front door, but tries to provide as many convenient stations as it can. (For further discussion of this history, and for a more thorough elaboration of the argument that mesh networks are a tool for democratization, follow Armin Medosch's book project in progress, The Rise of the Network Commons.)
The mesh strategy, while not quite fulfilling the dream of the rhizome, has proven useful in these cases for adding customers a few at a time over a long period, not requiring the major investments of infrastructure that large ISPs require. Instead, customers can band together to connect themselves to the rest of the network—sometimes even laying fiber optic cable themselves to a new neighborhood or another few hundred meters down the road from the last node. There is a certain distributedness to this strategy, a way in which the overall organization of the network is more local and ad hoc than, say, Comcast or Time Warner, even if some centralization still persists.
Perhaps most important, the ability to experiment with mesh networks is a distributed, de-centralized skill. Using open source software like the router operating system OpenWRT, anyone with an off-the-shelf router can make themselves a mesh network, thereby developing a better understanding of the computer networks' function. And while this may not be a means to re-establish the internet on more equitable terms, it is a way that people can develop local networks that serve a small-scale collective purpose.
Eyebeam, an arts and technology non-profit based in New York City, has taken a particular interest in mesh networks of late, introducing them to the public via workshops and commissioning artsts to build their own implementations. The Internet Blackout Simulation at Eyebeam in 2014 was a series of workshops in which participants built mesh networks and tested them against potential failure scenarios. Their recent "Off-The-Grid" exhibition featured a number of mesh projects, including LittleNets, curated by Ingrid Burrington. For Burrington, the question was not so much of how to create a hardened network of resiliency, but of how to make it useful in the local context of the exhibition, held on Governor's Island in New York Harbor. "What do we put on this network?" she reflected. "What is useful on this island, in this space? I like the idea of using mesh for site-specific networks—they can maybe create a different experience for what we think of as 'internet art,' something more intimate. These nodes serve a different need than the whole internet." By carving out an area for artists to experiment with network technology, organizations like Eyebeam are not fixing the network as a whole, but opening up newer, smaller, localized spaces.
These localized spaces may serve social purposes even if they leave the larger network untouched. Centralized power structures are still in control of the primary networks. Open Mesh Project, a mesh network begun in Egypt during the 2011 revolution, appears to have petered out, from the appearance of their website. Occupy.here, a Rhizome-commissioned open-node network system run on OpenWRT created by Dan Phiffer and inspired by Occupy Wall Street, is still going, although the political movement that inspired it is gone, pushed out of the occupied parks by far less technological forces. Phiffer has had his open nodes included in art shows, like Eyebeam's Off-The-Grid, at the Whitney Museum, and surreptitiously without museum authorization, in the lobby of the MoMA. He envisions connecting these nodes together, but acknowledges that providing the connection is only the first step. "It's hard to be dropped into a new online social setting, and figure out how to use it. But in situations where everything else becomes broken, people are more likely to try new means to connect." He mentions that mesh networks had an uptick in interest after Hurricane Sandy. But also, at the Occupy Sandy response, the distribution of food and supplies trumped the distribution of internet access. "Occupy Wall Street was about creating the conditions to make people more likely to go out and protest, to express when things are messed up. Working groups were very important at Occupy, building the connections between people working together. How can we use technology to build those same kinds of connections that will make us more likely to get out and become involved IRL?" Perhaps mesh networks will be a way to facilitate this kind of local, collective behavior.
Dan Phiffer, Occupy.here router.
The NSA dips into any data stream it can at its leisure, and the major ISPs tighten their grip around the pipes and make network neutrality a distant dream. Overall, our networks don't function as a rhizome or a mesh, but a neatly ordered pyramid. But if we are to take Deleuze and Guattari at their word, the rhizome is not so much a steady state of being as it is a way of moving, thinking, and acting. The branching, ad hoc, horizontal ruptures are not the primary pattern of this century, but a way of reacting to the primary patterns of this century. Power exists vertically, and artists and activists respond horizontally. If this century is Deleuzian, and our networks are becoming like rhizomes, it not because they were already decentralized. Rather, it it is because they now must be, in order to survive.
The Aesthetics of the Local News Drone
This is Rhizome Today for Friday, November 7, 2014
Yesterday morning, I walked into an hospital reception room where the TV was on, its decibel level inappropriate for the hour and demanding I look its way. The camera was closely tracking a vehicle, but instead of a car tearing down a freeway, it was a robust fir on the bed of a truck. A nude Christmas tree, on its way to the State Capitol to be adorned.
That I mistook a Christmas tree for a getaway car reminded me of the ubiquity of helicopters in metro news organizations. Reports of traffic updates and car chases have their own aesthetic, imposed by the limitations of the medium: the sound of whipping blades, uneven back-and-forth panning from a cramped passenger seat. These choppers seem unnecessary now that we have sensors, vehicles, and crowd reporting apps can gather and transmit real-time data. Oh, and drones.
In late September, the Federal Aviation Administration allowed six film companies to use camera-equipped drones on movie and TV sets. They are the first in the US to do so outside the wilds of Alaska.
Beyond the film industry, Amazon is the most visible of companies angling for permission to fly drones over civilians. For Amazon, it's in the name of 30-minute delivery. But what about news outlets? The benefits of drones over helicopters are clear: they are safer, quieter, and more fuel efficient.
Like footage from helicopter camera, drone videos have their own style. Look at this video taken at Occupy Hong Kong above thousands of protesters. Without sound, though, it's eerie and drained of the energy of the commons.
Among the hobbyists, the retailers, and Hollywood could be the local broadcasters. Their fleet of drones, with swift efficiency, will capture the ephemera of urban life: a car chase, a strike, a pet adoption drive. Whatever can served on breakfast television—at a glossy remove.
This is Rhizome Today for Monday, November 10, 2014
Lot 48 in the contemporary art evening sale at Phillips this Thursday includes a sculptural work by Constant Dullaart that is being described as a treasure map. A 3D-printed steel cylinder is nestled inside a pologygonal case, a "treasure chest;" it contains a string of data that, when unencrypted, is said to reveal the GPS coordinates of another chest. That chest, which contains 40 works by notable contemporary artists, is buried in an undisclosed location on the Isla del Coco. The proceeds of the sale will benefit Pelagic Research and Conservation Project for Isla del Coco for the purposes of shark conservation.
The Isla del Coco is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, which is another way of saying that it has an important place in the capitalist historical imaginary. "It was frequented by pirates, and later by whaling ships. Treasure supposedly buried there includes $100,000,000 worth of gold evacuated from Lima by the colonial authorities," reports the Historical Dictionary of Costa Rica. "Its permanent three-man garrison has been unable to prevent illegal inshore fishing, particularly of lobsters and sharks (for shark-fin soup)."
The sale of this lot is already an intervention into the flows of contemporary global capital that have certainly shaped the Isla del Coco, a mustering of elite art world resources in order to mitigate the effects of an environmentally destructive practice that is fueled by an emerging moneyed class in China. Dullaart's piece is a kind of trickster intervention within this. He's designed the map so that it can only be solved with great effort, and only with the aid of keys which he is releasing, but only in encrypted form, including this one:
Dullaart seems to be proposing that people online can solve the clues and sell their solutions to the buyer of the map. It does seem likely that a group effort will be required to solve this puzzle. "We have encrypted the treasure map in such a way that brute forcing it would take an unimaginable amount of time," Constant told Sleek magazine. "The amount of possible keys is larger then the amount of atoms in the universe. The clues might help to single out the galaxy in which to look for the atom." In 2014, this kind encryption can be thought of as a luxury craft object, time-consuming and labor-intensive to produce, inaccessible to most of us citizens of the cloud. And of course one's immediate desire is to break it. In fact, this is the only way to truly appreciate the complexity of the code.
Add "Dug back up for $15" and you've described the current state of computer security, 0days and all... pic.twitter.com/VoRaD5FJ75
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) November 8, 2014
Contemporary artists in the past few years have been very much interested in the idea that the artwork is experienced in the gallery and through its online documentation. But is the image, as Christopher Kulendran Thomas recently asked me, just the human readable aspect of the network? What's interesting about "Treasure of Lima" is that as long as it stays buried, it can't even be experienced as an image; it can only be experienced through discussions of the mechanisms through which it might become visible: the reputation of the artists, the contemporary art auction, the online code-breaking and sharing.
So I wonder if the best buyer for this lot would be someone who understands the poetry and the weird humor of leaving the treasure buried. But I also want to know what was in Constant's long email that crashed my phone this morning. So get cracking.
Whatever happens, I'm on the side of the sharks.
This is Rhizome Today for Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Many of the discussions around the Unicode emoji set, the standard set on a phone, have pointed to the reductionism of emojis, whether it's in terms of racial diversity, desired characters, or having emotions standardized. Though some of these issues are rumored to have been rectified with Unicode 7.0, many messaging apps, including Facebook's, have proposed alternatives to the standard set.
I became interested in LINE and their Emoji Dictionary again once I used their Autosuggest, which launched in August of this year, several months after my role finished. The tool seamlessly integrates LINE's expansive emoji and sticker catalogue (tallying over 45,000) in a manner similar to QuickType on Android and iOS 8. What's interesting though is that unlike Unicode or any other app, many of these characters are designed by different artists, users, and companies, allowing pictorial language to be constantly evolving and collaborative.
While writing the post I asked the artist and second-best web surfer in New York Martha Hipley for her input on LINE:
The LINE stickers and emoji are the opposite of standard emoji: hyper-specific and endless. A sticker of P-chan [from manga Ranma ½] having a conniption has a totally different narrative than an angry face emoji.
She also added that LINE circumvents many of the perceived problems with the standard set. "Everyone whines about 'when are we getting a taco emoji.' There are already 2 different tacos in LINE. Get w/ the program."
We both found it oddly empowering how communication in LINE can exist within multiple, specific registers and narratives: cartoons, anime, Korean Dramas, popular musicians, and LINE’s own cast of characters. Instead of everyone utilizing a standardized set, users can tailor their available stickers to fit their vernacular. For example, when typing in "angry," I’m provided with 90 different options; though depending on the user’s purchased stickers, this number could be 200.
Even though I can probably lexically express the sentiment associated with , I would feel less competent expressing or or lexically, all of which come up when I type "shit."
The auto-suggest feature relies on is a hard-coded relationship between certain words and their associated images and image (perhaps future versions could allow users to modify the autosuggest dictionary to create their own word-image associations) but the sheer quantity and diversity, and quickly evolving set of images makes the stickers and emoji of LINE feel like a more fluid, open-ended extension of written language.
Artist Dan Woodger was among the team of thirteen emoji illustrators. Here is an interview with him about his experience.
Though it feels like I hear about a new emoji art project every day, these are a few that have stuck out:
John Michael Boling's music video for Oneohtrix Point Never's "Boring Angel"
In "W8TING," Sophia Le Fraga rewrites Waiting for Godot in text messages, involving a combination of emojis and net speak.
Also: Ever wondered how Net Art gets made? An answer is now online by way of Rhizome's Senior Developer Scott Meisburger's MozFest presentation.
"You can have the party. Give us the power!"
Andrea Fraser had already been onstage in front of a packed house at the New Orleans Museum of Art's auditorium for more than half an hour. Dressed in a black suit, she was delivering a monologue based on the transcript of an epic 1991 city council meeting. In that meeting, an ordinance was discussed that would ban discrimination in any of the social clubs that apply for parade permits in New Orleans. The discussion opened up into a marathon airing of thoughts and grievances on racism, heritage, and the role of the carnival in a city defined, in many ways, by its Mardi Gras.
Fraser's performance was astonishing. In one moment, she would be raising her voice in anger, playing the role of an activist speaking on behalf of marginalized black communities in a largely white district. In the next breath, she would be stridently castigating that activist, channeling the presumably white woman who represented these affluent uptown neighborhoods. Then, a nervous bumpkin who hadn't been to a council meeting since elementary school, interspersed with drawling asides from a dry, imperturbable council president. The performance wasn't just based on city council archives; it seemed to tap into an archive of gesture and voice and facial expression and lived experience, brought together, through performance, in the body of the artist.
The line paraphrased above was from one particularly powerful speaker, who made the argument that the economic benefits of Mardi Gras were unevenly distributed. Who, she asked, owns the hotels and restaurants? Who even gets to work in those establishments? If Mardi Gras generates $400 million in economic activity, and $35 million of that ends up in city and state coffers, then where was the rest of it going? Not to the city's many disintegrating black communities, who are so important to the city's culture. It was at this moment that the performance began folding back on itself. It was at once a profoundly moving testament to what art can do, to what it can be, and a critique of its own context. It was impossible not to draw a parallel between the unevenly distributed benefits from Mardi Gras and those derived from Prospect.3, the Biennial that commissioned it. And it did this while paying devastatingly powerful tribute to the city and its people.
Artists who attempt to grapple with the ethics of their host institutions would do well to look hard at Fraser's work. This week, another performance work (this one playing out in a hotel room, by email, and on social media, with a series of drawings generated as part of it) has garnered a great deal of discussion. Ryder Ripps' ART WHORE was made in response to an invitation from a hotel to stay in a room and make art for one night, and be reimbursed up to $50 in supplies. Ripps' response to this appraisal of his value, which he has characterized as exploitative in his online discussions of the project, was to hire people who were advertising sexual services on Craigslist and commission them to make drawings and pose with them for his Instagram feed, where they became fodder for a social media shitstorm in which Ripps has avidly participated.
Comparing and contrasting this work with Fraser's performance is instructive. Both works involved people who were in a position of less power than the artist. Both works made use of content created by these people.
But the differences are instructive. Fraser did not put any words in their mouths apart from their own; Ripps did, often making the claim that they were fine with the experience or enjoyed it. Fraser did not use labels except those used by her subjects; Ripps seems only ever to refer to his participants as sex workers. Fraser's work did not visually represent her subjects' bodies, but Ripps' did. Fraser used her own body in her performance as a way of making her own position (of power) visible; Ripps depicted his own body in the full documentation video, but not in the more widely circulated photographs.
By choosing to narrate the experiences, define the identities, and depict the bodies of those in a less powerful subject position than him, Ripps acted in a way that was ethically unsound: It reinforced and did not interrogate inequitable power relationships. (The argument has been made that no one was hurt and that there was therefore no ethical problem, but this is actually beside the point, and also, the only ones who can say that for sure are Ripps' "sex workers.")
This claim shouldn't be controversial; it seems pretty much aligned with Ripps' intentions going into the project. The work was framed as a response to the often asymmetrical power relationship between brands and the artists they hire; this asymmetry was performed in the relationship between artist and the "sex workers" he hired.
Some defenders have bandied about the name Santiago Sierra, which offers us another useful opportunity for compare and contrast. Sierra has staged spectacles in which participants are hired to perform exhausting, painful, and demeaning tasks for menial pay; this labor is made visible as a performance, often in a gallery or museum. For his work Nine Forms of 100x100x600cm Each, Constructed to Be Supported Perpendicular to A Wall (2002), a series of crude rectangular volumes are displayed in the gallery, supported at one end on the gallery wall and on the other by several dozen workers. This work was shown at Deitch Projects in 2002, with a press release consisting only of Sierra’s proposal for the work. In it he demands that: "The workers will always remain facing the wall and have to be Mexican or Central American."
One reviewer described the experience of seeing the work in the gallery as follows:
The workers in the gallery were neither exclusively from his two areas of preference, nor were all facing the wall. They were slightly bemused, somewhat pissed and eager to voice their opinions about the work, which were polite, but, as might be expected, negative. The workers were also very good at getting around their absurd job, and asked viewers to stand in their place to see what it was like. One pulled down his shirt to show me the bruised shoulder on which Sierra’s large minimalist forms were supported. At that point, the white, thrift-store-clad gallery attendant came over and asked if everything was OK. (Menick)
Sierra's work and Ripps' both involve paid workers, from sectors of the labor force that are undervalued and not infrequently in harm's way, in the production of a work or exhibition. Both make the economic transaction behind this involvement explicit. Both reveal the bodies of the participants. Both reveal the specifics of the underlying economic transactions.
One central proposition of Sierra's work is that the gallery visitor is prompted to confront his or her own role in the perpetuation of inequity and oppression: What cause could there be for imposing such discomfort on the workers, except to present this situation to an audience? It's not just the institution; the visitor is the root cause of this exploitation. In order to do this, Sierra not only foregrounds the economic transaction, he also makes it explicit that the job required will be painful and is only available to people of a more marginalized racial group.
In contrast, by playing down the role of race and downplaying the potential negativity of his participants' experiences, Ripps makes it less obvious to the viewer that inequity is in fact being perpetuated, and many have argued that his actions were not unethical. Thus, the work can't be defended on the basis that it reminds the viewer of their complicity. If measured by the standard of Sierra's work, it is a miserable failure.
To be perfectly clear, giving this project positive attention, and to some extent any attention at all, does make one complicit in Ripps' unethical actions. I'd rather not write about it, because this makes us even more involved, but it became necessary to do so because we're already complicit in the project this attention has received, thanks to our support of his earlier work and our public statements on Twitter yesterday, in response to requests for comment.
I once tweeted that no one understands the "biopolitics of branding" better than Ripps, in other words, that he understands the way that brands get inside you. Someone who understood the biopolitics of branding should understand that, as a curator and writer who has previously bought into and supported on a personal and organizational level, the brand of Ryder Ripps became a part of me and of Rhizome, and our public knows this. In fact, our support for Ripps' earlier work, most recently with a prominent nomination in the Prix Net Art, is one small reason why people have felt all fucked up about his project for the past few days. ART WHORE essentially forced us into taking a position. On the one hand, silence, which would be (and was) interpreted as tacit approval of the project; on the other, public disavowal of the work.
If the project was intended as an elaborate troll, which is the most generous possible interpretation, then it was still not interesting. A more nuanced troll would have forced us to confront contradictions in our own position, making it difficult to make any statement at all. The lines drawn by Ripps' project are just a little too clear; we have little doubt about our own position, and binary opposition seems like the only possible result.
Right now, we are seeing a crisis resulting from the perceived erosion of the internet (and of technology in general) as a white male-dominated space. The effort to police that space in subtle ways or via outright harassment in order to retain control will inevitably fail, but it is already clear that the effort to foster an internet culture that supports a diversity of digital experience will take persistence over years, in the face of bitter opposition.
Fraser offers us a glimpse of how bitter arguments can suddenly open up into moments of possibility, yielding real social change. In the meeting that came to life again in her performance, antagonistic viewpoints were expressed, voices were raised, names were called, people were ejected forcibly. And yet, in the end, something happened that made things a little less unjust in the Crescent City, and the vote was unanimous. I still get chills thinking about it.
Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ripps did not appear on camera; as corrected above, he did not appear in still documents, but he was prominent in a webcam stream.
Bélo by Marlie Mul
(Welcome) Home: that daily practiced space and mental image which has accompanied mankind through centuries. Ever our shelter from the rain as much as the fortress of our dwelling selfs. The abode of our constructed identities and repository of our material treasures. Home is where the day begins, home is where it ends. Enduring with the clichés, home is where we belong; where we are safe from the daily struggles of the outside world. Home is among those universally accepted places which we refer to without specifying a geographical location or a defining activity. Where are you?—I'm home. It is as simple as it spells…
Like other social constructs which have endured through centuries, though, the home is a concept in constant change: It varies in space and time according to personal experiences, to social models, to the political forces by which it is governed. And even more so, it varies in relation to the technologies in which it is enmeshed. At present, the internet falls into that long strand of innovations which, in one way or another, leave their mark on domesticity. Whether in its fostering of global mobility or in how it has blurred boundaries between public and private, the internet is progressively diluting the European bourgeois understanding of the home which has resisted over the last couple of centuries.
Though much is being said about the effect of the internet on daily lives, a less visible topic is how the home appears on the WWW, and how this, in turn, shapes domestic architecture. The web has allowed for new representations of the home to proliferate, and the effects of this effusion on the spaces we inhabit are far from obvious. If, on the one hand, the home's fetishized representations in commercial online practices such as real estate websites and IKEA catalogues are now deeply ingrained cultural conventions, an entirely different "way of seeing" the home is discreetly emerging in the less polished repertoire of amateur photography.
Here we can think of how the home makes its appearance in the casual selfie, the Snapchat, the Skype tour around the living room, leaked images of VIPs, amateur porn, Grindr profiles, and others—instances where home-ness is no longer performed for the capitalist mechanisms of property and exchange and is thus free from the pictorial conventions which ubiquitously characterise our epoch: wide angles, sleek surfaces and the highest possible resolutions. In these forms of representation the home is relegated to the background, is seen yet not appreciated as a home, even though its image is no way more spontaneous ("clean your room before you take your dick pic"); in these particular instances, the home amounts to the place in which another body stands and in this new, disguised position its connotative potential can be refreshingly disruptive.
Oscillating between the two, the website Airbnb proves to be a powerful case study in showing how particular modes of representation are forced upon its users as instrumental assets to global capital and its consumption-based economy. One need only to consider how its Photography Department came about to gauge the importance the medium has had in making the American company's experience-based enterprise financially productive:
One afternoon, the team was poring over their search results for New York City listings with Paul Graham, trying to figure out what wasn't working, why they weren't growing. After spending time on the site using the product, Gebbia had a realization. "We noticed a pattern. There's some similarity between all these 40 listings. The similarity is that the photos sucked. The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for." …. The three-man team grabbed the next flight to New York and upgraded all the amateur photos to beautiful images... A week later, the results were in: improving the pictures doubled the weekly revenue to $400 per week. This was the first financial improvement that the company had seen in over eight months. They knew they were onto something. (Source)
That "something" is what Pablo Larios describes as "the doxa of digital circulation and image saturation" in contemporary image culture—i.e. "recognizability, translatability, clarity." In a nutshell, the company had to equip its users with a fairly uniform set of aesthetic references to make their homes an appetible commodity for its international service buyers.
"Taking crisp, well-lit and composed photographs that accurately convey the look and feel of the space is the most difficult part of creating a listing, so we make it easy." — Airbnb
The response to this exigency was the 2008 founding of Airbnb Photography—a free service provided by the company which users can apply for gaining "more visibility" (like), "verified watermarks" (like), and "high quality" imagery (multiple likes) to better monetize their spaces. Ensuring higher rankings in search results and guaranteeing that an Airbnb representative has visited the property, a few years ago the company stated that hosts with professional photography would be "booked 2.5 times more frequently than those without," rendering it a vital component in Airbnb's business model.
Since its birth in 2010, Airbnb Photography has been performed by "experienced" freelance photographers from all around the globe hired on the basis of a portfolio and their capacity to match the standards required to be part of the company's iconographic stockpile. This is not to say that as photographers they have any degree of artistic license in the job—on the contrary, the images which are sent back to Airbnb's headquarters are heavily curated and subjected to a series of rather rigorous conventions involving make and lens of the camera used, brightness and contrast relations, lighting conditions and most strikingly a rather recurrent series of vantage points from which the photographs are taken. With the camera set up in one corner, Airbnb photographs often feature an expanse of floor in the foreground. Such photographs will make the apartment look at its most spacious when a room's furnishings are crowded in the far corner. Much has also been made of the website's predilection for photographs that are well-lit to the point of overexposure. Super-white walls always hold up best to overexposure. In this "bright, clean, inviting" aesthetic, there is no place for the objects acquired over a lifetime or the patina of age.
In aligning to these doxas, the redundancy of Airbnb photography is characteristic of a series of conditions which are increasingly epitomic not only of how home-ness is represented in order to be commodified but even more of how our homes themselves are being affected by this imagery: most evidently, it highlights (and in so doing also fosters) the current homogenization of middle class households all around the world—something which is rendered in a similarly problematic way across the CGI renderings found in IKEA catalogues and other providers where particular room configurations and combinations of furnitures are applied unchanged to distinct hosting spaces. Of course there are exceptions to this norm which can be found in Airbnb listings such as the American trailer, the sailing boat, the tree house and other exotic venues, but if we limit our analysis to the general substratum (i.e. homes of middle class city dwellers on a relatively tight budget) the uniformity is very apparent. But Airbnb sees such uniformity as an anomaly to correct, as a temporary impasse until every home on the website becomes highly individualized and "special," as acknowledged by Airbnb employees at the panel we organized at Swiss Institute. Given the aesthetic standards stringently imposed by the company, it is a highly circumscribed kind of individualism, one which "must be as special as possible, while remaining understandable as an image to an international audience of potential guests," as we wrote in a text for Fulcrum.
The sheer quantity of photographs Airbnb has collected since its Photography department was founded reinforces this condition while opening new perspectives on how the market operates. With over 3,000 photographers and more than a million photographs taken in the 192 countries the company operates in (2012), co-founder Gebbia unsurprisingly claims responsibility over the construction of what is "arguably one of the largest repositories of interior photography on the planet." If this momentous endeavour is reminiscent of early 20th century anthropological studies in which photography provided new descriptive means to show the world, Airbnb's agenda is of an entirely different sort. While that photographic genre was used to critique the miserable housing conditions of the working class, it also served a pedagogical function to teach us how to live (we can think of Walker Evans as much as post-war documentaries on the new middle-class households), Airbnb protects itself from the risk of being politically overt by certifying its pictures and ensuring that its merchandise remains morally decent. Its website, in this sense, can be termed as an interiorized cosmology where viewers can safely meander amidst a vast territory of verified (or, better, censored) material. In German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk's terms, a pampered space for contemporary globetrotters imbued with mainstream parochialism and "cosmopolitan romanticism."
The company's recent shift from a search-based model (you find what you need) to a browse-based one (you find as you wander) is not only symptomatic of how this new way of experiencing capitalist space operates; even more, it reflects the general diffusion across the whole of the WWW of a tumblr-ish modality based on immersive interfaces and erratic navigation. Think for example of how IKEA's interface has changed throughout the years to become more and more akin to a lifestyle magazine one skims through in a café rather than a furniture catalogue. Or of British Real Estate agency Foxtons' new Home Interior & Design Inspirations section where you can browse through listed properties according to the style in which they're built, the color on their walls or the features they present, independently of price and location.
But perhaps the determining factor which differentiates the image of the home on Airbnb from that on visually similar platforms is the enduring transience of the offers on display. As the company's co-founder Brian Chesky recently observed, "today's generation sees ownership also as a burden. People still want to show off, but in the future I think what they're going to want to show off is their Instagram feed, their photos, the places they've gone, the experiences they've had. That has become the new bling." Analogous to how fashion and online shopping operate, the appreciation of the home or that of the objects which characterize it is freed from the burdens of property and immobility and now ventures into more volatile domains. What prevents Airbnb from building buildings is that its clients aren't interested in purchasing a house or its appliances, but the experience of an immediately disposable image which is nonetheless "authentic" and idiosyncratic. So that as much as you are renting a house or a room inside it, you are also renting an image of the host and their persona, their tastes, their biography. No wonder, then, the company's new policy is that of encouraging hosts to become even more "hospitable" attaching their own personality and habits to the trip experience, even as they (seemingly paradoxically) mandate a generic air of carefully censored "quality."
When Airbnb tells you "Belong everywhere," what it really reveals is that in our rarefied dwelling patterns, the contemporary urban dweller has long belonged Nowhere. If on the one hand this may be praised on the form of emancipation, on the other, mechanisms of expropriation - the primordial act at the origin of capitalism - have left us all in a state of permanent uprootedness, even when we are in our homes. It is as if man had finally inherited the properties of the commodities he's cherished: forever in flux and always present where they can be sold. To be able to feel home in any one's home, to be pleased when pseudo-appropriating the life of a stranger anywhere in the world shows what the home ever was: a myth, a dream. That theorist of the bourgeois interiors of the 19th century, Theodor Adorno, has less famously argued that being Modern was to be homeless, that Modern man was bound to be eternally looking for a home, a safer and more comfortable world to live in. If Adorno was using the home in a rather metaphorical way, the comparison adequately transposes to the homes we live in. It is disconcerting to realise that this "better world" which makes us wake up and work every day belongs to somebody else, or is computer generated. The artificiality and codification of the image of the home is the distracting safeguard which hides the real, carefully policed condition of housing. By producing its own home-image, one is tricked into the simulacra and becomes the catfish deceiving themselves into a more profound narcosis.
All that lies scattered in the brightness of the hall now bears
a single price,
each object enclosed in its soullessness.
Each thing cries out to us how young and important
it is, as wanton as cheapness feigning expense.
Oh the thing today no longer finds its
For to be buyable means: having forgotten how to belong
to the living,
and buying means lightly inviting things
like guests for a single occasion whom one greets,
and never regards again.
Rainer Maria Rilke
AIRBNB Pavilion is a project by fálo, a collective of interior decorators based in London founded by Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela, and Octave Perrault.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists whose work makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Wickerham & Lomax, BOY'Dega: Encore in the AFTALYFE (Season 2) (2014).
JG: DUOX started as a collaboration between the two of you, and collaboration seems completely central to your practice even though you're now working under the name Wickerham & Lomax. You've worked closely with DIS Magazine and other high-profile sponsors, and even the feel of your new work seems deliberately corporate and commercial. What is the shape and direction of this collaboration? Where did DUOX end, and how does Wickerham & Lomax extend?
Lomax: I think aside from using the language of surface which is one of our subjects—appearances, mirrors, screens, reflections, storefronts, sheen—we employ the language of accessibility, and that gets foregrounded explicitly in corporate and commercial imagery which isn't really an idea we investigate but an aesthetic we employ. I think the corporate and commercial for us is really a mask, not an interest.
Excerpt from BOY'Dega: Encore in the AFTALYFE (Season 2) 2014. Full video.
As a collaborative we seem to sit in each other's thoughts in an intimate way, similar to people in romantic relationships. There is something vulnerable about that privilege and that noted intimacy is shaping the new work. The collaboration is moving back towards the physical aspects of making things, which we had to forego in the production of the site. I hope what we're doing can gather a greater sense of economy so we can have more time to read, enjoy our friends, and gossip. Sometimes one has to live vicariously through their output and I think that's what Dan and I had to do to get the project done. We want to be able to take the city of Baltimore and have it function in a mutable way inside of our practice, whether that means interfacing with the public, making public works, twisting any historical narrative into a lived-in digital one. We want full agency to use the city as a platform.
DUOX ended around December 2013 with the release of Beyoncé's self-titled, and not because of that but in proximity to it. I'm obsessed with reading about DNA, particularly the essay "The Double Helix and Other Social Structures" and collaborative discoveries (Watson and Crick), so Daniel and I started contemplating the future of the project. I suggested we have the coding of the website DNA sequenced when all the Seasons [of the BOY'Dega series] are finished along with a round of acceptance speeches, which would be an internalizing of something one puts out into the world and a continued metaphor on reproduction / proliferation. DNA leads back to our surnames which will allow us to do more faithful investigations into subtopics of the practice like familial narratives and the biological prompts employed to make certain works. I think we wanted to take ownership of our work and we didn't set as a mission for ourselves a conversation about the anonymity of a collaborative to destabilize the individual genius or a complicated example of a brand, so we let it go. Personalizing.
JG: Your new project is BOY'Dega, which extends from your previous piece at Artists Space, DUOX4Larkin. The project follows the life of a child named BOY'D that was created as part of the exhibit and continues to transform and evolve in the digital. The project includes a website, BOY'Dega Edited4Syndication (2014) that is modeled partly on promotional sites for summer blockbusters or TV shows, but overburdened with interactive features, 3d graphics, and sheer narrative excess, all revolving around this central character..The figure of the boy seems present in a lot of your work: as an object, a backdrop, a character, a twink. Are you developing a "theory of the young boy"?
Wickerham: Our relationship to a boy or Boy'd was to create a shell as the main character for the tv show. This was the central character that would be all smoke and mirrors. This central shell would help direct attention towards our real interest, which was a show informed mostly by supplemental. The idea of raising a child allowed us to rethink what collaboration meant for us. It gave us the opportunity to be male and pregnant-parents towards the work we were trying to make. And we thought there was something long-term and difficult about raising a kid that perfectly mapped itself onto the long-term nature of this web project. Which in many ways is also about developing/raising 8 cast members in relation to us as creators. We all switch roles, so maybe by the end BOY'Dega will really be a parenting guide.
JG: Across all of your projects I'm struck by the use of layers to create complex surfaces. Of course layering is one of the most visible traces of digital production. Layers are most often enabled by frame buffer Alpha channels and Adobe Creative Suite software, but are also ubiquitous on the web and in the design of most all user interfaces. Where does this fascination with layers come from?
Installation views of "DUOX4Larkin." Artists Space, 2012. Photo: Daniel Pérez.
Wickerham: I never thought about it as a fascination, maybe it was informed by observation—but I know what you are referring to. This observation of layers was something you picked out when reviewing our Artist Space show, which strangely was a show partly about how screens hold images—so we must be a little fascinated! We've had an evolving relationship to how we present layers of information. When we started working together in 2009 we had the same intensity towards our interests as we do today but were less sensitive about how to organize two people's languages, whether into an exhibition or even a press release—so little was edited out. The viewer could feel accosted by what might look like a lot of signifiers. And the ideas could be indecipherable but the layers remained visible. So we had this reputation that we simply liked information. Now I think we've found a way to kept the complexity of our interests by refining how they get presented. Sometimes this is a matter of creating the right problem. For example in an upcoming show we asked ourselves what an image would look like if it were getting ready to go out. Another example is the form of a website which we can keep filling with information across time and space (experience). We are also seeing a variety of new projects in the studio develop together allows some to be simple and calm and direct. It's nice to let something be calm, that's part of our reality too.
JG: Your work seems to me explicitly digital. Maybe because everything feels that way now, or because a lot of your work feels like it's about “everything,” a frenzy of images, icons, text, and color. Your new project takes the shape of a website and video series, but the Artists Space exhibition of DUOX4Larkin involved a great deal of sculpture and painting that evoked a digital aesthetic. Would you describe your work as post-internet? Post-medium? Post-gay? How does your brand identify, or are you totally over it?
Wickerham & Lomax, BOY'Dega Edited4Syndication (Season 1) (2014).
Lomax: Over it would be an understatement. I don't know if classifications are really helpful anymore. These articulations are helpful for discourse, but really do a disservice to experiencing things. The viewer lives in that "I got it" phase far too quickly and I think people make things in an illustrative way far too often when they can function under the labels. It's hard for me to reconcile the taxonomies/classifications when what we really are doing is crafting experiences for a viewer that seeks to complicate their viewing, not of our work but of their encounter with the form we've taken on as a subject. I venture to describe our work as a temper tantrum of two people living with the access to everything but in the confines of reality. The work is full of fan boy hissy fits, unapologetically. We can describe it as part post-it note part posted up. This is a long way to say I don't know. We're not a brand, but I agree about the digital permeating the other forms.
Age: 28 and still getting carded. Boy'd is very young and wants to see us as a peer.
Location: West Baltimore
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
Wickerham: I would say when people started pointing out to me how I used my Blackberry camera. Nathan Lee wrote a paper about how I used my phone which was shocking because I'm not high on high technology. This was maybe 2008 so it's going to sound strange now but remember when you could post on Facebook before the feed was an algorithm. I would post so much that people could get a pretty clear picture of how I was seeing. It was a very positive experience. Now I hardly share anything as unmediated, it seems less necessary to both me and whoever is looking.
Lomax: I remember as a preteen being obsessed with our home printer, but mainly using it in conjunction with clip art to rename rooms by making large banners. It took me quite sometime to convince my parents to get web tv, which sucked, so having a computer and printer was everything. I suppose I could've done exciting things with the phone. Yet as an artist I think I was consciously using digital technology in high school but to little effect. I was also on that xerox machine like a zine girl feeling myself trying to make it work.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Maryland Institute College of Art BFA Painting 2009
Maryland Institute College of Art BFA Painting 2009
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Previously we've held our breath while working our boyfriends last nerve.
Trust >No funds.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, November 13, 2014.
Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at http://www.rhizome.org/today.
At the will of market pressure and general user trends, commenting culture is in a forever state of flux. Michael Connor has lamented its demise. Sensing its migration to social media, Rhizome's conservation program has taken an interest in important discussions occurring on Facebook, which aside from screen shotting are not really easily or intuitively documented. eflux, in response to the user shift to big social, just launched its own bespoke social platform, Conversations.
The other day I saw this article about Buzzfeed striking a deal with Facebook which would allow the publisher to gain access to the social giant's data. The aim: measuring sentiment during political elections, since social media is where lots of people express their political opinions these days. The article was about a huge problem in maintaining a neutral sample since Facebook algorithms are set up so that each person's or group of persons' feed is tailored, affecting how people respond or react.
This reminded me of a presentation I saw several months prior about a tool called SentiStrength, and how it measures sentiment within language on social networks. Basically the whole presentation started to sound like one big problem because people misspell words and people are sarcastic. So saying something like "i am sooooooo happy that my computer broke" is maybe registered as -2 negative for the word "broke", but +3 positive for "happy", and then maybe +2 for "sooooooo" before the "happy". Doing the math, SentiStrength would argue +5 –2 = +3 positive sentiment. (I am somewhat bastardizing the explaination.) Clearly, the whole process for automating the measurement of sentiment within natural speech is soooooo limited. Not to mention the tool is most adept to analyze and account for English speech, which makes little sense when measuring political sentiment in a diverse country with no official language.
A sentence or a paragraph is made up of a range of sentiments, not to mention levels of lyricism and vernacular, all of which yield a mathematical mess if you try to automate determining an ultimate position. Data gathered from particular platforms, be it Twitter or Facebook, say a lot more about the platform itself. That is, the mode in which people speak because of how the platform is structured: character count, pace, form of replying, retweeting, liking, faving, and the types of communities that tend to gather on Facebook or Twitter rather than, say, 4chan or Reddit.
Given Facebook's ultra-secret ways, their method for sorting sentiment within phrases is probably much more advanced than what is available to general researchers in the field of political science or media studies—those using tools similar to SentiStrength. Whoever has the ability to quantify and properly sort our daily feels-sharing is constructing the census of the populace, and providing evidence of affectivity, knowledge of which, it has been argued, can influence not just purchasing, but voting. In retail and politics, our feels are very valuable, and, it seems, pliable.
I suppose the most successful ads are ones you don't know are ads at all. It's like walking into a froyo shop in the summer of 2013—it feels artificially natural. The general argument to avoid this algo-subconscious influence is to decentralize across platforms. Unfortunately, many alternative platforms are really just alternative compared to mainstream media like major television networks, and while they may perhaps decentralize the value and influence of those mainstream channels for a bit, the popularity of their alternative voice is most often reabsorbed by the mainstream. After all, the Buzzfeed deal with Facebook also includes ABC.
I'm trying to think of a listicle joke here to correspond with the Buzzfeed style, but failing...maybe we are all just listicled out. A wise tweeter, handle @pourmecoffee, once tweeted (on October 9th, 2014):
Obama just posted a note to millenials on @medium. Also, check your Moleskine diary, he wrote a special note in there for you.— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) October 9, 2014
It has 40 retweets and 82 favs. It must mean that people really like Obama. "Sentiment is up; young people on Twitter love Obama and his innovative demographic-specific platform penetration and awareness," study finds.
Caption from the study: "Heat map showing stress hot-spots from EEG brain monitoring revealing stress-points on the road network around Reading station of visually impaired participants"
This is Rhizome Today for Friday, November 14, 2014.
Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at http://www.rhizome.org/today.
Last week, Future Cities Catapult, Guide Dogs, and Microsoft UK published "Cities Unlocked," a report on the design of a headset whose purpose is to make cities more accessible for people with sight loss.**
Of the research phase, Dan Hill of Future Cities Catapult writes:
We asked the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL Bartlett to use their 'appropriated' electroencephalography (EEG) brain monitoring to measure the cognitive and emotional responses of people with sight loss as they moved around [London]. These enabled new 'stress maps' of the city to be produced.
People without visual impairments participated as well. While road crossings, train station entrances and exits, and boarding platforms were all locations of stress for the group with sight loss, the study concluded that "green spaces are calming for both people with sight loss and those without."
The universality of this finding is striking. What if we used EEG devices to help us map a wider range of emotions? Stress and calm, sure, but also happiness, anger, and sadness. Of most concern to me are feelings correlated with ego-depletion along with decreased willpower and decision-making ability. A map of our negative moods could suggest new ways to improve the built environment, which was one of the civic-minded motivations behind earlier experiments in this area such as Christian Nold's "Bio-Mapping". But it could also offer a lucrative opportunity for businesses and advertisers.
The value of geospatial data to business is relatively new. In the last few years, companies have started to augment business intelligence systems with geographic data enrichment tools. Most notable among them is Esri's Tapestry Segmentation.
Tapestry is a mashup of sorts. Esri engineers applied cluster analysis and data mining techniques to a mix of spatial data, Census data, and marketing data. The result is a highly specific geodemographic segmentation system: each zip code belongs to one of 67 distinct demographics. They have names like "Boomburbs," "Laptops and Lattes," and "Barrios Urbanos." They are classified by ethnicity, occupation, income, hobbies, and purchases. And thanks to more robust methods of analysis, the latest version of Tapestry also includes projections of demographic changes like reduced income and increased aging. It can tell Whole Foods where to open a fourth store in Boulder. If you want to open a luxury consignment store in Houston, it can suggest mixed-use, high-income neighborhoods in which to look for retail space. The possibilities of location analytics are vast.
Ignoring, for a second, its serendipitous pleasures, urban life stirs up irritants and tiny indignities that abrade our senses and drain our cognitive resources. Advertisers, armed with Tapestry and a detailed map of our affects, would only get savvier: they would know the places where we are at our most stressed, where we would be most likely to give in and buy what they're selling. True luxury would remain what it is now: the freedom to be out of sight, to guard sadness and joy, to buy a way out of buying.
** The report reminded me of the artist Sara Hendren, whose guiding principle is "All technology is assistive technology." She's been thinking about this for the last several years: assistive technologies, accessible cityscapes, prosthetics, how we think about the body, and how we imagine and reach beyond its boundaries and limitations.
Read Lucy Chinen's Rhizome Today from November 13 about SentiStrength.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Screen capture from Femke Herregraven, Taxodus (video game, 2013).
LC: The most publicized of your works is Taxodus, a online game for tax evasion. At the time, you made the game as a way to materialize and map out what you call "a geography of avoidance"—a study of the obfuscatory strategies used by the finance industry that emphasizes their reshaping of space, place and nationhood. Is the game a realistic simulation? Is it important that it is realistic? Might it also be a valuable tool for people who work in finance?
FH: In Taxodus players are "acting" on behalf of multinationals and have to dodge paying as much tax as they can. By setting up intermediate holdings globally, players reveal potential routes through which multinationals in reality can "neutralize" their tax burdens. Players that escape the most tax rank high in the high scores.
The data in the game—national corporate tax rates, withholding taxes and treaties from countries worldwide—is realistic but the mechanisms to set up companies and calculate income and tax are simplified. In reality there are many more parameters involved on a corporate, national and international level; it would be impossible to incorporate them all in a game. I know some big accountancy firms have tried to develop software that basically cough up a fiscal advice, but it failed because it was too complex and expensive. In reality, fiscal structures are highly customized per company and it seems impossible to make a 1:1 simulation of this tax planning industry.
After Taxodus was launched I know some people from the industry were speculating on these kind of tools that could spark cloud accounting and break the monopoly of the Big Four, giving small accountants a chance. A sort of democratization of fiscal advising. But Taxodus is a beta version and was developed in only a few months. The intention was not to make a hyper-realistic fiscal lawyer bot, but to make the basic principles and mechanisms behind the tax planning industry accessible for you and me. Most of data in the game is not public or easily accessible but behind paywalls that only accountancy firms can afford. For me, Taxodus is a public interface to this data and an experimental research model. I could have made a bunch of data visualisations for example but I wanted to make the audience dodge tax themselves. I think by playing you understand more of how companies cut up their legal bodies in order to organize their income most profitably. When playing, your generated tax route gets uploaded as a fiscal annual report and is accessible in a public database. Taxodus was about making corporate tax avoidance accessible for everyone and facilitating a public platform for dialogue and research. As for the people I know from the industry, so far they have been getting all the high scores.
LC: You are working on a new project on the fiber optic cables which facilitate high frequency trading. Why are you interested in this technology in particular, and how has that research manifested itself?
FH: Optic fiber cable has been around for 30 years and now, in relation to high frequency trading, is probably becoming a thing of the past. New trading lines consisting of radio towers that transmit microwaves are increasingly popping up because they cut latency by up to a millisecond. In high frequency trading this could mean a difference of millions of dollars. Having said that, I think it's important to realize that more than 90% of our data still run through cables in the soil and ocean floors. The "cloud" is more like a never-ending plate of spaghetti. I'm researching this physical backbone of the financial world for some years now, with a large focus on submarine cables. I'm interested in the never-ending rat race for reducing latency and maximizing speed—that is as old as telecommunications itself. The contemporary infrastructural endeavours undertaken to cut down milliseconds are immense in terms of scale and money but surely have their equivalents in the past. The first transatlantic cable from is often referred to as the Apollo Moon project of the Victorian era. I explore how this quest for speed affects our daily life, surroundings, landscapes and geopolitical imagination.
The All Infrared Line – 14 (France), 2012-2014. Coastal fortification from WOII situated at current submarine cable landing point..
In general my work often starts with collecting information and objects that are difficult to obtain, or by visiting places that have a hidden function or are difficult to access. I aim at identifying borders—whether physical or in the information sphere—and finding personal strategies to trespass them. I visit places that play for me a relevant role in the offshore economy—from traditional financial centers, to tropical islands or wanna-be Special Economic Zones. There I draw, photograph and film the often hidden infrastructure that stitches this specific place into the global network of offshore finance. It is a sort of treasure hunt with the treasure being the most boring things you can imagine such as plugs, doors, walls and cables. This interests me very much. Infrastructures—like cables, tax laws or patents—are most of the time utterly boring, technical and hermetic. They run in the background so society can continue with its activities on the foreground. And yet, their implementation and operations are never smooth but create conflicts and inequality. You can find a lot of information about all these things online but working on the ground helps me to get a better understanding of the tensions and power structures that these infrastructures put into play.
Right now, for example, while answering your questions, I'm in the sub-Arctic for a new work that deals with how the financial markets will be influenced by climate change. One element of that work is the emerging possibility to lay submarine cables on the Arctic sea bed because of the melting ice. Although at this moment the actual realization of these cables is problematic on many levels, so plans will probably be realized in the near future. At that point these Arctic cables will shortcut the connection between the financial markets of London en Tokyo that are now linked via the Middle-East or the Pacific. Latency is expected to drop substantially. Global warming is literally opening up new paths for trading algorithms—and surveillance.
LC: When you speak about materiality within finance it leads to a discussion about the materiality of the technologies which facilitate exchange of capital. Often I see you tracing the origins of those materials, such as the plant which produces the rubber for early telegraph cables—which then became the carrier for internet traffic. How does history and technology come into play in your work?
FH: For me, dealing with infrastructures also means dealing with a large timescale. The backbone of the financial world is an accumulation of technology, innovation, capital, labor, conflicts but also time. Historical research plays a large role in my work. I've been working for a long time on how the contemporary geography of offshore financial centers is intertwined with spatial organization of the old colonial British Empire. Half way the 19th century British colonies were connected to the City of London in global spiderweb of early telegraph lines. Many Caribbean islands became parking places for capital in the 1970s because they were tightly wired up in the global telecommunication system and yet distant enough to not contaminate the center of the Commonwealth. This work takes form of collecting historical documents and objects and now, more recently, in producing a series of new objects that deal with the materiality.
Through my work I explore the changing relation between capital flows and materiality. Where wealth once had a material condition and was contextualized by its territory it is now disconnected from a specific place, labour or material production. In finance money is purely made from the circulation of money. It can materialize from itself—it's like alchemy. It's quite interesting how the dematerialization of money in the late 1960s early 1970s coincided with concepts on the dematerialization of the art object. Capital flows are mostly read through a language similar to art: abstraction, signs, ideas, information and linguistic exchange. In my work I intend to melt finance back again into a material condition. Infrastructure is crucial in this process. The backbone that allows capital to be disconnected from material conditions is built from limited resources and manifests itself as highly material in our physical surrounding. The natural rubber you mentioned, was for early telegraph lines in the Victorian age the holy grail, similar to as what coltan is now for mobile phones and devices in our digital age. The sudden and tremendous demand for a specific materials that comes along with the emergence of a new technology activates many new conflicts over materials, ownership and territory. Since finance is now mainly a question of technology there is for me an urgency in stressing the connections between for example latency and plants, trading algorithms and melting ice or colocation and landing points. I think for many of us it's very difficult to understand how money is made in the financial markets. Highly complex financial products, trading algorithms, it's mostly a immaterial black box—even for traders. The irony is that the stakes of financial investments are often material ones. Investors bet on the spread of ebola, wheat scarcity or how real estate prices drops because of rising sea levels. It's funny how bad I was in economy at high school. Those calculations and charts—it just was too abstract for me. I guess that is reflected in the way I approach the financial world in my work. Stressing the connections between finance, places and material conditions is my strategy for getting an understanding of how the financial markets influence and shape our societies.
LC: How do you think of your own practice, as artist and as designer and as researcher? Do you find it productive to cross disciplinary boundaries? How do you feel about these terms which are used to describe what it is you do, display of research and how it becomes contextualized in public?
FH: My work gets labelled in different ways and I like that ambiguity. It means its open enough to engage with different fields. Yet, the mechanisms and results in for example art and design are very different. The same work can be shown and evaluated from completely different criteria. This can be complicated as maker but it creates a rich feedback loop at the same time. In my practice I create research in the form of indexes, maps, texts, interviews, drawings, photos and videos. Sometimes the research is the actual work, other times I make a new work in the form of installations, publications, games or prints. I think of my work as tools or manuals that can help me—or someone else—navigate, deconstruct or reflect on complex matters such as the financial world. An emerging question is how I present my work online or through the format of an exhibition. I guess because of my background in design it is not always natural that the work is being displayed instead of being used.
Talking about the cross-disciplinary, I'm also part of Bitcaves, a collective for design and research. Basically it's an umbrella for all sorts of things: commissions, residencies and cross-disciplinary collaborations. Next to working individually it's for us valuable to be part of a collective. It's nice to be able to switch between different modes of working and collaborate with different types of makers. In general I connect with people from different disciplines through my work, such as academics, business people, journalists, craftsmen, financial experts. When you dive into something thoroughly you naturally end up with a mosaic of people outside of your field. Sometimes you meet people you prefer not to work with but it's unavoidable because you clutter together around a very specific interest or expertise. Around your own work you naturally construct some sort of family. A family is by nature a diverse and cross-disciplinary social group that no member entered voluntary. Yet, the dynamics and exchange within that family—even with the pedantic uncle, nervous aunt or on-hormones-tripping cousin—are, for me, crucial as a human being and as an artist.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?I actually grew up around analog tools. There was always lots of carpeting and construction going on which I liked a lot. So for me it was probably more software: I think it was Photoshop in high school. I was so amazed by that stamp and air brush function, I was clicking and dragging for hours.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I did a bachelor in graphic design at Artez Arnhem and a master in design at Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Both studies have a strong research component in which students are challenged to developed their own questions and research around things that they feel personally engaged with.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I'm an artist/designer/researcher. Next to that I teach design research one day a week at Artez Arnhem, and have done that at Sandberg Institute last year. I have also worked part time in a butchery for 7 years. Which looking back now was actually very useful. Meat is also at the center of a very complex industry. In those twelve hour working days I think I unconsciously learned some skills and strategies that have proved their usefulness today. Kinda from meat infrastructure to money infrastructure you could say ;-)
What does your desktop or workspace look like?
A never ending mess—which is very comforting to me.
Lance Wakeling, still from Field Visits for Chelsea Manning (work in progress).
Field Visits for Chelsea Manning
Sunday, December 14, 2014, 5:45pm
Peter Jay Sharp Building, BAM Rose Cinemas
As part of Migrating Forms—presented at BAM and co-organized by BAMcinématek Film Programmer Nellie Killian and Los Angeles-based writer and curator Kevin McGarry—Lance Wakeling's completed Field Visits for Chelsea Manning will be given its world premiere.
A 2014 Rhizome Commission, Field Visits is the final video in Lance Wakeling's trilogy on the physicality of the internet. This first-person travelogue maps the places that former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was held in Kuwait, Virginia, Kansas, and Maryland. Rather than telling a straightforward story of Manning's detainment, the narrative instead visits a series of what Wakeling calls "serendipitous collisions between the filmmaker and current events," including a Civil War reenactment, a barbershop quartet dressed as prisoners, and drinking coffee in a business park for national security contractors.
A Q&A with Wakeling will follow the screening.
The Rhizome Commissions program is supported, in part, by funds from Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Special project support is provided by Michael Cohn and the American Chai Trust.
A round-up of my #DL14 surveillance. (Image from Ad Nauseum)
This is Rhizome Today for Monday, November 17, 2014.
Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at http://www.rhizome.org/today.
If you were, like me, too busy writing product reviews on Mechanical Turk to attend this weekend's Digital Labor at the New School, here is what you need to catch up on the conference.
The Archived Talks
Much of the Digital Labor program can be found at New School's Livestream page.
While also live-blogging the conference on e-flux conversations with Karen Archey, writer Dorothy Howard provided a great survey of events by tweeting for @IDCtweets.
The launch of Ad Nauseum
"AdNauseam is a browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from surveillance and tracking by advertising networks. Simultaneously, AdNauseam serves as a means of amplifying users' discontent with advertising networks that disregard privacy and facilitate bulk surveillance agendas."
Trebor Scholz's expansive Storify
Chop Suey (1995) in its original packaging.
Rhizome is pleased to announce that, beginning in April 2015, it will preserve and present three CD-ROM works created by artist and writer Theresa Duncan (1966-2007): Chop Suey (1995, co-created with Monica Gesue), Smarty (1996), and Zero Zero (1998). These colorful, expressive adventures address young girls in a way few games did, or still do—and they've fallen into obscurity. Through its digital conservation program, Rhizome will make the original, unaltered games playable via web browser, for everyone, for free. In order to make this possible, we have launched a Kickstarter campaign.
A scene from Chop Suey (1995)
Confronting a videogame culture lacking diversity of digital experience (shoot-em-ups and fantasy adventures for boys, prom role-play and dress-up for girls), Theresa Duncan's CD-ROM work was something markedly different: uniquely personal, passionately invested in the creative possibilities of her medium, and daring (in the words of critic Jenn Frank) to "represent the criminally underrepresented: that is, the wild imagination of some girl aged 7 to 12."
Duncan drew on her childhood in the Midwest and a deep interest in literature, art, music, and children's stories for her work on Chop Suey, an offbeat, interactive daydream set in Cortland, Ohio, Smarty, an educational archaeology, and Zero Zero, an adventure set in Paris at the turn of 1900. All of these titles were intensely collaborative, involving a whole community of creators: Monica Gesue, who co-created Chop Suey, Ian Svenonious and Jeremy Blake, who contributed illustrations and more, Brendan Canty, who contributed a great deal of the music, and voice-over artists including David Sedaris.
Duncan's titles are notable for dreamlike, expressive illustration, vivid, hallucinatory colors and textured soundtracks. Their stories unfurl in sinuous, lilting vignettes, building out a world through language and atmosphere in which players are encouraged to explore freely, building connections among complex, drawn-from-life casts of characters. Her work was not about celebrities or superheroes, but the richness of a child's imagination as they react to their everyday lives in the world around them. And these games encouraged their users—particularly the young girls who would have identified with her protagonists—to be disruptive, adventurous, and whip-smart.
Videogame culture is at its best when it supports the narration and elaboration through play of a diversity of experiences. Unfortunately, as it was when Duncan made these games, this truth continues to be contested. So it remains essential that these games be widely known and played—not for the sake of the history of gaming, but for its future.
All three works will be presented via "Emulation as Service," an innovative system that Rhizome is developing with University of Freiburg, Germany. This approach involves the use of server-side software that duplicates the functions of outdated operating systems, giving users the experience of running, say, Windows98 in their normal web browser, with no additional software or plugins required on their end. For an earlier test of this approach, see the Cory Arcangel work Bomb Iraq (2005).
Additionally, Rhizome will work with its affiliate, the New Museum, to organize a public event and online exhibition celebrating Duncan's work and contextualizing it within feminist histories of gaming. Alongside this, we will commission articles and educational materials to further deepen public awareness of these CD-ROMs and the broader history of women gamemakers.
This is a significant undertaking. To enhance capacity, underwrite programming, and support this award-winning development program, Rhizome has launched a project funding campaign. Please visit this project's Kickstarter page.
Seeking a YouTube lost
This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 19, 2014.
I wish that I still used YouTube like I did a few years ago. I would spend a lot of time on the site watching tutorials and general YouTube weirdness. Now it seems much of the content there is very VEVO. Revisiting channels I used to follow, many have adopted cute transitions with graphics, and maybe even have their own product lines?
I miss click-wandering without being paranoid about the value of my metadata, and in trying to rekindle that process I've listed below three compilations of YouTube videos that renew my faith in the potential of endlessly browsing related and unrelated streams of variously amateur content.
A selection of runway videos by Matthew Linde on Sang Bleu. Watching these videos made me remember that the early 2000s wasn't just pretty much like 2014, or maybe it made me realize that any video shot in a slightly lower resolution leads one to think it took place in the early 2000s. These videos traverse the highly flexible terrain of the runway responding to or being emblematic of a certain cultural moment or attitude, playing with awkward elements of staging and performance.
Hannah Black's essay Value, Measure, Love on The New Inquiry. This doesn't have videos in it, but the essay incorporates and extrapolates on the experience of looking at related videos and how they come to be related to each other. The recognizable frame of the grey bar, the time stamp, the view counts, etc., become embedded in the total quantification of the moment being represented, on YouTube, in love, and of course, under capitalism.
Hito Steyerl on the conference video, posted to the CSS Bard Red Hook Journal in 2012. Not much has changed about the general format and aesthetics of the conference/panel/lecture video, regardless of video resolution or quality. How can we access events that produce dialogue that holds less provenance or is less rigid than can be translated into an audiobook, that is more accessible than an essay, and that can't promise a speaker fluent in the performative aspect of public speaking?
Chubz: the Demonization of my Working Arse is the first book by Huw Lemmey (aka Spitzenprodukte)—a work of fanfiction inspired by young Labour party member, author, and Guardian columnist Owen Jones. First person accounts of protagonist Chubz' hookups with Jones are interspersed with depressingly funny episodes recounting UKIP leader Nigel Farage's poppers-fuelled campaign. Sex and politics—contemporary cruising, self-representation, and brand identification—have underpinned the majority of Lemmey's work prior to Chubz, including "Digital Dark Spaces" and "Devastation in Meatspace" (both The New Inquiry). A book launch for Chubz was held recently at Jupiter Woods, London (October 28), featuring readings from the book and from earlier material, including a poem by Timothy Thornton (found here as two PDFs). I spoke with Lemmey about his book in person and over email.
LH: Over what period have you been writing Chubz, and what motivated you to use the mode of fanfiction to develop concerns about sex and politics that you'd previously expressed in journalistic fashion?
HL: I don't know when I started; I left London for a summer in 2012, during the Olympics, to live in Dublin. I guess when I was there I started putting down some ideas for what the book was going to become, but I was very much writing some sort of speculative futurist thing, trying to think about the city through a language of future branding. It felt very strange being out of the country that summer. I was sure the place would try to erupt like the year before, and worried about how that would play out given that there were literally soldiers on the street when I left in June. When I got back that autumn, and there weren't more riots, I was surprised, and now there's this point at the end of every summer where I'm still surprised they haven't happened.
It is certainly a book related to a lot of my earlier writing; it's about twin territories, an online social space and the city, and about how the two overlap, which is a preoccupation of mine. In this case it's Grindr, it's about how you can use Grindr to read the city and the city to read Grindr. They're two territories superimposed on each other, a digital augmentation of reality. I started writing fiction about it because the tools at my disposal for non-fiction just weren't sufficient, or I wasn't good enough at it. The way people use hook-up apps is too subjective, and I felt like the only way I could talk about it honestly was to talk about it partially, in both senses of the word. I talk to a lot of guys about how they use Grindr. I like to go for long walks through the city with people and it normally takes about an hour before guys stop talking about the things everyone talks about—the overt racism and homophobia, the aspects of timewasting and wanking and stuff—and start admitting to sometimes thinking quite deeply about how the whole process from download to hook-up affects the way they live in the city, and how they construct their own sexual desire within that.
As for the fanfiction; well I think Owen Jones as a public persona is kinda an interesting avatar. To be honest, he's completely instrumentalised in the book, devoid of real agency as a character, and totally 2-D. But his book [Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (Verso, 2012)], and the way he has produced himself as a public figure from the publicity surrounding it, is for me a really interesting hook to talk about the disconnect between class, sex, and politics as a Question Time debate, and as lived experience in streets and shops and bedrooms. That's the worst thing about public gay identity today; it's total fucking Ken-doll sexuality, reasserting categories for behaviour and binaries, full of these aspirations for acceptance and assimilation with men like Sam Smith banging on about husbands and puppies. It's boring and gross and violent.
Chapter 3, 20-21:
I'd done two hours overtime; my boss was acting the cunt all afternoon
– you do realise this is the sort of thing that's linked to your bonus Andrew
– I know and
– And I'll be writing your 6 month appraisal soon. Look I know it's a pain Andy, really, but it'd be really helpful if you could
Alright alright; two hours later, no pay guaranteed, I'm sick of this job already and I push my face against the window and feel the warm vibrations of the glass and the girls in front talking who each other are fucking. We stop at lights; days like this make me dizzy, my eyes too hot, tired and in need of instant response.
My smartphone needs to be squeezed from my pockets, and I swipe through my social networks. I load Grindr, ping through my messages; no, no, would suck but no, I load the feed, a mosaic of torsos; one wears a t-shirt and I can see a dark fleck I take for nipple through the white cotton. Lips are visible, just and a blue box appears in the corner. A message from the boy; this is how I met him, early in that summer heat, face worn out from work, beads of sweat meeting in my lower back. His name was Owen, and he sent me a facepic; cute, boyish, blonde hair surfing over delicious blue eyes.
LH: Why did you decide that the Grindr profile encountered by Chubz should coincide with the official portrait the public are likely conjure when they think of Owen Jones? I also wondered if your references ("field of blue checks" (61)) to the shirt Jones wears in his press image are intended to reinforce the reader's perception of him as an establishment "straight acting" figure, or moreover to associate him with the grid of Grindr's homepage.
HL: I guess because I think one of the key themes of the book is about men with opinions. Men, and specifically white straight men, have this role within the mainstream of comment journalism which allows them to be almost disembodied with their opinions; they serve as an avatar of a political position, whether it's the muscular liberalism of men like Rod Liddle or Brendan O'Neill, the compassionate conservatism of Peter Oborne, the soft left liberalism of Dorian Lynskey and so on. But their position within society means they never have to perform their subjectivity in order to get that voice, in the way many women and trans journalists (who are often much sharper political and cultural brains) do. And I think Owen Jones fills a really interesting position on that spectrum, as an openly gay socialist, where he has to be clear and open in referring to his identity as a gay man without ever having to dip into deeper subjective reflection of his desires and desirability in print. I think the constant insistence that women have to recount themselves through this personal, subjective lens is a really abusive tool of dominance and control, so I can well understand why he steers away from it, but as the basis of a character for a novel I think it's really rich precisely because it's a public sexual image itself, totally disembodied. It's about removing sexual politics from being about the interaction of fleshy, meaty bodies contesting spaces and identities and manifest in both joyful and traumatising physicality, and making it this private, bourgeois politics of rights and contracts.
It's Jones' public avatar that's used here, because I don't know anything about him as a person. My interest is to put the flesh and fluid back into that avatar, but what better place to start than a literal avatar as the object of fantasy.
Chapter 6, 70-72.
I try to talk to him, but he's gone now, to a better place; blood is returning to his face, and his stoned eyes flicker with comprehension. I bite my lip, I love the sleaze. He smiles at me, and in that moment I know he trusts me, he trusts my ass. It could do anything to him, anything at all, he's convinced. He smiles, and I smile, and he does it, he fucking does it, he forces his head between my legs. His hair bristles against my buttcheeks but there is no pain. Just pleasure, as my butt gulps him in, and I rock forwards and back, the greatest power bottom ever bred, a prizewinner, a destroyer of the penis.
The noise of the train is quieting, my butt is finishing the job, and within minutes he is pulled deep inside me, ingested, brewed, stewed by my ass till all that is left is his trousers trailing from my arsehole, his black socks coiled lifeless like used rubbers on the floor. I pant and breathe in victory, so proud of my heroic butthole. It plans its conquest. If I had my way it'd never stop. I'd let my anal juices, that seem to make my insides so desirable to all these ball havers, these swinging-totem poles, these bureaucrats and these penised shitehawks who insist on mouthbreathing round the city like little princes, I'd let my anal juices digest his skin and bones and all this fleshy matter like a flytrap, like a serpent. And now I've ingested Owen I don't want it to stop, I'd move onto the next man with my siren's buttocks, and one by one I'd suck them in and chew them up till one by one I'd hovered them all into my ever more muscular rectal cavity and before I'd realized I've destroyed the male sex, destroyed them all, in their entirety, one by one, every man who writes and speaks and passes laws and checks documents and has an opinion, and I'd let this hot acidic anal syrup digest me from the insides and eat me up too so that no man survives, no more men, even myself, one by one, just to make sure.
LH: In comparison with Nigel Farage, who appears in humorous episodes between Grindr hookups, and the abhorrent dad of Chapter 12, Jones is really very progressive. Sex with him leads Chubz to fantasize the destruction of all men, however. What is it about Jones that made him the ideal victim of symbolic sacrifice in your book?
HL: Well I think maybe there you're implying that the anal feasting is somehow an act of sexual-political violence? I couldn't disagree more; Jones' consumption by Chubz' rectum isn't some sort of punishment, it's a generous act of gift-giving, not symbolic sacrifice but the symbolic welcoming in to a corporeal community, isn't it? I suppose that's a matter of interpretation but I think the tension between the physical and the avatar is a tension that is the only thing that humanises the Jones' characters completely dull and uninteresting identity on the page. Orgasm is a moment of transference, a ceding of masculine power...
But in many ways Jones is supposed to be dull here; what's really interesting about IRL Owen Jones' interactions with those who claim a more radical position than him is his constant willingness to engage with them, which speaks volumes about his political project as I think he sees it, one of bringing together various different political positions into a cohesive leftist challenge to a dominantly right-wing or liberal media environment. I don't think he gets enough credit for that position, to be honest, and I think a lot of people to the left of him do him a disservice by not at least tacitly acknowledging that that's his political project. That's not to say their criticisms of him are often not very valid though; the point is the tension doesn't come through the different political positions but through the different attitudes towards communicating that politics. He's been proved right about that strategy, to a certain extent; there's definitely a gap in the public discourse for a reasonably traditional, stout socialist position. But whether that reflects on political change is something very different.
So then part of the subtext of the book is really about watching this public battle played out online between these two groups, two strategies of public acceptability, engaging on the terms of public argument, or more vicious, lived experience, the practice of a sort of online witness to the obscene inhumanities and fucking snowballing injustices of the UK today. I'm horribly indecisive but coming down on the side that what's actually important is making the real, visceral cruelties of the moment legible, and even unavoidable, and highlighting the complete lack of options, the dissolution of hope in any sort of socialist redemption.
Chapter 8, 89-91
In my mind I make a composite of Faron from the photos on his profile. How his head fits his body, how the skin from one photo, distorted through a dirty mirror, blends with the skin on his torso, bleached dry from the flash and the low voltage lighting of the gym shower rooms. He's a collage of iPhone shots, a frankenstein top I'm piecing together from bits of grindr and second-hand sensations.
Whatever happens, he cannot know how much I would give to take that drop of him alive on my tongue. I'm a different boy online, I write out his fantasies, what he needs to hear to bring me over. This is how I live. I project in type the form he needs me to take. Each bright red message betrays a new falsehood to him.
I get a particular thrill from sex organized online. I measure the hookups in data involved, uploaded or downloaded. I can trace the development of our social tension and sexual thrill through datestamps, and I can count them in bytes. I have never heard this man's voice. I have never seen his flesh bristle and twitch; every hint, insinuation, every targeted pause, I can account for as data. I never do. I never run the analysis. Quantifying is not the thrill. Disembodiment is the thrill, mediation, running desire through culture. Description, narrative. His hands are coded to his body, his body coded into flesh as the front door peels open.
LH: Can you talk more about the ideas of disembodiment and writing desire expressed in the above extract, as well as in the final pages, where these ideas are framed politically? (For example: "my strategy is bodily love," "The breakdown of security for the rich and powerful in London was tied so closely to our feet and legs and chests and arseholes I could only marvel" (177), "we used [our bodies] together like a diagram, a diagram of a process all linked, how my body worked with the body of the boy I'm next to—that became our politics because that's where power was." (178)).
Though in Chubz these themes are approached from a gay perspective, they resonate with the text read at the launch by Aimee Heinemann, who entertains a moment beyond orientation, gender and even the category of human, also facilitated by the internet:
In the future nobody will ask ASL, we will ask AVM—animal, vegetable, or mineral? Spit-and-sawdust internet cafe, the beings who have decided not to be people, linguistic post-humanism, the revolutionary potential of the intersex friendly ghost, chaotic good dragon kin, deaf transatlantic mermaid, ALL GODS NO MASTERS, the post body is the most body, be a dragon and a queen. (via)
HL: I don't know. I can't speak for Aimee. But speaking for myself, my body and the bodies of lovers is not something I've begun to come to terms with. I've never felt forced to encounter my own body like I think a lot of people, especially women, are. You can just ride around in it at as a bloke. So it's only begun as a conscious process since I started to acknowledge that. And it's much easier to come to terms with bodies through mediation because there's just so much access to mediated bodies. I do dream in drop-down UIs. I do feed upon the pornographic image as a building block of my own desires. I do think the iPhone is the country's most popular sexual prosthesis. I can't theorise beyond my immediate feelings about this any more than to say that communist politics is always, has always been and will always be a politics of bodies; of the mass worker, of the body at work, of the abject body, of bodies as tools and of the utopian ideal of the body as ours to decide. And I remain a communist, albeit one unable to coherently express a single practical political vision other than that we must get there through some sort of process of bodily self-direction.
You can't forget the panic of consummation, the burning streets, the 1000 ski masks with fat penises where the eyes of the loser militia should be.
The key to a happy, healthy life and sense of wellbeing is ensuring an intelligent relationship with your key life-brands. Keep your personal portfolio of brands fresh and balanced.
The feeling of being part of a mob bears little relation to its representation. At least, that's my experience. If you want to feel like an individual who has importance, join a mob. I enjoy situations of civil disorder because I enjoy watching people trying to kill each other.
The looter and the online pirate are the subjectivities with the clearest, most intuitive comprehension of the nature of contemporary semio-capitalism; they are the brand ambassadors, and if they cannot be harnessed they will overrun and destroy it. A strategy must be had for disempowering and utilising us: and it cannot be legislative.
The strains and insults incurred through the day, the working day, that are pushed between the two of us. We can rework the social tensions of him, the white-collar yuppy, the buy-to-let landlord, the ethicist in the supermarket aisle, the profiteer and the privateer, the bastard, the nice guy, Mr Nice Guy, the nice guy who means well, and me, the 6-month let, 6-month contract, managed and manager—we can rework those tensions between thumb and forefinger when we peel off clothes, like blu-tak.
The working life of the new European millennial is not regimented according to time-and-motion studies; it is teased by the psychological rudder of management. It is nudged, silently, friendly-like.
The future extends to the end of my contract.
LH: The temporal space occupied by Chubz is very interesting, both in terms of the near future political portraits of Farage's rise juxtaposed with his backward looking policies and hand in getting the country "gripped by 1950s fever" (79), and the postscript's allusion to "No Future," (the Sex Pistols' slogan, the title of Lee Edelman's book, and a way of describing the idea of non-reproductivity that I see in your book, both in terms of refusing to rear children, and in terms of resisting a capitalist logic of culture and labor) which sets the book's concerns in a historical context of gay culture and the gay relation to futurity in different moments. Can you comment on this?
HL: I can't help but find the idea of "No Future" dispiriting, disempowering. I suppose it's how I feel right now, how I think a lot of people, especially young people feel, so within Chubz it's a rootless, disaffected, terrified sense of no future. Part of this is the lack of any coherent public political vision of alternative, something fostered by both the government and the Labour Party in order to continue the regime of austerity, of course. But I can't find it in me to buy into an aggressive queer notion of no future as being a stand against biopolitical domination. It's a powerful piece of invective, a weapon against the totalising, aggressive dominance of the family. And I've certainly bought into it in the past, especially when put up against so much "hard-working families" bullshit. But it cedes too much. What queer people (especially young queers) need to survive, I think, and have always needed, in the face of a gender and economic system which has only ever offered an injunction of no future, is the opposite: solidarity and hope. We just need to continue our work in building that. The no future of Chubz is descriptive not prescriptive.
Chubz launched on 28 October at Jupiter Woods, London, with readings from Huw Lemmey, Aimee Heinemann, Timothy Thornton, Jesse Darling, Adam Christensen and Onyeka Igwe.
Published by Montez Press.
A very odd promotional image for the FlexScan EV2730Q
This is Rhizome Today for Friday, November 21, 2014.
[Editor's Note: We offer Rhizome Today contributors a variety of formats to use in writing their ephemeral post. An IM chat is one.]
Dragan Espenscheid: EIZO announces square monitor: http://www.eizoglobal.com/press/releases/htmls/ev2730q.html
Zachary Kaplan: I don't get it.
The latest in an ongoing series of themed collections of creative projects assembled by Prosthetic Knowledge. This edition brings together works dealing with early computational sculpture, looking at objects designed and fabricated with the computer. Add your suggested additions in the comments below.
Isa Genzken holding one of her Hyperbolos in her studio in Düsseldorf, 1982.
As with all fields of the arts, the role of computing in the field of sculpture and form-fabrication is rapidly growing. 3D printing is the most obvious example, with its now familiar method of taking a 3D design file and producing a physical object to match, line upon line from the supporting surface upwards. Also, with the assistance of programmable electronics, installations of arranged matter can be maneuvered into various forms and performances, receptive to local stimuli or external data, all of which is connected to an out-of-range laptop orchestrating the spectacle.
For this submission, though, the aim is to explore some of the earliest examples of computing and sculpture, by artists who were in a position to explore the potential in an at-the-time esoteric field. These artists glimpsed the possibilities and problems that emerge when the object becomes a digital entity, long before the rise of 3d printing.
Work by Zdeněk Sýkora from the retrospective exhibition "Barva a Prostor" ("Color and Space"), Muzeum umění Olomouc, 2010.
Structure Sinusoidal, 1965
Topological Structures, 1969
Pioneering Czech artist Zdeněk Sýkora was apparently the first artist in his country to utilize a computer (in 1966) in his works, from painting to sculpture. Via Monoskop:
In 1964, Sykora collaborated with mathematician Jaroslav Blazek to create visual computer-aided structures which used algorithms to find different combinations of abstract elements within predefined parameters. The result echoed the aesthetics of Op Art, yet his methods were his own. Then around 1973 he abandoned structural work and began to make paintings characterized by clusters of interwoven lines. These lines - everything from their hue, length, thickness, curve, direction—were determined by a computer program that mixed equal parts randomness and precise mathematics.
Here is a video (in Czech) featuring a tour of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Whilst there is a focus on the artist's paintings you can clearly see some of the computer-designed sculptures around. Zdeněk Sýkora's website; original post from PK.
Robert Mallary — Quad Series (1969)
Quad II, 1968. 711⁄2 x 11 in. TRAN2 computer sculpture in laminated veneer.
Quad IV (1970). Laminated slabs of computer-determined marble.
American artist Robert Mallary developed a computer program that could be used to design three dimensional forms by stacking two dimensional shapes, a process not so dissimilar from some 3D-printing approaches today.
The following text is taken from an interview with Mallery in the book Artist and Computer:
How/why did you become involved with the computer in producing art?
...I turned to the computer in 1967 on learning for the first time about its ability to generate and transform images. Almost immediately I realized that my earlier idea of multi-planar image synthesis could be used to describe three-dimensional forms within the computer by slicing and stacking them as two-dimensional shapes—something like a contour map. The result was my computer sculpture program TRAN2, the first version of which was written in 1968 for the IBM 1130 system at Amherst College.
Below is an extract from "Computer Sculpture: Six Levels of Cybernetics", a piece written by the artist for Artforum in May 1979.
TRAN2, the computer sculpture program which has occupied me and my student associates for the last eighteen months or so, is still at the crawling stage in terms of programming and hardware sophistication, but even at that it has opened up several possibilities for sculpture which were not available in the past. It can also be said in its favor that it embodies, even if only in skeletal form, the essential requirements of an authentic computer sculpture program. It provides several modes of data input; it gives the computer a full, three-dimensional description of the material it must work with; it provides ways to process, modify and reshape the form description input material; and it provides several kinds of graphic output usable for evaluating the computer’s productions and for physically constructing an actual sculpture if the drawings are sufficiently promising.
If a computer is to make sculpture, it must be given either a comprehensive numerical description of the basic material it is to work with, or the means to generate this material for itself. In fact, our TRAN2 program does both, using contour “slicing” as the basic method of form description and form generation. In effect, the form is sliced—much as an apple or a chunk of baloney might be sliced—into a series of thin cross sections of equal thickness which can then be graphed, digitized and encoded on computer punch cards. It is also essential that each of the slices has an axis point to position it relative to all the other slices on the vertical axis. It is by means of this “stacking” of two-dimensional data that the program converts standard computer graphic capabilities to the requirements of three-dimensional form description.
TRAN2 uses between forty-eight and a hundred contours. This is not enough for a smooth, continuous definition of the form (i.e., without a visible demarcation, or “step,” between one contour and the next), but it is a practical minimum considering the limited capacity of the Amherst College IBM 1130 computer for which TRAN2 is programmed.
Seek— Nicholas Negroponte with the Architecture Machine Group , MIT (1969-1970)
Seek is an installation by artist Nicholas Negroponte in collaboration with the Marchitecture Machine Group, originally debuting at the "Software" exhibition (1970) at the Jewish Museum in New York. The installation consists of several gerbils inhabiting an enclosed space filled with blocks that are arranged and rearranged by a robotic arm. As the computer manipulates the environment, in a sense, the piecee becomes a sort of Minecraft for rodents.
The project was described in the catalogue for "Software" as follows:
Seek is a sensing / affecting device controlled by a small general purpose computer. In contrast to an input/output-peripheral, Seek is a mechanism that senses the physical environment, affects that environment, and in turn, attempts to handle local unexpected events within the environment. Seek deals with toy blocks which it can stack, align and sort. At the same time, these blocks form the built environment for a small colony of gerbils which live within Seek's three-dimensional world.
Unbeknownst to Seek, the little animals are bumping into blocks, disrupting constructions, and toppling towers. The result is a substantial mismatch between the three-dimensional reality and the computed remembrances which reside in the memory of Seek 's computer. Seek's role is to deal with these inconsistencies. In the process, Seek exhibits inklings of a responsive behavior inasmuch as the actions of the gerbils are not predictable and the reactions of Seek purposefully correct or amplify gerbil-provoked dislocations.
José Luis Alexanco — MOUVNT Series (1969-1973)
Escultura MOUVNT, 1972.
Escultura MOUVNT, 1972.
Escultura MOUVNT, 1972.
Spanish artist José Luis Alexanco created a series of works by using a computer program that manipulated the contours of the human figure. From the website of the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid:
José Luis Alexanco’s work was already involved in the application of computer processes to human figure representation when he joined the first year of the Seminar on the Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms (1968-1973) at the Computer Centre of the Complutense University of Madrid. Of all those taking part in the seminar, Alexanco was the only artist able to do his own programming. The MOUVNT sculptures are a demonstration of his artistic investigation into computer-generated shapes and forms. To create them, the computer began with basic shapes taken from the synthesis of the human figure, and then applied transformations created by turning, expanding, transposing and interpolating and combining the shapes. Finally, the MOUVNT sculptures materialised as resin-coated laminates, through a process of feeding the computer information about the contours of the forms and transformations, meaning Alexanco could create around three hundred different sculptures from a single method. The Museo Reina Sofía keeps seven sculptures from the series, and the MOUVNT computer programme (1969-1973) that was used to generate them.
A program code itself—the algorithm that generated Alexanco's three-dimensional forms from human shapes, also part of the Reina Sofía collection—has become an artistic artifact:
Below is a computer generated plotter sketch for several sculptures, found in the August 1977 edition of Computer Graphics and Art (more on that here).
Ron Resch, Vegreville Pysanka (1973)
This Ukrainian-style rotating Easter egg made by Ron Resch in 1973 was the first public sculpture designed with 3D design software. From "The World Largest Easter Egg and What Came Out of It" by Jim Blinn published in 1988 in IEE Computer Graphics and Animations:
The problem was how to build an ellipsoid, but an actual replica of a chicken egg on a grand scale… Fortunately, Resch had already been creating and experimenting with the modular tiling of general surfaces in 3D with a view toward architectural applications… Resch chose to build the egg out of flat aluminum plates. The question then was how to design a pattern of triangles that could be fabricated and connected together to achieve the egg's shape, decorative pattern, and structure, while still preserving his constraint of modular tiling…The program of Resch and Christiansen just specified some variable for the folding, and it simulated whatever surface resulted from the rigid polygon mesh.
The result was the first physical structure designed with computer-aided geometric modeling software.
Original post from PK.
Isa Genzken's Ellipsoids and Hyperbolos
Grün-orange-graues Hyperbolo "El Salvador," 1980.
Now featured as part of a major touring retrospective opening soon at the Dallas Museum of Art, Isa Genzken's early work included a series of wooden sculptures produced with the aid of the computer. Her 1976 wooden sculpture (Ellipse No. 1) was shown alongside a computer plotter drawing in which two curved lines were drawn in a spear shape.
Computerzeichnung (Computer Drawing) (1976). Dot-matrix printout on continuous paper, 14 3⁄4 × 172 7/16" (lost).
From there, she went on to make two series of wooden sculptures—Ellipsoids, which have contact with the floor only at one point in the middle, and Hyperbolos, which touch the floor only on their ends—that were constructed from templates designed on a computer. This was done with the collaboration of a physics student, Ralph Krotz, and cabinet maker Hermann Hertel. From the catalogue for "Isa Genzken: Retrospective":
A letter dated October 4, 1979, in which Genzken again explained that she wanted to "call on" her engineer friend's "arts of calculation" in order to create mathematically correct sculptures, provides a glimpse into the production process that followed the technical drawing. On the computer printout, which represented the sculpture at actual scale, for example, Krotz entered longitudinal and cross-sectional dimensions every ten centimeters. Genzken then trans- formed these into small wooden molds that corresponded to negative forms of the sculpture segments, which, in combination, illustrated the curve. In Hermann Hertel, the cabinetmaker at the Düsseldorf Academy, Genzken found the crucial third person, a woodworking specialist who could help her to realize her sculptures (fig. 13). He would first glue up a rough wooden shape in the maximum dimensions of the desired form and then remove what was necessary, constantly checking against Genzken’s negative templates. Once the final shape was achieved, it was painted in different colors and textures in an equally complex process in which Genzken again collaborated with a specialist.
This is Rhizome Today for Monday, November 24, 2014.
One of my favorite parts in Chop Suey is this short animation featuring the moon. He seems at first to be world-weary and slightly menacing—he tells the little girls he can look into their bedroom and see their dreams—but his benevolence also shows through. People have talked about the sophistication of Theresa Duncan's writing about perfume, and I think this clip offers some sense of how sensorial her use of language was. I started to pull out some extracts, but I'd rather you just watch the video, tbh.
This morning, we're 15% of the way to our $20,000 goal to make Chop Suey and two other Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs available for free online. Please support this project today!
The latest in a series of interviews with artists whose work makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Zachary Kaplan: A few months back, I was on my way to your studio just as you posted a picture of Anna Wintour walking down the street (maybe at Prince and Thompson?). At first I thought, "Why is Anna Wintour skulking around SoHo alone, and how great is this photo?". But then I worried, "Jeanette's not going to be at her studio; she's out in the world capturing this picture that seems so 'on brand.'" When I arrived at your studio in Nolita, though, you were there working on some stuff for New Hive. That all of this seemed to be happening at once—the instagram of Anna Wintour, the in-progress montages, the general thrum of your studio—felt very specific.
Your practice, and its reception, seem fully embedded in social media feeds: Instagram, Twitter, Vine, etc. Can we begin by you guiding me through a day of your work, describing how all of these feeds and networks flow into and out of your practice?
Jeanette Hayes: I have a few shows coming up, and my studio is in my apartment, so I try to keep as "normal" as a schedule as I can. I wake up around 8 or 9, go downstairs to get a coffee and come back up, do a lil email and then start painting. My feeds come into play because I can't sit still for too long. So after a while I start checking the 'gram, twitter, etc. while working.
Then by the time it's night time, who knows. Every day is different. I feel like this is pretty much how everyone works? Everyone tweets or posts to fb and Instagrams constantly in between whatever else they're doing. Everyone just has a cool life and is down to share it, including me. I think living in NYC gives me an advantage because I see and experience great things all of the time.
I'm not precious with my social media. I stay very busy IRL and take pictures of everything, but I'm not always a post-as-I-go kinda girl. I don't have any rules or formula to this — sometimes I post something right away and other times I'll save something for later. Some things might be from that morning, others might be from 2 years ago, others might be from Paris Hilton's Instagram yesterday. And if I post it and I then decide I'm not into it, I'll j delete. I have no problem with deleting something if it's not working for me. I know this is another thing ppl are sometimes precious about (I know not you, Rhizome. Re: Rhizome today ;] ).
Posting on these different outlets is kind of just the sprinkles on top of the ice cream sundae that is my life. At the end of the day when I'm tired of painting or when I come home from whatever and can't sleep, after I've gone through all of my RSS feeds and social media feeds, I go through who I follow's feeds and their followers' feeds and my followers' feeds and who they are following's feeds. I've seen everyone's everything on every outlet. If you're reading this right now, I've seen everything you've ever posted anywhere. I promise you that.
So you're following everyone, everywhere—a claim I kinda actually believe looking at 13k+ favs on Twitter—and you're making your digital work in relation to and to be embedded in that feed, right? Can you detail your development on those feeds where you've made so much work—tumblr, dump.fm, Twitter, etc.?
When I started college, I got into tumblr. My first non pre-fab-themed tumblr was major trolling (I think it was 2008?). When I learned about Tino Sehgal in contemporary art lecture class, I was appalled at an artist who, as a practice, was not to be identified, and I thought it was like a challenge. [Sehgal stipulates that his performances, or "constructed situations," should not be documented - Ed.] Idk why but my response was to make him a discrediting tumblr (just for my professor to see). It was a total troll move, but it was LOL. On this tumblr "Tino" re-invented himself as a gossip-blog-loving, acronym-using, hater-hating contemporary artist with the aesthetic of a livejournal girl who has decided to get with the times and just be famous. I emailed it to my professor and asked for extra credit. I was reprimanded — lmao. Worth it.
I made more traditional tumblrs (je4nette.tumblr.com, justshutty.tumblr.com, and some others that don't exist anymore) where I made gifs, posted screen shots to, and also reposted things that I just liked.
And then dump.fm rolled around. I always considered participation with internet somehow artistic, even just in appreciation, but now it was like an internet contest of surfing and meme-ing and giffing. So my surfing and gif making skills got really fast here. This grew into me getting lucky/skilled enough to work with companies to make gifs. Now, I make gifs for companies pretty regularly, but my relationship with technology and the internet has taken a social media twist.
As an artist, you emerged and developed alongside the social web—you point to 2008 as the beginning of what's now your practice, and, of course, that was Twitter's breakthrough year and when Facebook launched the profile wall. That you've continued to find new things to mine in the social web points at its neverending becoming: that is, making things online and sharing them and having that conversation changes so much so frequently, is always changing.
There has always been the social aspect of the internet, but, to me, that's what seems to have taken over. Well, not just for me, but I think with everyone. The internet is now just for news, looking things up and telling everyone in the world... something. And then seeing what everyone else has to say. I feel like it used to be more about pure exploring and we were all hunters, unsure of what we were even looking for. This was when exploring the web was a special thing, when you could just look through insane found websites for hours and comb through the outer links and find true secrets of beauty and weirdness.
The internet doesn't have that in the same way anymore; it's no longer the wild wild west world wide web. It's kind of like Starbucks bought it and all effort is really just put towards people's Facebooks. The craziest links you can find are found by Buzzfeed and turned into clickbait. Community-based threads don't have the power they used to anymore. It's all a bit watered down imo. Of course, there are exceptions, but overall, it doesn't have that same special magic. But Instagram might have that magic…. I love finding Instagram secrets. On Instagram, I can go through hashtags for days and find things unlike I've ever seen before.
The real internet exploring is there for me these days. I wish IG would let you search multiple hashtags or even just captions that aren't hashtagged. Or by color. But maybe it's because you have to work for searching that it remains a bit elusive and precious.
Come si Dice Webcam Girls, 2013, oil on canvas, 50x27 inches
You're always online, but you're also often in your tightly-apportioned Nolita studio making paintings, perhaps with CNN on in the background and the device on elsewhere, but still more or less alone making marks on canvas. In a way, this is a very traditional painting practice, and yet the subject-matter with your new work seems to function in relationship to fan communities, artworld and pop? And the subject of the old works seem to involve the shifting of a paradigm for painting away from the window on the world, and toward the screen?
Last year, I did a show at Motelsalieri in Rome, and all of the paintings I did for this show were direct juxtaposition between old master paintings and current day technology. I liked these paintings, but they suddenly became too one-to-one for me, and I decided that maybe it's better to just keep the internet on the internet, for now at least. As much as I was and am still trying to keep my painting practice separate from my interweb life, they're very connected. I'm still interested in correlations in art history and contemporary living, but I wanted to make it more about pure painterly painting.
For the last year I've been creating large scale paintings about the similarities in abstract expressionism (specifically Willem de Kooning) and anime (specifically Sailor Moon). This all started from this gif I made in photoshop:
And from this, I've now made an extensive series of these paintings. But they're all composed in Photoshop, and then I project and draw and paint and build layers over a few weeks until they are beasts. Here are a couple of them:
DeMooning 2,2014, oil on vinyl, 50x60"
DeMooning 6, 2014, oil on vinyl, 50x60"
As for fan art, all portraiture is fan art. But, I did also send these to Sailor Moon fan art pages, and I'll tag these on Instagram #sailormoon. They'll say "I love this." It's just a very supportive space, any time there's a fan posting anything, and these are in no way degrading the characters.
I've been really enjoying painting these, and now, I'm moving into even more into abstraction with them. I've never painted like this so it's very fun to explore. I'll keep you updated.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
The first html I ever customized in the slightest was my xanga page in high school. I didn't think of it as a creative move at the time, but some of the pages I made were sick—I wish I had screenshots.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Pratt, studying painting and art history.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
For a living, I am an artist.
When I was in college—for all four years—I did a work study job as a lab monitor in the computer labs.
When I was a sophomore, I interned at SculptureCenter in Long Island City.
And then, when I was a junior and senior, I started working for artists as an assistant.
That lasted for about a year after I graduated, and then, I was lucky enough to be able to support myself just via my own work. Oh also, right after I graduated—I made mini paintings for FAO Schwarz dollhouses. That was a good job tbh.
What does your desktop or workspace look like?
Right now I have an iMac and a MacBook Pro. The desktops on both are disastrous. The laptop is a bit more organized, but only because my startup disk is almost full, so I keep having to clear it out.
My actual desktop that my computers sit on is usually pretty tidy: usually lots of papers around though lol. I keep my computers in the middle of my painting studio so I spend a lot of time very close by even when I'm away ;)
This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at rhizome.org/today.
As when the news of Michael Brown's death first broke through into national conversation, the past few days I've seen people tweeting and facebooking about the level of filtering that goes on in our social media feeds during times of public outcry. Sensing distortion in her own feed during the August #Ferguson protests, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci compared filtering across platforms for related terms. She made clear the threat, asking: "Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?"
Yet in the days following the grand jury decision, while on certain sites still slow to trend, Ferguson is now more or less everywhere, being felt and experienced visibly and globally. (See, for instance, the hashtags in solidarity circulating in other regions.). It is unknown whether this is the result of a skew in the algorithm in response to criticism about the lack of visibility in August, or an increase in personal responses that burst a strong-as-ever bubble.
The study of "digital phenomena"—how they are shaped by algorithms and locale, how they leak into the streets, the efficacy of online or offline protest, the quantification of circulation via that trope of the sudden spike in a graph—doesn't really describe the difficulties and pitfalls inherent in trying to interpret the events of Ferguson from a geographic, or academic, distance. To correct for that, I think it's helpful to look, as well, to a project like Martine Syms' continually compelling Reading Trayvon Martin. The project collects Syms' personal bookmarks in a long, text-only list, serving as a record of the intense attention she paid to the trial. This simple bibliographic format speaks to the familiar and widely shared experience of navigating through the onslaught of press, witness accounts, and opinions in order to position yourself within a broader "public opinion."
But the bibliography is overlaid by images of the objects that surrounded Martin's killing, and became synecdoches for that loss and for the larger public tragedy of racism and violence in America: the hoodie, the Skittles, the Arizona iced tea. If immersing oneself in the flows of news can lead to a problematic sense of detachment, objectivity, or fascination, Syms' project is a reminder that at the heart of this conversation is very real grief, demanding empathy and solidarity.