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- 01/08/15--10:00: _Palinopsia
- 12/04/14--07:22: _Rhizome Today: A sp...
- 01/13/15--08:31: _Rhizome Today: Digi...
- 01/14/15--07:30: _Artist Profile: Emi...
- 01/15/15--08:14: _Rhizome Today: Airb...
- 01/20/15--08:30: _Up in the AIR: How ...
- 01/22/15--08:09: _Rhizome Today: is a...
- 01/23/15--07:23: _Rhizome Today: A Co...
- 10/16/14--07:13: _Do You Follow? Art ...
- 10/14/14--07:43: _Opportunity: Senior...
- 10/15/14--07:00: _Watch Now: Do You F...
- 01/26/15--08:45: _"Body Anxiety:" Sab...
- 01/27/15--07:40: _Flocking Behavior: ...
- 01/29/15--12:49: _Human Inside: MacKe...
- 01/30/15--08:44: _Rhizome Today: Dead...
- 02/02/15--08:40: _My brain hole just ...
- 02/03/15--11:43: _Rhizome Today: Hell...
- 02/04/15--09:31: _All Internet is Loc...
- 02/04/15--09:55: _Photos from Future-...
- 02/06/15--08:38: _Rhizome Today: Joel...
- 01/08/15--10:00: Palinopsia
- 12/04/14--07:22: Rhizome Today: A split-screen society
- 01/13/15--08:31: Rhizome Today: Digital Preservation Book Report
- 01/14/15--07:30: Artist Profile: Emily Jones
- 01/15/15--08:14: Rhizome Today: Airbnb's Safe Insurgencies
- 01/20/15--08:30: Up in the AIR: How will tech residencies reshape Bay Area art?
- 01/22/15--08:09: Rhizome Today: is a Hoax
- 01/23/15--07:23: Rhizome Today: A Conversation about HoloLens
- 10/16/14--07:13: Do You Follow? Art in Circulation 1 (Rush Transcript)
- 10/14/14--07:43: Opportunity: Senior Developer (Part-time) at Rhizome
- 10/15/14--07:00: Watch Now: Do You Follow? Art in Circulation 1
- 01/27/15--07:40: Flocking Behavior: TCF's music of the boids
- 01/30/15--08:44: Rhizome Today: Dead-simple code
- 02/02/15--08:40: My brain hole just dilated another 2 inches
- 02/03/15--11:43: Rhizome Today: Hell_Tree
- 02/04/15--09:31: All Internet is Local: Digital Folklore in China
- 02/06/15--08:38: Rhizome Today: Joel Holmberg's RadioShack/Amazon Alternate Future
Olsson, E. & Funk, P. (2009). "Agent-Based Monitoring using Case-Based Reasoning for Experience Reuse and Improved Quality." Journal of Quality in Maintenance Engineering, 15(2), 179-192.
"An Agent-based Legal Knowledge Acquisition Methodology for Agile Public Administration"1 is just one of the many hyper-dull papers on Agent-Based Modeling that require me to complete a course in antidepressants before reading. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors lend a certain numbness that cushions the deep boredom that comes with trying to come to grips with how logics at multiple scales work together to produce the performance of power in a world with computation at its center.
I have just finished writing a paper with Matthew Fuller from Goldsmiths (University of London2) about "Abstract Urbanism." This was my excuse for reading the aforementioned paper along with many other screeds, including Thomas C. Schelling's elaborately racist algorithm "Models of Segregation." Written in 1969—just four years after the Voting Rights Act gave a large percentage of African-Americans the right to vote—the paper posited a logic for interpreting micro/macro behaviours in segregated USA cities.3 Schelling's model worked by assigning black and white "agents" a space on a grid and a degree of happiness that is increased or decreased depending on the proximity they have to other black or white agents. Too little happiness, and they move toward their own type, creating discernible patterns of segregation.
The subsequent logics of agent-based computer modeling propose that explanations of social structures can be derived from the process of growing them from the bottom up.4 If you give (n) agents behavioral properties and structure the environment through which they move, you can observe emergence: system-wide phenomena arising through the interactions of small-scale elements.5
Agent Based Modeling (ABM) is the direct descendant of Schelling's logics, and is currently used in papers like "Economics as Distributed Computation,"6 "A mathematical model of the London riots and their policing,"7 or "A Weakly Supervised Bayesian Model for Violence Detection in Social Media."8 ABM is integrated into live networks—such as transport systems, electricity grids, mobile phone systems or, more recently, Ebola epidemiology—for purposes that include stress-testing and forecasting.9
The logic of ABM is based on a view of society as made up by people acting purposefully with self-interest, but with limited cognitive ability. Through the application of this logic, the urban environment moves toward a state where networked existence programs logical agents who then manage the environment of that existence.
In ABM's model cities, agents carry out mundane acts of consumerism and education. Freedom becomes a choice between pathways that have been modeled for us by agents—not unlike how Amazon, eBay or Google second guess what you want to buy, but ubiquitously, at every level of life. You can choose a pathway, any pathway, as long as it's based on bubble-sorted behaviour derived from people just like you.10 Never mind the drones will be fueled using knowledge extraction algorithms interacting with field operatives in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria calculating significant acts, work products, and courses of action for the best scenarios of attack and awaiting the systems administrator to just say yes.11
Working in this imaginary becomes a cycle of knowledge extraction to create more efficient agents. Companies will regard all knowledge you possess or process, and any decisions you make, as the property of the enterprise. Having invested in you and made it possible for you to consume calories and proteins through monetary exchange, the enterprise will not want to lose that investment, should you quit. Agents will be harvesting your decision-making capability for machine learning that will structure the environment of your choice; they will learn from you and calculate your efficiency, as well as the optimum time for your retirement.12 This sounds attractive—a world where you can finally be free in any way you wish, just as long as you keep shopping.
Having finished the article on "Abstract Urbanism," I decided to take a drug holiday from anti-depressants and high blood pressure tablets. It was during this vacation that I began to notice the after-image, or Palinopsia, created by staring intently at my monitor while replying to a never-ending stream of email. Apparently, the photoreceptors in your eyes exhaust their supply of photo-pigment and become numb, resulting in a decrease of signals to the brain and a lingering image in one's field of vision. Staring motionless at inconsequential information programs the eye to retain an afterimage; regardless of whether the eyes are closed or change focus to look elsewhere, a small square of color remains on the retina. I decided to try this technique in the office. I would sit motionless, staring into the abyss of email with a fixed gaze. For one hour, I tried not to blink; then, as someone entered the room and asked me some meaningless administrative question, I would frame them with the afterimage of the screen, enjoying the aesthetics of my eyes' dysfunction, and completely ignore them.
Logics act on and with multiple material scales at the same time. Techno-logically-mediated "life" becomes, in the words of Rossi Bradotti, a contested political field.13 The space between the people who programmed my email account and people like me using computers to experiment with Palinopsia create different forms of logic. This occurs at the level of coding the machine to perform calculations to display the text, and regulating my behavior as I push the mouse around and navigate menu systems to produce desired results.
In the imaginary that the logics embraced by Schelling and his ilk construct, critical thought is replaced by the structural analysis of behavioral data in systems like ABM. As we act out our extended minds through mobile devices, the proxy of our actions will offer us the freedom of more of the same in a well-trained, concentrated, pay-as-you-go form of containment. Such logics have no need to understand anyone's motivations; they have only to be able to detect discernible patterns of consumption, or monitor the body as it moves through technologically structured environments. This is a world without even the need for notional progress; meaning and its critics will become redundant. Just another jolt to the decaying corpse of the humanist project.
And reason enough, perhaps, to start a new course in antidepressants and commit to interfering interestingly in the world's collapse.
 An Agent-based Legal Knowledge Acquisition Methodology for Agile Public Administration is a paper by Alexander Boer & Tom Van Engers from the University of Amsterdam. The paper is tasked with finding mechanisms by which administrative machinery can adjust to the production of new laws using multi-agent systems to simulate agents in bureaucratic structures making them more agile and able to save money by avoiding potential liabilities or bottlenecks in the system.
 Professor Matthew Fuller is Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London and is best known as an innovator of Software Studies.
 Thomas Schelling, "Models of Segregation" The American Economic Review, vol. 59. no 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Eighty-first Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May 1969) pp.488-493.
 Epstein J. Axtel R. (1996) Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science From the Bottom Up (Complex Adaptive Systems).
 This can easily be imagined as an adjunct to what Deleuze termed Societies of Control, an environment in which the body moves freely through reconfigurable control structures. See Deleuze G. 1992. "Postscript on the Societies of Control". OCTOBER 59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 3-7.
 Axtell R. L. (2003) Economics as Distributed Computation, The Brookings Institution, NW Washington.
 Davies, Toby, Hannah Fry, Alan G. Wilson, and Steven Bishop. 2013. A mathematical model of the London riots and their policing. http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130221/srep01303/full/srep01303.html
 Cano, E; He, Y; Liu, K; Zhao, J. (2013). A weakly-supervised Bayesian model for violence detection from social media. The 6th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing.
 Computational model: Ebola could infect more than 1.4 million people by end of January 2015http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140926085559.htm
 One way to consider current trends in agent-based systems is to think of them as a Foucault-type discipline; in other words, a mode that analyzes and breaks down a phenomenon by modeling it to produce a kind of remote control, an ability to shape behaviors through the manipulation of variables. Foucault's uses discipline to describe the regulating of space, time or peoples conduct. Regulation requires that the object under consideration be broken down into discrete ordered parts. In computation a simple models of Foucault type discipline is the databases in which the entity relation model breaks down it's subject into a series of fields so as to create a form of remote control over the materiality of it's subject. See http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/mar/17/endless-war-database-structure-armed-conflict/
 See Harwood G. 2014. Endless War: On the database structure of armed conflict, Rhizome, Accessed http://rhizome.org/editorial/tags/graham-harwood/
 Robert L. Axtell and Joshua M. Epstein. Coordination in Transient Social Networks: An Agent-Based Computational Model of the Timing of Retirement. Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, Working Paper No. 1, (May 1999)
 Braidotti R. 2007. Bio-Power and Necroploitics. 'Biomacht und nekro-Politik. Uberlegungen zu einer Ethik der Nachhaltigkeit', in: Springerin, Hefte fur Gegenwartskunst, Band XIII Heft 2, Fruhjahr 2007, pp 18-23
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 rhizome.org/today. 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:https://twitter.com/brokeymcpoverty/lists/ferguson-locals-journos
Burke & Chinen on Forensis:http://rhizome.org/editorial/2014/apr/1/forensis-haus-der-kulteren-der-welt-berlin/
Baden and Parcell's Report on the autopsy:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/us/michael-brown-autopsy-shows-he-was-shot-at-least-6-times.html
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.
This is Rhizome Today for Tuesday, January 13, 2015. This post will be deleted on January 14.
In preparation for my upcoming (Dragan Espenschied-inspired) class "Storage Wars and Data Dumps: Narrating Digital Archives," which will run over seven sessions at NYU's ITP program, I've been catching up on my digital preservation reading. In particular, I finally cracked open Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito's Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, which looks at digital preservation primarily as a social process, and argues that digital objects should not be fixed in a specific historical state but allowed to be re-used and re-made. Only through the variability that attends social use and circulation can digital objects be expected to survive.
In its emphasis on the social, the book forms an interesting counterpoint to Matthew Kirschenbaum's Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, which focuses on digital preservation as a material process--opposed to the common rhetoric around new media as an "immaterial" or "ephemeral" medium. Kirschenbaum discusses social processes in depth as well, but subsumes these as components in a larger materialist perspective.
I found it striking that there was so little reference to Kirschenbaum in Re-collection, and I wanted to think about the relationships between their respective approaches in more depth. Luckily, Annet Dekker already made a start on this. Writing in the Journal of Computational Culture, she pointed out that even the concept of "variability" versus "fixity" in digital preservation--characterized by, say, the perfect copy versus the recreation--breaks down on a material level:
As Matthew Kirschenbaum explains: "One can, in a very literal sense, never access the "same" electronic file twice, since each and every access constitutes a distinct instance of the file that will be addressed and stored in a unique location in computer memory. "
Thus, as argued by Kirschenbaum in the same article, "preservation is creation – and recreation." In other words, the distinction between creation and preservation collapses. The copy is seen as the result of a process of copying. In this case, the notion of variability may not be very helpful because it is questionable whether the copy is an instantiation of the original or if it is something new.
Even the process of making a digital copy, then, enacts a certain transformation. I enjoyed this perceptive analysis, but I wonder if it, in fact, highlights common ground rather than philosophical distinctions. The term variability is, I think, intended less as a technical description than as a guideline for institutions to rethink their institutional practices. In this context, Kirschenbaum's argument that each digital copy of a file is, in a way, a recreation, only reinforces this point.
In other words: "Everything inside the computer is a performance."
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.
One recurring motif in your work of late has been your posters, sometimes A4 [letter-sized] but sometimes blown up larger, which usually depict one word or phrases, for example, "earth-cult," "sui iurus, or "we will protect the great river." These are presented in generic, unadorned fonts. Your press releases continue this aesthetic, combining these phrases to form a kind of poetry. Reading the text for your recent show at Jupiter Woods, in South London, we see couplings like "#archive #bank #invest / It is within our human capacity" and "how-to-disappear-in-the-anthropocene / the_love_that_sustains_all_matter.html."
Do these phrases create a taxonomy within your work? Do they give a clue to the way you form relations between different politics, geographies and affects? They have featured in a number of different exhibitions and projects over the last year. Might we say they form the skeleton, or the exoskeleton, of your practice?
The words are anchors or/and buoys in an operating system. When I employ them for the A4 page or a larger poster or banner they gesture towards an attempted isolation which I feel is terrifying for them&us. When words are large and isolated on the page they can be looked at for their surface forms and qualities (the curves and angles of the letters rather than the meaning the word points toward) They are also very poised, like templates, often in complete adherence to the prescriptions of google docs. They have to trust themselves to hold their form despite this uninvited and abrupt isolation. The individual poster is like a shield, armor, or veil. What lies beyond and before language as an orientation system?
It's all quite painful but it also forms a levelling arena for the words, the questions, the materials, the space between things, and the possible constellations to be absorbed through the same channel(s). Be it salt, sui iuris, love is enough, iridescent marbles, passion fruit, sharon fruit, is the soul a modular mechanism?, witness, align, ascend [make competing hyperobjects #mother_tongue]
In a more extended document like a press release or a poem the territory is more of a plain and thus the words form horizontals, trajectories and networks. I work extensively with lists as neutral transmitters and naming processes too. I often employ pronouns like we, our & they which form fields of inclusion without specifying exactly who or what is being included. Another tactic I use is to speak very definitely about something which is clearly a multitude e.g "worlds will collide" "this is still sacred ground, nothing else matters" "and then you and I will speak together in unison." I also use open questions What are these ancient responses?Where do we stand?What part of so greater task is committed to us? Questions like this dual-activate a very deep open-search archetype in tandem with the trained and surface behavior of seeing a question as something to be answered. I want the spaces these approaches create to be held open for as long as possible. They are thought realms. #occupy_liminality.
We Are Water platanista indicus minor The Gallery Apart Rome versions ongoing
First Water to Tripoli Jupiter Woods London 2014
For the same exhibition, "First Water to Tripoli," the question "Is the soul a modular mechanism?" was spray painted across the façade of the gallery, in Irish Gaelic. This phrase appeared inside the gallery space, in English, as typewriter vinyl lettering on a crumbling and damp wall. You have also used Hebrew and Sanskrit in your work. Is translation an aspect of your art practice? What might you be translating between?
धर्मdharma is a sanskrit word variously translatedas "to support, hold, bear, law, order, custom, duty, model, practice, morality, ethics, nature, character, property." Yet, each of these translations is incomplete, while a combination of them does not convey the total sense of the word. The mind's eye image of the plain created by such a word, for which no western language has a single-word translation, is a kind of cartographic blueprint of planetary scale computation and an indicator towards how language forms our internal architecture. And consequently, forms an architectural immunity or individuated operating system which invites and requires invasions, fractures and shifts (so that nobody gets stuck and so that we don't forget the frame is a frame). The intersections where these individual operating systems meet are fertile territories for me and translation is one of these intersections. air-water interfaces, land-water interfaces. Is everyone on earth related?
The Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq is an initiative I'm working with at another of these intersections. On the ground it focuses on the transboundary nature of conservation, the psychic life of cities, and the act of the human hand through the machine. It employs the hashtags #landlocked #reflood and #protect and the phrases the restoration of the marshes is an act of peace + the consecration of the entire world. One of its strata deals with a process of uprooting the name (Oishi Plain, The Aral Sea, The Hawizeh Marsh) from its earth coordinate to present the view that The Aral Sea is also The Hawizeh Marsh and your body. It then reapplies geographic site specificity with reconsidered or shifted borders and boundaries.
river mouths migrate The Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq dmmiraq.org
Perhaps that's a good segue to a question about locality. For example, your 2014 exhibition "Prayer for the Sonoran Desert" at Life Gallery, London, references the Californian desert in its title, and includes a sculpture comprising rock salt from the south of France. "The Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes of Iraq" is specific to a rare aquatic landscape in the southern Iraqi desert, massively reduced because of human intervention. How do the specific locations that are evoked relate to the works in the show?
Last week I took a tour of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The first part of the tour was around the back of the building where the garden area backs onto the East River. We were told about sculptures in the garden which were described as gifts from one nation to another; one for example was "a gift from Arabic women to all women of the world." This continued on the inside where one meeting chamber was a gift from Norway. This is really a very different way of dealing with language, because it clearly cannot be that all Arabic women decided or were consulted about the sculpture and consequently that all other women in the world knew about the gift, or were even able to receive it. The rhetoric of this institution is such that our tour guide was telling us something that essentially could never be true, but it also isn't a lie. I asked if I could give a gift to the United Nations and was told very clearly after a puzzled contemplation that the United Nations doesn't deal with individuals. The UN approach relates to the invocatory power of language which is a tool we all posses and wield to various degrees. To say something out loud is to speak it into being, to call it by its name, which is both to define and thus limit but also to allow it to be at all.
In this line the pile of salt is a pile of salt. It isn't a sculpture though sometimes it might be a helpful currency to veil it this way.
The Hudson River, Lima Zulu London 2014
Do you offer gifts to your viewers?
When I was at my parents' house in the summer we received a slip of paper through the letterbox saying that our local church would be praying for our street the following week and if we had any specific prayers we should email them. I felt overwhelmed and trapped and implicated within an act of giving which seemed to give too much/not enough because it didn't give a way out. They were praying for the whole street regardless and everything within that zone was to be included. There is no outside. Sometimes the act of giving is the most subtle kind of violence because it's disguised as an (innocent) gift, but it actually translates as and is weighted with dependence, expectation, contracts, etc. However, if our individual needs, requests, observations and feelings can be directed into appropriate channels, the human capacity to give is a self-replicating and ever-replenishing renewable resource and we all carry vast transformative powers. Co-constituting dance?
You have started a small exhibition program in your flat, and Holly White will also do a residency there. Is the domestic space important in your work?
The exhibition/residency programme in my flat is an approach to community, connection, stability and offering which is in part related to having a child and also to to do with do with creating a space to connect with another practice in a deeper way than current structures offer.
What is the ecology of water in your practice? (Can you comment on this?) You reference water but you rarely include a body of water in the work on display.
I think a lot about swamps as a kind of fertile muck matrix from which life arose. At this point when you invoke something by saying its name it's the same as it being physically present in the space. The language surrounding water offers more possibility or movement to me than actually working with water itself. Language is the interface between the speaker and the thing itself and is constantly longing to touch back into the unity from which it came. I want to make spaces where we can invoke and hold the Sonoran Desert and a passion fruit that has been cut in half, together, horizontally. emotional geography, eyeless interaction, internalised everything.
Prayer for the Sonoran Desert Life Gallery London 2014
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology? When I graduated in 2008 I created a fictional gallery in Melbourne and wrote to my University alumni department to tell them I was doing a residency there and they published an article detailing my success.
Where did you go to school? Oxford Brookes
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? I work as a nanny in North London
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, January 15, 2015. This post will be deleted on January 16.
Monday morning, I awoke to a familiar exhortation. Subject line: Meet me at City Hall. This was distressing as I had, over the past few years, assiduously rid my inbox of all emails Obama for America, MoveOn.org, DCCC, etc. And then I noticed the sender: Airbnb.
Hey there, Zachary -
On January 20th, the New York City Council will hold a hearing about Airbnb. They want to know: What does Airbnb mean for New Yorkers? Stand with us on the steps of City Hall that morning and tell the City Councilmembers you think Airbnb is great for NYC.
Thank you for being such an awesome Airbnb guest. See you at City Hall later this month. RSVP Now Max Pomeranc Airbnb Public Policy P.S. We'll be passing out AirbnbNYC shirts to those that respond early.
If you've ever received an email from any of the aforementioned (explicitly) political bodies, you'll recognize the intimacy, the argot, the pace, the linkage, the aesthetic. (Ah, the flat, blandly-colored, Facebook-ready infographica of the political set.) Airbnb is taking up the Blue State Digital online organizing strategy: an A/B-tested look, feel, and sound that unites unreconstructed middle-brow taste, intuitive nudges to action, and the vernacular of righteous, low-impact protest, producing the Safe Insurgent.
That the company has embraced this does make some strategic sense. Airbnb faces meaningful regulatory oversight in New York City, which represents one of the gig economy's most promising territories. Play-acting the insurgent role has worked for the American tech industry broadly.
But as tech companies have branched out into logistics—that is, using tech to rework the real world—the aesthetics of the Safe Insurgent have been used to conceal the deleterious effects that these new services have on cities and their labor forces. Rob Horning, during the CBIC reading group a few months back, noted that we should understand Airbnb (and Uber and other similiar labor-space-transit "solutions") as mechanisms primarily developed to evade regulatory oversight. Playing on the long-standing digital dualist fallacy (It's not a hotel service! It's just a website!), Airbnb looks the part.
RSVP early to get the t-shirt with the tasteful logo and stand with the little guy. Will you be on the right side of history?
Image from Art+Tech: Virtual Reality, November 2014. (Photo: Codame).
Over the past year, San Francisco and the Bay Area have come to be defined in the national sphere by the think piece. In the constant stream of articles about gentrification, the Ellis Act evictions, artist displacement, and arts non profits closing left and right in response to the city's rising population and booming tech industry, it might be surprising to note that a number of tech companies are investing increasingly in artist residency programs. In fact, two of the biggest tech companies in the region—Facebook and Autodesk—maintain active residency programs. For companies without the infrastructure for such endeavors, local art and technology non-profit CODAME offers to pair tech companies with artists for individual projects through their "Adopt An Artist" program. While there is a lot of conversation (and concern) in the Bay Area regarding the tech industry's lack of support and philanthropy for the arts, the questions seem skewed towards trying to figure out how to cater to tech wealth, rather than thinking through art's role in the tech industry itself. This text surveys corporate residency programs in the Bay Area which exemplify how artists engage with this industry, and begins to sketch out possible implications—or potential—for the art infrastructure and its relationship with tech creativity.
Autodesk's Pier 9 Artist-in-Residence program is housed in the corporation's immense facility in Pier 9 along the waterfront in downtown San Francisco. Artists apply for four-month residencies at the space, which provides access to their workshop, a stipend, and the ability to work directly with the company's engineers on their projects. The program maintains a diverse pool of applicants who range from fashion designers to chefs, architects, and technologists as well as fine artists, who have access to Autodesk's high-end equipment, materials, and software, plus training and skillshare programs. Although it is not an explicit part of the program, the focus on "makers" over "fine artists" benefits Autodesk as well. The company launched Autodesk 123D in 2009 as free 3D modeling software designed for the general consumer, and they acquired the DIY info sharing website Instructables in 2011. The AIR program began at Instructables before their purchase by Autodesk, who developed it into a much larger initiative. All AIR residents are required to post their projects to the website, so there is a direct tie into the site's content. Envisioning how people create with their tools, or their competitor's tools, in a variety of scenarios is clearly a valuable asset to the company, especially as the mainstream culture moves into a maker culture.
Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop.
Autodesk's Pier 9 AIR Program Manager Vanessa Sigurdson describes the environment at Autodesk as an "office full of artists, not an office with artists" and they aim to have active interchange between the resident artists and engineers. Former resident artists Joseph DeLappe and Adrien Segal felt that the environment was very supportive and encouraging for visiting artists, with an "anything goes" atmosphere. DeLappe created rubber stamps for In Drones We Trust, while Segal used water consumption statistics to build a canyon-like bench. Both mentioned that the workshop helped to foster the company's culture of bustling, creative energy. Sigurdson referenced the Xerox PARC artist-in-residence (PAIR) program as an important inspiration for the residency, a project that similarly brought artists and technologists together in collaboration.
Like Autodesk's Pier 9 AIR Program, Facebook's artist-in-residence program is a recent and growing initiative. Originally launched by Drew Bennett for their Menlo Park campus almost three years ago, their AIR program grew out of the Analog Research Lab, a printmaking studio within Facebook's Communication Design department founded by communication designers Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak. The posters created in the Analog Research Lab by Facebook employees, the Communication Design department, and AIR residents can be found strewn all over the walls of Facebook's immense campus. Some posters are art projects initiated by residents or staff communication designers, others promote events (like Gay Pride) or display slogans. The posters yield a colorful, collegiate, cafe vibe to Facebook's many corridors.
Jeff Canham installation at Facebook. (Photo: Drew Bennett).
Alongside the posters, one of the primary outcomes from the Facebook AIR are site-specific installations, which pop up throughout the facility. Adrien Segal was a resident at Facebook directly after her time at Autodesk, and she noted that the Facebook program was much smaller in scope, with only two artists in the residency at any given time. Like Autodesk, artists are given free reign on their projects, and can decide the locations and space for their work. Bennett and his team then help the artist with fabrication and production, much of which does occur onsite at the Analog Research Lab's shop. The projects range widely, from floral graffiti murals by Jet Martinez to delicate hanging paper sculptures by Val Britton. Residents are required to do a social event for Facebook employees related to their project, whether it be an artist's talk, workshop, or skillshare.
Given that the residency program grew out of the Communication Design department and the Analog Research Lab, it's no surprise that much of the work by Facebook resident artists is graphic in nature, for example in the cases of Jeff Canham, Tucker Nichols, and Jane Kim. There's also a heavy regional focus, with a vast number of artists coming from the Bay Area. When asked what he seeks in the artists he selects for the residency, Bennett said he brought in artists that "help to reinforce our values...whose work is in dialogue with the high level ideas of the company…The message, the story being told through this art is all about the utility of art as a creative force and an inspirational force. It doesn't need to be framed or pedestaled, it's uninhibited inspiration and curiosity- which can run up a stairwell or around a lightwell or spill out onto the floor—it could happen anywhere."
Jane Kim Installation at Facebook. (Photo Credits: Kelly Hsiao + Richard Morgenstein).
The five year old non-profit arts organization CODAME is better known for their art and technology events in San Francisco, which in the past have featured live music, presentations, interactive installations, and hack-a-thons. More recently, they launched an "Adopt an Artist" program that pairs artists with tech companies, who support specific projects, residencies, performances and talks. CODAME functions as an intermediary, helping to solicit companies in support of artists within their roster. Rackspace, Organic, Shopify, Geekdom and Box are a few of the companies who have participated in the "Adopt an Artist" program. The collaborative coworking space Geekdom is currently hosting the artist ANI in residence, who is building out her iPad instrument sBASSdrum and developing an iOS app for CODAME. When I spoke with ANI, she said she was initially drawn to the "organic atmosphere" and "inspirational, experiential art" found at CODAME's events.
I attended CODAME's "Art + Tech: Virtual Reality" at Mozilla and it felt like a networking event for creative technologists—part trade show, part rave. The presentations by Eddie Lee on his game Collider (which he described as "DMT for Oculus Rift") and John Carpenter, a UX designer at Mozilla building an Oculus Rift-enabled web browser called mozVR, were a reminder of the truly wild things being developed in the Bay Area. CODAME professes to "embrace innovation through creativity, play, and collaboration between artists and technologists"—a statement that resonated with the motivation behind the other two residencies, who also cite innovation, creativity, and play as primary drivers. The Xerox Parc PAIR program came up in many of my conversations as a cultural touchstone indicative of the values and goals of these residency programs. Resonant with the unfettered utopianism of the Californian Ideology, Xerox Parc brought artists, scientists and technologists together in order to ferment a cross-disciplinary "knowledge ecology" and create "new ways of looking at the world."
Reflecting on this new generation of artist-in-residence programs at technology corporations, I wonder, what happens when art becomes just a vehicle for innovation? Is there room in these artist-in-residence programs for artists to act as critical voices?
To think about the impetus behind these corporate artist-in-residence programs, it's worthwhile to compare them with corporate private art collections. For better or for worse, the finance industry is a major pillar of support for the art system, and it has helped shape it. As an example, UBS, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America all possess major art collections. In the most basic terms possible, the bottom line for finance is investment, assets which accrue value over time. For the tech industry, the bottom line is in solutions--tools and services for people to use. This requires investing in design, which demands process. If the art object on display in the corporate lobby is a symbol of accumulated wealth and financial stability, the artist-in-residence studio or workshop in the tech company becomes a showroom of ingenuity and creativity. (Think of the silkscreened and letterpressed posters across Facebook's campus, or the steady stream of tours through Autodesk's workshop to their clients, colleagues, etc.) The process, not the object, is placed on view.
Analog research lab at Facebook. (Photo: Drew Bennett.)
Over the past year, anxieties have been expressed about design and popular culture's appropriation of contemporary art. I think of Hal Foster's worrisome declaration about the establishment of "total design" collapsing the aesthetic and utilitarian realms as much as Ed Halter and Lauren Cornell's Mass Effect conversation about popular culture's absorption of contemporary art. If tech is the Bay Area's main industry and export, with its emphasis on making, creating, and, above all, innovative design, then how can (or should) that translate into the art infrastructure here, and elsewhere? As Mat Dryhurst and Brian Rogers put it in their Re-Engineering interviews for Art Practical, the Bay Area has a rich, radical history in both art and technology, offering "a perfect place to stage a new paradigm of collaboration and antagonism between arts and tech." I fully agree. It seems there's a real opportunity to nurture art that can work in and against technology, in and against design, beginning with the imperfect corporate residency frameworks described. There should be more models, platforms and mutations for this kind of work.
Updated January 20, 11PM. An earlier version of this article mislabeled Facebook's Communication Design department as Graphic Design. The founders of Facebook's Analog Research Lab (Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak) have also been added.
This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, January 22, 2015. This post will be deleted on January 23.
Writing yesterday at the Awl, Matt Buchanan noted the epistemological gymnastics plied by Facebook's Erich Owens, Software Engineer, and Udi Weinsberg, Research Scientist, in discussing a recent change to the News Feed algorithm to less widely distribute "hoax" content:
A hoax, according to Facebook, is "a form of News Feed spam." This can include, but is not limited to "scams ('Click here to win a lifetime supply of coffee'), or deliberately false or misleading news stories ('Man sees dinosaur on hike in Utah')." The problem with these "hoaxes" is not their lack of truth, per se, but that the people who post them sometimes "later decide to delete their original posts," especially if their friends later comment that their post is a hoax—this makes them "two times more likely to delete these types of posts." Engagement deleted is engagement wasted; this is the truly terrible thing about hoaxes.
What is a not-hoax then—that is, truth? Truth is that which will be shared and not deleted.
Sharing and commenting and liking is Engagement. Engagement is Truth. Truth is what is. A scary thought when what determines that capacity for Engagement is an algorithm tailored to the black-boxed interests of a for-profit enterprise.
What then is to be done? One response is that of spite. Yes, I come here not to bury The Deleter, a pitied and maligned internet character, but to praise them. Cull your posts. Delete your pasts. Take up a minor subversion. (That spite, however, is at one's peril, as with Rhizome in deleting its Today posts each day from our feed, and seeing our FB distribution plummet alongside.)
If you'd like to succeed in this new algorithm, however, I'd recommend you read VoiceandTone.com, created in 2012 by Mailchimp. (The site was re-circulated around the office yesterday by Heather Corcoran, Rhizome's Executive Director, who was looking for "Mailkimp" jokes.) This is an easy-to-use guide to improving one's ability to read a user's mood, and respond in a manner that induces the most positive engagement. That is, it's a guide to succeeding in an algorithm-driven landscape.
What it asks is that Mailchimp staff, in responding to users, identify keywords which indicate sentiment, which then trigger types of response. (Trust=Casual. Interest=Directness. Anticipation=brevity.) But, as a public site, it can also be thought of as a training guide for users through which they can become perfect neoliberal subjects whose emotional responses follow a set of predetermined scripts. Become a bot, and succeed in the feed.
Work by Israel Lund at Eleven Rivington, June 2013
Do you follow? Art in Circulation
'Internet circulation has made all art look the same'
15 October, 2014
[Note: This is a rush transcript compiled by editorial fellow Anton Haugen. This document will be updated.]
Rosalie Doubal: This is the first in a talk series that we have been working on with Rhizome, "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation," and today, we are addressing the statement that "Internet circulation has made all art look the same." This is presented in partnership with Rhizome, and I am extremely grateful to Curator and Editor of Rhizome Michael Connor for his incredible work in producing this. Michael will be our chair throughout the series, guiding us through, and I will be shortly be handing it over to him. We are livestreaming today and we will be having a Q&A at the end. Thank you very much for joining us and thank you very much Michael.
Michael Connor: My name is Michael Connor, I am Editor and Curator of Rhizome, an arts organization based on the internet. It's a great pleasure to be back here in London, as a guest of the ICA. Rosalie has done amazing work in putting this all together, the whole team has made us feel very supported in what forms a major component of our Autumn program.
This panel is called "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation" and it kind of continues on from a panel we did with the ICA last year called "Post-Net Aesthetics." Before I turn things over and introduce our distinguished panelists who have joined us from places near and far, I thought maybe I would take a minute to situate where we are in that conversation and then bring up a couple of the themes that today's panel discusses. Each of the three panels has certain discussions that it's referencing. Today's talk is being livestreamed, which is I think why we are so brightly lit, so hello to viewers on the internet. I hope things are working well out there. All of us can use the hashtag "doyoufollow" to continue the discussion in social media, so I welcome you to do that in keeping with the theme of our panel.
As I mentioned, last year was the "Post-Net Aesthetics" panel that Rhizome and the ICA co-organized, which was curated by Karen Archey who did an excellent job with that. That panel was picking up on a conversation about the areas of practice of Post-Internet that had been widely discussed for several years up to that point. And I think you might be able to credit last year's panel with kicking off the post-internet backlash. Over the past year, we have seen a lot of angst build on that term, and we have also seen a lot of people criticizing it.
One of the things that has happened since last year's panel there has been an extraordinary number of different definitions of post-internet offered. Those definitions fall into three different kinds of groupings, all of which are valid because all language is made up, and so words can have different meanings. Thanks for teaching me that Zach.
The first definition is the market, stylistic definition that post-internet art is a kind of style that references the internet and is popular with collectors. The definition tries to trace it to aesthetic similarities or market trends in the art work. It's a kind of definition that has usefulness but it makes people feel depressed, generally. So that's one of the real reasons why this backlash has begun.
The second kind of grouping of definitions that emerged around post-internet would be the social and historical ones. Sort of between 2006 or 2008 and maybe 2013 or 2014, people were using the word "Post-Internet" at various places and times to describe different forms of practice or different communities of practice, and I think that definition is certainly valid. We have certainly seen people use the term in New York at different times with different levels of irony. There are different moments when it was picked up in London and reinvented and used in different ways. It also had different valences in Berlin as well. Los Angeles and San Francisco had their own kind of dialogue going. In all of these places, the term was applied in different ways and so there was a diversity of practices that were attached in this way.
The third way that people try to define Post-Internet is in the thematic way, where they try to find a certain philosophical basis that unites this extraordinary diversity of practice that has been attached to the word "Post-Internet." That is what most people instinctively begin with because one expects a term that seems so authoritative as "Post-Internet" to have some underlying philosophical kernel of an idea. That may not be the case, but there are arguments that have been made more or less successfully about that word and its thematic origins.
My own use of the word tends towards the social historical definition, but I do have some interest in the thematic definitions as well. For me, a lot of the arguments and discourse around Post-Internet that I have seen playing out have revolved around the phrase and ideas around "Digital Dualism." It comes from the sociologist Nathan Jurgenson who is actually a collaborator of mine on a series of Rhizome's "Internet Subjects." He defined "Digital Dualism" as a fallacy, believing that online and offline worlds are distinct, that we can think of an offline world or an online world or irl and url, that we can draw that distinction. The offline world is inherently structured by digital technologies, network connections. I think that is a true contention. At Rhizome, one of our core philosophical ideas is that the internet is not a sort of space at all but a process or a set of processes. Thinking of the internet in terms of a spatial metaphor at all is misleading.
Digital Dualism as a discourse is really connected to ideas central to Post-Internet. That there is online-work and then gallery-based work: the gallery, itself being an industrial model for circulating art work. Another way is in accelerationism, accelerating the contradictions of the system to an extreme position.
Returning to last year's panel, Ben Vickers' "Post-Internet is Dead (if you want it)," I think we can call that the beginning of the Post-Internet backlash, provided descriptions of a stance one might take in terms of a disavowal or refusal of the internet, to reclaim the idea that there is an offline space. On one hand we had this integration of online and offline space, while Ben Vickers wanted to reseperate the online and offline world. Also in that backlash space, we had the anti-internet art manifesto of Zach Blas and of course, Hito Steyerl's e-flux article "Too much world: Is the Internet Dead?" All of those were really interesting in manifesting different positions about the disavowal or working against the Internet. In addition to that, we had the Facebook study, where people learned for the first time, some how, that they were subjects of a large-scale social experiment, which is central to Social media. We also had the NSA-revelations, which were made possible by Laura Poitras' film-making and her ushering through of Snowden's leaks Glenn Greenwald, etc.
So a moment of extreme cynicism, and yet, I have not been this excited about internet culture since the dot com crash.
The panel came out of research we have been doing into, I suppose, well it started with our research on VVORK, because we have been trying to archive VVORK, which is a website which started in 2007; it was a very influential thing. All it was was a place where the contributors of VVORK would serially post artworks with just a title. They did use tags but they are not very visible unless you look very hard for them. They would never write anything, but you would start to see patterns emerging. They would post like five things about Michael Jackson when Michael Jackson passed away. There was this sort of implicit provacation that there was an inherent underlying similarity to what they post.
When it first began, a lot of artists responded negatively to the implication that a lot of art looks the same, that it was reducing artistic practice and that they were not giving the artist enough due. Making things seem very similar and depressing.
I think there was actually a kind of radical possibility in this presentation of similarity that VVORK gave us. To understand that, I think it's instructive to look at the next example, which came in between VVORK and Instagram as places where people would look at art on the web, which was Contemporary Art Daily. And here, we have longer post of multiple photos of a single exhibition with the press release. If the central contention of VVORK is that all art is this kind of collaborative process of authorship in which there's a lot of copying and ideas are transmitted back and forth and the individual artist as part of this embedded collaborative network of creative producers or of practitioners who are in some kind of dialogue, Contemporary Art Daily makes this kind of argument that the artist is somehow different and standing on their own and has something special to offer the world. That to me is more depressing than the VVORK perspective.
At Rhizome today, we are announcing back home in New York that we have come up with a new archiving tool, thanks to my amazing colleague Dragan Espenchied so [VVORK] is one of the first projects that we started to archive with this new tool. We consider the internet culture as process not space and in keeping with that, we archive pages as specific moments in time in which they are captured, and not as static pages which we download as files, so it's a different paradigm of digital conservation. That's what we're looking at here, VVORK on Rhizome.
But with this idea of VVORK and Contemporary Art Daily, I wanted to organize this panel to further explore this idea of sameness and difference, because in the past year it has been argued that all art is starting to look the same because of the internet. And we are to talk about whether or not that is the case. And if that is the case, if that presents an interesting set of conditions. So with that I am going to hand things off to Alex Bacon.
Alex Bacon: Thanks Michael. I am going to begin with perhaps the critically unpopular position, but obviously the one that inspired this particular panel which is "why does so much art look the same," but specifically in Jerry Saltz's case recently it was "Why Does So Much [New] Abstraction Look The Same?" He accompanied his article with these set of iPhone images that he took at an art fair. I think it's an especially kind of germane way of entering this topic in the context of Frieze week. Basically Saltz argued that the reason we are looking at this kind of work is not out of any kind of critical interest but rather the interest it has to a speculative, collector class.
I think that what's interesting is that it jibes with a perhaps more sophisticated argument by Michael Sanchez in Art Forum about a year ago ["2011: Art and Transmission"] that essential a lot of this abstraction was being almost produced for sites like Contemporary Art Daily, favoring of things like gray palettes and these kind of washed out images that would play well on the screen. But what I think that what's interesting is that [Sanchez's argument] presumes that there is this kind of power that collectors, dealers, and art advisors have over artistic production. It does not quit follow the timeline of a lot of the work in question because a lot of the artists who began working abstractly, the younger generation in the mid-2000s up to the present, started making work before this market boom. It's been difficult, to fully separate how much is related to the collector interest and how much is kind of in the aesthetic development, and whether or not that even matters.
Nonetheless, this certainly has then complicated further by creating this huge pool of artists. I often liken it to a kind of mall; everyone wants the Gucci t-shirt, but some people can only afford Old Navy, so there's kind of an artist for everyone. I think that's what I think Jerry Saltz lays out in his article, so I appreciate that.
I think an especially interesting focal point in this conversation has been what happened around Wade Guyton's inclusion in this Christie's auction recently. He was upset at the idea that his work was going to be auctioned, so he started posting on Instagram all of these photographs of him printing out this image, trying to emphasize the reproducible, anti-authorship of his work. Of course, this painting still sold for a record amount. I think it really showed that this collector class is more interested in having one of many paintings, rather than the original. I think what it also does is show us is [the collector's] relationship to the work; that they're being told almost by the work, what they want, so the seriality of the work has in turn produced this desire for multiples. Collectors, famously, are buying things in groups of ten, twenty, or more, but what I think that all this does is cloud the fact that the actual work, a lot of painting if we want to focus on that, of course, exists as an object in the world.
As a critic and as a historian (my background is in 60s and 70s minimalism, working with Ad Reinhardt and my dissertation is on Frank Stella), I can see certain of the similarities and differences. Looking at these things in person, some work stands out as an object. I really don’t want to install that difference between the online space (like an Instagram) through which this imagery circulates and then the paintings themselves, as if somehow they were inseparable because what I want to propose is that some of the most interesting artists working in this vein in fact embrace the circulation of imagery of their work, that they both produce work that stands as an object, but that they don’t go around saying “you don’t get it if you don’t see it.” You would say that, but at the same time, it has another life online.
One artist who has done this in a smart way is Israel Lund. For example, here you see his show at Eleven Rivington from last yearwhere he installed four canvases in the window of the gallery. When you walked by you saw them from behind, and when you entered the gallery, you saw them backlit, very much as a computer screen. He was playing off this idea of something he calls “analog .jpg”; this idea of this hybrid status for this work that is produced in this analog-mode via silk-screening process but that he doesn’t disagree with its evocation of a kind of screen space.
But I think what is interesting then is to compare it to history is that, of course, some people like to compare his work to Gerhard Richter. If we look at these two things on a screen, they do look very similar. Experientially in space, they are very different. Richter is building up dense layers of paint that he moves around with a squeegee, so there’s a very tactile, physical quality to the work. Even though someone like Lund is discussed in terms of process, in a certain sense, there’s more visible process in the Richter. In Lund’s work, you have an image that is very hard to place. It’s much more an image that could only exist in an internet age: an image where its very seductive and beautiful, but there’s no way to find a footing for your eye in the work.
Another artist who works in this vein is Jacob Kassay. His silver paintings, especially, offer a very interesting commentary on this notion of perception and vision, this way we are constantly finding our identity through uploading and downloading images. Constantly taking photographs and uploading them on to social media, seeing other people’s post, it’s a way that we understand our place in the world and what’s going on around us; it’s very much a mediator.
What’s interesting about Kassay’s silver paintings is that as you move around them they not only reflect and absorb the light and the imagery of the space around them, but they do this in a very fragmented way. As you move in closer to them, your image becomes more blurred, and as you move farther away, it becomes clearer. It creates this kind of interesting experience where your expectation of being fulfilled by accessing this work is always thwarted.
Fragmentation is really something at issue in Jacob’s work as a whole. If you see his more recent series of works, which are based off of the left-over remnants of paintings: both his own and those of other artists, which he began by stretching up exactly as they were found. This idea of the incomplete or the fragment is related to this stream of imagery.
All of this for me, seeing the work of artists like Kassay and Lund and thinking about older generations, for me, what makes it different, I think that for these artists painting is related to the history of painting in modernism, you can’t deny that. I think it’s equally related to the surge of technological devices in our lives: smartphones, tablets, HD televisions; all of which have, unwittingly, have a relationship to painting. Painting is, in a certain sense, accessible to audiences today where abstract painting was the most difficult work historically; maybe museums showed it, these people were very successful in that way, but they did not have the kind of commercial viability they did today. I think it’s in part because we are familiar with this kind of rectangle. It’s something that acts as a frame for our experience.
What then becomes interesting for certain artists like Lund and Kassay is that they use this idea that maybe the painting becomes a momentary stop in the circulation of images. It’s not that the images are either in or out of circulation but that for a moment, they are held so that you can consider them and really think about what they are doing. I think in our current moment that’s a radical and important gesture. I think also important because it leaves certain of these questions that you were suggesting Michael; it poses them and makes them open. You really think about, “where is this image?” Is this an image when I see myself in the Jacob Kassay painting? Am I thinking of Instagram filters? Is it a mirror? What is this relationship?
Of course, it’s to all of these things;I think this questioning is very important.
Michael: Great. Alright, moving over to Takeshi.
Michael: Takeshi has just returned from Georgia, the Republic of. He has been experiencing some sort of cold, which he is almost recovered from.
Takeshi: I'm ill. Sorry. So if I stop coughing and splattering.
My name is Takeshi Shiomitsu. I am an artist based in London. I’m going to talk a little bit about what I do in my work and then talk a little bit about howI consider sameness.
I make work that takes up both digital and material space, often presented in the same series.
Last month I showed this in London, made up of five paintings and one video that was played out of sync on two screens.
Earlier this year, I did a show with Sandra Vaka Olsen in Copenhagen with Arcadia Missa and 68 where I produced a series called Pale History made up of video, painting, and sculptures.
I take it as a given that the experience of using the internet to receive most of the written and image-based content I’ve seen on an almost daily basis has trained the way that I read and see. Similarly, I consider that my production methods and gestures are inevitably informed by my experiences and exposures to different digital and physical platforms and modes of production.
Through a repeated exposure to certain aesthetic forms or display mechanisms we are unconsciously taught what to aspire towards. For instance, the sterility of the screen-based image seems to champion an objective notion of utility, perfection, or distancing from dirt, resources, and labor, etc. etc.
I consider abstraction to have some play as an alternative to the pragmatism of symbols and signs. Using the non-specific or borderline specific as a way to advocate different, possibly more nuanced ways of perceiving. Along side that, I make these relatively hyperactive videos containing quite loaded imagery, trying to have a more heterogeneous conversation, if you’d like.
I don’t think it’s possible to advocate one way of seeing or doing over another. I am trying to open up the various different ways we could be seeing to cross-contamination, infiltration, or at least, present a mesh of conversation. I consider sameness or homogeneity as a perceived trait, as a product to the various filter bubbles we are all participating in and that we are given access to by our real world subject positions. I don’t think widespread image internet-circulation really exists, but it is perceived within hermetic subcultures that have high rates of image-turnover.
In processing a stream of images online, just like in any other structure, we are led to uncritically accept a number of neutral, underlying contexts for what we are seeing in order to comprehend it. This could be anything from a digital camera’s white point to Cartesian dualism. For me, this can be expressed in the way that as people who seem to understand or know culture, at some point, we had to learn and are still learning as it progresses the cultural, historical canon. Our experience of culture is always modulated by shared cultural frameworks. To say it another way, our interactions are rendered within the confines of the user interface or platform.
The backlash against the nonspecific or unbranded manifests because its lack of objective signifiers in a society where objectivity and pragmatism is ideologically dominant. What we accept as a neutral point in order to gain access has a lot to do with taste, which is heavily informed by our subject, gender, class positions and the influence of our subsequent communities. It’s harder to gain access if you’re not coming from a similar subject position; the content has very little context.
So most often our tastes, the things we are drawn to, are led by an already entrenched belief system that’s fostered by our subjective experiences. Capitalism tends towards segmenting these varieties of experience and privilege into demographic groups of which there are an ever-expanding number with the internet. Sameness seems to manifest as a hegemony of taste within a decentralized power-structure, fore-fronting the taste of those who can afford the time to generate content or don’t need to work, or simply have a lot of energy for production. So it seems that often in image circulation, youth culture or wealth culture gets proportionally more play.
In effect, the image streams of each individual is formed by their own social, cultural, class, or subject position, in a decentralized form of canon with a hyperactive but hermetic turnover. The hyperactivity tends to overshadow the hermetic through exposure.
Browser-based internet culture is an extension of the real world preoccupation with pragmatism and signs. The distilling of information dance of already-known truths and codes would suggest the moment of encounter should constitute the entire consumption.
That’s it. I just wrote some stuff down.
Michael: Thank you. We are going to have the general discussion at the end, but there are already so many things to talk about. I am going to hand it over to Kari.
Kari Altmann: Hi, I’m Kari, and my presentation is called "Similar Image Haul: Genre as meme, #SAME so I know it's real." Hopefully some of you will know what #SAME means.
What is it that makes you fave something? Sometimes it’s something that seems exotic, sometimes it’s something that seems super relatable and cheesy, and then there are those magic times when it is the perfect combination of both. Instagram is perfect for these kinds of images; actually most image-sharing social networks are king of this image right now. For all of the kind of creative tags that people use to respond and organize these images, the most important one is #SAME.
#SAME is also how images are now found for you: added to your feed, allowed to stay there, recommended daily. We can also decide what is the same through our own posting and tagging. The internet allows for a lot of tropes and sames to be revealed and also authored. You always have related content to your content. If you search my name, you get this image from a tumblr. A lot of works from my websites come up as related content.
I wanted to insert this tweet that Rob Horning made maybe today or yesterday. "The pleasure of algorithmic identity is in how we can seem to change how we are through such small, convenient gestures." I really feel like the small gestures are important just through tagging, reframing, recontextualizing. The same way that digital artists used photoshop to make collages or final cut to make film, you can now make sets of content that have the same effect.
I have used different social networks to upload my art, but in 2008, I started using tumblr to make my own image sets, my own decisions as to what was the same. Of course it was open to faving, reblogging tagging, and replicating by others, which happened very, very fast.
But it wasn’t just the content, the color, or the actual objects they are replicating, but they are also somehow replicating the reframing, the vibe, the concept behind what I was doing. They understand it, and they understand the language of it.
After this project and a few others like it, I was really addicted to this process because it started gathering peers at the same time that it was gathering content. For every person that jumped in, it would multiply the content even more. So I thought what if we could keep this all together somehow, track in someway and include that as part of the process.
I tried to create a more meta-site called R-u-ins which somehow catalogued all of these different projects and all of these memes and then tried, desperately, to keep track of every single person who would re-blog it in a way that seemed like they got or seemed like they knew what was going on, people who were adding and auto-completing.
It kind of blew my mind that just posting a sequence of imagery something else could be communicated, just by grouping things together, again these small gestures that affect the algorithm of how we read these things. As the project progressed, new memes would come out of just collective activity, things that no one really started, they were just tropes. Because it was online again, it could be read as tropes and similar content again, and regrouped again and put back into the same sort of process.
Not only have I started other group projects like this, but I have also started organizing my own website in this way and my own way of working
So for instance, this is an installation based around similarities, an ambiguation of similarities, and it also has similar, related content. It is a series that is constantly growing through tags, through possible collaboration, and it changes every time it is put in a show or put on a page.
This is also a project commissioned through the New Museum earlier this year. This is the start of a brand new meme about mobility; it’s a content set suggesting that all of these things have a similar backbone.
This is my current website, this bar on the right are links to those kinds of projects, the ones I’ve shown you and a couple more.
Michael: Great, thank you Kari. Ok we will finish with Martine, and then we will move on to general discussion.
Martine Syms: Hello my name is Martine Syms, and I’m based in Los Angeles. I’m an artist also, professionally, a designer. Interactive, not usability. But it's close enough, it doesn’t really matter
Michael: Un-usable designer
Martine: Yeah I design un-usable things. My primary concern is really with publishing in the broadest sense of that: meaning both to make things public and also to create publics around different information. I have a small press called Dominica or Do-min-i-ca, if you’re American, I guess. These are couple books that I’ve published. The last one was from David Hart whose a photographer based in Chicago. This one is from me called New Guards.
A lot of that work I’m interested in how audiences are seeing a set of information or a set of knowledge and creating the meaning through that and what the relationship is to putting that out and how people determine it. I tend to use popular forms. This image is called “Most Days Film Stills.” Earlier this year, on a label called Mixed Media Recordings, I released a 12” record that I describe as an “audio film.” It’s a table read. There are five actors that read this science fiction script, but then as a part of it, I created this film still that goes with that. The audio and the script are published separately, and there was a manifesto published by Rhizome actually that also was tied into that, called “The Mundane Afro-futurist Manifesto.” It continues to circulate; it’s in the latest issue of Third Rail Quarterly. I sort of like to have all these different fragments that add up to an entire project that pick up different audiences along the way and also add to what the meaning of what that project is through its circulation and distribution.
This was a project I did over the summer, this was part of it. It was an exhibition called “The Queen’s English”; it was also a reading room, which took as a point of departure a book called Black Lesbians, which was an annotated bibliography by JR Roberts that was published in 1981. I gathered all of the books from this bibliography, and I also made two other bodies of work: one, the text piece is from the dedication. There were these text pieces that were the author dedications, and then there were images that I created, original images, that looked like they were from the time period of the other books that were in the selection. I think a lot of this goes to reading, what Takeshi started to talk about. I’m also interested in my own reading. I think the feed, how it plays into me, I like to show what I’m reading, watching and looking at.
There’s a digital theorist Lisa Nakamura who talks about computers as machines for unseeing; I think that’s something I’m interested in. I think most of the art that I’m really drawn to is not really considered art at all. Maybe I like to try to see what’s unseen that’s why I go between image and text a lot. I wanted to play that Trayvon Martin video a bit.
This project, "readingtrayvonmartin.com," it gathered all of the texts, articles, links, and primary documents that I was reading, creating this personal bibliography, following the case after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. There’s a sort of person behind this text. In terms of similarity, I think the internet affects me by creating these contiguous sites of discontinuity. They are documents like testimonies, but they are also editorials. They show how the story moved through the media. But since they’re stripped of metadata and contextual information, they all turn into the same thing.
Michael: I kind of want to move back through the panel at this point. There’s a key issue which has emerged that needs to be addressed more holistically. Before I get into that, I wanted to ask. You mentioned distribution being an important concept of your work, but in 2012, you published a different article on Rhizome called “Black by Distribution.” You talk about how cultural objects can become “black” in process of how they are received in the world, that it’s not an inherent quality of the work, that it is acquired through the process of circulation or reception. In this panel, the idea of all art looking the same is also a question of an essential characteristic of the work and another way of approaching it would have been through discussions of authorship and reception. Is the idea of “Black by Distribution” at play in some of the works we looked at?
Martine: Yeah, it’s definitely something I’m still interested in. I’m interested in the relationship between those identity markers in sort of the more capitalist demographics that are being created. In 2011, I wrote a book looking at film distribution, taking the history of race-film, films made for specifically black ghettos within the United States, how those distribution patterns historically influenced recent films, stuff that would be marketed as a “black” movie today. They really have a very one to one relationship. It’s a distribution that was set up through discrimination effectively and because the market continued that way or even if you look at something like R&B—
Michael: Right, but in those examples, the power to decide what something is, is not with the audience or the artist but with the person that controls the channels of distribution. Is that true?
Martine: I think in some respects I would agree with that, but I’m also interested in situations and especially in my own work— me controlling the distribution of my work as a part of assigning meaning to it and creating audiences for it that will add to that meaning. So creating works like books and records, but also films, where I’m actively involved in how it gets out into the world.
Michael: The question that I wanted to get to is that we have two people who have been speaking to abstraction in particular and two who have speaking to figurative work. I think Takeshi, there was something you said, an assertion that the internet has this desire for a utility of symbols and signs. Is it true that the idea of things acquiring meaning through distribution, does that only apply to symbols and signs? Is abstraction exempt from that process?
Takeshi: No not at all. I mean, the sign of an abstract painting comes back to the artist themselves. You see an abstract painting and end up going “That’s a Gehrard Richter from 1980 something.” That ends up being the sign of the aesthetic.
I think my issue around this thing of signs is that it does not allow much else other than the things that can be faithfully displayed within that context within the terms of a sign and within the terms of an objective truth or understanding.
Michael: In the kind of play of meaning that happens on the internet, there are certain concepts that can filter through and can be taken up. Not concepts but signs.
Takeshi: It certainly serves a purpose, the internet. I think there are certain things that can’t be encoded into a digital way of communication.
Alex: Something that you said that was very interesting was this idea that maybe virality is contained within subcultures that have visibility. It seems to me that that symbolism with that Richter, we have that association, is certainly an example of a certain subculture that can recognize that.
Something that interests me about Israel Lund’s practice is he really likes also maintaining a tumblr. He likes the sense in which images of his painting enter the internet, and he finds them resurfacing in some sixteen year-old’s tumblr in Japan alongside a pornographic image and a burning car. There’s this way in which it all becomes flattened. We have this understanding of his paintings or of anything, but even with Richter, I wonder how much any of us can control distribution. I think certainly a lot of these abstract artists also wonder because these collectors have been speculating on their work, and I think that’s also in relation to the internet that accessibility that we all expect now, that access.
Michael: The question of how the work is defined by distribution is interesting in relation to the examples Martine brought up, but it’s also interesting in relation to an abstract painter whose work ends up in the background of a portrait of some very powerful collector. The process of turning that artist into a marker of that collector’s status is defining that work in terms of that regime of signs and symbols. It places it in that value-spectrum.
Martine: But also participation in a sort gallery-system. Like if we look at Contemporary Art Daily, which has a pretty specific network that it operates within, that’s already inserting yourself into a way of distributing your work.
Michael: But I mean the gallery is the industrial model of that, and the Instagram of the collector is the digital version of that; it’s the internet version of that, whatever information economy we’re in today.
That’s why Jerry Saltz’s discomfort with the new forms of power that are emerging. Why this is particularly interesting because if you read it in an ecological sense, in terms of how these things are being defined through distribution, they are being defined in opposition in a way to that industrial-model of power derived from the gallery, which the critic was traditionally a part of. Now they are being defined around other forms of network, accumulated social capital on the network, which are not flat, but have a different topology—if we are going to indulge in one spatial metaphor.
Kari, it would be interesting to hear from you. What I respond to in your practice is that you are so invested in these forms of distribution online in a way that feels quite political.
Maybe we can talk about R-U-ins.org. That project can be a little opaque to me because it’s such a process-based project, but I like the description of it, that it is part of the catalogue. Through this tumblr, you kind of connected with this group of fellow users: artists and other people on tumblr. You developed this shared understanding to where you could post this image of a hitachi television showing a canyon and then it reappears in all of the other tumblrs of the people you’re working with, different iterations of the same thing. If Takeshi is interested in pushing against the language of signs, you specifically work with ones digestible by the internet. I wonder how you feel about his assertion that those things are circumscribed by a certain internet-logic. Or is that interpretation correct?
Takeshi: I think its an overarching cultural logic. I think it has a lot to do with economics and the scientific method and stuff like this… I don’t think it’s just to do with the internet. I think it’s more galvanized on the internet.
Michael: Let’s call it a cultural logic, which is quite visible on the internet. I think working in ways that people can respond to and can create these shared images that embraces this virality as a cultural mode we are in.
Kari: Or maybe embracing what Alex is saying where a painting ends up at the same level as a poor image. It’s like embracing that, promising that in some way. Maybe I’m not understanding your question.
Michael: In the works that Alex is talking about if there’s a way in which the image is trying to create a pause within a network of circulation. Where I see R-U-Ins working is there not so much interest in a pause. You create an image and you want to get something back and put it back out there and get something else back. It’s more of a model of participation in this process of things transmuting, getting bruised by the network, getting redefined in its distribution on tumblr. Maybe this is my imagination of your work…
Kari: No, I’m trying to figure out the right way to say it. Using the kind of templates for exchange that are already available and skewing them a little bit to change the meaning a little bit. That’s how the image is modified, into a content set. It’s understanding the things you’re talking about and tilting them a little bit. Operating on the same channel. Does that make sense?
Michael: That does make sense, but in doing that I think there’s something going on in your practice. It’s kind of hard to imagine your work as the background of a collector’s selfie. In terms of talking about distribution, Israel Lund is trying to address dual audiences and allow the work to be defined in distribution the gallery system and collector attention system but also play the tumblr game. You seem very invested in that tumblr community aspect of art.
Kari: I just love looking at that kind of imagery. I love looking at sets of content like Google image style things where everything is clickable. Like a set of profile pictures, everything is clickable. You could click the related links. I’m just really feeling it.
Michael: And then there’s something very collaborative about that where you are collaborating with machines, with cultural logics that beyond our control, and with other users. That’s a very collaborative model for an artist. Whereas I think with abstraction, it’s very rooted on a much more individualistic model. Do you think that’s the case?
Takeshi: Yeah, I mean yeah. I think art since Romanticism, all art is infested with individualism.
Michael: How do you constitute the individual in a networked age?
Takeshi: The individual is the same as everywhere just with a mode of distribution that is now slightly more infinite, like as an arm rather than a whole being.
Kari: What I love about these images is that they’re public and private at the same time. If you look at R-U-ins, it’s like people have individual accounts but are also collaborating in the content sets larger than us at the same time. It’s how the internet always is; they’re always open to being shared possibly the possibility that these private moments will be shared.
Michael: The internet is like this massive social experiment right now. There are so many aspects of that that are evil and insidious but so many aspects that still retain certain potential for different social forms to emerge because of this sense of connection.
Alex: I’d like to touch back on the point about individualism because I think what’s interesting about a lot of the work, just because we looked at them, Israel Lund’s and Joseph Kassay’s, though their work has figured as the backdrop for certain collector’s, there’s this sinister and perverse side to them too. In a way, the Kassay does not mirror back anything, it gives you this fragment. It points to this sense that we have been always given fragments, not that we ever weren’t but that we’re so aware. I think there’s a parallel connection between that work and to your work, Kari, in the sense of embracing it. It’s only in that kind of context that the collectors could like that kind of work. It does speak to this moment in that way. It’s really kind of sinister; they thing oh it’s this “beautiful color-field, it’s a mirror,” whatever. It’s not; it’s this chameleon, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Kari: When I think of Israel too, I think he is aware of templates. I think one of the biggest things the internet has done is made these templates obvious. Like there’s a million Michael Jackson paintings, that’s rich.
Martine: I first met Israel through small press stuff, so there’s also fluidity in terms of making that way.
Alex: So I’m doing this show that’s opening in Brussels on Friday, a little plug, but I have in it a video by Darja Bajagić, so the structure of the show is around Robert Motherwell’s legacy. What she did is when you Google search “Robert Motherwell Collage” and you Google image search one of these Eastern European porn sites that she frequents as a source of her work, you get very similar color schemes. Again that idea that these templates that something like the internet produces, even in the way it kind of regurgitates and organizes via algorithm something like Robert Motherwell…I think this kind of individualism has been drained out because of the internet.
Martine: Another thing about the template-ism of the internet, I don’t think it’s really a thing that the internet is creating. I think its certain patterns that are being created by commercial web. Like a template or a tumblr or google, even like app design patterns are already established beginning with Apple. I like that there are these private moments within the public. A lot of the forms I take come from a commercial world.
Michael: I think a lot of these conversations are coming back to Rob Horning’s tweet, in which he mentions “small gestures.” It’s some times hard to understand tweets out of context, but I think he’s being scathing about social media. That’s a little bit odd because there’s a long history of celebrating the small gesture as being a very important thing. You can put it as a de Certeau Practice of Everyday Life; everything we do is made up of small gestures. Right?
Kari: I think it was in a series of scathing tweets, but it was the one with a sort of silver lining. I always run into a problem of describing these tumblr-based works as art. They see it as a mood board or a set of faves. Most of us here probably know people who have worked in small gestures for a long time, just getting closer to tying that into algorithms and tags and genres and things like that. How small tweaks of the language can completely a set of content and how that is a mode of production in itself.
Michael: That’s interesting in relation to Darja’s work. There’s a growing sense among young artists, she uses porn, she thinks she can make a porn image mean anything or do anything. The image’s content has nothing to do with its reception. All of that conversation leads me to wondering, like the question of “Black by Distribution” in 2014, when a distribution happens on an apparatus which has one level of control and then it plays out through a system in which people use that apparatus to like assert different kinds of social capital or social power through the network, but then at the end of the day, it ends up in the hand of users who do not have very much power on the internet. And yet, they are still able to play their own game, redefining it, changing the codes of meaning. Nothing about this seems flat.
Kari: I love the way that online in general an image can exist in multiple sets of contexts in general; it doesn’t really affect your own. It can still be yours and still be sinister and sweet at the same time, just have a million different personalities or values I guess.
Michael: I think the question of authorship is interesting. We’re putting so much emphasis on distribution and reception, where does that leave the author. The other provocation that you made, Takeshi, that internet circulation is not widespread. It is fairly widespread at this point, but this is about the digital divide.
Takeshi: User interfaces differ from continent to continent. Screen resolution differ because people don’t have expensive screens in developing countries. What you find comfortable, if you feel comfortable reading the New Statesman online your reference points are different to someone who feels comfortable reading the Star online.
Michael: It’s not just the access to tools, which is how the argument is often raised.
It’s very much about society and education. It’s very much about class, your ability to gain access to worlds that you are unfamiliar with. It isn’t as democratic as the internet is supposed to have made it.
Michael: We’re going to move to audience questions. I see Jesse Darling’s hand shoot straight up. What have you got for us Jesse?
Jesse Darling: I feel like Takeshi and Martine touched on this a bit but what I am interested in is what you feel which work is not being circulated. Does the work derive more value, does it lose value, if it can’t be put online, if it can’t be distributed.
Hito Steyerl in her big manifesto talks about bodies moving through the fluid. It’s a kind of poetic metaphor, but it doesn’t work because bodies are not distributed that way. I think about the mainstream news what it covers, talking about Trayvon Martin and what is not distributed in mainstream news channels like what Taki was talking about. Aesthetic normcore has really spread. That’s really interesting, but what’s more interesting is what doesn’t. I’d like the panelists to respond.
There’s also this idea of your digital visual capital in general and what’s being shown and what’s not being shown. The trayvon martin piece, that story was not being picked up by mainstream media. I was following the story into one place, that was part of what was happening. I think some people can create value by not distributing things, but there’s that sort of imbalance of power in how there’s power in being silent or more power or depending on who you are, you just get ignored more.
At the same time, I believe in being very active online and vocal at things like this and present is for me a form of power, as is reading as is circulating the things that I’m reading, asserting different presences, and sort of looking through histories, that maybe have not been covered as much and trying to put these towards people who have not encountered these yet.
With the Queen’s English Project that was specifically these radical feminist communities, books that were published in editions of 200 that I was finding with book dealers, trying to reclaim it and put it back together. There’s a lot of work that doesn’t get seen and a lot of stuff that aren’t distributed. It really does follow predictable class, race, and gender lines.
Michael: There’s a very ambiguous provocation with that. My stance is to listen more carefully to like the Ferguson hashtag for example, which is to say these things should be circulated. The new digital dualist provocation that we need to be reclaiming this offline space and not circulating should be a stance.
Martine: Well Bell Hooks does that. She does not make digital copies of her work because it could be deleted easily.
That would be a relatively harmful approach to the digital dualist stance because a more productive approach would be to say “let’s not delete that stuff” and find ways to keep digital culture alive and accessible, which is the Rhizome stance of course.
Alex: It seems to me that certainly there are certain structural difficulties of certain kinds of work, ideas and positions being accessible. On the other hand, the over accessibility and access that people seem to have both in a kind of financial way and in an image way to content, how can they hold back. How can you draw that line? A lot of this is played around this kind of market question, but also the hyper-visibility of art these days, that somehow everything in the studio leaves. No artist is hiding under a rock anymore; every artist can have a website or a tumblr. I hear constantly that people in the art world, just go online and build these markets. Some people prefer artists with no background, with no context.
One idea for a show that I have is asking artists what would be an impossible work.
Michael: Do you have your C.V. to show as well?
Alex: My C.V.?
Michael: I’m just teasing. Sorry your show?
Alex: Asking artists what kind of work would it be impossible for you at this time to make. Everything from some kind of young artist who has this vision, that’s an old model, but also asking a very successful artists who has endless resources and access, how would you kind of stop?
This one body of painting by Parker Ito where he used Scotchlite. Where you couldn’t photograph the work, so he was trying to introduce this idea of what about a painting that can’t be photographed. Of course, they are photographed and sold. Is this just a dead question? The idea of the role of something like photography’s access to the work. In Parker’s case, the image still circulates, even though they don’t capture the work.
Michael: Is there anything that escapes the clutches? Or does actually everything escape the clutches?
Takeshi:What you’re talking about reminds me of I think it’s Ionesco, this play requires a 20-foot spider or something. This play can never be put on because there’s no such thing as a giant 20-foot spider. People have tried, but it’s not in the true spirit of the play I think in understanding the context of the digital, there are things you cannot represent faithfully or fully. Parts of experience that you can’t represent properly just in binary and digital through a screen or any sort of user interface or helmet or glasses or whatever. There are something’s that are not able to be represented; it’s a matter of understanding the structure.
Kari: I think of that question of a lot as it pertains. It can always be circulated if you want, even if it can’t be fully represented. It can be a mix; it can be a ratio.
A day at the Rhizome office
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Streaming live from Selfridges Off-Site, Weds Oct 15, 1030am - 12noon.
"Internet circulation has made all art look the same."
"Why does so much new abstraction look the same?" asked critic Jerry Saltz in New York magazine earlier this year. Galleries, he lamented, have gone over to "copycat mediocrity and mechanical art," coming to resemble the generic look of shopping outlets rather than the "individual arks" of the past. In particular, Saltz criticized the influence wielded by "speculator-collectors," which many understood to refer to art world figures who use social media channels such as Instagram to generate attention for their favoured artists.
On this panel, art historian Alex Bacon challenges Saltz’ contention, suggesting instead that we are not looking carefully enough. Artists Martine Syms, Takeshi Shiomitsu, and Kari Altmann discuss the role that internet feeds play in their practice, arguing for different understandings of the problems and potential of "sameness" in art. Chaired by Rhizome Curator/Editor Michael Connor.
Kate Durbin, HELLO, SELFIE! (2014). Screen capture from performance video filmed by Jessica Nicole Collins.
The online exhibition "Body Anxiety," curated by Jennifer Chan and Leah Schrager, opened Saturday at http://bodyanxiety.com/.
When, in 1991, the first cyberfeminist art group VNS Matrix called themselves "Saboteurs of Big Daddy Mainframe" their bold rhetoric seemed to herald a new feminist revolution. The online exhibition "Body Anxiety," curated by artists Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan, shows this revolution to be very much a work in progress. More than two decades of cyberfeminism have not been enough to successfully subvert traditional gender roles—not even in its own, online territory.
This is not to say that nothing has changed. The work of young female and gender-queer artists today is more accessible than that of their predecessors, and the desire for change is far more widespread. From Facebook to youtube, tumblr, instagram and beyond, people explore social relations and create their own media identities. In the wake of this, there has been a veritable flood of biographical works and highly vulnerable experiments with popular sexual imagery. Body Anxiety shows a broad selection of these and similar, often subtle, humorous works. The exhibition is not an attack on traditional gender roles, but a call to stay alert to the unrelenting appearance of old and new gender stereotypes in art.
Chan and Schrager pose a sensitive question: why is the work of male artists still valued over that of female artists, even if they cover the same subject matter or work in similar styles and techniques? The curators highlight the issue by showing female artists who use their own bodies as subject matter. Nancy Leticia's video Fantasie Impromptu shows the artist playing a black piano in her underwear. She sits against a white curtain backdrop on a white fluffy pillow. In front of her on the music stand lies a red rose. The scene is utterly kitsch- tooth-enamel-cracking sweet. It is difficult to see this work as "female-empowering." Instead, the artist paints a soft porn stereotype that is at the same time painfully sweet and embarrassingly alluring to watch.
Nancy Leticia, Fantasie Impromptu (2014). Screen capture from video.
Many works in Body Anxiety play with the sexy, sweet girl stereotype in a similar way. Often it is obviously ironic, but at other times, the artist seems incapable of, or even above this form of self-reflection. The critical rant of Angela Washko or the visual power of Hannah Black and Alexandra Marzella stand in stark contrast to the seemingly simple vanity of Erika Alexander, for example. What is interesting about this exhibition is its appeal for recognition of the artistic validity of each position. The time may have come for this to happen. There is a correlation between the self-empowering creation of online diaries, selfies, and other such content (no matter how relative this empowerment may seem), and the battles over territory in gamergate and over gender, race, and cultural diversity in exhibitions.
But by highlighting the specificity of the work of female and gender-queer artists, Chan and Schrager also break the straight white male frame through which most art is still seen and represented. The exhibition itself shows that the selection criteria of art by female and gender-queer artists does not preclude diversity. Next to Letitia's music video there is poetry (Aurorae Parker), drawing (Andrea Crespo), journalism (Rachel Rabbit White), video art (Saoirse Wall, Endam Niham, Ann Hirsch, Georges Jacotey, Hannah Black, Angela Washko, Marie Karlberg), gif art (May Waver, RAFia Santana), digital art (Leah Schrager, Alexandra Marzella), web art (Mary Bond) and online performance (Victoria Campbell, Erika Alexander, Faith Holland, Kate Durbin, Randon Rosenbohm). Possible oddities in my classification aside, it is obvious there is little common ground here besides the subject matter (the problematic view of women's bodies in art and society) and the gender of the artists. This, I think, is another point the curators are trying to make. Body Anxiety is a statement in itself. It is a challenge to keep questioning our views on the work of female and gender-queer artists, even when we think we have already questioned them enough. If, for example, video diaries and selfies of young female artists are being treated as common and meaningless, or less important than larger-scale works, then we haven't.
TCF, 85 CE 86 EE 4B B1 72 9B 0A AD 15 46 47 33 2C 30 (2015). Screenshot of audio composition as presented online as part of EBM (T).
You're a small triangle in flight across a screen, four pixels wide and eight pixels tall. Your lot in life is to be an (x,y) pair. Your velocity has a fixed range. After the chaos of your origin at a random point in this field, your path is wholly determined by the triangles flying closest to you, and your path influences them in turn.
You are both an instantiated object and a member of a flock, a class, a school. You follow three rules: separation, alignment, cohesion. These three rules collaborate to update your position—helping you avoid collision, target a collective goal, stay close to friends.
This is a simplified rendering of Boids, an artificial life program invented by Craig Reynolds in 1986. Reynolds referred to his simulated "bird-oid objects" as boids, which became shorthand for any creatures that flock like birds.
Tokyo-based online sound gallery EBM (T), run by Nozomu Matsumoto and Nile Koetting, is currently hosting a sonic enactment of Boids: 85 CE 86 EE 4B B1 72 9B 0A AD 15 46 47 33 2C 30, by data composer TCF (Lars Holdhus). EBM (T) is designed as a "virtual aural room," an intimate listening experience. In its past programs, this has allowed for an amphitheater organized around singular object-themes—from the chess-inspired musique concréte of Jeff Witscher to field recordings of authors typing—to emerge. TCF's contribution turns the sound gallery into a bestiary of -oids, articulating the hidden language of machine flocking as a highly listenable audio composition.
Boids are programmatic objects whose movements are defined by three arbitrarily weighted functions (separation, alignment, cohesion). The cluster of triangles (boids) coasts and drifts around the screen, refreshing thirty times a second. Every refresh, each triangle compares its vector (speed and direction) and location (x,y coordinate) to those of every other triangle. The vectors update; each boid blips to a new location.
Reynolds' Boids simulator code reads like a poem. It tells the story of the flock as it draws itself: Add an initial set of boids into the system … Add a new boid into the System … Nascent animal-objects join the school. The group is steered and sped, balanced and weighted along the three vectors.
When we get to the line passing the entire list of boids to each boid individually, we begin to suspect there is some hidden life here: the life of an -oid, a synthetic object.
Over 85 CE 86...'s 18 minutes of audio, TCF's boids are slowly given life: forms to deploy, space to express themselves within, and a community of like creatures to travel with. The opening is all abrasive discovery and chaos as the entities interact and test boundaries. In the first five minutes, the listener descends into abyssal deep sea, between thick, pressurized curtains of fogbank drone. Strange intonations emerge from the algorithmic depths. Initially, these calls test intelligibility and strain haptic sense, demanding empathic acclimation. In our correspondence about the work, Koetting wrote that these "may be the cries of the trilobites and marine plants from the Cambrian multiplying in cyberspace."
Gradually, a language emerges. The piece transitions into a smooth, cohesive set of harmonies, a cinema of boids in operatic flight. Fluttering whirrs, tortured chirps and wails suggest forms of intelligent life unknown to us. The orchestra dives, splits and coalesces with the sea around as its sheet music. At points, we feel fear, thinking of the predatory flocking in Hitchcock's The Birds; elsewhere, awe, recalling YouTube videos of starling murmurations against a gaining sunset. Ultimately, the tone darkens, closing 85 CE 86... with cacophonic scenes of machine dominance.
It's our choice to hear an -oid: hearing this menagerie of aquatic boids, registering them as alive, is an intentional act.
We might consider how these schools are a type of carpentry, Ian Bogost's term for objects that do theoretical labor when our frameworks fail. Well-known proponents of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), a computer-inspired subfield of philosophy, argue that in considering the lives of objects, we gain novel paradigms through which to interpret human action and belief.
85 CE 86... subtly immerses the human subject, until her head is turned completely: until she finds herself looking through the eyes of a boid. She can't always see the greater drama of her entropic flock. The push and pull between order and disorder can remain unseen. Her flock morphs, splits, and blurs with others in an obscure succession of operating logics.
We might think on how animal migration patterns are altered by technology on time-transcendent scales. We might think of the bees.
If we can consider the practice of object-oriented coding as a metaphor for worldly experience, humans are boids, too. We may not have a list of cumbersome rules, if-then statements for every encounter. But we do have certain core functions—survive, seek endorphins, reproduce.
The human group soars along on an unspecified journey. Single human boids make breakaways that are necessary for the species to survive. Early humanity's evolution depended on such radical departures from the herd in search of resources. Listening, we sense the will to split off, guided by instinct, by forces more complex than the three rules.
Algorithmic culture can feel scary, robotic. We fear becoming cogs, clutching shreds of agency, seeking synchronicity with group rule. This composition asks us to consider the flip side, the automated life. It imagines the bot's existence with dimensionality, full of beauty.
Boids have a simple life, but not a limited one. The code that drives them is elegant; their individual chirps converge in a harmony only audible to something greater. In practicing boid empathy, we find a salve to a particularly modern anxiety: you're not a subway commuter at rush hour, but a glorious salmon fighting upstream, fulfilling its destiny, enacting its program.
See also: "Radical Ethology: Jussi Parikka's Insect Media" by Jacob Gaboury.
Arjun Srivatsa, Human Inside (2015).
Inspired by the advertising strategy of MacKeeper, a security and maintenance utility that promotes its product in the most insecure areas of the web, I invited three artists—LaTurbo Avedon, Eltons Kūns and Giselle Zatonyl—to join me in making works that responds to the experience of encountering malicious objects in vulnerable spaces. The works and my curatorial statement are below.
The second result listed on Google when searching "MacKeeper" is MacKeeper.com, a site that sells a product named MacKeeper. The first result, however, is an Apple Discussions thread entitled "Do not install MacKeeper."
Apple users consistently criticize the cleaning, security, and optimization utility, claiming that it is a virus in the guise of antivirus software. Forums on Mac blogs feature long threads of horror stories about the utility’s user experience, often stating that once downloaded, MacKeeper irrevocably slows down computers, forcing users to reformat their drives. Former PR Director Jeremiah Fowler said that his product and their robot logo became a "forum punching bag" due to a black PR campaign run by an aggressive competitor. However, as years pass, MacKeeper’s bad reputation continues to develop as new critiques are published, painting the product as a malicious paywall scheme that enslaves users in a never-ending upgrade cycle.
Eltons Kūns, Good At It (2015).
The company maintains that its product is reputable and has no intention to harm. "MacKeeper is not malware," says Bob Diachenko, Senior PR Expert for the company. "There are no ways that the program itself can harm or de-stabilize your system as described by some sources. It is just the nature of the business in the age of internet trolling. It is so easy for anyone with too much time on their hands to trash businesses or products online anonymously with no repercussions."
But beyond criticism of the program’s user experience, MacKeeper's negative reputation is heavily influenced by the online space in which their advertisements appear.
Users are often confronted by MacKeeper’s robot mascot while visiting areas of the web in which they are vulnerable, such as porn, torrents, and illegal streams. In most instances, the company’s nearest advertising neighbors are clearly spam sites attempting to offer the user some sort of instant reward, whether it be sexual ("Pharmaceutical Companies Hate Him," "DTF Singles In Your Area") or economic ("Congratulations! You've won a free iPad!"). Users recognize these manipulative objects as threats that feed off insecurity and inexperience. A common user understands what lies beneath the click on messages of "weird tricks," knowing that simply engaging in illegal activity places them in vulnerable states of surfing. Therefore, the practice of managing these advertisements has become somewhat of a reflex. When one clicks on a link to a torrent or a pornographic video, it is in the user’s best interest to exit peripheral windows, perform the intended task and leave without engaging with potential threats. By simply existing in the vicinity of vulnerable surfing, MacKeeper’s online presence is indelibly linked to a negative user experience.
Giselle Zatonyl, Untitled (2015)
The visual design of the mascot heightens this incongruity: MacKeeper (also the name of the robot) is a floating, muscular torso-shaped 3D-animated robot with glowing blue eyes. A subtle flatness at the base of the robot's eyes represent raised cheekbones, adding a sense of playful enthusiasm to its character. In fact, this playfulness is an important facet of the robot's personality, despite its often unsavory surroundings. The company jokingly states that they like to pretend that their Facebook community is actually moderated by the robot. Diachenko explains that despite the fact that their mascot is "non-human" by nature, the company is "constantly humanizing [their] robot. He has a soul."
Humanizing has become a modus operandi for the MacKeeper brand. When acquired by the German company Kromtech Alliance in 2013, the service adopted the catchphrase Human Inside and began marketing their 24/7 real-time customer support feature MacKeeper.com has recently been updated to display portraits of the management team. Furthermore, at the top of their menu, above the product’s obvious services of Cleaning, Security, Data Control & Privacy is their Customer Service link, simply entitled "Human." This effort to characterize their product as a friendly bodyguard is a part of MacKeeper’s attempt to prove that they care about the customer.
Yet it's puzzling that a company that claims legitimacy and promises security chooses to engage in such a poorly regarded advertising practice. According to Diachenko, the company is one of the largest buyers of ad traffic that targets the Mac OS operating system. MacKeeper purchases blocks of traffic from major ad networks and has no control over where the ads appear or how many times they are shown. In his eyes, the prevalence of MacKeeper is subject to the nature of online advertising. Diachenko believes that "We are all tied together in some strange marriage of dependence between advertisers, ad networks and websites that display the ads." But where does this place the user? Are we presumed to be a the bastard child leftovers of this broken relationship? MacKeeper is putting a lot of effort into rebranding itself to seem more humanized, but their ads still run in seedy corners of the web, and it might be in their best interest to gain control of their visibility.
MacKeeper is not a virus. It is a company that has received high praise from computer publications (Macworld magazine calls it "a gem") and runs booths at major tech conferences like as International CES. The company claims to have a big audience of dedicated fans who stop by their convention booths to say hello and find out about what MacKeeper plans for the future. They are proud of their following. However, what is clear to outsiders is that MacKeeper’s online presence is almost irreversibly tied to the vulnerable spaces in which it advertises. And although their robot is trying to pose as an antidote floating in a sea of viruses, its presence comes off as ingenuine, and users will forever be wary of clicking.
"Is MacKeeper a SCAM?" by MacKeeper
Screenshot of Olia Lialina, 640x480 (2014), showing the "clouds" tab.
Page authors wouldn't define colors, fonts margins and line-lengths. In turn end users set their preferences for colors, fonts, links, graphics in their browsers, according to their needs or taste. Not a big deal, one can say, to decide if to see all the pages of the internet on a white or a gray background. But don't think about colors, think about the concept -- each user was defining the look of the whole WWW for themselves.
What message is delivered by classic Prof. Dr. pages, looking primitive and all the same? Independence. Inside academic circles, a page made in Prof. Dr. Style shows off distance from the institution's corporate identity and its Content or Knowledge Management systems, which is not an easy status to achieve.
Ying Miao, iPhone Garbage. GIF screenshot of work from "Meanwhile in China--so in love, will never feel tired again" on netize.net and Newhive.
Randy Marsh (Lorde): "You can't just replace artists with holograms. Who will create the content?'"
Entertainment Business CEO guy: "Today commentary is the content."
— South Park season 18 episode 9 #Rehash
Like all the other Chinese social networking websites that became successful in China, Bilibili/哔哩哔哩弹幕视频网 is modeled on an original idea; yet this time it wasn't from the USA, but from Japan—Niconico, which was launched in 2006, four years before Bilibili. "Unlike other video sharing sites, however, comments are overlaid directly onto the video and synced to a specific playback time. This allows comments to respond directly to events occurring in the video, in sync with the viewer, creating the sense of a shared watching experience."(Wikipedia).
This "shared watching experience" is everything— the experience is manifestly shared with others. A video can't be watched unless it is watched with comments. China had 640 million internet users by 2014, and 500 million of them are mobile users thanks to the fake/shanzhai iPhones. From one side of The Wall, the Chinese internet appears to be a barren wasteland; yet despite its limitations, it has been evolving and growing. This makes the Chinese internet quite unique. Just as it occurs "over the wall," new memes are created depending on what underground culture decides to make in reference to mainstream culture; the same holds true for the Chinese internet.
The main reason Bilibili is popular is because internet memes are created rapidly here in China, and it is exciting for people to see new memes being used in video comments. Those comments containing Chinese internet memes are usually extremely sharp and very funny; this great sense of humor usually comes from self-censorship, like 草泥马/Grass Mud Horse. Most of the time, a video is trending on Bilibili not because it is so good, but for the opposite reason. It is because these videos are so amateur and badly edited —it is not about the video anymore, it is about making fun of the video (吐槽/scoffed at). For example, "iPhone is almost Garbage" is a remix of an original video made to promote a Chinese smartphone brand called Jin Li. In this video, two men dressed in police uniforms shout about how good their products are and how only posers would spend so much money (the price of an iPhone 6+in China is about 2 months' average salary) on a phone that is easily damaged, tacky and badly designed. The video equates the iPhone 6 with garbage, while live streaming comments float over the men's faces. Comments read: " OMG, this video is so bad it brain-washed me." "Have to watch this bad video every day." and "I just threw my iPhone into the garbage can".
On Bilibili, then, you do not watch the video again for the video, you watch it again and again for the comments. This is precisely what inspired me to make the piece, "iPhone Garbage", where I designed a remix of the official Apple iPhone 6 commercial and excluded its original soundtrack, replacing it with the man screaming about how iPhones are garbage. In addition, on the right top hand corner of the page, there is a gif animation of water pouring from the bottle through the video player, into the Apple logo pond and finally onto the still image of a real apple already being splashed by water. "Water Apple" (or 水货苹果 in Chinese) literally means "parallel imported Apple products." These are products that are smuggled strapped to the bodies of people into mainland China so that import taxes can be avoided and the products can then be sold on Taobao (the Chinese quivalent of eBay) or in electronic markets for a more affordable price than buying them in a legitimate Chinese Apple store.
Photo via Sina Weibo / Shenzhen Huanggang Customs.
The most popular Bilibili video of all time is called ""When smart meets wash-cut-blow". As you can see, live comments quickly flood and cover the screen, masking the music video itself over time. This shanzhai Chinese music video was originally from a K pop band, but was remixed by a Chinese netizen into a love song about the story of a SMART boy who falls in love with a girl, but is worried her family will not like him because he has no class. He decides to become a salon boy to learn how to cut hair and be fashionable so that they can have a sweet life together drinking Coke, Fanta and Wanglaoji (a popular canned tea) every day. SMART or shamate is a subculture in China composed of young migrants from the countryside who remain alienated amid the great urbanization push. Their fashion style is a gawky blend of goth, glam and anime; they are also the largest group of people who are still using internet cafes and local Chinese electric devices. Since this video is so popular, sometimes you can barely see the video itself. The lyrics have been translated into 5 foreign languages in the comments and are covered in comments like "I feel wasted after watching this", and "I have already repeated this 12 times."
Of course, another reason why Bilibili became so popular is because, unlike the original copied site, Niconico, which only allows people to watch videos if they are registered users, Bilibili allows everyone to watch the videos. Only users can leave a comment, however. (The membership is free, but you have to answer 100 questions about animation. If needed, you can buy a membership on Taobao for 1RMB/0.16 USD without taking the test).
In the latest season of South Park, in episode 9 #Rehash and episode 10 #happyholograms, Kyle wants to play Call of Duty with his little brother Ike, and realizes that all Ike and his generation want to do is watch other people's comments on other people playing Call of Duty. Kyle gets very upset over this, because he does not want to feel like a "grandpa." Meanwhile, Cartman makes his own channel on YouTube, "Commenting on people's comments." What is interesting is that the main users of Bilibili are people who were born after the '90s. This generation is very different from the first single-child generation, (the post-80's), who are more nostalgic. They have experienced China's "Great Leap" into material life, and are more unconsciously "inauthentic," favoring facade over content; the post-90's generation grew up with many material objects in their lives and tend to focus on content over form. Bilibili is very blunt— the comments flying around make it almost ugly to the visual taste of the post 80's generation— but that is exactly why it is so lovely.
Screenshot from South Park season 18 Episode 9 "#Rehash."
It was mind blowing for me to see these 弹幕/bullet comments on Bilbili for the first time. As an artist, it is visually stimulating to see moving text floating in front of a moving picture. Also, since all the comments are live, it makes the video into a canvas. Leaving a comment is like drawing on the video. From a net artist's point of view, it is a tangible "social hologram" of the video..... As a Chinese net artist whose VPN had just expired just when I was feeling insecure and left out (like being alone in Silent Hill), right in the corner there is this local internet carnival full of people. Despite its limitations, the Chinese internet is exuberant and full of highly creative netizens. To use a Chinese internet meme to sum this up: "Watching videos from Bilibili will make your brain hole/脑洞 (aka creativity) wildly open."
This is Rhizome Today for Tuesday, February 3, 2014. This post will be taken offline on February 4.
Last night, while preparing my remarks for tonight's benefit, I spent some time perusing the disorganized files of Petra Cortright's hard drive. That is, I re-read most of her ebook HELL_TREE, which collects a series of disorganized files and writings from her computer. That is, I procrastinated. (Cortright is the joint honoree of tonight's benefit, along with the ebook's publishers Paul Chan/Badlands Unlimited).
In her Rhizome Artist Profile in 2011, Cortright defined the "hell tree" as a disorganized directory on her computer, containing files that she names by "smashing randomly on the keyboard."
...it makes me miserable thoes files become evil sources of misery and then the hell tree folder rises again. the key is to put things in a file folder with a correctly labeled name. then files within that folder can be named whatever because i know the general idea of whats going on :) uhh my process for working is maybe how a painter would work. i dont really work on big "projects" for the most part. i haven't figured out how to work like that without becoming overwhelmed. i think im more successful if i do something everyday, if im drawing/paintign in photoshop everyday and then taking some time to keep the sketches organized in documents folder. then later i can look back and select thigns that are working those are the pieces. making videos is a mystery and it happens randomly.
This might seem to be unlikely source material for a book, but the haphazard collection of files that are captured in HELL_TREE seem to only get more interesting with time. The ebook can be thought of as a self-portrait of the artist, but it's just as much about her social circle/collaborators and the technological context in which they circulated. It marries a Proustian attention to the minutiae of daily existence with a literary structure seemingly determined by her computer's operating system. It also is a pretty good example of what art historian Josephine Bosma means when she says, "Standardization as the technological basis for the postindustrial network neither predefines every gesture made in or by it, nor does it have one specific dominant aesthetic."
Here's a screen capture of a sample page:
The book mostly consists of screenshots like this, most of them in the applications "Tex-Edit Plus" or "TextEdit" running on a Mac. On the left, a window shows what seems to be a more structured set of data, formatted for human reading although containing descriptions that seem most useful to machines. The window on the right is a lot messier, although still possible to read. Overlaid on top of this are additional windows, some of them displaying poetry fragments, to-do lists, or rants against other internet users.
Here are a few other things I screen capped along the way:
A cameo by artist and maker of one of tonight's benefit editions, Joel Holmberg aka @dotkalm, followed by one of many to do lists in the ebook.
Yes! Yes I do!
Wrestling with big issues.
And life events intervene--an apartment fire, followed by a departure from school.
The intimacy and messiness of Hell_Tree makes me think of Jesse Darling's argument that
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.
Cortright's practice was never only about being groomed or about reaping the fruit of the user-serf, but about performing this labor herself, working with the computer and the internet as daily practice. Through this kind of practice, a lot of misery may accumulate in the hell tree folder, but its contents have much to say about our practices and our lives.
Gabriele de Seta is a PhD student at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, currently researching digital folklore and media practices in mainland China. I met de Seta a few times in Hong Kong to discuss his research after following his research archives and reports on Tumblr and NewHive. While much has been written about the Chinese internet in terms of governance, censorship and contention, de Seta focuses instead on the complexity and nuance of the forms of vernacular creativity which characterize Chinese internet culture. This interview was conducted over email.
Ben Valentine: In your most recent NewHive post, you explore Chinese Internet culture (网络文化 or wangluo wenhua) through the visual vocabulary produced by image search results from Baidu, China's largest search engine. Could you share some indicative images and briefly describe their value for Chinese net culture?
Gabriele de Seta: I put together that short essay precisely to question certain assumptions that are almost automatic when talking about China and the internet. My hypothesis was that "internet culture" as a concept is itself part of a very specific Euro-American discourse around digital media—when I talk about internet culture, you know perfectly well that I am referring to multiple platform-specific repertoires of genres of interaction and user-generated content: you know I am talking about internet memes and YouTube celebrities, rickrolling and LOLcats, animated .GIFs and greentext stories. The idea of an internet culture, so to say, is itself part of our own internet culture—an idea rooted in the early communities of garage geeks and programmers, the aesthetics of the home computing era and the hacker ethics of the '90s. But is this the case everywhere?
Opening ceremony of "The first exhibition of Hubei network culture," photo retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website
In Mandarin Chinese, the direct translation of internet culture (网络文化 wangluo wenhua, literally "network culture") can indeed refer to a similar domain of trending topics, popular neologisms, and online phenomena, but it also means other things. For example, as I show with the book covers that pop up in the first pages of Baidu image search results, the term has been used in Chinese academic writing since the late '90s to indicate broadly the intersection of the web and culture at large. But it has also been used by the national and local authorities to promote the informatization of the country and the popularization of internet connections; in this case, wangluo wenhua means something closer to "internet acculturation." It is represented through polished stylizations of green urbanism (and floating IE icons); it carries undertones of governmentality ("create civilized websites"), and it animates promotional festivals complete with pin-ups and internet celebrities.
"Create civilized websites, establish civilized customs" banner retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website
In legal terms, "internet culture" does also appear on a kind of official certificate that you need to obtain from the Chinese Ministry of Culture to run a website providing content—the quantity of these certificates popping up in Baidu image search results is explained by the fact that you are legally required to display them on your website. Conversely, in Chinese news media discourse, wangluo wenhua often carries risky and moralizing undertones, as exemplified by the wealth of comic vignettes accompanying news articles: internet culture implies dangerous rumors, personal attacks, false information, and illegal practices. With so many contextual appropriations of the term, one starts doubting about its usefulness in approaching digital media use in China, especially when it comes to the kinds of vernacular creativity I am interested in. This is why the "local knowledge" (as anthropologists call it) comes in handy.
Example of an "Internet Culture Business License" (网络文化经营许可证 wangluo wenhua jingying xukezheng), retrieved via Baidu Image search from http://www.chinaacc.com/licence/www.htm
BV: What is the relationship between this "local knowledge" and the concept of digital folklore you adopt?
GdS: I take the term digital folklore as Olia Lialina & Dragan Espenschied define it in their Digital Folklore reader: the objects and practices emerging from the users' engagement with digital media platforms and computing applications. Olia and Dragan focus on the digital folklore of the early days of the internet and see the massification of Web 2.0 as the end of vernacular creativity; conversely, I think that as long as there are platforms and devices, users continue creating digital folklore—if anything, by now it might have become post-digital folklore. Local knowledge becomes the key to understanding (post)digital folklore: rather than asking "what is Chinese internet culture?", one tries to understand what neologisms such as egao (恶搞, "making fun of something in nasty ways") mean to the users who share this content; who calls whom a diaosi (屌丝, "luser") in which sociolinguistic context; how ACG communities (Anime, Comic & Games) mediate and translate Japanese otaku products on discussion boards and video streaming websites for a local zhainan (宅男, "nerd") audience, and so on. It is the typical anthropological move of trying to understand a context through the local practices and categories of commentary, only applied to digital media practices rather than, say, gift exchange in Papua New Guinea.
Local knowledge: Unknown author, "You are not alone, we are always with you - virgin, unemployed, suicidal, me, poor, fat nerd," Feels meme repurposed with Chinese categories of social solidarity (collected on dajiangyou).
BV: I want to talk about the mob element found in the Chinese internet. While in the West there is a growing conversation about the problems of internet trolls, this problem is taken to a new level online in China: from astroturfing to the 50 cent party, from spam to spam wars, and from doxxing to human flesh searches. Can you talk about that?
GdS: I think this issue has two components. The first is a standard assumption that in our good old Euro-American West, problems always arise from more or less deviant individuals (trolls, harassers, etc.), while in China things are stereotypically projected on the mass scale: gold farmers invading online gaming, armies of governmental censors, mobs of online ideological vigilantes, and so on. The second is the local predilection—in Chinese news media, propaganda work, and popular opinion—to hark back to the "angry mobs" of the Cultural Revolution (and many other tumultuous moments in Chinese history) when framing certain contemporary phenomena.
The situation, I think, is more nuanced: that the so-called 50-cent party(五毛党 or wumaodang) of propaganda workers supposedly paid half a RMB for each post does surely exist in some form (hopefully better remunerated), yet the term has by now become a common accusation hurled in online discussions at anyone expressing a vaguely reactionary or contrarian opinion. Another interesting thing is the way in which the public opinion guidance methods of the wumaodang have quickly been repurposed by private companies for commercial astroturfing. You don't have to be the Chinese government to benefit from personal spam teams—now pretty much anyone can hire a bespoke squad of paid posters (网络水军 or shuijun, "water army") to spread rumors about competitors, boost product reviews on e-commerce websites, or wage opinion-wars on bulletin boards and comment sections.
As for the so-called human flesh searches (an awkward translation: 人肉搜索 or renrou sousuo could be simply rendered as a much less intimidating "crowdsourced search engine"): the first cases of renrou sousuo were often hailed by commentators as promising birth pangs of Chinese citizen vigilantism. Then some cases started crossing the line between exposing and stalking or harassing, sometimes even violently, and the narrative about it has changed accordingly, both inside China and abroad. I guess that in the wake of GamerGate, there have also been interesting shifts in our discussions about trolling, harassment, and privacy.
Shuijun ("water army") comic, retrieved from Sina Games article "Retired 50-cent party member reveals: Online games water army makes a million per month" http://games.sina.com.cn/y/n/2011-04-11/1023488839.shtml
BV: During my few months traveling around Asia, I've loved finding localized remixes of Western memes. How are Chinese netizens remixing and localizing western media?
GS: This is a very interesting question which I've been grappling with recently. The binary opposition of global and local—especially when applied to genres of vernacular creativity—seems a bit stiff. While backtracking through the collection of content I compiled during my research project, I ran into a substantial percentage of pieces of digital folklore that were impressive cases of translation, often showing the layered traces of passages between multiple languages, platforms and contexts: a series of Japanese textbook illustrations are screen capped and framed by a Chinese punchline, while still preserving the original Japanese marker of authorship as part of the joke; an American "Feels" meme is re-contextualized with Chinese slang terms in traditional characters in Taiwan and successively disseminated on mainland social media platforms; animated GIFs of Obama and Kim Jong-Un are shared as emoticons on instant messaging platforms like QQ and WeChat, ridiculing international relations and world news; rage comics, from a self-referential genre of humor created by 4chan users making themselves reaction faces with MSPaint, are re-appropriated by a company based in Xi'anand transformed in different genres of web comics and, more recently, even live-action videos. This kind of translation comes full circle as the famous "Bitch Please" stylized face of Yao Ming—first popularized on Reddit—travels back to China as one of Asia's biaoqing san jutou ("Big Three Emoticons") along with Korean actor Choi Sung Kook and Japanese voice actor Hanazawa Kana.
"Asia's Big Three Emoticons" as presented by Wangyi news portal, retrieved from http://lady.163.com/13/0523/15/8VIO3R6U00264IJ2.html
Are these digital objects local? Are they a global genre of humor? Is this the local accent in a global culture, or vice versa? Again, assuming the locality or globality of an internet culture would first require giving it boundaries, which is in itself a complicated task – content moves incredibly quickly between platforms, and the practice of translation itself is often used as a mediating strategy to make sense of oneself and the others. Maybe the right answer is that in circulation, vernacular creativity is relational – remixing, copy-pasting, taking screenshots, editing and captioning are ways of getting in touch with each other while having some fun.
Future-Proof Honorees Petra Cortright + Paul Chan
Last night in the New Museum's Sky Room, Rhizome hosted Future-Proof, a sold-out benefit for Rhizome honoring Petra Cortright and Paul Chan & Badlands Unlimited. Mixing with the elements of Laurel Schwulst's lead design, cellist Isabel Castellvi opened the evening with a performance during cocktails. After, guests mingled and dined, and Rhizome Executive Director Heather Corcoran, Board Chair Greg Pass, and New Museum Director Lisa Phillips welcomed all and launched special editions by Lynn Hershman Leeson and Joel Holmberg.
Tributes to the honorees punctuated the evening. Rhizome Artistic Director Michael Connor celebrated Cortright's digital painting process by demonstrating how a work comes together Photoshop-layer-by-layer. Lauren Cornell, New Museum Curator, Triennial 15, narrated Paul Chan's inquisitive career and Badlands' continued prodding of publishing after the internet.
Congrats to Petra, Paul, and the Badlands crew: Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand, Matthew So, Jessica Jackson, Nickolas Calabrese, and Karen Marta.
Photos from the evening are below, generously provided by Billy Farrell Agency (All photos taken by Madison McGaw, unless credited otherwise).
Rhizome Artistic Director Michael Connor and Mary Evangelista
Cellist Isabel Castellvi
Marc Horowitz, Petra Cortright, and Jon Rafman
Body by Body (Melissa Sachs and Cameron Soren)
Anne Palmer, William Palmer, Sima Familant, and Travess Smalley
Special Editions by Lynn Hershman Leeson and Joel Holmberg
Laurel Schwulst and Kaela Noel
Yukari Matsuzawa, Rhizome Board Chair Greg Pass, and New Inc. Director Julia Kaganskiy
Vera Alemani and Katja Novitskova
Fred Benenson and New Museum Deputy Director Karen Wong
Executive Director Heather Corcoran welcomes the crowd
Rhizome Founder Mark Tribe at dinner
Lisa Phillips, Scott Lorinsky, Ebony L Haynes, and Chrissie Iles at dinner
Megan Newcome, Sara Ludy, Annie Werner, Heather Corcoran, and Lindsay Howard (Photo: Lindsay Howard)
Photography services provided by
This is Rhizome Today for Friday, February 6, 2085. This post will be taken offline Monday, February 8.
Late yesterday, RadioShack—the electronics chain where my family purchased a lot of splitters and connectors and converters throughout the 1990s—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. What an ignominious end for the retailer which "brought computers to the masses." But not an unexpected one, as its markets polarize from the Apple Store to amazon.com.
Always a keen observer of subtle developments in the relationship between technology and mass cultures, artist Joel Holmberg has been invested in the fate of RadioShack for some time now. (In fact, he's a shareholder!) He must have sensed the epochal change, then, when conceiving a Special Edition to support Rhizome's programs on the occasion of this week's Future-Proof benefit.
This new untitled work conflates mass tech economies and their pop aesthetics past and present by compiling into a .mobi eReader file RadioShack employees reviews of their working conditions, the file then loaded on a vintage 4th gen Kindle, engraved and inscribed to the artist's specifications, and "jailbroken" to allow a custom screensaver.
The reviews Holmberg collects are at turns banal and absurd:
"Fun and fast paced, co workers can be fun depending on competetive drive."
"Company and culture do not equare for the position requirements."
"This was my first job as a young adult, enjoyed the experience! Radio Shack gave me the opportunity to work on my customer service skills...witch is very important for most jobs. I also gained knowledge of various electronic parts, how to promote, and sale them. I felt as though I was limited as to upward growth."
"Pros: none right now Cons: heartless, desperate, failing company, constantly changing focus, most focuses don't generate sales margin increases desperately needed."
Each text is paired with star ratings to characterize things like "Job Work / Life Balance," "Management," and "Job Culture." In all, the document reads a bit like dashed-off, boardroom metric-inflected memoir. And these are working class stories not often narrated, located in cities like Tuscon, South Easton, Middleburg Heights, Brooklyn, Marinette, Lawrenceville, and many others known widely and only locally.
All the reviews have been postdated to the 2080s, lending a dystopian-realist sense to the project; the artist referring to the piece as an "alternate reality... in which the company stays in business despite market forecasts," and where technology has barely evolved. And yet, these days—when the possibility of a corporate takeover of RadioShack by Amazon seems less far-fetched, and the Future-Future, one beyond broken starter-tech like Alexa and Glass, seems farther off than ever—the project crystalizes how well Holmberg understands the intersection between technologies, their markets, and us regular users.