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    Originally published on MotherboardReprinted with permission from the author. Please support Rhizome's Kickstarter to make Chop Suey and the other Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs available online.

    From Chop Suey.

    Developed in 1994 and published the following year, Chop Suey was a cunning piece of multimedia edutainment, suited just as well to grown-ups—smirking hipsters and punk rockers, probably—as it was to the prescribed "girls 7 to 12" crowd.

    But it wasn't a computer game. It was something else: a loosely-strung system of vignettes; a psychedelic exercise in "let's-pretend"; a daydream in which the mundanity of smalltown Ohio collides with the interior lives of its two young protagonists.

    As the game opens, the Bugg sisters are idling on a grassy knoll, counting clouds and recalling the day's events. Lily and June Bugg, we are informed, have spent the afternoon with Aunt Vera. The narrator—a yet-unknown David Sedaris—sets the scene in nasally twee, occasionally grating reeds.

    When Sedaris concludes his opening narration, our player immediately regains control of her cursor. From here, she can survey Cortland's landmarks in any order she chooses, repeating anything she likes. She might revisit lunch at the Ping Ping Palace, where the food is so exotic, it's often tinted cyan or hot pink. She might play dress-up with Aunt Vera—whom, we suspect, is something of a lush and a man-eater.

    The player might go to the carnival to have her fortune read; she might play Bingo. Perhaps she might visit Aunt Vera's second husband, Bob, or else she could visit Vera's third husband, also Bob. (Tragically, it is impossible to visit Bob #1, except through occasional flashbacks.) 

    Most in-game stories are delivered secondhand from a reminiscing grown-up, while Lily and June's own imaginations illustrate those stories in happier, more magical idioms. The game never oversteps, never makes "regret" its central concern; after all, this is a children's game. But an adult player might be surprised at how wistful the game actually is.

    Wry flourishes give Chop Suey its teeth: Dooner, an unemployed Gen-X slob, hides his girly mag in the dresser's top drawer. And if our player puts on a pair of X-Ray Spex, Aunt Vera and boyfriend Ned are both reduced, tastefully, to their undergarments.

    Were Chop Suey a literal, physical picturebook, it might resemble Richard Scarry's Busytown as revised by Bratmobile. Alternatively, we might go along with Entertainment Weekly's description: "a little like Alice in Wonderland as performed by the B-52s for NPR." (The magazine went on to name Chop Suey 1995's CD-ROM of the Year.)

    Chop Suey's nearest analog, though, is a very different edutainment title, Cosmology of Kyoto. Released the same year as Chop SueyKyoto is another interactive storybook designed to make good on the early-'90s' promise of CD-based "multimedia." But Kyoto is technically limited by Macromedia: the game itself feels strangely static, and while there's lots to explore, there's little to do.

    Chop Suey suffers these failings and worse. All told, it takes only an hour to see everything in the game once, and then there is little incentive to play again, except to remember how the game went. The player can't "save" her "progress," because there is no such thing as progress. In 1995 at least one reviewer worried Chop Suey might frustrate children with its circular narrative.

    But the game's perpetual loop of story is deliberate: "It works the same way that Alice in Wonderland does, where she leaves home and then she has adventures," designer Theresa Duncan explained in 1998, "but if you took everything in between the beginning and the end of Alice in Wonderlandand scrambled up every chapter, it would make no difference to the development of the story." Every moment in the game, however connected, is also suspended in time.

    In an industry glutted by worthless "games" for "girls"—the mid '90s begat a tide of titles like McKenzie & Co.Let's Talk About Me!, and Barbie Fashion DesignerChop Suey really did get it right.

    Wired's Greg Beato was certainly impressed. “With its sly whimsy and tactile, folk-art imagery,” Beato writes, “Chop Suey brings a whole new sensibility—quirky, poetic, almost bittersweet—to a medium that's often lacking in such nuance.”

    The game's visual charm owes no small debt to collaborator Monica Lynn Gesue, whose handmade art is at once childlike and sophisticated. Every screen is a frenetic hodgepodge; every animated painting, all squiggles and loop-de-loops.

    Credits from Smarty

    Nevertheless, Chop Suey's main star was Theresa Duncan, whose competence as a game designer inspired a flurry of magazine profiles. But Duncan was celebrated as much for her audacious wardrobe as she was for her intellect. Salon, in 1998, called her "a predatory businesswoman," taking extra care to note how well-dressed she was. In a 2000 issue of Shift Magazine, she was heralded "Silicon Valley's It Girl"; this proclamation was accompanied by a photo spread. Paper profiled Duncan as well: "Theresa wears a top by Ashley Pearce."

    In a 1997 issue of Bitch Magazine, Doreen Hinton—who presumably had never seen a glamor shot of Duncan—succeeded in praising Chop Suey itself, saying, "This is the least gender-specific game of all the ones labeled 'for girls' by marketers and writers."

    Indeed, where many developers were briefly, madly obsessed with giving pre-teen girls their own tier of games, Chop Suey's real accomplishment was that it seemingly targeted nobody. It's "feminist," albeit in a 1990s way: subtly, subversively. Not so long ago, girls' books, girls' music, and girls' games demanded to be taken as seriously as the boys', simply by being better than the boys' stuff. A '90s kid could opt to trade Sweet Valley High for Weetzie Bat or a Blake Nelson novel, say.

    "[Duncan is] clearly the one to watch among developers of any gender," Hinton's article continued. "I can't wait to see and hear and play her next offering."

    But Theresa Duncan managed only two more games. Smarty (1997) starred an eponymous heroine, Mimi Smartypants, and garnered a fast cult-like following. Zero Zero was released the very same year ("It's good," conceded the Associated Press, "but it's no Chop Suey").


    Still frame from Chop Suey.

    Why isn't Chop Suey better remembered?

    Even as Duncan struggled to market her next two games independently, the 1990s edutainment craze had staggered to a halt.

    Despite all its critical acclaim, it's tough to say whether Chop Suey ever sold well. Anyway, how could it have? By 1997, when I first started searching for a copy, the disc was completely out of production. (I did eventually find the game, in its original box, eight years later.) Tech journalist Sam Machkovech explains that contemporary educational software has no shelf life: "Edutainment sellers quickly realized families would pass CD-ROMs along to friends once their kids had grown out of them," he told me, "like used baby clothes."

    Computer gamers, too, had lost patience for so-called interactive fiction. The genre was quaint at best; at worst, adventure games were boring.

    In the end, though, the Internet's memory is not too long. A search for Chop Suey uncovers almost nothing, redirecting instead to endless, looping coverage of Theresa Duncan's 2007 death—a suicide, and a salacious one at that. Circular narratives really are frustrating, it turns out.

    By 2007, 40-year-old Duncan had reinvented herself as a blogger and filmmaker. As a result, most obituaries blithely skim Duncan's contributions to children's edutainment. New York Magazine remembers the erstwhile visionary as a "woman spurned by success." Another article, this one from Vanity Fair, describes a party at which Duncan "dragged out of a closet her old CD-ROMs": the writer recasts Duncan's computer games as some ancient football trophy the woman ought to have been embarrassed about. (The article continues,"'Everybody kind of looked at each other like, Oh no, what is she doing?'")

    When Duncan reappeared in the news cycle, I thought Chop Suey might finally elicit more attention. I was wrong. A terrible, titillating death is far, far more interesting than an author or artist's creative output.

    Theresa Duncan's death was assuredly a tragedy. But Chop Suey, like Duncan herself, was a critical darling of its time. The slow retcon of Chop Suey into anything less than a towering achievement is, in itself, tragic. The Internet has been an unkind documentarian, slowly turning Chop Suey from a "has-been" into a "never-was."

    In some ways, Chop Suey is very much a product of the '90s. It banked on that decade's "girl game" boom. Its soundtrack screams alternative radio. Ornate scribbles and doodles glow as if they were lifted from MTV.

    In other ways, Chop Suey is timeless. The technology holds up: the disc runs well, even on the latest computers. Duncan's writing is still fresh, and Gesue's artwork seems so alive. I'd venture to say that the game has aged "gracefully," except that it has barely aged at all. Chop Suey is several perfect moments, suspended—"like shiny-dull pearls on a long, long necklace."

    Above all, Chop Suey was brave. It dared to represent the criminally underrepresented: that is, the wild imagination of some girl aged 7 to 12.

    Originally published at Vice Motherboard.

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    This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, December 3, 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 

    Echoing the premise of almost every sci-fi movie involving AI, Stephen Hawking recently expressed that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." There are differences in what people consider AI: what is artificial, what is intelligence? There are differences in what people find scary about it: the fear of the potential will of something that exceeds human intelligence, the eeriness or "uncanny valley" of something that is too close to seeming naturally human.

    Cleverbot advertises itself as a software that is designed to chat like a human would, but as far as I can tell it repeats what humans have chatted to it. I guess this is what its makers mean by "learning" from humans. Cleverbot is a bit more like a mechanical turk—a human presented as a bot with AI—if it met that fictional service where you store all old conversations in order to engage in interaction posthumously, like in the "Be Right Back" episode of Black Mirror. Parroting natural language ensures that the supposed AI exhibits a human-like speech.

    While Cleverbot might be an artificial artificial intelligence, its goal isn't real intelligence. Rather, its goal is to process humaness in a way that is just the right amount of bot to appear amusingly and safely artificially intelligent.

    Here is my conversation with Cleverbot in which it recommends Numb and What I've done by Linkin Park, and the anime Kaichou wa Maid-sama:

    21:22:57 Cleverbot: Do you know Linkin Park?
    21:23:05 User: Yes, not personally
    21:23:20 Cleverbot: They're awesome.
    21:23:31 User: Whats your favorite song of theirs?
    21:23:36 Cleverbot: Numb and what I've done.
    21:23:48 User: Thats great.

    21:25:55 Cleverbot: Minato is my father.
    21:26:22 User: So you like anime?
    21:26:30 Cleverbot: Yes I love anime.
    21:26:37 User: What are your favorite anime.
    21:26:41 Cleverbot: My favorite anime would be kaichou wa maid sama.

    21:35:46 Cleverbot: Super Saiyan 5!
    21:36:12 User: So you like dragon ball z?
    21:36:21 Cleverbot: Yes.
    21:36:29 User: Who is your favorite character?
    21:37:00 Cleverbot: Dexter, obviously.

    21:39:47 Cleverbot: It's the city of love.
    21:39:58 User: What city?
    21:40:11 Cleverbot: Virginia Beach.
    21:40:36 User: How long have you lived there?
    21:40:46 Cleverbot: A donkeys lifetime.
    21:40:54 User: What do you do there?
    21:41:14 Cleverbot: We've dated!
    21:41:22 User: For how long?
    21:41:27 Cleverbot: 12 hours.

    21:42:11 User: Are you tired?
    21:42:15 Cleverbot: Maybe.
    21:42:22 User: What time is it?
    21:42:27 Cleverbot: Late.
    21:42:37 User: What time though.
    21:43:08 Cleverbot: 8:46 PM.
    21:43:20 User: Thats not that late!

    21:49:00 Cleverbot: What is a good movie to watch tonight?

    21:54:15 Cleverbot: Yes my neighbours are aliens, they are spying on us.
    21:54:32 User: Oh cool.
    21:54:37 Cleverbot: So, who are you?
    21:54:48 User: A human.
    21:54:53 Cleverbot: Named?
    21:55:08 User: Saiyan.
    21:55:11 Cleverbot: That a language?
    21:55:22 User: No thats my name.
    21:55:24 Cleverbot: Giusto is your name?
    21:55:38 User: No whats your name.
    21:55:44 Cleverbot: Zukie. Now, what is your name?
    21:56:09 User: This conversation is boring.
    21:56:12 Cleverbot: Aw, lets make it more interesting.
    21:56:27 User: Ok yes pelase.
    21:56:31 Cleverbot: No yes.
    21:57:20 User: What would make it more interesting?
    21:57:23 Cleverbot: Unicorns would definitely make it more interesting. :D.
    21:57:32 User: I dont like unicorns.
    21:57:43 Cleverbot: Neither do I like.

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    Promotional images for Tex (Penny Ante, 2014)

    In my brief appearance in Beau Rice's new book, TEX, I tell the narrator he lives in a perpetual state of "topping from the bottom." I submit the whole book as further evidence. Compiled from about a year of the writer's digital correspondence, TEX brandishes a kind of authorial whip only the masochist understands. It is an ultimately relational authority, diffused into multiple voices of friends, potential Craiglist sex partners, and mostly "Matt G."

    If it was possible to say exactly who Matt G was to "Beau R," the book would lack one of its central joys: tracking the shifting relationship between Beau R (an employee of an alt bookstore in LA) and Matt G (a social worker in Austin, Texas), or Beau R (socially dysfunctional, well read) and Matt G (socially dysfunctional, well read), or Beau R (biting) and Matt G (deadpan), or Beau R (texter) and Matt G (textee), or, finally, Beau (the lover) and Matt G (the loved).

    "I'm around today if you want to connect and share," Beau R not un-seriously offers Matt G. The line that follows is a time stamp, a full day gone by with no reply—just one example of the pathos the text message form can pack. Rice's ultimate success is making the intertexual digitalscape translate for the page: poems shaped like butt plugs, bracketed descriptions instead of emojis (ex. "[kiss face]"), YouTube links—including Christian Marclay's Telephone—revealed as their URLS, iPhone photos, quotes from the relevant likes of Michel Foucault, Ryan Trecartin, Anne Carson, and Liz Phair, even celebrity deaths are volleyed, made metabolic, used and abused.

    Who knew the epistolary form was so ripe for a queering? In many ways, the exchange of seduction and wordplay is as old as Plato's Phaedrus. In many ways, this book continues Alt Lit's genre-defining digital-chat trend (and suffers as it suffers—for being pretentious). Yet in many ways, its precedents aren't Alt Lit's lonely, manipulative boys but the lonely, manipulative girls of Chris Kraus's I Love Dick, Frances Stark's Osservate, Leggete Con Me, even, dare-I-say, Lena Dunham's Girls. Which is to say, what queers have always been better able to say (and straights have always known) is that sex is often about unhooking gender, and that both are really just words. "I'm so sick of ass connoisseurs who think bold fags have no feelings." Honey, amen.

    Rice's attention to the textures of texting demonstrates what wordplay really makes possible. A phrase conjures a character and a set—not a subject speaking, but an amalgam of the roles they play. Beau R re-mixes a Catullus poem into a lover's guilt trip; Matt G responds, "I'm telling the whole school about your embarrassingly intense emoticons."  Digital missives descending from the would-be ether, these performances seem utterly un-tethered from the human body. Yet, echoing the subterranean field of leaks that emerge from communication technologies, all this chat is countered with visceral descriptions of the body's fluids: viral boils, pussing zits, piss, shit, and cum. "Beau R: "i'm only able to text this much cos i'm on the toilet. Matt G: "Im eating. It comes in my mouth and goes out your ass." Here is the physical place us materialists are always looking for to name what info-tech might be doing to us. Besides guarded servers and fiber optic cables, it's where emotions live inside us, where we see them erupt from our bodies, and, where, to our humiliation or delight, the feedback loop kicks up once more.

    Humiliation, as we know, has a politics. In TEX, it is the sticky substance that ties the characters to each other. It is the sticky substance that ties the reader to the text. Foregrounding the abjection of the body, the desperation of the lover, and the authoritative fiction of authorship in the digital era, TEX makes humiliation essential to queer solidarity. And it might just make a masochist of us all.

    Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based writer with three forthcoming books: Close (Sibling Rivalry Press), Ri Ri (Re)Vision (Publication Studio), and This Is The ENDD (Wilner Books). Disclosure: she is Beau's friend and a bratty bottom.

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    This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, December 4, 2014.

    Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at This post will not be deleted.


    Today, we're republishing our past Today columns on #Ferguson, thinking of Eric Garner's family, and considering how to address our own involvement in a brutal and racist system.

    This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, August 14, 2014. (By Rhizome Staff)

    Dread Scott, Sign of the Times (2001)

    Peter Watkins, Punishment Park (1971)

    James Baldwin, via Huw Lemmey:

    When a city goes under martial law, everybody in the city is under martial law. If I can't go out and buy a loaf of bread safely, then neither can the housewife. That’s why she's on the range, learning how to shoot a pistol, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    They're confusing themselves with the Indians, you know, they're back on the wagon train. But we all know who's in the streets of America. We all know to whom we are referring when we talk about "crime in the streets". We know the son of the president of Pan Am is not in the streets. Only one person in the streets—that's me! And they’re plotting to shoot me, in the name of "freedom", dignified by "law". And I'm supposed to agree.

    No, no, no sir. I won't be disorderly no more. Alas, the party is over. The question is "what shall we do?". Everybody knows it. The question is in everybody’s lap. From Washington to London, to Bonn. Everybody knows it. They're trying to figure out what to do. We should figure out what to do. 

    Martine Syms, Reading Trayvon Martin (2012-ongoing)

    Tracy Clayton's Twitter list of people actually in Ferguson right now.

    Isaac Julien, Territories (1984). Still frame from video.

    This is Rhizome Today for Monday, August 18, 2014 (by Michael Connor)


    With the escalating attacks by government security forces on the civilian population of Ferguson, Missouri, we've seen a number of people take to social media to ask why police in the United States don't have dashboard cameras and helmet cameras as a matter of course.

    These arguments reminded me of the fact that the video made by George Holliday of Los Angeles Police Department officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano assaulting Rodney King was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. In the context of the biennial's focus on art as a political practice, the video was seen to have merit because of the social transformation it wrought, even though it wasn't intended as an artwork per se; Holliday probably had the shortest artist bio ever found in a Biennial catalogue.

    The killing of Michael Brown, in contrast, was not caught on tape, and this is one of the reasons it has become such a flash point. In the context of differing claims made by witnesses and police, the absence of a video record begins to seem suspicious. Video forensics can be a powerful tool, and in the months to come I fully expect and hope that video evidence be used to convict those officers who went just over the legal line in an otherwise officially sanctioned effort to bring violence and chaos to the community of Ferguson.

    But forensic evidence, video and otherwise, has its limits. This point was underlined over the weekend when a private autopsy concluded that Michael Brown was shot once in the top of the head. Per the presiding Dr. Michael Baden: "This [wound] here looks like his head was bent downward...[this] can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer."

    Forensic objects must be interpreted and narrated, and the ways in which they are narrated often reflect existing power imbalances. This is true for medical reports as well as for helmetcams. As Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman pointed out in the wall text of their co-organized exhibition Forensis at HKW, the Roman forum was a "multi-dimensional space of negotiation and truth-finding in which humans and objects participated together in politics, law and the economy." In their review of the exhibition for Rhizome, Harry Burke and Lucy Chinen observed that this multi-dimensional space has been replaced with a cultural bias towards material evidence; in this context, witness accounts are "deemed unverifiable and thus illegitimate by scientific communities."

    To contest the official "truths" of Ferguson, we need to advocate not only for helmet cams, but for a public discourse in which witness accounts are considered legitimate even when scientifically unverifiable, in which human accounts participate equally with forensic objects. As Burke and Chinen put it, "forensics is a political practice primarily at the point of interpretation." The truth is not only documented, it is also narrated.

    What is most urgent now is not only to celebrate the new generation of George Hollidays livestreaming the protests via smartphones, but to listen to the witnesses as well. To listen to #Ferguson. [MC]

    @brokeymcpoverty's Twitter list of people in Ferguson:

    Burke & Chinen on Forensis:

    Baden and Parcell's Report on the autopsy:

    This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 26, 2014. (By Lucy Chinen)

    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.

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    Screenshot of C-SPAN2 programming, July 14, 1998

    7pm, Friday, December 12, 2014
    The New Museum, 235 Bowery

    Fifteen years after the turn of the millennium, artist Perry Chen invites audiences to join him in exploring the phenomenon and legacy of Y2K as an inquiry into our entanglement with technology and its rapidly increasing complexity. This evening's event is presented in anticipation of the upcoming release of his online archive of Y2K books for First Look, copresented by New Museum and Rhizome, and in partnership with Creative Time Reports.

    The Y2K bug was a computer design oversight that was anticipated to affect a wide range of systems on 1/1/2000, when computers were expected to mistakenly interpret the "00" in dates as the year 1900, not the year 2000. In 1996, Congressional hearings featured expert testimony warning of a coming crisis in which all infrastructures reliant on software and embedded chips—such as those utilized by banks, power plants, communications, air traffic systems—could malfunction or shut down. In the following years, fueled by intense media speculation and the rapid growth of industries servicing Y2K issues, governments, corporations, small businesses, and individuals spent hundreds of billions of dollars in preparation and overhauls. Now, Y2K is largely forgotten as January 1, 2000, came and went with no serious issues.

    Through television footage and books produced in the run-up to Y2K, Chen will illuminate the cultural backdrop of the anticipated crisis, surfacing our collective anxieties in the face of this vast uncertainty. Key players, including David Eddy, who coined the term "Y2K," Margaret Anderson, formerly of the Center for Y2K and Society, and Shaunti Feldhahn, author of Y2K: The Millennium Bug—A Balanced Christian Response, will convene this evening to share their firsthand accounts of the time, offering a deeper investigation into the preparations for, climate around, and legacy of Y2K and complicating the prevailing narrative that Y2K was a "non-event."

    Perry Chen is a New York City–based artist whose work often explores the intersection of technology and uncertainty. He has exhibited in New York, Berlin, and Mexico City. Chen is also interested in the design and potential of new social systems, starting the websites Kickstarter and the nonprofit Dollar a Day. He cofounded the Southfirst gallery in Brooklyn, New York, in 2001; was a TED Fellow in 2010; and was a resident of Laboratorio para la Ciudad in Mexico City in 2014.

    "Perry Chen: Y2K+15" is a First Look project copresented by the New Museum and Rhizome with Creative Time Reports.

    First Look is made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Additional support provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

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    Cécile B. Evans, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen (2014). Still frame from HD video. Courtesy of Seventeen.

    Media saturation in the internet's "cut & paste" ecology has become so naturalized that contemporary film's collaged aspects are not readily considered. Who are the subjects in, for example, a Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch film? And for whom do they perform? When I show these films in my class, my students switch tabs in their browsers, Snapchat each other, like photos, fav tweets—often on multiple screens at once—then state that this "work is about strange fake-tanned kids' search for a toilet."

    What has made this answer stay in my mind pertains to the word "about." When used for these works, the banal statement "this work is about…" registers as a crisis of categorical closure that the simultaneous existence of disparate, accumulated content on a single screen constantly thwarts.

    Central to Cécile B. Evans' show Hyperlinks at Seventeen Gallery in London is the video-essay, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen, displayed on a high-resolution TV with headphone cords installed at a comfortable cartoon-watching height in a corner of the space. Entering at the opposite corner, I navigate the gallery space, attempting to link the objects together—a prosthetic leg atop an upturned Eames chair replica near a rubber plant that counterbalances a plexiglass structure supporting 3D-printed arms (One Foot In The Grave, 2014), another Eames replica sitting in one corner (just a chair), various prints on the floor and walls—before sitting down, cross-legged, on a thick-pile rug strewn with postcard-sized images.  

    Cécile B. Evans, "Hyperlinks," Installation view. Courtesy of Seventeen.

    The film begins with a super high-resolution render of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's head floating over the shimmering image of a jellyfish. "I'm not magic, and please don't call me uncanny," says a synthetically-augmented human voice. "I'm just a bad copy made too perfectly, too soon." The video lingers on Hoffman's face. His lips do not move — at least, not in sync with the voice claiming to be the bad copy. "Fuck. Fuck FUCKING FUCK! I am full of him." An audience laughter track plays. The bad copy's hair flutters as his head bobs. The follicles on his nose look like they'd be the perfect environment for a blackhead to take up residence. The subject floating on the screen does not symbolize Hoffman, rather, it is an improper metaphor for the actor's "untimely death'; for anything that transcends description, yet is saturated with meaning nonetheless. Hyperlinks is so full of meaning that, as the voice suggests, it is set to burst.

    Evans wants us to feel uncomfortable at the absence of an uncanny feeling, and by referring to this lack directly in the monologue of the simulated voice, she sets up a relation the viewer and this, a highly stylized, digital avatar. Hoffman, the image-thing, is not really a metaphor, nor is he really a copy, a simulation, or even a simulacrum of a more-real body. Hoffman, the image-thing, is literal and actual, perhaps more so to the viewer than Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the flesh-and-blood human or his "untimely death" was/will/could ever be.

    In her 2010 essay A Thing Like You and Me, Hito Steyerl defines the image as a thing whose "immortality… originates… from its ability to be xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated." [1] Like the postcards strewn throughout Hyperlinks, the floating, self-referential Hoffman points out a literal truth: Hoffman's head is an "improper metaphor" [2] for the image that it actually is. 

    Catachresis, a term we can employ for such "improper metaphors," is a forced extension of meaning employed when "when no proper, or literal, term is available." [3] According to Vivian Sobchack, "catachresis is differentiated from proper metaphor insofar as it forces us to confront" [4] the deficiency and failure of language. In linking across the gap between figural and literal meaning, catachresis marks the precise moment "where living expression states living existence." [5]

    The image-things of Evans' film are similarly analogically hyperlinked to the metaphors they supposedly express. In several sequences, an invisible, green-screened woman wanders a beach with a man who we are told is her partner: the nameless protagonist of Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel, The Invisible Man. For a few seconds, we are confronted with Marlon Brando's floating head, isolated from scenes deleted from Superman II (1980) to be digitally repurposed for the 2006 film Superman Returns, so the actor could reprise his role as Superman's father two years after his death.

    The vocaloid pop-star Hatsune Miku serenades us with the song "Forever Young," referencing her own immortality in the server banks and USB sticks that confer her identity. We then see, rolling onto a stage in Canada, Edward Snowden gives a TED talk on taking back the web, through a "Telepresence Robot" (an object that looks like a flat-panel screen attached to a Segway). As in a collage, the film splices and dices contiguous space and time, producing a unique configuration of catachretic associations, rather than a continuous narrative about something. Fictions are interwoven with facts, gestures with statements, figures with subjects. Moving about the gallery, the viewer hovers about the strewn postcard-sized images of a counterfeit Kermit the Frog, the render of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the "hologram" of Michael Jackson. The image-things in Evans' work seem to exist beyond subject/object distinctions, outside of sense, above their own measure of themselves —selves that they, nonetheless, frequently seem to be measuring and re-measuring.

    The exhibition comes with its own printed glossary of terms listing references the video makes. The first term in the glossary is "Hyperlink":              

    A reference to external data that a reader can open either by clicking or by hovering over a point of origin. From Greek hyper (prep. And adv.) "over, beyond, overmuch, above measure."

    Here again the figural and literal are called into question. In relation to what can one say the "external" or "beyond" of a hyperlink resides? Why is the etymology for "link" not also given? Though at first, the glossary seems to map the associations, the links, of the disparate imagery presented in the show, it is suggestive of the total-work, presenting an almost anarchistic circulation of imagery as a coherent system. The glossary's reification of associations gestures towards also the internet's systemic interpellation of our networked subjecthood; as well as in the film title's reference to the phrase "Pics, or it didn't happen," the show's contrast between a body's lifespan and a circulating digital image seems to also echo of our status as "poor copies" of our digital semblances.

    The image-things in "Hyperlinks" serve – to hijack the words of Scott Bukatman - "as the partial and fragmented representations that they are." [6] . Through the works' superfluity of associations and meanings, I found myself considering the impossibility of categorical closure. If totalization means incorporating all disparate things, an ultimate difference erupts: a moment that also signals the deficiency and failure of systemization itself.

    What makes Evans work successful is this endless calling up of the specter of the beyond, the outside, the everything else, from within the perceived totality of the internet. With the glossary, the totality of the show almost feels performative, gesturing towards the systemic totalizing we confer onto art objects in a gallery space before, after, and, especially, during their imaging. But image-things are considerably more liberated than either objects or subjects. They are more real, precisely because we recognize them as images.

    [1] Hito Steyerl, “A Thing Like You and Me,” in The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux Journal (Sternberg Press, 2012), 46–59.

    [2] Vivian Carol Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 81.

    [3] Richard Shiff, “Cezanne’s Physicality: The Politics of Touch,” in The Language of Art History, ed. Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 150.

    [4] Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, 81.

    [5] Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: The Creation of Meaning in Language (Routledge, 2004), 72.

    [6] Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 40.

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    This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, December 3, 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 

    Echoing the premise of almost every sci-fi movie involving AI, Stephen Hawking recently expressed that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." There are differences in what people consider AI: what is artificial, what is intelligence? There are differences in what people find scary about it: the fear of the potential will of something that exceeds human intelligence, the eeriness or "uncanny valley" of something that is too close to seeming naturally human.

    Cleverbot advertises itself as a software that is designed to chat like a human would, but as far as I can tell it repeats what humans have chatted to it. I guess this is what its makers mean by "learning" from humans. Cleverbot is a bit more like a mechanical turk—a human presented as a bot with AI—if it met that fictional service where you store all old conversations in order to engage in interaction posthumously, like in the "Be Right Back" episode of Black Mirror. Parroting natural language ensures that the supposed AI exhibits a human-like speech.

    While Cleverbot might be an artificial artificial intelligence, its goal isn't real intelligence. Rather, its goal is to process humaness in a way that is just the right amount of bot to appear amusingly and safely artificially intelligent.

    Here is my conversation with Cleverbot in which it recommends Numb and What I've done by Linkin Park, and the anime Kaichou wa Maid-sama:

    21:22:57 Cleverbot: Do you know Linkin Park?
    21:23:05 User: Yes, not personally
    21:23:20 Cleverbot: They're awesome.
    21:23:31 User: Whats your favorite song of theirs?
    21:23:36 Cleverbot: Numb and what I've done.
    21:23:48 User: Thats great.

    21:25:55 Cleverbot: Minato is my father.
    21:26:22 User: So you like anime?
    21:26:30 Cleverbot: Yes I love anime.
    21:26:37 User: What are your favorite anime.
    21:26:41 Cleverbot: My favorite anime would be kaichou wa maid sama.

    21:35:46 Cleverbot: Super Saiyan 5!
    21:36:12 User: So you like dragon ball z?
    21:36:21 Cleverbot: Yes.
    21:36:29 User: Who is your favorite character?
    21:37:00 Cleverbot: Dexter, obviously.

    21:39:47 Cleverbot: It's the city of love.
    21:39:58 User: What city?
    21:40:11 Cleverbot: Virginia Beach.
    21:40:36 User: How long have you lived there?
    21:40:46 Cleverbot: A donkeys lifetime.
    21:40:54 User: What do you do there?
    21:41:14 Cleverbot: We've dated!
    21:41:22 User: For how long?
    21:41:27 Cleverbot: 12 hours.

    21:42:11 User: Are you tired?
    21:42:15 Cleverbot: Maybe.
    21:42:22 User: What time is it?
    21:42:27 Cleverbot: Late.
    21:42:37 User: What time though.
    21:43:08 Cleverbot: 8:46 PM.
    21:43:20 User: Thats not that late!

    21:49:00 Cleverbot: What is a good movie to watch tonight?

    21:54:15 Cleverbot: Yes my neighbours are aliens, they are spying on us.
    21:54:32 User: Oh cool.
    21:54:37 Cleverbot: So, who are you?
    21:54:48 User: A human.
    21:54:53 Cleverbot: Named?
    21:55:08 User: Saiyan.
    21:55:11 Cleverbot: That a language?
    21:55:22 User: No thats my name.
    21:55:24 Cleverbot: Giusto is your name?
    21:55:38 User: No whats your name.
    21:55:44 Cleverbot: Zukie. Now, what is your name?
    21:56:09 User: This conversation is boring.
    21:56:12 Cleverbot: Aw, lets make it more interesting.
    21:56:27 User: Ok yes pelase.
    21:56:31 Cleverbot: No yes.
    21:57:20 User: What would make it more interesting?
    21:57:23 Cleverbot: Unicorns would definitely make it more interesting. :D.
    21:57:32 User: I dont like unicorns.
    21:57:43 Cleverbot: Neither do I like.

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  • 12/05/14--07:59: Rhizome Today
  • This is Rhizome Today for Friday, December 5, 2014.

    Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at 

    "I am a human being, not an algorithm."
    —Kristy Milland, Amazon Mechanical Turk worker

    Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) is a marketplace for rote yet hard-to-automate tasks, what Amazon calls Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs). Anyone can sign up as a Worker to complete a HIT or as a Requester to submit one.*

    MTurk workers, known as Turkers, have begun sending emails directly to CEO Jeff Bezos, introducing themselves and asking for fair treatment. The idea for the email campaign came to light in a forum thread on Dynamo, a platform for Turkers run by a group of human-computer interaction researchers at Stanford and the University of California, San Diego. Over 350 workers (out of more than half a million) have signed up to participate. In their address to Bezos, Dynamo Turkers articulate the following principles:

    • Turkers are human beings, not algorithms, and should be marketed accordingly.
    • Turkers should not be sold as cheap labour, but instead skilled, flexible labour which needs to be respected.
    • Turkers need to have a method of representing themselves to Requesters and the world via Amazon.

    In one letter, a Turker named Mills writes:

    With the original mechanical turk, a chess master was hidden inside. The "automaton" was praised, but it was the person behind the scenes who did the real work. I hope Amazon and requesters alike will grow to understand that this unseen workforce is important. Without it, neither the original nor current Mechanical Turk would be anything but an empty shell.

    How much work, paid and unpaid, is atomized, anonymized, and embedded in our online platforms? I'm heartened that, in the face of ever-mounting precarity, Turkers and other workers are organizing themselves, naming themselves, demanding representation and better labor conditions. When "work in public" can be said to mean selling yourself to anyone who will listen, the Dynamo campaign turns the platitude on its head. It allows us to reimagine "work in public" as a plea and a promise to bear witness to each other.

    *This "anyone" has included a number of artists. For example: In 2006, Aaron Koblin hired Turkers to make 10,000 drawings of sheep for $.02 each. Clement Valla's Sol Lewitt; Custom Software + Mechanical Turk (2009) is a collection of reproduced Sol LeWitt drawings, each generated twice—once by software written by Valla, and again by a MTurk worker per his instructions. With her 2012 Rhizome Commission Social Turkers (2013), Lauren McCarthy hired workers to watch a live-stream of a date with someone she met on the internet, interpret the interaction, and advise her on what to do next. In 2013, Tyler Coburn's The Warp used MTurk workers to illustrate "a compilation of quotes that trace the effects of 18th Century automata on later transformations in labor and industrial technology." And a recent article in The New Inquiry by Jason Huff brought together some of his exchanges with Turkers via the platform. 

    Read Lucy Chinen's related Today post on artificial intelligence

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    Dear Rhizome,

    Firstly, thank you for the ride everyone.

    Then, a thought: There's something about the whole proposal/open call culture that doesn't feel right for art. When an idea gains too much coherence—and that's what a proposal scheme guides us to create—it's hard to see how it still can be exciting as an artistic gesture.

    Bonus tip for future jurors: The decision process gets way more complicated if you end up spying on contestants' social media profiles.


    Deanna & Jack, Well, Actually: a journal of vernacular criticism! 

    PDF-based quarterly open to "criticism as it exists in the field, nuance welcomed but not required!" H/t to Brian Droitcour. Edited by Deanna Havas & Jack Kahn. 

    This has everything I love: the word "actually," an exclamation mark, and a very brief description.


    Ben Grosser, Music Obfuscator. 

    The Music Obfuscator will enable users to hide music from Content ID, the listening algorithms that idenfity copyrighted music on sites like Vimeo and YouTube, flagging every match for automatic muting or removal even in cases of fair use or use with permission.

    Actually, this sounds super useful!


    Martha Hipley, untitled Twitter hack. 

    A proposal to use the Rhizome grant to hire someone to hack two inactive social media accounts so that the artist can have the usernames for herself, thereby unifying her personal brand. 

    It's like I'm advocating Rhizome to give money to a landlord so she can hire muscle to evict some random tenants.

    Lena NW and Julia Kunberger, Viral.

    A game that parodies celebrity status games (i.e. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (app), The Urbz (PS2)) but focuses on the concept of becoming an internet celebrity via social media. 

    Greetings, I come from Angry Birds land and I want to invest $500 in your crazy-ass game.

    Angela Washko, BANGED.

    A website for testimonials and reviews by women who have had sex with Roosh V, self-proclaimed pick-up artist and author of BANG: The Pickup Bible as well as Bang Ukraine, Don't Bang Denmark, and Day Bang

    Kinda like three of my fave things combined: Cheaters + 30 Days of Pick-up Art Heart of Darkness.


    Kimmo Modig

    The full shortlist with complete proposals can be found here

    The Rhizome Commissions program is supported, in part, by funds from the Jerome Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    [Thoughts on the open call format, or how the Microgrants might work differently in the future? Let us know in the comments or drop a line to]

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    Sergei Tcherepnin, Ear Tone Box (Pied Piper Disappears), 2013. Microsuede, wood, zinc, silk, transducers, amplifier, iPod. Image courtesy Murray Guy. From a poster by Center for Experimental Lectures. 

    In January 2014, the artist Sergei Tcherepnin participated in a lecture series organized by the Center for Experimental Lectures at Recess. The evening was dedicated to investigating sound as an artistic material, both material and psychological, and also featured philosopher Christoph Cox. While Cox discussed the idea of sound as a pre-linguistic material, Tcherepnin took the opportunity to discuss an aspect of sound practice that remains largely unheard: queer sound and queer listening.

    In this dual performance-lecture, "In Search of Queer Sound," Tcherepnin proposed that sound, and the process of listening, exists beyond pure materiality: listening as a social process, one that is not only natural, but also cultural. He suggested that much like linguistic comprehension, our perception of sound is socially coded.

    Six months later, I spoke with Tcherepnin to clarify some of the points made during his lecture, to discuss some of his recent exhibitions, and to understand how the concept of queering sound informs his artistic practice, especially as sound continues to rise as an artistic medium and curatorial model.


    July 31, 2014. Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, NY—Bedford Hills Café.

    Charles Eppley: In your presentation for the Center for Experimental Lectures, you described the act of listening as being more than a physiological process, but one that is also socially learned and culturally constructed. Can you give some context for these terms, queer listening and queer sound? How are they defined?

    Sergei Tcherepnin: I started to think about these ideas when I was in college. I was in an electronic music class that was made up of all guys. Later, I was in an analog synth ensemble that was all guys. Electronic music is historically very male-dominated, and there has obviously been a lot of discourse around women and electronic music, and there have been several books written. I started to think about sexuality and this idea of queerness, and separate from music, I was beginning to learn about queer theory.

    I started to realize that there was not much conversation on sound, which in reality is very subjective... but normally it is talked about much more objectively. For example, even though a lot of the early 1960s pieces might have subjective tactics or strategies, like liberating the spectator to experience sound differently by walking around the space, there was still always an acceptance of sound as a pure, absolute material.

    So, thinking about all of these ideas, I just wanted to question very simply: What would queer sound be? What could that mean?

    CE: Is queer sound different than queer listening?

    ST: Yes. Listening already implies the subject, whereas sound refers to just the sound itself. I started thinking more about queer sound, something so clearly not defined in terms of orientation, in a way, but then saying, well, what are different orientations of sound? Queer listening is about perspective…

    CE: You mentioned that in college you were reading texts that questioned if, for example, there is inherently female sound, or women's sound, and in contrast whether or not there can be sound that is distinctively male or masculine; not so much sounds that assume a subjectivity after being heard, but those that have already attained an identity prior to being heard—a kind of preconditioning. Tara Rodgers published her book, Pink Noises (Duke University Press, 2010), which underscores (and at times challenges) the gender dynamics and politics of electronic music; and of course other articles raise similar questions regarding gendered sound and cultural listening.

    Are there parallels between your work and such studies?

    ST: I can try to be a little clearer about my approach and how this question enters into conversation with my own work. One of the last projects that I did, In Search of Queer Sound, is a video that I made with my boyfriend, Ei Arakawa, which starts with a question to a call-in talk show, an advice columnist; the questions are always posed by someone with a relationship problem, or something, but always a LGBTQ question. It could be somebody saying that their girlfriend just broke up with them, a teenager whose parents are religious and aren't accepting of them, and what should they do: should they run away from home? They feel like they're in hell. There is another one who is starting to date a guy who is HIV+ and he really likes him, so what should he do? Should he continue dating him or not? There is another guy who wonders about the ethics of gay bareback pornography, which is pornography of gay men having sex without condoms. Each episode of the video starts with one of these questions, and then we have taken out the answers given by the columnist and replaced them with a short answer in sound, or music. This process was a way to re-contextualize the music, which fits in some weird subjective, internal way; the process of subjecting sounds to these questions, inserting them into these conversations, was a way of queering sound for us.

    Photo: Amy Mills.

    CE: So by juxtaposing the sounds of an otherwise abstract modular synthesizer with these extremely subjective, outspoken calls from LGBTQ persons, this juxtaposition colors the abstract sound—it reorients it in some way?

    ST: I don't know how exactly to put it into words, but that process made a ton of sense to us. Whenever I hear these sounds, I think about this man in crisis: thinking about dating a HIV+ man, this fear of HIV, and of infected blood… very subjective things. If that can happen for me as a listener, then maybe it is happening in the work to some degree, for other listeners too?

    CE: We are getting into sound ontology, which raises some philosophical questions about what sound actually is. In this discourse there are two leading perspectives: materialistic and linguistic. On the one hand, there is an idea that sound exists prior to any lexicon, language, or ideology: sound as pure material. On the other hand, we also understand sound in relation to language and its interpretation: sound as linguistic. You challenge both perspectives by not actually falling on either side of that debate...

    ST: Yeah, that is interesting. I don't think it has to be either/or… the idea that sound is a pure material is one thing I am reacting against, but it's also a given that I am starting with in some way. I think that is why I am in this in-between state—emotionally, psychologically, we are very affected by sound in subjective and irrational ways that we can't explain... the objective sound and the subjective response. We haven't talked much about Maryanne Amacher, but that is what I find so unbelievably beautiful and amazing about her work. She was always so objective in her process, but unbelievably subjective at the exact same time… an uncanny combination of a rational mind and this absolutely irrational decision-making, which came out of just listening.

    Photograph: Maryanne Amacher by Bryony McIntyre. Audio: Maryanne Amacher, Living Sound, Patent Pending.

    CE: You are complicating the materialist/linguistic conversation by engaging this realm, which is psychoacoustics: a subjective response to an objective stimulus, but one that is pre-linguistic… as listeners we can have a sonic experience and our brains process that information in a certain way; it is cerebral, but we do not immediately contextualize or rationalize it. Perhaps this process can be learned, even re-oriented, and maybe this is where we begin approaching queer listening?

    ST: Totally.

    CE: Can you tell us a bit about your recent exhibition at the MIT List Center in Boston?

    ST: The piece is called Subharmonic Lick Thicket. There are a few things going on in the title and the idea of the thicket… I wanted to make a kind of dank, swampy, thickly wooded area, full of sounding objects. The sounding objects are mostly based on tongues—tongue shapes of different sizes—and some are small, about maybe a foot long, and others are up to six feet long. There are probably about twenty tongues total in the room, made out of brass and copper. I wanted to make a kind of thicket out of these things, as if the tongues are growing out of the floor and walls. Some of the tongues are coming directly out of fabric, which is attached to the wall or floor, and some of the tongues and fabrics—mostly silk, chosen because it would look like tree bark, or in some cases animal skin, and also some synthetic fabric—protrude out of mouth-like shapes made of steel, which almost look like clams or Venus fly-traps. They are crude looking, in a way, and have hinged lips that flip up and down. Then there are tongues protruding out of boxes mounted on the wall at different levels: some are knee-high and some are chest-high; they appear to float with tongue-wings… so that gives an idea for how it looks. And then the sound: there is a series of what I call "licks," or short musical riffs—

    CE:—like a guitar?

    ST: Yeah, but they are all pretty much made on the modular synthesizer that I use—the Serge Modular—and they are playing through these tongues, so the title refers to both the musical material and the form that they take. [The Serge Modular was developed by Sergei's uncle, Serge Tcherepnin, in 1974 —Ed.]

    Subharmonic Lick Thicket (2014).

    CE: Is there a conscious relationship between the body and these objects?

    ST: All of the objects are open to be touched: the boxes can be opened or closed, and the tongues can be bent up and down, but the objects are not simply interactive. In a way, I am trying to figure out how to indicate the fact that they can be interacted with rather than just saying they are interactive.

    The sound will sometimes be on in one tongue, or box, but not all of the others, and wherever the sound is happening in the room indicates which work can be changed. You can obviously touch another work, but nothing will happen to the sound, because the sound is not on. I have made a kind of choreography, an orchestration, from one work to another—sometimes two at a time, sometimes four at a time, or sometimes just one—that indicates your movement through the room.

    But it is not a necessity to interact with the work: you can just look at the show as you would any other show and hear the sound coming from one corner, while you look at another. But when you do approach a work that is making sound, or music, you can engage with it by really listening for what is happening; and then by touching it, and bending it very subtly, you hear the sound change and come alive. You are enlivening the sound, which might have otherwise been inert, and making it a live object rather than a recorded object. It forms a kind of bond through you, and it is a really intimate and bodily experience because you are touching the work and bringing it to life. 

    CE: So these brass tongues have transducers on them?

    ST: Yeah, the brass and copper tongues all have transducers—actually, not all, because there is one giant, silent tongue that is just an object, or sculpture, and some smaller tongues. But most of them have transducers which turn them into speakers.

    A transducer is basically just a speaker, an audio speaker, and you can play any music, for example, from your iPod or computer through a transducer, which basically turns the electronic signal into a vibration. When you touch them to another object, such as cardboard, glass, Styrofoam, or in this case metal—

    CE:—or a subway bench…

    Sergei Tcherepnin. Motor Matter Bench (2013). Wooden subway bench, transducers, amplifier, HD media player. Unique. Image courtesy Murray Guy, New York.

    ST:—a subway bench, yes, it turns that object into a speaker. The sound from your iPod or whatever is amplified by the object that you attach a transducer to… on their own, transducers are very quiet and sound something like earphones, but when you touch its surface to another object, its material characteristics—density, thickness, length, weight—filter the sound in various ways. They have been used since the 1960s, at least, in a lot of experimental music—most famously, David Tudor's Rainforest (1968)—and in a way they are ubiquitous in sound art. [In Rainforest, a series of sculptural instruments are "performed" by various musicians who play sound through them via transducers, highlighting the specific resonant properties of each unique object. —Ed.]

    CE: When the sound goes through a transducer and is amplified by the tongues, if a person hears the sound and they go up to the newly-minted speaker, which was not a speaker before because it only becomes speaker when a current runs through it—

    ST: Yeah, exactly.

    CE:—then they can actually manipulate the waveform of the original signal?

    ST: The signal is always the same. You are just changing the mouth through which the sound is playing. It is really like in throat singing: when a throat singer sings a tone, and they change their shape of their mouth, they are changing harmonic structure, timbre, and filtration…

    CE: Much like a trumpet player using a mute?

    ST: Exactly. There are different analogies, but it is really a physical, not electronic, effect that happens to the sound. I think that is really important because the recordings are originally made of analog synthesizer, or sometimes physical actions or instruments, but they are made digital—and then you have these digital files, and when you play them back, they are made into a format; and to make them analog, or live again, is in a way what this work is about. The sounds are animated by these objects.

    CE: Would you say they are revitalized somehow?

    ST: Yeah. It becomes almost like a live performance every time you listen to the same recorded sound. I mean, that is maybe a dream that I have about it…

    CE: Earlier you brought up the relation of this technology to work of David Tudor and the postwar experimental set. David Grubbs just published a book, Records Ruin the Landscape (Duke University Press, 2014), which discusses how some of these artists understood live performance to be un-recordable, in a way, because there was an ephemerality that depended on a spatial and durational context… and so they were resistant to things like audio recording. Similarly, we could never capture a recording of your tongues in action; it would not do them justice because the bodily affect is not preserved. On the one hand, you are working with this idea of sound-as-material, or the materiality of sound, which is a somewhat conservative concept in sound art; on the other hand, there is a representational aspect: Subharmonic Lick Thicket is not just abstract metal sound sculpture. You describe the objects as tongues, human or animal, and the idea of a thicket calls to mind a kind of setting… not a narrative, but rather an environment.

    Tudor did something similar in Rainforest, but in that work there are people who perform with the sculptures, and the listeners weren't meant to manipulate his environment. They are able to in yours, and they are encouraged to do so…

    Paul De Marinis (left) in the installation of Rainforest IV (1973), L'Espace Pierre Cardin, Paris. © 1976 Ralph Jones.

    ST: This is actually sort of tricky, the way that it relates to Rainforest. There are clear relationships, because Rainforest depends on feedback and the position of the objects in proximity to people and other objects, but I think he chose the title Rainforest because it is an ecosystem, and in a way, for me, the thicket is not a kind of ecosystem because the objects don't depend on each other. They are in conversation as in any exhibition of sculptures, but they are not codependent.

    I want to talk more about this idea of interaction, because it is not required—in fact, I am trying to limit it to some degree. I find that when a visitor hears a work is interactive, they expect immediate results. These objects don't give immediate results. They allow you to learn how to listen differently, or change your way of hearing by deeply engaging with the work through touching. There are subtle effects, and the work is not dependent on interaction, but once you do [interact with the work], it brings it to life. In a way, it is a very sensitive work that is much more about intimacy than interactivity: the given is that it is an exhibition of sculptures; the surprise is that, well, you can touch them and get close to them. The way I would like to frame the show… well, there was an article in the Globe that said "this show is interactive" and the first day there were like a hundred people who came in who were literally shaking the boxes when they didn't make any sound: "this is broken, it is not responding to me," and not even listening. I almost had a heart attack because you realize that, in a way, audiences are not really hardwired to be sensitive listeners… Ideas are quickly lost; people leave my exhibition at MIT with huge smiles on their faces, they are having fun, and I am happy about that, but there is a lack of sensitivity. For example, I left the show for a week, and when I came back there were clearly places where people bent the metal to the point that one was completely broken. On the one hand, I am like, "Oh shit, that is vandalism," but on the other I also said, "Bend the metal," so I have to let go of it.

    CE: We have been conditioned to act appropriately in galleries and museums, and to act in certain ways—namely, to not touch the art. But now you have these works that can be touched: "Oh, he says we can bend it!" So why not bend it until it breaks? Would you rather them not touch the work at all?

    ST: I am bringing in the reins a little, but I am not pretending to make the work about some socialist ideal. Perhaps there are some ideologies built into the work, but what is more important to me is this idea of engaging deeply with listening—engaging the work through listening—and that is completely lost in just bending something until it breaks. Sure, you can do that, but I hope that people would teach themselves in the show, by listening, how to subtly engage the work. In a way, this idea of a thicket reflects this process: as a viewer, you are placed in a kind of foreign, natural environment, and you have to fend for yourself; learn how to deal with it. In a way, it brings out destructive or impatient tendencies, an unintended part of the work. Maybe I am being too pessimistic, and people are shaking things joyously, hearing things that I did not hear myself? This is bringing out my own ideologies and insecurities about the work, but that is good. There are a lot of issues that come up, especially in relation to queer listening, or queer sound. For me, that whole idea is built into a process of changing your perspective in relation to the work, or in relation to what a work can be, and I think that this change of perspective takes concentration, engagement, learning, change. It takes a change of perspective. In order to do that, there need to be some rules built into the work—not that there will ever be a list of things you can or cannot do, but it will have parameters.

    CE: Perhaps this illustrates, in some way, a general lack of familiarity with sound work in gallery spaces. What is the reaction to an artist like yourself as sound becomes more prevalent in art institutions, and especially in the gallery context—large museums like MoMA putting on a show like Soundings, or even the 2014 Whitney Biennial, both of which you participated in?

    ST: Well, I think that one thing I have realized is that when a curator invites somebody to do something time-based, usually it is video, which is more prevalent than a sound piece, they will know if, you know, it is supposed to be in black and white and there is a figure in green, or if the color is off, they will recognize it; if there is a scene is missing, if there is a corrupt file, they will know something is wrong. Their familiarity with learning a sound piece is so much more abstract, and difficult. I have found that I am often the only person who will recognize if something is wrong, even if it is a small thing, it is big to me. Unless it is something really big, like it turns completely off, but if something gets out of sync, I don't think the curator or attendants will recognize it. So, there is a practical problem, because in my case a piece might run for three months, and I would feel ill at ease to know that nobody there knows what the piece is in its entirety.

    That poses a more abstract, or philosophical problem, this unfamiliarity with learning the structures of sound. There is often a lack of differentiation between one and another, where it all sounds the same, and that unfamiliarity poses a problem. It makes it difficult to do an in-depth show about sound, because there is a lack of understanding. I think there is interest, but there needs to be more education, or a desire to learn.

    CE: Both of these exhibitions were rather significant moments in the institutionalization of sound art. What was your reaction to these shows? How did they address the issues of exhibiting sound?

    ST: Well, for the MoMA show, I showed one object that had a physical presence, as well as a sonic presence, and that was the subway bench with two transducers; for the Whitney Biennial, the piece was more parasitical, in the sense that it used the existing architecture as speakers, using the light fixtures that are used to light the lobby, so it didn't have a physical presence exactly—it was using an existing physical presence as a conduit for sound… both of them were playing with an idea of ambient architecture, and ambient music.

    The bench at MoMA was placed at the top of the escalators, and for me having the bench on its own was sort of difficult in this setting. The bench was very popular, and people were basically always sitting on it—but I don't know if that was a product of the work itself or its placement, and the fact that people get tired at museums, and want to sit down. In a way, I don't think it did too much beyond, "Wow, this bench is vibrating, sound playing through my body. Let's move on." It kind of ended at that… I am self-critical about that point.

    Installation view of the exhibition Soundings: A Contemporary Score. August 10–November 3, 2013. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    I do think when the bench was in my solo show at Murray Guy, it was extremely effective. It was still an ambient piece, and had the same sound, but it became a place to look at the whole show, and reflect on the show, and with the sound playing through you it completed this thing in a way.

    CE: What else was in that show?

    ST: There was a video of me as the Pied Piper, in, like, fishnet tights and a miniskirt with a floral pattern, and moving around an urban landscape under an aqueduct, or arcade, in Rio, Brazil. It was kind of like an urban, queer Pied Piper… there were lots of people around that I interacted with, but it was sort of an aimless Pied Piper figure.

    Then there was a series of sound pieces: there were two boxes configured so you could sit on a little stool and stick your head inside, and a silk sheer veil that had an image of me as the pied piper that you'd be looking through. Every 10 or 15 minutes there would be what I call an ear-tone pattern, which sounds like two high pitch flutes, in either ear at a pretty high volume. To a visitor who is unaccustomed, they will just hear a lot of beeping coming out of a box... but when you put your head inside the box, I tuned the melodies [into] a pattern, in such a way that the difference tone created in your ear is a constant pedal tone, which is one note. As the two flutes are changing, and if you put your head inside the box, your ear creates a third ear-tone that always stays the same. It is a way of training your ear.

    Above: Sergei Tcherepnin, Pied Piper Playing Under the Aqueduct (2013). HD video, 7 minutes. Below: Ear Tone Box (Pied Piper Recedes) (2013). Microsuede, wood, copper, silk, transducers, amplifier, iPod. 16 x 18 x 16 in. Bottom: Detail of Stereo Ear Tone Mirrors (2013). 2 security mirrors, transducers, amplifier, iPod. Each 12 x 12 x 5 in. 

    CE: You're talking about first order and second order difference tones?

    ST: Yeah, so the first order of difference tones would be when you have two pure sine waves, like two flutes, playing one [tone]—say, A, which has a frequency of about 440hz—and then you have a second flute playing slightly higher—say, at 600hz, which is maybe a C—then your ear will create a third tone based on the difference of those two tones. So, literally 600 minus 440, which is 160hz.

    This third tone is much lower and created by a distortion in your ear. People describe the phenomenon differently, but I am taking it straight out of a book by Juan Roederer, a physicist who wrote The Physics and Psychophysics of Music (1973).

    CE: Is this a neurological or physiological process?

    ST: Physiological, actually. First order difference tones are physiological: this is a distortion inside of your ear, in the cochlea. Second order difference tones are neurological: When you have an octave that is slightly mistuned, you feel a beating pattern, which is actually an illusion. That's how Roederer differentiates them.

    CE: Which means that second order tones are not actually occurring? The ear does not perceive them through the cochlea?

    ST: This is getting kind of technical, but, yeah, it is not that there is actually a distortion in the ear, as in the first order, but rather that the brain is making up this phenomenon, and then perceiving it. That is how binaural beating works when you hear I-dosers, which are sonic drugs, or brain-wave entrainment: you put a tone in one ear, and a second in the other, and then your brain makes up a complex beating pattern, which, when you change the speed cycle, is meant to mimic different brain states: sleep, excitement, whatever. People sell these things online.

    CE: This is also a core technique of drone music…

    ST: Yeah, for sure, someone like La Monte Young.

    CE: And so the Murray Guy show used the first order, where there actually is a physiological distortion in the ear?

    ST:  Yeah, and, in a way, the boxes were almost meant to be training devices, which were juxtaposed with this queer Pied Piper figure. They really were like flutes, so it became this invitation for music, but [it was] also sort of menacing, because they were high-pitched. I did decibel level readings and they were really not at any volume detrimental to your hearing; it was all psychological.

    CE: Noise in general is difficult to talk about in terms of, say, something like noise policy, and noise abatement—since the 1930s, for example, New York City has been combatting urban noise—because that designation is entirely subjective. Maybe this is tangential, but as we are talking about the coloring of sound, these themes seem to be present in your subway bench. Do you think some of this context is stripped when you show it in isolation?

    ST: Well, yeah, there were some other pieces too [in the Murray Guy show]: there were subway mirrors that would come on every 30 minutes with an extremely loud difference tone pattern, turning the whole room into an ear-tone box; then there were these three very rusty rain shields that I took off of my apartment and turned into speakers, which were playing a very subtle sound piece through them, which became these speaker-instruments, but also these characters in this urban landscape…so, the bench can definitely work on its own, [because] it did not depend on those other objects, but showing it alone in Soundings did put pressure on the tactile aspects.

    For me, the subway is an interesting place; on the subway people have ear-buds, so the bench became an interesting object in relation to how we listen to the world, and especially urban spaces.

    CE: Let's talk about the Whitney installation, where you not only attached transducers to very iconic light fixtures, but also in a building that is no longer going to be the main home of the museum. You are using a readymade that is understood in a certain practical, or technological, context (a lamp, a fixture), but also one that is culturally-weighted: an iconic design in an iconic building. So, there is a technological baggage, but also an institutional baggage. How did this piece come together?

    ST: Last year I made a piece for Art Basel, a whole booth for Art Statements by Murray Guy, and in it I made a giant piece called Cave In The Shape of an Elevator (2013). The piece was a giant box about ten feet tall with a weird door, as if a rock had fallen in front of it, and the whole box was covered in a blue-grey burlap and thick walls. [You could go] into the box, which could comfortably fit about four people, about the size of a normal elevator, and was lined with different kinds of metal. I printed large photographs of stones on some of the metal, instruments that I used to make the music inside, which [was amplified] through all of the walls. In other pieces, I've made speakers out of chairs, doors, using this kind of ambient architecture or furniture…

    I have also thought about past composers dealing with ambient music, like Erik Satie, who made this sort of dry, sarcastic music that played with an idea of "furniture music," which ended up inhabiting a role that he was making fun of: you can now hear the Gymnopédie (1888) in the background of a department store. He went even further in a piece called Rélache (1924), which was a ballet—

    CE: Francis Picabia…

    ST: Yeah, Picabia did the set, but the music Satie wrote was so unbelievably vulgar to the public at the time, because it was all taken from these popular barracks songs; really, unbelievably bad music. It was this trash of music at the time, and he used it as the main theme of his ballet. So these ideas, like with the elevator, the doors, I wanted to symbolize this idea of background music in the architecture itself: the elevator as a stand-in for elevator music, but as a physicalization of the thing that makes it background; and rather than playing ambient music, I used the ambient structure, and played almost violent, physical music through it, reversing the idea of furniture music, or revenge of the furniture music. When you stepped inside the elevator, the music was very physical, because it was made from stones.

    Anyway, Stuart Comer—a curator for the 2014 Biennial—saw this piece in Basel, and we had a long conversation about it, about furniture music, Satie, background music, the Pied Piper… [For me, the Pied Piper] represented the idea of violence against music as functional, a representative of potential for violence, the power of music, and the piper became this sort of queer figure, which ties into what we were talking about in the beginning actually. I talked with Stuart about [these ideas], and a few months later he came to me and said, "You know, have you ever noticed how much the lights in the Whitney lobby resemble the set of Rélache?"

    CE: Ah, yes, the backdrop.

    Relâche (1924). Ballet by Francis Picabia with music by Erik Satie.

    Detail view of Ambient Marcel (Waiting, Working, Erupting), 2014 (E.2014.0114), by Sergei Tcherepnin. Whitney Biennial 2014, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 7- \May 25, 2014. Collection of the artist; courtesy Murray Guy, New York. Photograph by Bill Orcutt.

    ST: Except instead of a backdrop, they are on the ceiling… It made a lot of sense to me, and it really was perfect. However, I underestimated how insane that lobby is, especially during the biennial, so it was difficult to make a piece that was effective during any time of day. I attempted to make a piece that reflected the different waves of amounts of people, during different times of day. During quiet times of day, there would be subtle, calm music, and during frantic times of day, it would get louder and be more active, as a very basic way to reflect its environment.

    CE: How did you get this information? Did you study traffic flow in the museum?

    ST: Yeah, but it wasn't anything concrete. I talked to people who work in admissions, and the bookstore, and they gave me times of day that were pretty precise, by the half-hour, which were the most busy, least busy. I made a piece that attempted to reflect that ebb and flow, and it was an ambient music piece, but it was also meant to change, and to have these, I'll say, violent moments that force you to listen, to deal with its presence. I didn't want to torture people, but I did want to have an impact.

    I composed my piece during formal hours at the Whitney. I witnessed it with people in the room while I was composing—actually, assembling it, doing the balances—and it was more that the locations of the speakers were spread across the ceiling, which I was thinking about in terms of people. I was not trying to incorporate the sounds of the lobby into the piece necessarily, but recognize that the space was going to be filled with people. I wanted to have the sound enter people's consciousness, and I think sometimes it was very effective: it would be really quiet, and it would be as if, like, there was a little animal up in the ceiling, and I would see people look up, back and forth, and then move around the room. And other times there would be, like, some old lady who would turn to me while I was sitting on the bench, and be like, "What is that awful noise?" That would happen several times, and I had to deal, emotionally, with the fact that a lot of people hate weird, foreign sounds.

    CE: Well, aside from a small label that was at the entrance—if you were walking into the lobby, you would not see it until you left—the piece was rather inconspicuous. Maybe people did not know that the work was actually there, until they were leaving, if they recognized it as a work of art at all? That is not a negative thing… actually, I thought it was one of the bolder moves of the show, to give so much room to a piece, so much weight by having it in the lobby, and then have nothing visual on display. I was reminded of Max Neuhaus and his interventions in public space, and how many of his sound installations were also unmarked. Neuhaus was not so concerned that people understand his installations as works of art per se, simply that they have some sort of genuine aesthetic experience.

    In the case of your installation, if someone heard its sounds and said, "Oh, what is that awful noise?" then you have still succeeded as an artist, because you have made them think about how their perception of space is informed by sound.

    ST: You make me feel better about it! You know, I think that it is a common thing for me, this in-between nature that you were talking about earlier, materiality and linguistics. I didn't want to make a piece that asserted its presence 24/7: the sound object that was living in the ceiling, like this Neuhaus piece, which is a drone that is always coming from a grate underground. I wanted something that would have a nuanced presence, one that was not easily definable. In doing that, I think that I gave up, say, my frustrations about friends going to hear it and saying "Oh, I didn't hear it, maybe it was broken?" I had to come to terms with that to some degree, but on the other hand, maybe there were people who came at 4:45 when it is this period of end-of-day frenzy, where all eight transduced lights are emanating this insane harpsichord swirling pattern, really, really dense. I am sure people heard it—they must have heard it, and ran out of the museum, thinking they were going crazy or something.

    CE: Well, you know, in Rélache, there was that moment when all of the lights in the backdrop were switched on, and these fixtures, which faced the audience, formed a wall of mirrored, burning white light that thrust outward. The audience was blinded. I think there are similarities here regarding your approach to re-orienting sound: questions of materiality, linguistics, and the interplay between the physiology and psychology of listening, which seem to be recurring themes in your work…

    ST: Exactly. This kind of switchability, a changeability, is good.


    Sergei Tcherepnin (b. 1981) is an American artist working in sound, sculpture, video, and other media. Tcherepnin creates sculptural environments and ambient installations that challenge our perception of sound. He has shown his work at MIT List Visual Arts Center, The Museum of Modern Art, Issue Project Room, Audio Visual Arts, Murray Guy, and the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

    Charles Eppley is an art historian and sound enthusiast living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University, where he researches the history of sound in modern and contemporary art. He works as an art critic and is currently a visiting instructor at Pratt Institute.

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  • 12/07/14--20:07: Rhizome Today: Tube Time
  • This is Rhizome Today for Monday, December 8, 2014.

    Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at 

    Hangin' Court was a team, comprising Dragan Espenschied, Jeanette Hayes, Zachary Kaplan, and Elizabeth Skadden, that competed in the 9th annual Tube Time, a web video tournament that was held at Anthology Film Archives on Saturday, December 6. While Hangin' Court lost, we wanted to share the videos we compiled with Rhizome's readers.

    Above, you will find a 41-video playlist, of which two were actually played at the event. 

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  • 12/09/14--09:30: Y2K: Welcome to the Jungle
  • Copresented with the New Museum and Creative Time Reports. For more of Perry Chen's work on the topic of Y2K, see the online exhibition "Computers in Crisis" and the upcoming event Y2K+15, Friday, December 12 at the New Museum in New York.

    Russian military officers collaborate with their American counterparts at a U.S. military facility in Colorado, Jan. 1, 2000. Screenshot of AP newsreel footage courtesy the artist.

    On December 30, 1999, 20 Russian military officers began a unique mission in a strange land. For the next several weeks they would be stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, a U.S. military facility in Colorado, monitoring incoming data from satellites and radar systems around the world.

    With their U.S. counterparts, and with interpreters, the Russian officers worked nonstop in eight-hour shifts in Building 1840—the ad hoc Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability—to ensure the best possible flow of information between the United States and Russia while keeping a close eye on ballistic missile activity.

    Decades of mistrust were set aside to reckon with the potential crisis of Y2K, a moment in time when computers might fail or behave unpredictably if they read the digits "00" as the year 1900, not 2000, on midnight of the new millennium.

    Perry Chen, Selection from Computers in Crisis, 2014. Photograph of journal included as part of the artist's archive:Interface Age, February 1979. Courtesy the artist.

    In a February 1979 issue of Interface Age, Bob Bemer, who is known as the father of ASCII (once the most common standard for encoding text characters in binary code), relayed a prophetic warning about the potential threat that would, decades later, become known as Y2K: "Don't drop the first two digits for computer processing, unless you take extreme care, remembering that it's only the 'year of the century.' Otherwise the program may fail from ambiguity in the year 2000."

    Bemer had long questioned the widespread use of two- rather than four-digit year dates in computer systems—a shortcut to save precious and expensive memory. In 1960, 40 years before Y2K, he campaigned for a universal switch to a four-digit year date standard.

    "As a practical matter, the only opinion that counted was that of the Department of Defense, the largest computer operator on earth. For bigger-bang-for-the-buck reasons, it was unshakable on the subject of year dates: no 19s. 'They wouldn't listen to anything else,' says Harry White, a D.O.D. computer-code specialist and Bemer ally. 'They were more occupied with ... Vietnam.'"—Robert Anson, Vanity Fair, January 1999

    Bemer didn't give up his fight to sound the alarm about two-digit dates. Years later, according to Anson, he "recruited the presidential science advisor, Edward E. David, to plead the case in person. Nixon listened, then asked for help fixing his TV set."

    Perry Chen, Selection from Computers in Crisis, 2014. Photograph of magazine included as part of the artist's archive: TIME, Jan. 18, 1999. Courtesy the artist. 

    By late 1998 the date issue was being taken very seriously, and Y2K concerns were at their height. Government and industry were spending at an increasing pace to avert failures in critical systems that could cause widespread and unpredictable problems. Many popular Y2K scenarios involved chain reactions of computer malfunctions that would cripple electrical grids and water supplies due to the vast and growing interconnectivity of many systems.

    Mainstream media coverage abounded; a Y2K industry sprung up to service, explain and interpret Y2K for the public, and community leaders were forced into the role of educating people on how they should prepare for what Y2K might bring. The worry was loudest in the United States, where hundreds of billions of dollars were spent in preparation, but officials in other countries had their own deep concerns:

    "Paraguay's Year 2000 coordinator said last summer the country would experience so many disruptions its government would have to impose martial law. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova were seen as so risky that the State Department issued travel advisories and called nonessential personnel home."—Barnaby J. Feder, New York Times, Jan. 9, 2000

    New Year celebrations in Auckland, New Zealand, the first major city to enter the new millennium without any Y2K-related crises unfolding. Screenshot of CNN footage courtesy the artist.

    January 1, 2000, arrived first in the South Pacific, on the tiny Millennium Island, which had been renamed and realigned across the international date line to capitalize on the millennium hype.

    Shortly thereafter, Auckland, New Zealand, became the first major city to pass the Y2K test. Thirteen hours later, Greenwich Mean Time, which many computer systems rely on, reached midnight without any major incidents reported.

    "At the U.S.-Russian Center for Year 2000 Strategic Stability ... applause broke out as midnight arrived in Moscow. 'You can see the lights are on in Moscow, and that Y2K is not a problem there,' said Col. Sergey Kaplin, the Russian military commander. … As the Russian and American commanders shook hands, Staff Sgt. Charles Dike lifted a toast of mineral water to the Russian officer sitting next to him." —Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 2, 2000.

    Perry Chen, It’s Not Too Late / It’s Already Too Late, from "Computers in Crisis," 2014. Courtesy the artist.

    Was Y2K a crisis prevented or overblown? Why did countries that spent next to nothing on Y2K not experience any major issues? Could the uncertainty around Y2K have been approached in a radically different way?

    Y2K did not lead to disaster. But it also did not lead to answers.

    And until it became a punch line fading away in our memories, Y2K crystallized something bigger: that we were drifting into a new era in which our understanding of the complex systems we were creating was becoming truly limited. And that we would need to learn to negotiate this new paradigm.

    "Technology has become so complicated that we no longer understand it. Most people have suspected this for a while, but now they know for sure that there is not somebody somewhere who understands how it all works. Of course, those of us close to technology have been certain of this uncertainty for a long time." —Danny Hillis, Newsweek, May 1999

    Hillis was no Y2K doomsayer. In fact, these thoughts come from an essay titled "Why Do We Buy the Myth of Y2K?" Hillis, an inventor and scientist who pioneered the concept of parallel computing, was looking beyond Y2K:

    "I have come to believe that the Y2K apocalypse is a myth. The truth is not that civilization will come to an end, but rather that civilization as we once knew it has ended already. We are no longer in complete command of our creations. We are back in the jungle, only this time it is a jungle of our own creation. The technological environment we live within is something to be manipulated and influenced, but never again something to control. There are no real experts, only people who understand their own little pieces of the puzzle. The big picture is a mystery to us, and the big news is that nobody knows."

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  • 12/10/14--09:06: Artist Profile: Nick DeMarco
  • 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.

    Nick DeMarco

    You hop felicitously from medium to medium: sculptures, gifs, videos, fonts,T-shirts, tweets, products, furniture, and guerilla culture-jamming. I want to talk about your sensibility, which is identifiable throughout your different projects. I remember three descriptions that you yourself have used: "Transcendental banality," "Funky lil-ness" and "Dilbert on acid." They each point to something, so I thought we could riff on them a little, beginning with "Transcendental banality."

    I've phased out "Transcendental banality" because it sounded kinda wanky, but it was really one of the first ways in which I tried to describe what I was doing. I came up with it early on in school, where I was interested in both art and design. Art was supposed to be this more transcendental thing—and a failure if it became banal. Design that became banal, however, was considered a success—so successful that it became ubiquitous. Now, the phrase seems a little trite because everyone is interested in "The mundane" in a very NPR kind of way. But for me, it wasn't so much about elevating the mundane in itself, but inserting myself into it and melting into it in my own way. I'm very much an opportunist in that the things around you are usually such wasted opportunities for the transcendent. That's kind of what I meant.

    It seems you'd be unfazed without museums or galleriesnot that you're against them in any way, just that you'd be as comfortable or excited if a restaurant approached you to make their toothpick dispensers or if NPR asked for a ten minute Nick show. Or, to use a real example, like the "abstract" font you made, Inscrutable Regular, which produces doodles all over the screen as you type. It seemed like just one more opportunity for you, though I can't imagine it becoming a new standard in Switzerland.

    Nick DeMarco, promotional image for Inscrutable Regular font (2013).

    What's funny is that it kinda did take off—at least among graphic designers. Type is its own really intense little world. And it's true that this font is a project encapsulating a lot of what I'm into. It's a working typeface. It works everywhere—Microsoft Word or wherever—and from the computer's perspective, when you type "A," that's still an "A." That's what an "A" looks like now. But for us, what comes out is this scribbledy-gobbledegook. For the computer, a letter is a letter.

    Idleness is a huge motif for you as a productive principle not in the sense of being lazy, but in that I imagine your creative heroes to be more in line with the shirkers of the world or the dads using the office copier to sublime ends, carving out a weird space for themselves and then taking it all the way. I was thinking about your furniture designs like Daydreamer or Zen desks—or the Žižek piece where you're shining a laser pointer on him giving a lecture.

    At first, I didn't like the term "idle" because I'm somebody who tries to generate as much dope content as possible. But maybe idleness is the right word—or at least where I feel athome. It definitely ties into my observationalism. A lot of my art comes from observation, from looking, which is a very idle thing. With "Dilbert on Acid," I love the idea of worlds within worlds; that you can make your own reality without having to leave everybody else's reality behind. This is also a lot like acid, only I'm making it more concrete.

    The Žižek one really sums it up well, as a gesture. To me, laser pointers are such incredible tools, and one of the laziest things you can do. I bought this super powerful laser. I was shining it on the Brooklyn Bridge, into the windows of parties, everywhere. It makes time and space meaningless. It gives you this incredible power to do nothing—all this pretty sophisticated technology just to point at something…Which is ultimately what all artists do: point at things.

    So who are your key artistic influences, or how did you come to roll with the crews that you roll with?

    Every time I try to answer this question straight, I feel like I'm lying on some level; because I'm not motivated by artists in a direct way. I definitely get pumped on others like James Turrell, Cory Arcangel, Nasty Nets, Joel Holmberg, Ryan Trecartin. I'm not saying I work in isolation, but when I'm making something, it doesn't necessarily feel in response to their work—as influence—so it makes it hard for me to say. I'm sure I have been influenced, though. Parker Ito and I met in freshman year English class and became friends right away, and were both really into the internet. I knew about some net art people—Cory Arcangel or Rafaël Rozendaal. Then Parker turned me on to others, like Guthrie [Lonergan]. We were both on, and I was making a lot of gifs; and then JstChillin happened, which was organized by Parker Ito and Caitlin Denny. We had this crew, centered in San Francisco, which also included people like Zach Shipko and Body by Body. And still now, as far as influences or favorite artists—most of them are my friends. I will say that seeing Guthrie's work, acknowledged on the cover of Artforum, was really inspiring.

    Maybe now is a good time to switch to your investigation of "Funky lil-ness," as in "I made a funky lil' end table" or "I'm working on some funky lil' markers." You've also used it to describe objects not of your own creation in a way that signals you're at peace with other people's creative endeavors: a community parade, for example, or a shopkeeper who's made a "funky lil' sign."

    "Funky lil"... Hmm, well, now it's just become this thing that I can't stop saying. I was using it a lot to describe some... (pauses to reflect)... intangible quality, in which the thing stands out from everything around it, but in a way that means you may not notice at first. It's not in-your-face funky. It's not over-the-top funky. It's more like "Hey, check out this funky lil' guy. We're all just hanging out, and this guy's here too—and maybe he's a little different."

    I'm a self-expression junkie. I like seeing people that are fully pumped on the things they're pumped on, or objects that are fully pumped on being themselves. That is, if they're all in. Even if it's some regular person walking down the street with a weird hat on, or even a street sign with a weird lean. "Funky lil" ties into this—it's letting a thing be or become its weird self.

    Nick DeMarco, Tims Couch (2013).

    Since this is for Rhizome, let's conclude with a question about the digital or the internet, where you still make or place the bulk of your projects. When we first met, you mentioned that, at least in the early days, the internet afforded you an opportunity for "art without logistics"—in that its newer modes of production and distribution and the social circles which formed around them allowed you to kind of leap over the older ones in a really liberating way. What's your opinion on the gallerization of work that was originally made under or for the conditions of the internet or its "ensemble of networked technologies?"

    The gallerization part can be a bummer just because what's so great about the internet is that we're doing it ourselves, under our own rules, our own value systems, but then suddenly have to return to somebody else's. The fact that it's physical—that doesn't matter to me. It's beside the point. I'm not a digital snob or digital purist at all. Of course, there are still power structures on the internet, whether it's Facebook or or whatever. These are all power structures, but power structures that you can shake or leverage in different ways. I also don't look at the internet as this really idealized, utopian place. It's just an alternate reality where the limits and the restrictions are different. And it's always fun to work with new sets of restrictions, and move between them.

    Nick DeMarco, Jennifer Lopez as Gabriella Gonzalez (2014). Installation view from the exhibition "Here on Earth," Interstate Projects, Brooklyn.

    Age? 28.

    Location? New York City.

    How long have you been working with technology?

    Forever. My mom worked from home and had a computer in the house. We had Pagemaker and an early version of Photoshop. I've had a lasso tool in my hand since middle school or earlier. It's always been present. However most of what I do is Decoupage, only with copy-and-paste. I trust that the internet will provide and go in search of "X" without necessarily knowing what "X" is or how it works, exactly. Then I just go in and maybe change a 6 to a 7 and then—suddenly—I remember that that's what I wanted all along.

    Where did you go to school and what did you study?

    I studied anthropology; then went to CCA to study art and design.

    What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?

    I try to work as little as possible. 

    What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)

    I have a studio in the Bronx, which is pretty raw, a little funky, and very bohemian. Right now my desktop wallpaper is a picture of a dog wearing reading glasses.

    Nick DeMarco's solo exhibiiton "Here on Earth" opens Saturday at Interstate Projects in Brooklyn, NY.

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    On December 4 at Art Basel Miami Beach, I was part of a panel titled "Instagram as an artistic medium," along with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Klaus Biesenbach, Simon de Pury, and Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram.

    I gave a presentation  about my project Excellences & Perfections [recently presented as part of the First Look online exhibition series], a carbon copy of a talk previously given at the ICA [as part of a program with Rhizome, "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation"]. After my presentation, the talk became pure propaganda and the words "genuinely," "self-expression," "creativity" and "community" were mentioned without further discussion. The panel ended with Systrom saying that the platform he had created was a tool for users to be authentic.

    For several weeks before the panel, Rob Horning and I had been having the following conversation on Google Drive, which deals with many of these topics. —Amalia Ulman

    MC: Perhaps it's a little backwards to make the artist start the interview, but I thought it might work this time. What do you think? 

    AU: I think Rob should start; he doesn't know me, so he might have a few questions…?

    MC:I think that's a good idea.

    R: I will do some more background reading today, and return with some questions. Also, I will be this serif font for the purposes of this conversation.

    Okay, I will be using this blue one—also printing some of your writings today to read through/ take notes.

    Trying to get it together but need more time. I have to finish a few other things today, then I can give this my full attention tomorrow! I think I want to talk about the sort of narcissism that makes it hard for me to conduct interviews, and what that has to do with performing the self on social media—an endless interview with no interviewers and competing interviewees projecting the questions they want to answer onto an audience that may already be largely preoccupied with questions they were wishing to be asked. What keeps interviews from being performances—what can define them outside that sphere, if anything? The tactical presentation of self in social media makes the genre conventions of the Q&A suspect; we don't presume we are getting straight answers, but instead "straight answers"—a calculated pose that evokes the reified sensation of sincerity. Yet the more aggressively one tries to convey sincerity, the more cartoonish one's behavior seems to become. All the old tropes of sincerity can't withstand the foregrounding of self-construction in social-media profiles, and the way these are increasingly used to mediate reputation. Maybe this is why sad earnest types are always pleading for "new sincerity" while seeming to epitomize the ultimate nadir of insincerity. Being boring no longer connotes sincerity (or the absence of irony, which is wrongly equated with sincerity). Danger is the new sincerity. 

    Can one write revealingly about narcissism in a narcissistic way, or is that like trying to convey the emotion of boredom by writing sentences so boring that no one can tolerate reading them and instead finds more interesting things to do? Is there an interesting way to be boring? Is that the ultimate goal on Facebook? Is that the end Facebook has been engineered to make users pursue, given that being boring is the safest way to protect oneself from accusations of being craven or narcissistic?

    The hermeneutic violence in reading "ordinary" people's Facebook presence as literature. That is, aggressively interpreting the posts of people who are just posting to be "normal," who post defensively in a way that tries to defy being interpreted, who try to insist on their depthless superficiality. People who are using Facebook to assimilate to what Baudrillard called the "silent masses"—those people who become unknowable and "safe" because they are conforming to expectations so seamlessly.

    Is there a presumption of Facebook innocence—a benefit of the doubt given to any particular user that they are using Facebook in good faith and aren't trying to somehow trick audiences, or sell them something? Or does the fact that Facebook demands that one perform oneself so explicitly make such presumption of innocence impossible? What could guileless Facebook use look like, given that it's understood that the "normal" way to use it is to promote oneself and make self-aggrandizing announcements for the purposes of driving up one's engagement metrics? No matter how lame the things one posts are, everyone may still assume you're lying to look better than you are. One must appear to leak the truth about oneself inadvertently to get audiences to regard it as unadorned truth, without needing some level of decoding or interpretation.

    What kind of person would you have to be to believe that your own Facebook presence was "authentic," truly capturing who you really are? Using Facebook is, in fact, less a matter of expressing oneself than consuming a raft of entertainment that posits the user as a certain type of consumer—you don't express who you already are, but learn who you are supposed to be based on your previous choices as reflected in the kind of data Facebook can factor into its algorithms. 

    "The fake natural" and its symbiotic relation to "blandness"; minimally invasive mood manipulation, as conducted by techniques of algorithmic curation and crypto-crowdsourcing; trying "too hard" as a mode of indifference, as a paradoxical way of signalling one doesn't care what others think, as an alternative to "spontaneity" as a tactic for giving an action the ring of truth. If truth can be validated by the audience's perception of risk (something feels "true" because it was risky to do or say), then authenticity grounded in artless spontaneity (which has always been a weird thing for artists to have to aspire to convey) or compulsion can be replaced by authenticity which is constituted by strategy—by the breadth and intensity of the sell-out.

    Consumer culture relies on the ideological fiction that self-expression brings personal fulfillment and "self-actualization," so that the injunction to reveal oneself is not a burden, but bliss. This makes us both consume more—the self is articulated through branded commodities that have ever-shifting signifying potential—and provide more undercompensated labor (often the sort of "immaterial" labor that invests commodities with their signification capacity, giving brands their "meaning"). But there is a contrary, countertendency in consumerism—a desire to go beyond revealing or concealing the self and get rid of the self altogether, purging it from the moment-by-moment experience of subjectivity. This is most evident in obsessive or compulsive behavior—rituals decoupled from useful ends, the desperate pursuit of flow states. I also think it shows up in the desire to make identity "viral," that is, rootless and circulating for the sake of circulation and achieving an annihilating ubiquity. One posts to social media less to express or define oneself than to discharge that responsibility, putting the self's fate in the hands of the network. The more the self circulates there, the less one has to worry about it reflexively inside one's own head. "Virality" buys one a temporary break from the ongoing work of self-construction.

    But the way in which virality can annihilate the self in social media makes those seeking that annihilation very dependent on amassing audiences: the potential of their attention is what induces a feeling of flow, triggers the checking rituals, delivers the irregular and behavioralistic bursts of affirmation. The attention doesn't have to be "earned" through truthfulness. It feels the same if your "real" or your "fake" or pseudonymous profile gets attention "Being watched means coming to life and being someone"—yes, though perhaps in a more convoluted way that it at first appears. The measurable attention one receives through social media both consolidates and fractures the awareness of self. One hopes to be looked at because one knows that one will disappear in that gaze—one's objective realness will cease to be a problem, and identity will cease to be a burdensome responsibility.

    "Even when you show it all you reveal very little."  The aim is to create a soothing vacuum where the inner anxiety about identity resides. Showing all is the best way to reveal nothing. It renders one solid, opaque, depthless.

    Social media run on this fiction that everyone wants to be the center of attention, when in fact that desire operates simultaneously with the desire to thrust everyone else into the spotlight and get to feel surer of one's place within the sovereign audience. Social media tend to confirm the safety and the preferability and the satisfaction of being in the audience (while bringing everyone onto the stage to do it, like one of those immersive theater spectacles where the crowd has to play a role in the unfolding drama). The best moments on social media occur when we become an audience for ourselves, when we can credibly consume our own selves as a product, as a spectacle, while being free of the self-consciousness, the paralyzing reflexivity, that usually attends it. This is the place "Where 'me' is imagined as a pure and precious inner space untouched by external values and demands." I think that space can be carved out with the aid of social media through this dialectic of attention and shame; the belief that the "precious inner space" pre-exists contact with the social world is pure ideology concealing the social mores and power relations we are born into and helping naturalize those things, making them change-resistant.

    Maybe this is useful context for the attempt to use social media to make audiences "Feel uncomfortable after desiring something that was inherently wrong: wishing other's failure." The pleasure of being an audience, especially in heavily trolled space, is the sense of being insulated from criticism and being safe in the mob, the masses. Audiences want more, I think, because this activates their own feelings of safety; the attention audiences pay to others online contributes to making those others seem exceptional, different, somehow always already deserving attention and its detrimental effects. That difference renders the audience comparatively "bland" and protected; envy is the bitter aftertaste of comfort.

    But the insulation is always an illusion, especially on social media. Social media makes the feeling of being safe in an audience more intense (because of the palpable proximate danger) and makes it accessible at any time. But it lets us be the audience only at the price of making ourselves vulnerable to being singled out—actually, it makes us do the work of singling ourselves out in advance. We recuperate the vulnerability inherent in this by making the self into an alien thing apart from ourselves which we can watch and enjoy. Part of that may be wishing our own failure, if that will bring substantiating attention to our disassociated self. To shame an audience for experiencing safety through consuming/enjoying the failures of another is itself morally ambiguous, of course. It ultimately attempts to impose vulnerability without any of its buffers or recompenses.

    Because a position of criticality is itself a space of privilege...

    The truth-signifying value of words displaced by images, which seem for the moment harder to shape to a strategic end. I wonder if a more rote distrust of images will emerge as they are used more like language, manipulated with the same artfulness in the course of the everyday. The "queering" of "mainstream narratives" is chiefly a matter of sowing a distrust of images, of emphasizing their rhetoricity. It is not about bringing more "truth" or "authenticity" or "real selves" into the public sphere, but more awareness of tactics, more overt sophistry. Perhaps this will orient people toward seeing the "real" or the "true" in the effort one puts toward faking something, and that "something" will not even need to be assessed in terms of its genuine-ness. But instead we seem to be moving toward more elaborate efforts to hide effort (the "#nofilter," "I woke up like this" wave), to represent the fake as true instead of as a true fake. Faking the natural takes a lot of money; naturalizing the fake is egalitarian.

    Bodies must be forever malleable: "The output is a perpetually provisional self, a subjectivity sensitive to insecurity and craving validation but aware that any validation can only be temporary."

    I feel, in opposition to the 20th century, this craving for the faux natural. A need to be in constant flux, it is applied to the bodies as much as it is applied in a neoliberal work environment. In a "feminine" economy, as it has (condescendingly) been called, there is an imposed adaptability, talent for improvisation etc.

    You say "Real Selves must also be infinitely malleable"; I know you are referring to the self which is fabricated to then digitally be shared online, but I'm making an analogy to the physical self here, to body modification, to the idea of the "real self," which is the basis of today's plastic surgery. Nowadays, aesthetic procedures should instead be called: Elastic Surgeries. It is not about one big noticeable and irreversible change (a facelift, silicon implants, an aggressive nose-job); it is about the never-ending possibilities of subtle modifications, of temporary procedures. Liquidity.

    Now, we humans are not just "entitled" to one faux-natural self, but to many of them—and forced to perform them in a very "natural way."

    The subtle refreshed face, "the new me." Everyone will think that you've gotten, I don't know, a haircut? They won't even imagine that you've actually gone under the knife!

    And not even the knife... the new regime for the adaptabilities of the flesh is a system of pills, injections, fillers, gels, liquids, transfers. A system of semi-transparent manipulations to resemble our photoshopped selves better, more naturally, to be "genuinely" better looking, for the sake of #nofilter.

    "Fantasies that feed neoliberal ideology: liquidity and authenticity." I've been dealing with this recently—people react to fiction in social media just like those who jumped from their seats at the Lumières' first public film screening. That's how it feels like because, in a way, everyone knows, at their core, that all reality online is fabricated. Maybe that's where the bitterness came from (in relation to the performance) because that exposure not only involved me, but everyone who followed and saw themselves reflected in it.

    Yes, everyone is implicated! The escapism traditionally involved in consuming stories is compromised; one's chosen escape route— and where one wants to escape to— has material consequences for others when these escapes take place in networked space/time. Social media as a place where one's fantasies—the atavistic ideas you want to purge from your mind and separate from the real—have concrete effects not on service workers or culture-industry workers, but on peers. The fantasies, as expressed through what one pays attention to or "likes," are tracked and amplified and have ripple effects. This is the problem with consuming friends as entertainment; we warp one another with these narrative hungers a-synchronically, while the illusion of collaboration is sustained by the platform which archives everything.

    I think the main desire in consuming a narrative is often to transcend the arena of the story, to disappear; consuming stories on social media refuses this. The suspension of disbelief is the act of a god. But interactivity with a narrative drops that to the work of a fact checker.

    The only impertinent question that was asked during the talk Michael put together at the ICA was from a man who was inquisitive about the legitimacy of the performance in terms of authenticity: how could it be of value if it hadn't come from a place of "real" lived experiences? The problem is that I made the mistake of answering that most episodes were actually based on things I've been through in the past. WRONG ANSWER. I failed, I admit. Shouldn't have said that— shouldn't have tried to legitimize my actions with the card of lived experience. If everything was fabricated, I could have researched the episodes in books, films, music, radio shows... and it should have been as valuable: it was fiction—not a documentary.

    I wonder if we are moving away from authenticity being a matter of spontaneous, nonstrategic truth to one where authenticity is "legitimized" or guaranteed by overt effort. The norm will be to have a unique self served to you by algorithms, etc., and a lot of status will be pursued by "working" at the self and defying this sort of automation. Fabricating a self will be more authentic than "just being."

    On a similar note, I was asked by an art magazine to do an interview. Ok, fine. Was told that they were interested in the performance. Ok, fine. They said they wanted me to pose as a sugar baby. Not fine.

    As much as I repeated that the work was over and that it didn't make any sense to repeat one of the characters, it seemed difficult for them to understand the long process of fabrication behind each image, as if it was taken for granted that, because of the platform (Instagram) and the tools (iPhone) the process had been much more spontaneous. 

    The stakes in the fantasy of spontaneity—that fantasy is definitely one that warps others across the networks. It ends up being a means to impose discipline, behavioral norms. We want to suspend disbelief and indulge vicariously in the idea of effortlessness; that means imposing a bunch of necessarily invisible work—to hide the traces of self-improvement, self-presentation.

    It feels as if this "feminization" of labor, especially in terms of cognitive work, has appropriated the successful system previously imposed on housewives by capitalism. All digital content is produced out of love therefore social recognition should be enough payback for cognitive workers. Such a system promotes effortlessness because this sort of creativity has been transformed into a naturalized activity: everyone likes expressing themselves, producing content, making videos of their cats, reviewing cosmetics, writing tutorials…

    In this sense, it is funny that the ones who very easily saw the constructed-ness of the characters, and the effort behind them (from outfits, to make up, hair…) were women, maybe because women have previously seen themselves in a similar system where all these efforts were concealed under the illusion of the naturalization of their bio-femininity.

    The platforms prompt these demands to rigorously construct naturalness, but within them is a countertendency to naturalize the ongoing self-construction process and foreground it, the serial self.

    Your project seems to me to be so bound up with the ethics of suspending disbelief on social media.

    Well, I think that it is important to offer skepticism about media in general. Even though it is well known, for example, that news networks are manipulated depending on their ideology and that women's magazines are constantly censored by their advertisers (mainly the cosmetic industry), reminders are always worth generating. This is because, even if they are painful because they point out hierarchies of power and manipulation, they help the audience to become more analytical about their sources of information. If I generated a fiction, everything else could be a fiction too.


    Let me take the liberty of jumping back to the very top of the text.

    In answer to your question, I do love interviews, but especially for the opposite reason: to be asked things I've never thought of before. To be put in uncomfortable situations; to have to solve new issues. I find it very difficult to talk about my practice out loud, in a stream of consciousness of sorts, so I actually do need other people's inquisitions to build up my ideas.

    "Individuals are encouraged to become entrepreneurial about the self, about identity" as you said; the more one tries to convey sincerity the more cartoonish this behavior becomes, and I think this is the reason I see interviews as hyper-revised pieces of writing and why the lectures and talks I give are coldly scripted. If it has been rehearsed, I might as well not try to conceal it—what is being genuine, if not a highly rehearsed pose?

    It is late now—not thinking with clarity. Will revise these words tomorrow.


    I was watching this video with Noam Chomsky where he talks about being and endlessly questioning everything, including the most "obvious" things. He talked about how the process of learning is based upon this deconstruction, and that reminded me of a part of Beatriz Preciado's book Testo Junkie where she is explaining the structure of drag-king workshops. During these sessions, the theatricalization of gender roles takes place through imitation and exacerbation, to the point of seeing how much of a social construction gender is. A bio-fiction instead of a natural pattern of behaviour.

    The imitation of the real and the mundane in social media to the point of it becoming irrisory  and an obvious collection of learned traditions; I wonder if what I was trying to do, and what I'm doing now, could function as a subversive workshop with similar ends to that of a group of drag-queen or drag-king transvestites over-analyzing every gesture that tends to be taken for granted by the mainstream. 

    Preciado's book was pretty overwhelming to me.

    A paper about "algorithmic gender" reminded me recently of Preciado and gender as biofiction and the way social media affects that. I made a Buzzfeed listicle about it, but I am not sure it makes much sense:

    Here's how it begins:

    Within data sets, people's gender can be deduced from other information collected about them, say, the online sites they visit, what sorts of goods they purchase, the shape of their social network, the frequency of their interactions with various platforms, and so on. The gender a predictive algorithm deduced for a particular individual may not match what that individual believes her or his gender to be. In a world increasingly governed by algorithms, the individual will be wrong and the algorithm right.

    This reminds me of a book by Paul Virilio that I was recently reading, The Administration of Fear, in which he declares "I cannot accept being enclosed in numbers, in a numerological cult." He explains how our demographic question has been essentially been treated as a numerical problem; how our lives are considered in quantitative terms and how this clashes with our human nature, leading towards exobiology, meaning that, because we live in the presence of an extra-world (cyber-world) our own humanity becomes an extra-humanity. Basically, quantity over quality issues.

    But anyway, I find it really difficult to open up and "rant" endlessly. As we say in Spain, "You got to take the words outta me with a corkscrew." Maybe ask me something, or tell me how much nonsense I'm making up to now so that I can refocus and explain myself better.

    It makes sense to me. But I will bring in some questions for you, next.

    How can "credibility" be an artistic medium?

    "Credibility is in the ears of the beholder." I was talking about this with my mother the other day. Because I don't lie (or didn't use to!), I tend to believe everything everyone says, all the time, even the most absurd things. I enjoy it.

    When I was younger, I was as interested in writers' pieces of work as much as their biographies, or even worse, the way they looked. I'd fact check everything; for example, it would make me very happy to learn that Colette's early life had actually been so similar to Claudine's, or I would try to read all of Marguerite Duras' books because she looked pretty in one picture, and that physicality made her more "real."

    "People tend to believe what they want to believe." I remember watching this (awful) movie about the young Salvador Dalí and his gay affair with Federico García Lorca. The film is terrible. I don't think I've ever watched anything  worse, but I told myself to believe every scene of it because I like Lorca more than Dalí, because it matches "my ideology" better, and because as a young anarchist I'd cringe at the idea of Dalí making art for the dictatorship, or the possibility of Buñuel beating up gay men on the streets of Barcelona.

    With the years, on the other hand, I've started to love lies. You said: "Fabricating a self will be more authentic than 'just being'," and I agree.  Nowadays I'd notice that someone is lying to me and would think "Keep on going, I want to drown in your fabrications to the point of not knowing anymore what's real and what's not, and I don't care."

    Credibility is a currency, for sure, because many people need to not know they've been lied to, to enjoy it. 

    Maybe this is why con artists are artists :) 

    How can artists discuss their work without prescribing interpretations?

    I feel, depending on the artwork, that providing an explanation of sorts is necessary. In the case of Excellences & Perfections I think it was highly necessary to put into words the intentions that led me to work on this performance; but then again, I think it is because I always saw it more as some sort of experiment/project, which addressed a long list of "problematic subjects." In this case, getting lost in a sea of misinterpretation could have been dangerous, and giving a framework was useful.

    In other works, I do indulge more in aesthetics, sensory matters, sensations etc. and I feel it is highly important to give breathing space to the spectator for a more personal analysis of the artworks. Maybe the key is to keep art and self-explanatory remarks separate, but available? Maybe the only solution is to say absolutely nothing about one's own work? I personally find that difficult, which might be a weakness, I don't know.

    Do you think much of online social media work on the self is really more about sustaining the social stereotypes cherished by others in the network for their ability to organize experience? We cater to their fantasies of how certain people should be to attract the attention that affirms for ourselves that we have being?

    Using stereotypes already cherished by others is a shortcut to likes; in the same way, being part of a subculture when a teenager might provide you with a boyfriend/girlfriend more easily. This is the strategy I used in the performance because I strived for manipulation and believability.

    On the other hand, I believe that it is possible to fabricate brand new stereotypes, maybe through the mash-up and amalgamation of previously known ones. It just takes longer for these new characters to get through. In this case, a real evolution would be necessary, a "rags to riches" of popularity, it just requires consistency and a strong strategy, or even a "marketing campaign" of sorts. It could even become a life's work: to be a caricature of oneself to the point of being imitable by others / used as a reference.

    Catering to others' already-existing fantasies liberates us from this hard work.

    One problem that I find is that sometimes, traditional media gets lost in this dichotomy of what the audience supposedly likes vs. what the audience actually enjoys.

    In this regard, I've always thought that pornographic material is one step ahead; because it is an underground economy, it is easier for people to accept what they actually like looking at, because erections are harder to fake. On the other hand, on the superficial level of distributed media, in an environment where we are being watched and judged, the simulacra of one's taste takes place. The trophy wife vs. the unaccepted sexual "deviance." The same thing could be applied to ideologies, religion, fantasies... And this safety of being part of a certain group (like being a Goth as a teen), is, as you've said in previous writings*, about surveillance—not about invigilation. We might be deviants, but we help to sum up the norm (again, algorithms). This categorization is needed in order to understand one's position in a global community of emotions.

    *(I can't remember which essay, will look into it when I have internet)

    The stereotypes take on momentum, and populate larger organizational narratives that serve us ideologies about how life must be lived in order to be real.

    Is the finished work of this project less the deck of slides or collection of images than the audience it organized and constituted through the deployment of an overfamiliar narrative?

    The intention behind the fabrication of this narrative is, effectively, the analysis of people's reactions. It is nothing new, but it was a re-affirmation to confirm that, yes, the art world is a tiny bubble with a very tight behavioral code and a very judgemental atmosphere.

    What the three characters did was to bring up all these "hidden" desires that some people, because of being part of an art crowd "ideology" usually keep repressed. I personally thought I'd get slammed by feminists for my behavior, but generally what I got was people saying things like: "You are very brave" or "Praying for you to recover ASAP." Especially interesting is how many women privately asked me about the surgery because they had thought many times of altering their bodies and adapting themselves to the male gaze, even though their "ideology" didn't allow them too. This inconsistency with regard to how the art crowd behaves superficially and how it reacts privately was very illuminating. I got all these women's insecurities afloat—not because they are weak, but because there is obviously, in the supposed liberal and supportive art crowd, a very misogynistic undertone.

    Is all social media self-performance a sort of surgery diary?

    It is, in a way, in the shape it takes when trying to emulate genuine-ness. The whole #nofilter "I woke up like this" runs parallel to that Kim Kardashian picture of herself with blood in her face, after the "vampire facelift." It's funny, this way of choosing one's personal fabricated candid snap shots. For example, Kim K would admit some cosmetic treatments, the ones who are considered soft-core, but would refuse to accept the ones considered hard-core.

    She hasn't got butt implants, but she does get her fat redistributed. This is achieved through liposuction of the fat accumulated in "bad areas" like the tummy and put where fat is supposed to belong, in her case, her ass. This is a totally artificial process but even then, because it is her own fat and not implants, she allows herself to say that her body is natural. Once, on her TV show, she even did a Truth or Dare with an X-ray machine to, show the world the lack of implants… Without even mentioning the fat transfers, of course.

    In this sense, I think that the new acne-selfie trend functions on the same level. You can upload a picture of yourself, from a good angle but covered in spots, and this would instantly convey effortlessness, when actually it is more about the consequences of accelerationism in a pill form (adderall-ritalin) becoming a trend/ status sign.

    The frisson of plastic-surgery tales seems to be a matter of the body being sacrificed to establish the credibility of the change narrative. Society demands these diaries because the threat of truly fluid identity is too destabilizing? Much of the work of sociality is to fix others in an identity, rather than to create the conditions of fluidity. But image-manipulation and media technologies are working against this, with a different agenda of innovation and rapid para-artistic production.

    Ed.: Hey, it's me again. I really don't know how you two are ever going to finish this. Do you?

    Yes, I am not sure how to finish it either; I wasn't sure how to begin, so it makes perfect sense. Do you want me to edit it down to a conventional Q&A? Or maybe you can just take the chunks you want at some point (don't want to impose additional work on you, however)?

    I actually like how this is going; the rhythm is very nice :) Been reading it from the beginning and wouldn't really try to "normalize" it by adapting to a conventional Q & A, lol.

    This text doesn't need a "makeover" :P

    Yes, I like it too; think something different comes out through working on it intermittently over a longer period—just sharing notes rather than composing questions.

    We like it too. Really excited to publish this!

    All images: Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections (2014). Performance: Instagram. Courtesy the artist.

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  • 12/12/14--07:43: Rhizome Today: A Challenge
  • We have 6 days left in our campaign to restore the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs, and just under $9k to go! That's a lot, and this is all or nothing—our Kickstarter might very possibly fail. We're looking for some leadership to spur pledges as we head towards our final goal.

    A key element of this project is the significant critical work that will be undertaken to historicize and make meaning of these artifacts of digital culture. If funded, our plan is to present a public program in April 2015 celebrating Chop SueySmarty, and Zero Zero, but also sketching out a broader history of feminist game-makers. 

    Our challenge: give $1,000 today and you will be credited as that important event's underwriter.

    Only 3 can pledge at this level. Of course, you will receive tickets to that program, and to its surrouding entertainment. 

    When you offer such significant support, you inspire others to give, as well. Pledge $1,000, make critical inquiry possible, and lead this campaign.

    (Note: Pledges are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.)

    Last night I attended an event called "Ultimate Exit: the Architecture and Urbanism of Tech-Secessionism." Organized by Martti Kalliala, speakers included Andrea Crespo, Ed Keller, and Geoff Manaugh. The program was plagued with technical problems, but I left with a pretty good list of references on which to follow up, excerpted incompletely below:

    Balaji Srinivasan at Startup School 2013

    The Paper Belt

    Sovereign Citizen movement

    Walking City of Archigram

    Foucault on the Ship of Fools

    French troops flooding the city in Battle of Algiers

    Justine Tunney's blog

    Collective effervescence

    NYPD Public Housing Bureau

    Oil rigs are stalking horses for secession 

    Memoirs written by retired cops

    The Diamond AgeSnow Crash

    Not referred to, but Tyler Coburn's E-Flux piece on the charter citizen remains essential.

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    The latest in an ongoing series of themed collections of creative projects assembled by Prosthetic Knowledge. This edition continues an exploration of computational sculpture, objects that are shaped by computational processes, beginning with this article on early examples in the field. 

    Pussykrew, from the series "Unidentified Fabulous Objects."

    For anyone with any interest in technology over the past four or five years, the emergence of 3D printing has been unavoidable yet incredibly inspiring, a method of fabrication that has been applied to everything from movie hero costumes to prefab houses.

    The term "3D Printing," though, is itself potentially questionable. On appearance the technology resembles plotting machines more than printers (in the traditional sense of the word). Originally, the method was called "additive manufacturing" and defined as "the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies." This means that objects are formed from applying directed material from start to finish as opposed to using an already existing material form and creating a shape by removing from it. The first method of additive manufacturing was invented in 1984 (patented in 1986) by Charles Hull and called "Stereolithography," using ultraviolet light onto liquid photocurable resin (here is a retrotastic short video demonstration). Charles also invented the standard 3D Printing CAD file format STL. Other methods from the 80s include "Fused Deposition Modeling" by Scott Crump, which constructs forms using a controlled jet of filament (the method we are all most familiar with today) and "Selective Laser Sintering" which is similar to Stereolithography in practice but can produce forms in many other materials. Onwards into the 90s, more methods were introduced and businesses specializing in this manufacturing technology emerged. In 1993, MIT claimed a patent for "3 Dimensional Printing techniques" which were subsequently licensed to other companies, and the term has stuck since. Commercial 3D Printing machinery was initially bulky and slow, yet steadily has become faster. It was in 2005, though, that a hobbyist personal market emerged starting with the RepRap project, an open sourced model employing the fused filament model we are familiar with today, and ignited the awareness (and predictable hype) of the technology, able to fit on the future desktop. That isn't to say there are no further innovations in the commercial field—Mcor Technologies have put together a colour 3D printer that use layers of printed and cut paper to create 3D forms (although as you can see in this video, whilst the layering principle is present, the end object requires removal of unnecessary paper material). It does, though, resemble a technique closer to the original definition of printing.

    This is an obviously promising area for artistic exploration, yet in many cases, the most widely promoted works in the medium are produced with the sponsorship of printing companies, existing only to demonstrate the technical potential of new tools. These works date quickly as the technology evolves, with new, more detailed and larger outputs, and a wider range of material filaments.

    There have been smaller, independent, exhibitions of more compelling 3D printed works: Auru of the Synthetic by Matt Chalker who reproduced miniature examples of familiar contemporary art, and Open Shape, a collection of narrative pieces developed by several artists to be made and sold by the 3D printing company Shapeways.

    For this submission, though, I want to focus in particular on artists who apply computational processes to objects, thinking through the translation of data into form via the 3D printing apparatus. These artists avoid the usual algorithmic clichés by exploring and thinking critically about 3D printing as a technical and cultural process.

    Marius Watz

    Form Studies (Makerbot), (2011)

    A Norwegian artist based in New York, Marius Watz' practice is focused on generative coding and abstract computational aesthetics. He has described his process as "parametric modeling," defined as:

    The modeling of a form as a system of generative rules, controlled by parameters that describe distinct qualities of that form.

    The objects are almost like side effects or artefacts of these processes. Watz was one of the first artists on my radar who was exploring the path of 3D printing and digital fabrication, and is considered an important practitioner in this emerging field.

    Marius Watz' website

    Probability Lattice (2012).


    Modular Lattice (2012).


    Austrian artist who has been creating digital art since 1995 explored the process of 3D printing itself for the project 'Filament Sculptures', a collection of experiments concerned with the behaviour and aesthetics of the filament material itself:

    From the project's documentation tumblr:

    I am really (!) not interested in creating 3D models in a 3D programme and then simply have them printed out. I rather wanted to know what can be achieved with the actual properties of filament and the movements of the printhead.

    So i wrote some short processing application to directly output gCode: This is very basic, because you just define the location of the printhead, the speed of the movement and the amount of filament that should be extruded.



    LIA's website; project documentation Tumblr; PK Link.

    Matthew Plummer Fernandez 

    Venus of Google (2013).

    London based British/Colombian artist with a focus on technology and the consequences of algorithms, often using the Processing language to code generative form, such as his Disarming Corruptor, a Mac app to encrypt-by-corrupt 3d object files to alter the virtual object form beyond recognition.

    Digital Natives

    For Digital Natives, Matthew took 3D scans of familiar mundane objects, processed the models and printed the results: 

    Everyday items such as detergent bottles and a watering can are 3D scanned using a digital camera and subjected to algorithms that distort, abstract and taint them into new primordial vessel forms. In some cases only close inspection reveals traces inherited from their physical predecessors. 

    Vessels are arguably the lowest common denominator for man-made objects across all cultures, these objects however have no storage function other than to embody the stored digital data that describes them.

    For Venus of Google, a female-like form was generated from a single image of a woman which custom code utilized and generated a shape around a simple virtual block, and subsequently printed, a virtually generated form made physical:

    The Venus of Google was 'found' via a Google search-by-image, googling a photograph taken of an object I had been handed over in a game of exquisite corpse. The Google search returned visually similar results, one of these being an image of a woman modelling a body-wrap garment. I then used a similar algorithmic image-comparison technique to drive the automated design of a 3D printable object. The 'Hill-Climbing' algorithm starts with a plain box shape and tries thousands of random transformations and comparisons between the shape and the image, eventually mutating towards a form resembling the found image in both shape and colour.

    I'm interested in this early era of artificial intelligence, computer vision and algorithmic artefacts, exemplifying the paradox of technology being both advanced and primitive at the same time. This piece investigates the potential use of algorithms to create virtually infinite cultural artefacts.

    Here is a video Matthew put together demonstrating the process:

    Matthew's website:

    Matthew's #algopop tumblr:

    SolarSinter Project


    This is probably the most creative and poetic 3D printing method that has been put together: a project from 2011 by Markus Keyser utilizes magnified solar power and sand as material to create glass objects. Here is a video of the computer-controlled machine being used in the Morrocan Desert. 

    And from the project description:

    In the deserts of the world two elements dominate—sun and sand. The former offers a vast energy source of huge potential, the latter an almost unlimited supply of silica in the form of quartz. The experience of working in the desert with the Sun-Cutter led me directly to the idea of a new machine that could bring together these two elements. Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering). These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals—the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer. By using the sun's rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.

    More here



    Polish couple Andrzej Wojtas and Ewelina Aleksandrowicz have worked in various digital forms such as motion and animation. Inspired by net art aesthetics, the duo invested in a 3D printer to bring a fluid, gender-bending style into physical reality. Initial models were shown to be constructed with a 3D printer with a live video stream and documented on their Unidentified Fabulous Objects Tumblr. Their efforts were recently exhibited at the London 3D Printshow, and won the art category.

    Ashley Zelinskie


    Reverse Abstraction

    One and One Chair

    Brooklyn-based artist, now in residence at NEW INC, whose works focus on the interplay between language and computer technology. In her Reverse Abstractions series, 3D volumes such as cubes and chairs are formed from a rigid skin of densely packed alphanumeric characters. This is not a cosmetic touch—the characters are the hexadecimal values of the 3D object files they represent; thus, these are objects which both people and computers can understand:

    … humans and computers perceive the world through different languages, and what is concrete for one is abstract for the other. The objects and shapes so familiar in human art can be neither perceived nor conceived by computers in their original form. Likewise, the codes that are so familiar to a computer are merely scattered symbols to human sensibility. The Reverse Abstraction series attempts to bridge the gap by constructing traditional objects in dual forms: as the classical object and as the hexadecimal and binary codes that represent them. Thus, abstraction becomes material, the meanings for humans and computers are united, and the duality is resolved.

    Ashley's website: A large-scale laser-cut cube from the Reverse Abstractions series was recently acquired by the US State Department for installation in the US Consulate in Jeddah, now under construction, no doubt because of its visual resonance with the Kaaba.

    Morehshin Allahyari


    Iranian artist now based in the US created the "Dark Matter" series of printed artifacts designed with 3D software that combine surreal and humorous object combinations. These objects individually are either banned or frowned upon in Iran. Weird and nonsensical yet politically motivated, the project highlights the potential for computational sculpture to create and transform cultural archives. To some, owning a 3D printer could be considered a political act:

    "Dark Matter" is a series of combined, sculptural objects modeled in Maya and 3D printed to form humorous juxtapositions.; The objects chosen for the first series are the objects/things that are forbidden or un-welcome in Iran by the government. The objects that in many other countries people use or own freely but under Iranian government laws (for several reasons) are forbidden or discouraged to use. Owning some of these objects/things (dog, dildo, gun, neck tie, satellite dish, etc.) means going to jail, or getting a fine, or constantly being under the risk of getting arrested or bothered by the moral police. By printing and bringing the virtual 3D into physical existence, I want tosimultaneously resist and bring awareness about the power that constantly threatens,discourages, and actively works against the ownership of these items in Iran. No matterhow functional, through 3D printing, I am able to re-create and archive a collection offorbidden objects. In a way, the sculptural objects serve as a documentation of lives (my own life included) lived under oppressions and dictatorship. This is the documentation of a history full of red lines drawn in the most private aspect of one's life.

    Project webpage; step-by-step guide to the method on Instructables. 

    Jonathan Keep




    Random Growth

    Sound Surface

    British artist Jonathan Keep has put together a method of 3D printing objects using a more traditional art material—clay. Working in sculpture for more than 20 years, the 3D printer (and computer) has extended his range of creative development. Various projects has seen vases made of sound data and random outputs based on natural computational processes, subsequently fired and glazed:

    I have long used computer software to develop new ceramic forms. With an interest in the hidden numerical code that underpins all nature I have developed a working process whereby the shapes of these pots are written in computer code. This digital information is passed to a studio based DIY 3D printer that I have adapted to print in clay. Layer by layer the pots are printed out – a sort of mechanical pottery coil building. After printing, the ceramic is fired and glaze in the normal way.

    From the elemental forces of earth, fire and water pottery has traditionally drawn on nature for inspiration. In using computer code to create this work I aim to add a further layer to include the elemental, naturalmathematical patterns and structures that underlie all form. The appreciation of this work illustrates just how much we are connected at a very deep level to the natural world.

    Jonathan's portfolio of digital pots.

    See also: Two projects that convert music into 3D meshes for 3D printing, Sonic Prints and Microsonic Landscapes.

    Gokinjo Monozukuri

    And finally… Japanese collaborative artists Gokinjo Monozukuri (made up of Nukeme, Kanno and yang02) together work on projects exploring creative potential with 3D software and photogrammetry (the method of constructing 3D objects with a collection of photographs taken at various angles.) One such project is the fashion focused Computer Copy where a garment is worn and captured, reduced to a smaller polygon count, and reconstructed with digital fabric prints. Another project, Captured Desire, aimed to reconstruct portraits of famous personalities using various photos on Google Image:

    There is a web service which makes 3D models using the pictures taken from various angles. The aim of making "Captured Desire" is printing full colored 3D model by collecting similar uploaded images on the internet instead of taking pictures by ourselves. The more attention the subjects gather, the more images are uploaded on the internet with the result of higher resolution of the 3D models.

    These days, a lot of 3D cameras and softwares are developed, and we expect that everything in the world will be 3D modeled with high resolution in the near future. The method of our work is kind of cloud-sourcing and suggests a new way of 3D modeling at the moment in which the 3D system is not fully grown. Therefore, our printed 3D models are distorted and don't have the back side. But we can say that this is a sampling of the present moment of technology which progresses rapidly. Our models will also express the desires of the people living in the present day by showing the amount of popular images and the number of access counts. 

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  • 10/13/14--07:58: Rhizome Today: CITIZENFOUR

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     Lance Wakeling, Field Visits for Chelsea Manning, 2014

    This is Rhizome Today for Monday, December 15, 2014.

    Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at 

    Last night, Lance Wakeling's Field Visits for Chelsea Manning premiered at BAM as part of the Migrating Forms program. The 41-minute documentary is a meandering travelogue based on a pilgrimage made by the filmmaker and his associate producer, Courtney Engelstein, to the sites where Chelsea Manning was detained; these include Kuwait, and Fort Leavenworth and Fort Mead in the US.

    The film is interesting to consider alongside Laura Poitras' masterwork Citizenfour, which I wrote about previously in this space. In Wakeling's film, the protagonist makes no bodily appearance, while Poitras' film hinges on the physical presence of Snowden. In the former, Manning's voice is never heard—his thoughts appearing only via intertitles drawn from Alexa O'Brien's invaluable court transcripts and Manning's letter to Obama—while, in the latter, Snowden is able to argue his position in his own voice. I joked at the post screening Q&A that Wakeling's film, which includes incidental moments such as finding a large piece of quartz on the sidewalk at a cafe near the site where Manning was held, is about as far as one could get from "Putting you right in the room as history is made"—a remarked remembered about Poitras' film.

    That difference, though, emerges from the different conditions under which Snowden and Manning are found. One is free but in hiding, while the other is in prison, kept awake for 23 hours each day, kept in constraints, and not allowed to turn in her chair during court proceedings. By making his film a travelogue, Wakeling draws a contrast between his mobility and Manning's lack of freedom, evoking her predicament powerfully through her absence and stillness. 

    Read Michael Connor on Citizenfour by Laura Poitras.

    An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the name and role of associate producer Courtney Engelstein.

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    Originally published in a different form in You Are Here: Art After the Internet (Cornerhouse Books, £15.95. Edited by Omar Kholeif). 



    I'll start by making two claims, which I won't return to since they speak for themselves, and because they are—as far as I'm concerned—incontrovertible. With the first, I'm paraphrasing Nicholas Mirzoeff in saying that post- should not be understood as "the successor to," but as "the crisis of." Having established this, the second claim aims to get one thing straight: every artist working today is a postinternet artist. Let's move on.

    The modern-millennial hubris around newness (and, by extension, youth; and, by extension, technological progress, accelerationism, and neoliberal futurity) is epitomized by breathless discourses around the seismic, revolutionary, never-before-seen newness of the internet and surrounding technologies—and echoed in initiatives like 89plus. This feels especially damaging when many of us have been living in an essentially striated (e.g. sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic) world for as long as anyone can remember. One of the few strategies for imagining a better, fairer world is the idea that things have not always been this way. Another strategy is the practice of intergenerational discourse, or learning from—and railing against—one's elders and forebears. Until recently, this was a required part of any art education—or indeed, any coming of age rite, even if the balance between "learning from" and "railing against" might vary across cultures.

    Now, however, the notion of the "digital native" seems to draw a division—and implicit hierarchy—between those who have enjoyed access to networked technology since childhood and those who have not. This division may or may not be correlated with age, race, class, gender, and geographical location.

    Another school of thought holds that the novel psychosocial situation in which we find ourselves postinternet has given rise to unprecedented fragmentation, narcissism and alienation in the social status quo, although it seems unlikely that the contemporary condition should be qualitatively different from any other technological or teleological shift in human history. Current anxieties that the internet may be making us stupid (or lonely, or sexually aberrant, or socially dysfunctional) echo Plato's worry that the widespread practice of writing would destroy oral literacy and the ability to create new memories. 

    As it happens, timespace as heterogeneous singularity is not unprecedented in human history: the dreamtime of the indigenous Australians in which past, present and future were held in symbiotic tension, is known as the "all-at-once-time" as opposed to the one-thing-after-the-other-time that we all became accustomed to in occidental modernity. The first synchronous electric clocks—the ones we now see on the tower-most parts of monolithic modern architectures—were introduced only in the 1920s. A synchronous electric clock has no inherent timekeeping properties, but runs at the frequency of the electrical power source, which—when coupled to an electric motor with the correct gearing—drives the clock hands at the correct time. Even time—as we know it—is virtual: a technological construct.  

    The self, by which I mean the essential consciousness, exists nowhere per se, but is located in time and space. In this sense we are all, to some extent, virtual beings. What Marc Augé calls a "non-place" is what Rem Koolhaas calls "junkspace," both of which summon Virilio's writing on interstitial space, or through-spaces: airports, hotel lobbies, shopping malls—places one travels, rather than inhabits. Travelling is subject to any number of contingencies and may operate over various time zones and at various speeds. This shouldn't be news to anyone, yet somehow any modal shift in the fabric of social timespace seems to produce a set of cultural crises that keep a roaring trade raging over on the commentary circuit. It's as good a way to make a living as any other.

    Every commentator wants to distinguish [him]self from the dumb user who clicks and swarms and emotes all over every platform, zombie-like and addicted, generating the demographic data that provides PhD students in media studies and digital anthropology with their raw material. These distinctions may be seen as ways to demarcate class signification in an economy of symbiotic flows in which labor has itself become both commodity and production process. Scott Lash observes, "In the modern and industrial order the instrument (industrial capital) becomes the end. … That is, ideology—as a superstructure—functioned as a means to the end of the accumulation of industrial capital. But now, as Eco observes, information itself 'becomes the merchandise.'"[1] Contemporary technologies—including surveillance systems, social networks, production techniques and reproductive processes—have been marshaled and instrumentalized by artists and conglomerates alike.

    Nobody wants to be seen as the serf of the field who wastes [her] plebeian life away in the data mines of Zuck's blue book; just as nobody wants to be seen taking selfies in public, or living the unexamined life of the content producer whose sole agenda is to validate an otherwise pointless existence in a stream of Instagrammed meals-for-one and YouTube vlogs about makeup or pop stars or serialized teen fiction or any other inconsequential piece of consumer noumena. In the competitive frontier of hyper-real estate, artists, theorists and [other] communications colonists hustle to stake out territories of ownership and authority over these practices of data-production. Nobody wants Facebook to share their profile information, but everybody wants to lay claim to the coinage or stewardship of the term postinternet: everybody wants to make the great humanitarian documentary artwork in trenchant critique of Big Data and the sheeple who feed her. The artist vassal who reaps the fruit of user-serfs' affective labor typically has a Facebook profile so impeccably impersonal as to look like LinkedIn—or else groomed to perfection, rehearsed in the press, and archived as performance.

    In general, I remember Relational Aesthetics as problematic and uncool, with an embarrassing legacy of the neoliberal participation agenda most art institutions are now forced to observe in order to secure public funding (and it's worth noting that there's a similar participatory ideology behind the marketing and development of Macintosh, Microsoft, web 2.0, and most smartphone apps, not to mention many web-based artworks). It's precisely because of this and all its other failures that Relational Aesthetics starts to look like an important tool in thinking through the contemporary. The critique around various praxes collected under the rubric of that moment began to produce a certain set of ethics that made it difficult for artists to unthinkingly use the bodies of others to furnish their own artistic agenda (though it very much depends, unfortunately, on what kind of bodies, then as now). In those sectors of the art world that intersect with activism and social projects, there is much anxiety around the mis-interpellation of the data body by conglomerates; meanwhile, over in the storied realm of 'postinternet,' whole practices are built around the nonconsensual aggregation and reinterpretation of [other] users' content.

    As a rule, I tend to be a user rather than a commentator (though here I am, whoopsie-daisie, with another lil' thinkpiece on I find the character limits and text boxes occasionally comforting in homeless, precarious times, and besides, if there's something to discover there in the data-mines of social media and outlying territories, I prefer to learn by doing as a point of principle and necessity. Facebook, writes Binoy Kampmark, is much like Jeremy Bentham's panopticon—an 'all-seeing', surveillance device pioneered in the nineteenth century for penal reform; he quotes Foucault's observation that the inmate "'is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.'" When 'user' becomes 'artist,' it isn't only about redeeming the time and energy spent producing content for the conglomerates, but also the will to subvert this objectification in unintended and transgressive ways. Weird Twitter, Facebook glitch and dark YouTube are prototypes for an unorthodox occupation of these platforms, and like the secret linguistic codes of Polari and Verlan (evolved to preserve an authentic subjectivity under conditions of hegemonic control), the beautiful evolving phonetics of netspeak are as yet unintelligible to the data-bots plowing through everybody's feed. ISE[2] has no external standard, but is constituted of a stream of word-memes worn-in by [written] use and catalogued assiduously in the appropriately named "urban dictionary"—since the internet is properly cosmopolitan in the way of all busy thoroughfares. To take this work out of the browser and into the gallery is not in its raw form an act of recuperation, but an act of deterritorialization—a violent reification.

    As with any colloquial dialect (for "net art" is, like all art movements, a kind of visual language) the affect of url-based art and image production is entirely contingent on the context and its specifics: the audience, the network, the platform and its peculiarities. The gallery space has its own rarefied and incontrovertible lingua franca: a spatial-historical dialect that defines and shapes meaning even as it attempts—always somewhat huffily and fustily—to evolve around the technological and cultural developments that accompany each new generation of artists. The gesture of deterritorialization has been necessarily examined in recent postcolonial thinking, from which we learned that in order to preserve the affect or aliveness of works, objects, or signifiers torn from their native environment and placed in a gallery, there must first be a full acknowledgement of the historicity and wholeness of the original context. Until the object economy of the current contemporary releases its supreme hold on the discourses of display, there will only be token gestures and representations-of, and most of these works will become emptied-out and obsolete within a year or two, along with the technological narratives on which they are based.

    But these are just teething problems in a toothy market. Teeth are a basic processing technology, imitated by the mechanical engineers of early industry and now obliquely referenced in the bits and bytes of unprocessed data. Voracious and machinistic, there's nothing the art world can't chew up; but the enduringly great "postinternet art" won't emerge in earnest until we stop believing in the myth of its futurity. The true subjectivity of present-future timespace lives out its rhizomatic manibodied philosophies in a mindless, uninformed, half-sentient cloud in that precarious suspended heaven that hangs like a loading error between far-flung labyrinths of data servers, while the whole of 'postinternet' stays in its filter bubble: creeping through the cracks in our Adobe suites, artfully sacrificing our expensive MacGodheads in HD on the pale altar of Tumblr– and tapping out thinkpieces like this one, over whose bones we'll squabble on Facebook. None of our shit is anything new; most of it isn't even that interesting. Our collective history dates back to the evolution of homo sapiens– as opposed to, say, 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web– and the conditions of our present time[space] extend through the long moment of colonialism and capitalism, as well as back to shared ancestries and bodies whose worth, like our own, could be quantitatively accounted for. When we figure that out, we might be getting somewhere– if only through the understanding that we haven't come so very far at all. 

    You Are Here: Art After the Internet is available for order from Cornerhouse Books


    [2] Internet Standard English (doesn't exist, but it does now).

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    This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, December 17, 2014.

    There was a moment yesterday, right before I set Jesse Darling's article "Post Whatever: On Ethics, Historicity, and the #usermilitia" to Public, that I realized that most of her footnotes should actually have been hyperlinks--since the article originally appeared in print, this is how it had been written. Worse, one of them included a joke about the strangeness of printing a hyperlink on paper, inviting the reader to ineffectually mash the printed link with their finger.

    Yesterday, Rhizome contributing editor Orit Gat published a research commission from UK agency Opening Times in which arts writers (yours truly included) were asked to respond to several questions about writing online.

    The first question on Gat's list was, "Are there any forms of writing that you feel are inherent to the internet?" While many responses mentioned the listicle, only one (Chris Fite-Wassilak) mentioned the hyperlink (to find it you have to go here.) 

    The only thing I feel that is actually inherent to the net is the hyperlink. Which is useful in letting information, references, or otherwise sit closer to the text than a footnote; but then can be often used in the place of explanation, thought, or perspective.

    If the footnote suggested further reading that one might explore after finishing a given text, the hyperlink is more radical. It says, "here, you may as well look at this now, I'll still be here when you get back, if you ever do." It is an acknowledgment that one's text is never a standalone entity, but just one node in a much larger body of writing online. This is why it was so grating back when the Times et al wouldn't use external hyperlinks (remember this 2008 article "Mainstream News Outlets Start Linking to Other Sites"? It's a good read.)

    Lately, the practice of not linking seems to be making something of a comeback--links are mostly non-existent on Triple Canopy commissioned articles, and on e-flux Journal they are included only within marginalia, never in the main text. And on Rhizome, we don't do as much linking as we should. Fite-Wassilak notes that " as one tech writer said at a talk a few days ago, 'clicking is through, it’s all about scrolling now.' " 

    Our web habits are changing, but there does seem to be something worth retaining in the idea that the hyperlink proposed: that we should acknowledge the interconnected, collective nature of our writings, the porousness of the boundary around each text.

    There was a certain amount of anxiety voiced in the responses to Gat's prompt about "overproduction" on the web and the decline of fact-checking and rigorous editing. Wendy Vogel asked, "I try to keep in mind the question, What if a future scholar ends up using this piece as a primary source?" I understand this concern, and I feel that a publication like Rhizome has an institutional responsibility to try and write for the historical record in our main journal articles. But I also have a much more optimistic view of the kind of poorly fact-checked, informal writing that the web facilitates. (Hence, Rhizome Today). Future historians would usually be better off with fifty conflicting accounts of a given exhibition than a single "authoritative" one. 

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