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    Screenshot of VVORK post from April 2006, as archived by Rhizome.

    Today, Rhizome unveils a new archive of the contemporary art blog VVORK (2006-2012), in which we demonstrate a novel solution to the problem of conserving websites with embedded videos.

    VVORK makes a useful test case for our digital conservation efforts because it presents one relatively narrow but difficult set of problems to solve. That is, when videos are embedded in a website, they are generally hosted on a third-party platform (on YouTube, for example); this means they may be deleted or taken down, sometimes for "inappropriate" content. But saving these videos into an archive creates problems for most scraping tools, especially when a video is used in many different contexts, as when the same video appears on multiple tag pages. The way these platforms select and serve the video files makes it difficult to have all embeds of the same video point to a single archival copy.

    To address these issues, Rhizome's Digital Conservator Dragan Espenschied used Colloq, a tool for creating contextual archives that was developed by Rhizome in partnership with Ilya Kreymer beginning in 2014. (The service builds on Kremer's pywb tools; you can read up on the technical details of of capturing the web video here.) Colloq offers a robust solution for this long-standing issue; with VVORK as a test case, we have created a stable archive of the site including nearly all embedded video.

    From a cultural perspective, VVORK is an important part of Rhizome's archive because of its role in the changing relationship between internet and gallery over the past decade. Looking at the site today, it can be difficult to understand how a very simple WordPress blog featuring images and videos of contemporary art, with minimal captions, could have become so influential and controversial. It now seems commonplace, like a million Tumblr feeds; it was even recently described by Frieze as "a Tumblr."

    Blogging in 2006 was still a very text-heavy affair. In April 2007, one year into VVORK and just after Tumblr's launch, artist Sally McKay commented on its singular form, arguing that "VVORK is popular because they show lots and lots of pictures of art from around the world without a bunch of commentary. I love that! It's kind of weird how rare it is."

    This emphasis on text was encoded into blogging platforms themselves. The name of VVORK's chosen tool, "WordPress," as well as its user interface (in which users were invited to "Write Posts" in large typeface, and to "Add Media" in the fine print) betray the emphasis placed on writing over imagery. Thus, VVORK's format should be understood as a specific, intentional use of the blog, not as a default format of the Tumblr age. 

    Screenshot of user interface for Wordpress 2.1, via Mashable

    Even if the format was lovable, VVORK often seemed to be a target for criticism; there was a great deal of hand-wringing about it at professional symposia and the like. By looking back at some of these criticisms, we can begin to shed light on some aspects of VVORK's influence.

    One of the points raised about VVORK was that it seemed to imply that all art looks the same. Very often, there would be several quite similar works posted in a row. For a sense of this, browse the page compiling all posts labeled with the tag "plant," for example. As McKay put it, a lot of the work on VVORK could be described as "elegant sculptural installations crafted well from non-precious materials with interesting but tidy content and an unquestioning relationship to art institutions." This description sounds very similar to some of the stylistic descriptions offered up for postinternet art today... plus ça change.

    Some fretted that this emphasis on similarity undercut the artists' individuality. Artist and Rhizome friend Guthrie Lonergan took this view; he argued that "VVORK makes 'clever' very unappealing, like some disease that art catches when it gets on the Internet."[1] The similarities and patterns made it seem as if artistic production was "algorithmic to the extreme."

    But this is what made VVORK radical and interesting. Instead of arguing for artists' uniqueness, it argued for their interconnectedness. In an interview conducted with VVORK during the archiving process and published in full below, they described their interest in this idea:

    Writers seem to comfortably admit that they read and have read books, while many artists seem to cultivate the image of the isolated genius, detached from any outside influence…But the motivations behind the series were quite diverse. Seeing the sequences was useful to understand tendencies and to view the potential of different interpretations of an idea. 

    VVORK depicted artistic production as a networked, collaborative process subject to certain patterns, and it saw potential in iteration.

    Another criticism that was raised of VVORK is also quite interesting to reconsider. In the introduction to Josephine Bosma's essential net art book Netitudes, Florian Cramer wrote that:

    [art announcement email list and online journal] e-flux and VVORK function as conventional news resources on art…the contemporary art world is still stuck in a mentality of regarding (and using) [the internet] merely as a medium *on* art instead of one where art can happen.

    Rather than thinking of the internet as primary context where "art can happen," Cramer is saying, VVORK offers "merely" representations of artwork that are subordinate to the gallery experience. But over six years of looking at VVORK, it often felt very clear that art was happening there. In fact, Cramer's delineation strangely echoes an important passage in Bosma's book, recalling an argument made by Karl Heinz Jeron: 

    "Pure" or "real" net art was and still is a popular term used to differentiate between works of art that were created for the Internet by artists who use the internet's properties "well," and online art by artists who "merely" use the net for publication or other "trivial" purposes...For Jeron, the Internet was (and remains) a domain for all artists to use as they please. I could not agree more, and would never judge a work of art on its "specific" or "correct" use of the Net ever again. (Netitudes, 41.)

    VVORK isn't "merely" an online publication; it's impure, nonspecific, incorrect net art at its best.


    When VVORK announced, in late 2012, that they were shutting down, Rhizome's then-conservator Ben Fino-Radin scraped the site in a state of semi-panic via a wonky wifi connection in his hotel room (or so I seem to recall). He was worried that the server would go dark, and that an important part of net and postinternet art history would be lost to public view, so he acted quickly, and rightly so.

    This archived version was mostly complete, but it had a problem: there were 135 videos embedded in the site. These were hosted on external servers and subject to forces beyond the control of VVORK or Rhizome, and a number of them had already disappeared.

    The new VVORK archive now includes 111 archived embeds; 16 others were already deleted, seven were set to private, and one was technically impossible to capture at the moment of capture. According to Espenschied,

    In its six years of activity, VVORK used all kinds of different video embedding techniques provided during that time by the platforms YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Dailymotion, Ustream, Google Video, and the Internet Archive. Most of the embedded videos were set up to use the Flash plugin for replay, which raises problems with archiving and even more problems with access on current systems. The technique used was to swap out the the flash embeds with the updated HTML5 embeds that the video platforms use currently, and store the HTML5 video versions in the archive. When there was no HTML5 video available, the flv flash video was captured.

    The branded video players themselves are very complex pieces of javascript software that have proven very difficult to put into an archive, so all the video is displayed using the browsers' default players. However, since the capturing happened, we have gained the ability to capture the native YouTube player; you can view an example of that here.

    The VVORK archive is 392.5 GB in size in the warc file format.


    Image from oldest existing VVORK post, April 1, 2006, captioned "Exhibition documentation by Dearraindrop" and categorized as "Virginia Beach."

    Rhizome conducted the following interview with VVORK while archiving the website, with research support by Anton Haugen.

    Rhizome: The oldest existing post on was published in April 2006. It's an image of a colorfully painted floor with geometric patterns and comics-style characters. It was given the caption "Exhibition documentation by Dearraindrop" and categorized under "Virginia Beach." A factual question: is this exactly how that post appeared when VVORK started, or might it have been altered later? And a less factual one: do you remember posting that image? Why did you want to start there, and what was your feeling when you posted it?

    VVORK: It was the first post and there has not been any alteration. We do remember posting this one; it felt liberating, to post an image without having to negotiate or ask for permission from anyone. We took the post down after a few hours because it was the end of March, and we wanted a more appropriate date to begin, so we reposted it on the first of April.

    What was the general situation on the web in 2006 that made you feel that VVORK would be a compelling format online (serially posted images with minimal description)? Why did you decide to work with an online format rather than a paper-based magazine?

    Before the blog, we were producing a magazine that existed in other magazines. We did not have print or distribution costs, but were still dependent on the good will and understanding of other magazines that allowed us to exist within their pages. When we first noticed blogs or online publications, it seemed too good to be true that you can reach people from around the world, with minimal costs and flexible publishing rhythms.

    When did you realize that a lot of people were paying attention to the site?

    After the first day of posting, we could see that hundreds had been on the site (after a spam mail out), which surprised us. This developed to a thousand per day within a month, and to about twenty thousand per day after two years. After the first month or so we noticed an increase in mails by artists sending us their works. After a year or so, it became more common to hear about its effects away from the keyboard, mostly from artists who had received invitations to shows after being posted. This was part of what motivated us to keep at it. It functioned as a platform for others and ourselves. Our first invitations to take part in exhibitions happened through VVORK.  

    Let's talk a bit about how the site was organized. It was primarily experienced chronologically, which foreshadowed the web we have today in which the "feed" is the dominant paradigm, and the search and the surf are dying. At times there are certain thematic developments, but often the juxtapositions of certain sets of images can be jarring. How did you think about pacing and structuring the content? Were you specifically interested in chronology as a formal device?

    The chronological structure was the predetermined standard of WordPress, so it was not a conscious thematic interest, but rather a pragmatic convenience. We saw a necessity in the daily activity for it to work, so we tried posting 3 to 4 works a day, including Sundays and holidays. This rhythm was essential in having a regular audience.

    Also on this topic, can you talk about the use of tags on the site? I remember using tags to navigate the site, but now I can only seem to find them by using reverse Google Image search. For example, the aforementioned piece was tagged "colors" and "colorful" and "colours."

    The tags still work if you click on the Index. Or if you search them via the search function. Our tagging system was similar to a stock image tag system. We were leaning towards objective descriptive terms. It's a bit messy, but I can imagine that its quite useful.

    When Tumblr started, which basically gave users a pre-made VVORK of their own, did that change your thinking about the site in any way?

    Not right away, but Tumblr’s growing popularity slowly did. Over time, the feeling of urgency to continue declined.


    "The Real Thing," exhibition curated by VVORK for MU Eindhoven, 2009.

    For me, one of the central ideas that VVORK embodied was that documentation is not secondary to in-person viewing of art. It gave people a meaningful online experience of supposedly offline work. Was part of your intent with VVORK to empower documentation as a viable experience of art? If so, why did you feel this was important to do?

    The mediated experience is often our preferred experience, not just with art but also with books or movies. In 2009 we dedicated an exhibition to this subject, titled "The Real Thing" after a short story by Henry James in which the protagonist prefers the represented over the real. At that time, the exhibition went rather unnoticed, it did not seem to be a subject of interest as it is now.

    We were interested in a leveling of value and in moving away from the binary distinction. It also served the purpose of making works experienceable from cities that are not New York, Berlin, London, or Paris.

    Another way in which VVORK had a big impact on me was as a sort of portrait of the human artistic endeavor. It felt as if you could have chosen literally any idea and come up with five overlapping examples of how artists were exploring that idea. Was it ever difficult as an artist to realize that everything was already being worked on, everywhere, by other artists? Was this a cynical comment on art? Or was this potentially freeing? It's interesting to contrast it with Contemporary Art Daily, which often seems to be trying to tell us the opposite, that every artist is unique...

    Writers seem to comfortably admit that they read books, while many artists seem to cultivate the image of the isolated genius, detached from any outside influence.

    There are, of course, different ways to respond to the awareness of the works of others. It is not a necessity that it leads to emulation or innovation. It might get harder to make another neon after having seen such a vast amount of them.

    But the motivations behind the series were quite diverse. Seeing the sequences was useful to understand tendencies and to view the potential of different interpretations of an idea.

    Occasionally, it was a means of highlighting anachronistic market trends, as when we posted a series of abstract expressionist paintings, from the '40s to contemporary examples and from noted artists as well as from lesser- known amateurs. I would be surprised if you could spot the difference or categorize them historically.

    In a way, VVORK’s function has now become the preservation of work that does not exist anywhere else online. How do you think the site’s function has changed as time has passed, and now as part of the Rhizome archive?

    We are very happy to be included in Rhizomes archive, thank you very much for the effort. Indeed, it does feel like an archive now, and portrait of a few years. Maybe we will reactivate it some day.


    [1] Throughout this post, original authors' capitalization of Internet has been retained.

    VVORK was captured using Colloq, Rhizome's protoype social media archiving tool. Colloq is funded by the Knight Foundation and is based on the web archiving toolchain pywb, developed by Ilya Kreymer.

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    This is Rhizome Today for February 10, 2015. This post will be taken down on February 12. 

    On the eve of its annual conference, the US-based College Art Association (CAA) published its "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts." The report is intended to encourage arts organizations and artists to rely more heavily on fair use rather than defaulting to always asking for permission, and its recommendations are a welcome contribution to the field, and sure to stir up controversy. 

    At Rhizome, we take a strong Fair Use stance in broad alignment with the recommendations in this report. This is unusual among arts organizations, who (even when they have a clear fair use argument) tend to default to asking permission, for reasons of professional courtesy as much as for reasons of legality. As a result, we sometimes receive complaints and cease-and-desist notices. Usually this takes the form of copyright licensing agencies pursuing remuneration for our use of their images, usually in the context of analytic writing about a particular artwork. This type of claim is usually spurious. Sometimes, we get criticisms from artists; we try to respond sensitively, quickly, and appropriately. We even received one memorable trademark infringement notice for an image that included, just visible in the deep background, that Burning ManTM.

    Along these lines, you also may have noticed yesterday that we released an archive of VVORK—the popular contemporary art blog which ran from 2006-2012—captured using Colloq, Rhizome's protoype social media archiving tool. VVORK was known for aggregating documentation of art, ordering this documentation with minimal commentary to elaborate confluences and departures in style and point of view. Without rehashing the entire archival process—read the piece!—what Colloq allowed us to do was capture in full the video files which were integrated alongside still images. 

    So what we now have on the Rhizome server is a nearly complete capture of a blog that freely gathered images of artworks, exhibitions, and, from time to time, entire videos that were available online. Does this fall under fair use? 

    Here the CAA's new guidelines are both helpful, but not bold enough. Point five of the document concerns itself with "Online Access to Related Collections in Memory Institutions." What is a memory institution for CAA? Their definition: The "collections of libraries and archives (generally referred to here as 'memory institutions.')" We would argue that VVORK is itself a memory institution, as are many of the vernacular collections that are an essential part of digital culture. Therefore, its materials (we would argue) fall under this use case. Yet there is little indication in the eyes of CAA that a thing that looks like VVORK might be a "memory institution," until it enters a more formal archive such as Rhizome's.

    This is a live question. In recent weeks, there has been a significant conversation around the risk in archives becoming centralized in a handful of organizations—as Ed Summers wrote on Medium—with regard to

    I'd like to see more Web archiving classes in iSchools and computer science departments. I'd like to see improved and simplified tools for doing the work of Web archiving. Ideally I'd like to see more in house crawling and access of web archives, not less. I'd like to see more organizations like the Internet Archive that are not just technically able to do this work, but are also bold enough to collect what they think is important to save on the Web and make it available. If we can't do this together I think the Library of Alexandria metaphor will be all too literal.

    We agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. While Rhizome is quite clearly a formal "memory institution," responsible to a public, we don't want to be the only ones capturing important materials like VVORK; frankly, we don't have the capacity to know everything that is valuable, nor to care for it all. As such, we have been working to develop public tooks to enable more of digital culture to be captured by more users, while generally evangelizing for expansive archival practices.

    But for this to be a reality, users need to feel confidence that their smaller-scale archives are subject to the same fair use guidelines as a memory institution like Rhizome. Until bodies like the CAA (which determine the standards and norms that protect intellectual production and archival work) more broadly define where memory rests, and how it can be captured, fair use will continue to be sticky, vague, and tending toward centralization.

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  • 10/22/14--11:34: Big Data, Little Narration
  • Big Data, Little Narration

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    Do you follow? Art in Circulation 3
    London, October 17 2014
    Featuring Hannah Black, Derica Shields, Amalia Ulman

    This is the third and final panel discussion in "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation," a talks series organized by Rhizome and the ICA, hosted by Rosalie Doubal and moderated by Michael Connor. This talk began with the polemic prompt that "Internet circulation changes bodies into image-bodies."  A transcript of the first panel is available already; the second panel's transcript is delayed because of technical difficulties.

    Rush transcript compiled by Loney Abrams and Anton Haugen. Discrepancies may exist due to transcription errors or unclear audio. Original video footage can be found here.


    Michael Connor: Today's panel deals with the theme of bodies as— bodies and images in circulation. We are going to have a video by Hannah Black. The other panelists Amalia Ullman and Derica Shields will then join me on stage. Amalia will present her Excellences & Perfections performance, kind of the first real public-outing for that particular body of work. Derica will give us a visual sampler of the "Black Woman Cyborg," and then, we will have a general discussion.

    This has been a really eventful week. This has been the most immersive, best research experience for me, personally, and I hope for some of the people who have joined in as well. The first panel began with questions of aesthetics and artistic practice, and how we think about aesthetic judgment when the work as a stand-alone entity is dissolving into this idea of the work as a circulating object. In the first talk, there was quite a lot of emphasis on opinions being statements of a subject-position rather than any sort of assessment of a work. There was also a lot of emphasis on the idea of disavowing, on resisting internet circulation, resisting being a part of media cultures, and developing alternative infrastructures. 

    In yesterday's panel, I was joined by Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Monira al Qadiri, and Constant Dullaart (who presented his rave lecture).  Yesterday's panel had a sort of an accelerationist bent, although there was this interesting mix of accelerationism and sincerity through out. Monira al Qadiri used the phrase “give them more of what they want” to describe how she and the GCC came together around developing I guess an image of the Gulf that satisfied an accelerationist urge to understand the Gulf itself as a projection of Western or capitalist fantasies. At the same time, she presented other work that was personal re-writings of media images of her experiences of the Gulf War. There was an interesting play between responding to the demands of the flowsof capital and finding really specific locations within that. Yesterday was looking at the idea of place and location and how that’s affected by internet circulation, but it ended up dealing with markets, and in a way, that’s what locations are today, different markets.

    Today we move from that idea of market-location discussion to a related discussion about bodies. Before, we do that here is Hannah's video Fall.

    [Screens video]


    In the description of today's panel, I used the term image bodies and that was a little bit of a flight of fancy—the kind I don't normally allow myself. The reason I used that term was because I was thinking a lot about Hito Steyrel's text about circulationism which was published in e-flux earlier this year, "Too much world: Is Internet Dead?" And in that, she talks about images circulating on a network becoming bruised, and the way she describes them is very suggestive of the idea of the image not just being of the body but the image being of itself a kind of body. So I thought that term described a more complex interaction between image and the physical structure of my body than representation or something along those lines. So the "image-body" is kind of a way of thinking of our bodies as partly image, and the images that we see online as partly body. 

    [Interruption due to technical difficulties]

    Without further ado, I will pass this along to Amalia, who now has a functioning clicker with dongle.

    Amalia Ulman

    Amalia Ulman, Excellences and Perfections. Instagram.

    Amalia Ulman: Hello. My name is Amalia Ulman and I'm an artist. In my practice, I observe social discrimination, class divide, and power structures. They treat her better because of her beauty and her money and her trust fund. That sort of behavior.

    Preferential treatment

    ·       VIP areas

    ·       Bonus Points

    ·       Executive club

    I briefly focused these titles on research about objects: the life of ugly objects. The stories embedded in Chinese imports and how cities can be experienced through consumerism. The comfort of seeing the same wavy willow in some ghetto hair salon in my hometown and at the lobby of some five-star hotel.

    But what about our bodies?

    ·       Bodies can crumble, perish, disappoint us, promote us.

    ·       Bodies can represent who we are, what our history is, where do we come from.

    ·       We can't escape our bodies.

    Bodies are suitcases for a consciousness, but who is this suitcase by? What label? Which designer? It could be a Burberry or a Kelly or a Vuitton or a Van's backpack or a Tesco plastic bag or a Zara tote. Bodies sometimes say too much, but bodies can also deceive, confuse us, disappoint us, misguide us. We can also manipulate our bodies and our appearances. Mostly through one single strategy: money.

    Excellences & Perfections is a project about our flesh as object, your body as an investment. How do we market this flesh? How do we price this meat? How long will it stay fresh for? Meet me at the butcher's.

    In December 2013, I was invited to participate in a talk on self-branding. The term nauseated me. Was I self-branding? My openness had become a commercial strategy. No filter. I was unintentionally performing the stereotype of the artsy brunette, the poor female artist that had moved from a provincial town to the big city, the eager learner that requires to be saved by the male director of some museum or some school of fine arts. So if self-representation was an asset, if Facebook selfies overshadowed works of art themselves, I'd have to boycott myself to undermine the capitalist undertone of my online presence. Let the trolls in.

    Even when you show it all, you reveal very little. The project would consist of a four month long performance, a full immersion in a screen reality. I manipulated the rhythm of my online presence/narrative to show how easy it is to manipulate an audience through images. My online representation didn't represent me anymore. For more than four months, I stopped myself from socializing IRL, except with those who knew about the project. Since May I'd follow a script, and all my posts were 100% fabricated. Inspired by all those Korean girls whose Instagram I check every morning and whose [unclear] I guess out of their daily selfies, I wrote a story in pictures.

    The cute girl, smoothly mixing realities. The strategy was simple. I started with an aesthetic that was slightly close to my own taste to therefore appropriate the most popular It-girl trends on Instagram.

    For the first episode, I'd go for cute, pink, grunge, blonde, LA tumblr girl, the indie girl who has only read JD Salinger, the American Apparel model, pastel colors, pink nipples, and rabbits. Cats, pale models, kawaii, violence, flowers, bondage, bruises. Only after one week of posting images in my new persona, the likes went up. Very soon, I started receiving messages from men who wanted to shoot me, the very phallic camera lens. I even received an email from a professional photographer in the line of Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. I accepted and I modeled for an unpaid photoshoot 'cause girls want to get their portrait taken for free, of course.

    The model fantasy is probably the most widespread contemporary dream shared by young women of all backgrounds. Being watched means coming to life and being someone. The sadder the girl, the happier the troll. My main inspiration for this self-destructive process was Amanda Bynes. Trolls gorge on her disgrace. The sadder she is the happier is the troll, and that is what I wanted for myself. I wanted the audience to feel uncomfortable after desiring something that was inherently wrong, wishing others failure. But how would I make it credible?

    People tend to believe whatever they've been programmed to believe. The audience easily generated the wrong narrative and conclusions after a series of proposed images that matches those in their mental archive of mainstream archetypes. The idea was to play with the notion of deception online, and my strategy was to rely on narratives seen online before, so people could map the content of the photographs with ease.

    Money, boredom, malaise, addiction, self-esteem, surgery, the provincial girl moves to the big city, wants to be a model, wants money, breaks up with her high school boyfriend and wants to change her lifestyle, enjoys singledom, runs out of money, maybe because she doesn't have a job. Because she's too self-absorbed in her narcissism, she starts going around, seeking arrangement dates, gets a sugar daddy, gets depressed, starts getting into more drugs, gets a boob job because her sugar daddy makes her feel secure about her own body and also pays for it. She goes through a breakdown, redemption takes place, the crazy bitch apologizes, the dumb-blonde turns brunette and goes back home, probably goes to rehab, then she's grounded at her family's house.

    I point out, in this episode, the popular sugar baby faux-feminist empowerment. I complemented the photographs with a series of statements I post on Facebook. These sentences were appropriated from the blogs and Tumblrs of real sugar-babies.

    On Powerpoint:

    Faux-feminist Sugar Baby Statements

    [Facebook Status]

    Amalia Ulman

    31 July

    guys who try to use the "are u on ur period?" as a way to end up an argument always amuse me. because it gives me the excuse to lean in n whisper: "i started me day by waken up in a pool of my own blood. is that how you'd like me to end yours?"

    [Facebook Status]

    Amalia Ulman

    28 June

    fun date idea: go down on me while I shop online with ur credit card see how many things I can buy before u make me cum
    literally this

    [Facebook Status]

    Amalia Ulman

    1 July

    oh man the best is when a dude is like "u r not wife material" fucking good. i want to b totalitarian dictator material, blood sucking life ruiner material, fucking bulletproof immortal druglord material. not ur fucking wife u gross asshole

    Being a former escort, I wanted to tackle this idea because as a feminist who believes in rights for sexual workers, the notion of empowerment always seemed really, really misleading. I believe in equality, and I don't stand for inverted sexism.

    Reshaping the body

    The only thing that interrupted my period of isolation was a talk I gave with Dr. Brandt at the Swiss Institute in New York. This was unrelated to the performance and closer to my research and the topic of blandness and middle class aesthetics. I was comparing the new trends in plastic surgery to my writings about the wavy willow.

    For the further understanding of these processes, I underwent two procedures of this type myself. Under the guidance of Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Nima Shemirani, he modified my nose through his own standards of beauty and injected me with Hyaluranoic acid fillers in my cheeks and a drop of Botox[?] at the tip of my nose to not look like a witch when I smile. The latency[?] of these procedures was as a strategy for the fictional boob job to seem more believable. If the only public appearance was that of the talk, the audience would believe that which I presented to them.

    Technologies of the Self

    I've always been interested in the pain inflicted on women's bodies, especially how it's taken for granted, from Brazilian wax to liposuction, that female me-time is filled with sequences of little tortures. How would people, especially an art-audience, react to the female artist going under the knife? Better than I expected; the audience wanted more. The same as what happened with Amanda Bynes, everyone seemed to be on the encouraging side. It was funny how believable the story became, taking into account the bad quality of the images. The picture of me in the gown was taken right after a visit to my Spanish gynecologist, and the post-surgery photographs were all appropriated from different women. I supported the images with a surgery diary in the style of the plastic surgery website in which, unsurprisingly, the painful experiences are deeply infantilized. Under descriptions of post-surgical suffering are explained between lol's and funny hashtags like #morningboob, #frankenboob, #boobgreed.

    I had excused myself from the scene to wanting to please, by using the "I do it for me" argument where "me" is pictured as a pure and precious innerspace, untouched by external values and demands. But isn't this "me" over-determined by a larger patriarchal structure that makes cosmetic treatment seem the only option for psychological survival in a world hostile to women's bodies?

    I kept on training and going to pole-dancing lessons to make everything seem more realistic, uploaded videos to make the transition seem more credible, wore padded breasts filled with socks to keep the fiction going.

    [Plays video]

    Normalization via Coercion

    When you repeat a lie, it becomes a truth, and a fake truth generated by images has more validity than a verbalized, genuine truth. Images are more powerful than words; it is hard to escape from the cosmetic gaze.

    The trolling became more acute, and my fictional self was becoming sadder with the time. She was just trying to be prettier and perform the social role assigned to her at birth as a cis-female, but all she got was hate. The meltdown took place. The crazy bitch went into this black hole of depression, and her social interactions became weirder with the time. The crazy bitch got hurt; the bitch didn't trust no one no more, and she gets to her lowest point, and the audience loves it. No one says anything. Tears in this appearance, the crazy bitch, the former hot bitch, goes to rehab. Leaving some breathing space, in between updates, suggesting that I had been sent to a reformatory with little internet access. I waited around two weeks to post an apology.

    The crazy bitch realized about her mistakes; she's sorry. This was an analysis on the archetypes of female-perfect behavior: calmness, virtue, discretion. The apology received 240 Likes, and I received messages from people that I haven't heard from in almost five years. People had been following in silence. I had succeeded in providing the most entertaining content: another human's sorrow.

    The third episode meant recovery. The hashtags were #health, #juices, #interiordesign, #yoga, #simple, #family. I posed with a random baby who I had said was my cousin, posted photographs of breakfast I had never eaten. The narrative hinted to various ideals of perfection and salvation: Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop, Miranda Kerr organic cosmetics, [unclear] and yoga selfies. My life had been normalized. I was now a brunette whose boob job had been concealed under a flowery sari shirt.

    I went on holiday with my new boyfriend; I had been saved.

    Gaze as cultural construction

    How is a female artist supposed to look like? How is she supposed to behave? How do we consume images and how do they consume us? Are we judgmental? Maybe? Or not at all? Or ABSOLUTELY YES!

    All I know is that my words have less validity now because even my own real body and voice can be fabricated photoshop images. We live in the electronic economy of looking good; we all know the prices of your artworks will exponentially grow in relation to your looks and the likes on your facebook. But the good news is if human's perception is so malleable and the tools and the distribution of meaning and images have now been centralized, it's in everyone's hand to destroy archetypes, it's in our hands to bring the queer into mainstream narratives. If we can make our own porn, we can make our own romantic comedies too.


    Thank you.

    MC: Well we have a lot to talk about already, and we are only just getting underway. Before I hand it over to Derica, I wanted to say that one of the things that's going on here, and we'll discuss it more at length, is there's a critique or an amplification or a working with the idea that we have these technologies for body manipulation and in some ways they become ways of replicating some social ideals or archetypes. So technologies that are meant to be liberatory are often employed in ways that are not. And there are many reasons why that's the case but its just an interesting note.

    One of the artists that I was really hoping to bring over for this panel is a young artist named Andrea Crespo who has also done some interesting work on images of bodies that circulate in fan art and how those are radically manipulated in ways that are really different from the kinds of social ideals or archetypes that are at play in Amalia's project. And what's interesting there is that she also points out that those modifications are not necessarily liberatory but they have a much different valence than this.

    But I wanted Derica to come along today to make a presentation—I invited her to look at this idea of the cyborg, or the body that has been modified by technology…But before I give away her presentation, I'm going to hand it over.

    Derica Shields

    Derica Shields: Hi everyone, my name is Derica Shields, and today, I'm going to talk about cyborgs, specifically, black women as cyborgs in 1990s music videos. Basically Michael and I had this chat, and I told him I was interested in the ways that people who are most vulnerable to premature death and destitution had imaged themselves as more than human, post-human, or cyborgian. And I noticed right now on Tumblr, in the types of networks I'm in, these images are being circulated, partly because the 90s are just in fashion, but I think also because these images seem to posit or pose some possibility, some imaginative possibility that I wanted to explore a little bit.

    I am the co-founder of a series called "the Future Weird." As part of that, we screen films by directors who are black and brown from all over the world but focusing on experimental and sci-fi and futuristic films. So this is sort of part of that project in that I'm wanting to put together a screening that focuses on 90s visuals. So let's go!

    Of course, there are some women working today who play with the idea and the concept of the cyborg. There's Janelle Monae who talks about herself as a robot, an android, a cyborg; Erykah Badu; and there's also famously, Beyoncé's video for "Put a Ring on it." In the music video and subsequently as part of the promotion, she walked around with this kind of cybernetic hand. But I was really interested in how the fact that the 1990s seemed to be this moment where a swathe of Black American, especially women artists, were experimenting with this idea of becoming something other than solely human or exploring the contradictions that already adhere to that category. This is TLC when they made the video "No Scrubs," which was directed by Hype Williams who is a very important figure.

    So I guess before we talk about Donna Haraway a little bit I want to think about the social context of 1990s America. At that time Bill Clinton was in power from 1993 to 2001, and this is a moment when although he is portrayed, and portrayed himself I guess, and was received as this benevolent liberal nice guy who was described at one point as the first black president of the United States (I think because he played the saxophone of something). But he also presided over a massive change in the state of welfare and these were quite oppressive changes and they were predicated on a sort of, they really relied on this idea of black women especially, poor black women, as welfare queens. So there was this construction that had come down from Ronald Reagan and then there was this kind of bipartisan consensus during the 90s that welfare needed to be reformed radically. In 1996 something called the personal responsibility and work opportunity act was passed which basically introduced workfare, so you'd have to work kind of for free—basically for fre—in order to receive the welfare that you're already entitled to.

    As part of this scheme, black women especially, were pushed towards taking any job they could find whereas white people who were receiving welfare were encouraged to seek further education. So this was just one of the ways black women specifically were being further marginalized and also stigmatized. So the welfare queen stereotype relies on this idea that black women are recidivist, terrible mothers, deceitful, manipulative, and will somehow trade their food stamps for like a Cadillac or something, even though its impossible. It's a very loaded idea.

    At the same time as all of this is happening, so at the same time that the black woman's figure is being used in order to precipitate a lot of oppressive social and economic changes, there's also this concurrent swathe of black women performance artists and performers constructing themselves as strange creatures, which is what I wanted to look at.

    So Donna Haraway is a well-known feminist theorist, and she understands the cyborg. In the cyborg manifesto, she describes the cyborg as a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. It's also worth noting that her cyborg is often a woman or an ambiguously gendered creature. The cyborg for her is transgressive, and it breaks down a lot of the dichotomies between what is human and not human and organic and mechanical.

    So let's get into it. So the first clip that I'm going to show is from Missy Elliott's "The Rain." Here we can see Missy in her massive black suit made of some amazing material and as the clip goes on, you'll see how she manipulates that material to change the shape of her body to alter how we encounter her:

    I want to posit that one of the fantasies that we see manifest in this representation of black women as cyborgs is a kind of release into fluidity so a breaking down of the boundaries of the body; we see this billowing black jumpsuit that obscures her body but at the same time makes reference to the fact that she is a black woman who is too big to fit the models of attractive black femininity that are very narrow that are available. That would require her to be a light-skinned woman with fat only deposited in her breasts and ass and not really anywhere else. 

    So she takes this kind of designation and she blows herself up, right, she transforms herself into something strange and uncertain. I think that she refashions herself in some way as a kind of strange operation. In "Super Duper Fly," which is the subtitle of the song, I think she's playing with this idea of herself as some sort of fly. She's got the bug eyes and this encrusted helmet. She is rejecting the boundaries of her body but also the ideas that are layered onto her body by getting rid of this skin.

    I think in this shot you can see how [director] Hype Williams' use of the fish-eye lens expands the space that is available for her body even further, because she's already big right? Like there's already the idea that she's taking up too much space, and she's a rapper, which then especially was not a happy place for women.

    Next I'm thinking about Janet Jackson and I hope that these..they're not playing. They're just .gif's; they're not videos. Anyway, I can describe them to you. In the first, she just falls back onto her bed and then you see her apartment is this amazing chromed out thing, which moves all by itself. In the second, her hands falls down onto this sheet and her nails, which were already long, grow of their own accord and turn into these square-tipped, very beautiful 90s acrylic nails. And then toward the bottom we have her walking across, and her shoes transform themselves spontaneously. 



    Images via

    I think part of the fantasy that's in operation in this video is this sense of control but also invulnerability, so almost all of it takes place in this apartment apart from when she goes out surrounded by this cadre of girls. What I see happening is that her body is being created or represented as completely invulnerable but also profoundly self-sufficient. Where there were ideas of black women's dependency or over-dependency on the state, to an exploitative degree, she lives in this world in which she is entirely self sufficient. There is a strain of thinking about cyborgs that suggest that (I can read it to you)…Cathleen Woodword specifically writes, "the possibility of an invulnerable and thus, immortal body is our greatest technological illusion." But what I think is happening with the black women cyborg is that the invulnerability is not really geared towards immortality but rather towards survival and the ability to reproduced one's self without becoming exhausted. We see the kind of total realization of Janet Jackson's cyborg in 2008, which is also more standard, more sexualized—the sexy cyborg thing going on. 

    This is a clip from a Lil Kim video, "How Many Licks," and in this, Lil Kim represents herself as three different types of doll through the course of the video. It's such a complex video, and the lyrics are amazing. Its entirely about cunnilingus, but it's a clit-centered model of heterosex, which is really interesting, very forceful.

    In that we see these dolls being constructed, we understand that her vision of sex in this is entirely about her pleasure. Each reproduction doesn't exist in relation to sexual intercourse; it only exists in that she has these dolls constructed which are all constructed in order to receive pleasure. So she doesn't exactly fuse the organic and the artificial, I think she's just more interested in how these are already implicated, how they're already part of the same thing.

    At one point, words pop across the screen that say, "she doesn't satisfy you, you satisfy her," and for her, this is pleasure that cannot be quantified. It's infinite and abundant, but it's only for herself. So these are just my ideas about cyborgs and black women's bodies that I wanted to share, maybe we can talk about them later, thank you.

    MC: Excellent, thank you. Hannah, we used a lot of our time already.

    HB: Really?

    MC: I mean collectively. That's something all of us did.  Not so much you…no,no,no

    HB: I'll read it really fast, because I'm really good at that.

    MC: No, what I was going to say was don't read it too fast

    HB: No, I'm going to. It's quite short, I think. This is a lot material, whatever, but it's funny; it's just for thinking.

    Hannah Black

    You asked this thing about images and bodies circulating and circulating through networks, so I've written a response to that. It speaks to some of the things other people have discussed. Anyway:

    How did bodies begin to circulate?

    Europe's adventures in colonial extraction established a vast global distribution network that shipped bodies, mainly African people, all over the world. These bodies were commodities that could speak and die. The money accrued from this enterprise built London and cities like it. The paving stones we walk on are cut from and the fabrics we wear are woven from the material from this only partly imaginable violence. This is not necessarily a matter of complicity, or of guilt, but only an observation about the texture of the world in which all images appear.

    How did bodies begin to circulate?

    The proletarianization of European serfs and peasants transformed them into the working class. These bodies were the bearers of labor power, the raw material of profit. The property and landlords instated at this time by the rich, exploded existing communities and impoverished and criminalized the indigenous people of Europe. The idea of national identity was forged in order to artificially fuse together these scattered and humiliated populations.

    There is no true working class nationalism. The state is, and always has been, an attack on its people. Rather than being in an antagonistic relationship, national specificity and the network co-create each other. These two processes, bodies as labor power, the wage slave, and bodies as commodities, the slave, are deeply intertwined and richly dependent. Both also entail an intensification of sexual violence and patriarchal control as men are compensated by their own unfreedom by being gifted basically free access to women and children.

    Of course, global communication predates the colonial capitalist enterprise. Long before the birth of white supremacy there were trade routes crossing Africa and Asia, hybrid identities on every coast like Zanzibar and places like that and so on. But the capitalist period begins by hurtling bodies into thin air to circulate according to the movements of profit. We use words like modern and contemporary to signal changes in the arrangement of meaning of images. But I wonder if we could put more pressure on these apparent novelties if we could situate the present in this long history of circulating bodies.

    Hopefully, we are the last or among the last generations of a collapsing empire. No one will cry serious tears for the end of European bourgeois culture. It's the shiny surface of a world of shit. But in the meantime, we create proofs that we are somehow still living and we distribute them among each other. Like our ancestors who were laborers and slaves and servants and wives but still carried in themselves the secret of their selfhood, even as they were made into things.

    We too hold the sharp object of survival tightly in our closed fists. The artwork, the pop song, the selfie, the shirt that looks so good on you, the kiss you still remember, the forgiveness of friends, the house party, the email that came at the right moment. The network in which bodies circulate is also, despite itself, the kaleidoscopic circulation of lives.


    MC: That's an interesting point at the end because I had been also thinking about how the word bodies has this connotation already of death, and that if we had talked about lives in circulation. I had thought about it more optimistic, but actually, that does sound quite pessimistic.

    But I wanted to, because Amalia, you set out a kind of four-month arc there of performance. I think we should just start by reestablishing a couple of the facts, the facts, of that performance because,

    AU: Can you play the video of the performance, in the background, very silently?

    MC: Of course, is it easier to find from your folder? So basically, there's a few things that I wanted to amplify. Oops. One is that in that project you're essentially like everything that you, I can't really see very well with the lights but, um, can't trust a man with technology,

    Everything that you've sort of posted on social media for about a four month period it from April to September was scripted. So there are all these different dimensions of it because I think in one way the project is pointing towards a sort of media culture of representation of cis-gendered female subjects who are kind of privileged or are aspiring to privilege, let's say.

    But on the other hand, it exists within the social fabric of your friends and professional colleagues. On the one hand you're appropriating the experience of all these women who are kind of participating in the regime of cosmetic surgery in the selfie and in a kind of way that marks them in a way as privileged but maybe not the most privileged people. And on the other hand, you're kind of like trolling all of your friends. how did you kind of navigate all of this sort of complexity I guess?

    AU: Even though it was scripted from the very beginning, like the three episodes and how the images would look like and how the behavior would be, it kind of developed because you see certain things started happening that made the performance richer. Like for example, the professional photo shoot, I never planned that. Or like the way people reacted to things, or like the messages I received, sometimes they weren't really what I was expecting.  

    MC: The moment when you moved into the apology mode, (I was following Amalia on social media) at that moment, I thought that you were disillusioned with the performance, and you were quitting. And I was like, "oh, she couldn't keep it up because its impossible." But in fact you're so rigorous that it's quite interesting.

    People have expressed a lot of anxieties about this project and a lot of criticisms as well because for four months you looked like the worst person that we know or something. You looked like someone who was propagating this terrible image of cis-gendered woman. And so people that are in this room have this privileged knowledge that that was a performance and it was studied from a kind of world where that is actually, unfortunately, very common. One of the key anxieties, and a lot of men expressed this anxiety to me, is that then convinces other women to have a boob job or something because…

    HB: That's not,, I don't think I thought that Amalia was a terrible person, I also found it stressful, but my interpretation was, which of course was totally wrong, I didn't know it was a performance, was that you were distressed or that you had an eating disorder, and I think that's a kind of a weird or specific thing to be like, this is a terrible person, whose

    MC: you're right

    HB: I know you didn't mean it necessarily like that, but uh, I don't know..

    MC: Let's not say a terrible person but let's say a replication of a lot of problematic issues or something.

    AU: That's one of the things, that's why I wanted to talk about the performance and be able to explain myself because it made me very anxious for a second especially with things like plastic surgery, which is an anxiety many women have, when you see someone that you respect or something, doing something like, give it a second chance or something. And I did receive some messages from girls that you like, you know, and I personally, I have no problem with plastic surgery whatsoever. I'm really into body modification.

    The only problem is when things like this become a necessity when your body to become normalized and be part of this norm like how your female body is supposed to look like. Are your shoulders too wide or do you have hips or not. Especially because, in my case, I always paid attention to this female body shape because I guess you probably have the same thing that I feel that real Latina bodies are never really represented in media or real Asian bodies are rarely represented in the media. It's just like white body in like different shapes, like I would say, the same body structure. That's why I really wanted to have the chance to say that the performance was a performance.

    I think that the plastic surgery thing was, why I chose it is because the main inspiration were all of these Korean Instagrams where girls have this obsession for beauty that we don't really have here yet. And it's like these daily modifications of the bodies where plastic surgery is really common and documented. It's like a status thing because it costs money like having a double eyelid the same way that the first Iranian immigrants in Beverly Hills just got a nose job, not because it looked good, but because it meant something. So that's kind of what I was looking for.

    HB: There is a bizarre doubleness of simultaneity like, "you should look natural." Like I feel a lot of people write about this, like—a certain kind of man would say, like, "I love brunettes," like they're supposed to get some kind of— obviously they mean white women with brown hair and they want an award because they don't like blondes. So a certain kind of straight man tends to get a lot of personal satisfaction from not having sex with blonde women which is sort of weird since it's like, you should simultaneously be natural and authentic, but also look really great. I really like the example you gave of the tumblr thing of like messy high buns and it's like a black woman doing a messy high bun, which obviously you can only do if you have straight, straight hair—

    AU: I was always very much into the idea of "fake natural" especially because I come from Spain where the artificial is always very stigmatized. People still go to the gym a lot or do all these things but it has to look natural because it's like we are against Americans and so everything has to be low key.

    I mean one of the main points of the performance was because I had been so objectified before without really wanting it, just by being myself, in a way, like not really wanting to be objectified. It was kind of like a role-playing game of seeing whether I was being accepted as a female artist to look like or not. Which is something for example that I always really liked about someone like Petra Cortright who also plays around with dumb blonde aesthetics, which pisses many, many people off because female artists are not supposed to be or act like that.

    MC: It's interesting that even in my preamble, I was expressing this judgment towards people who are responding to a system in which like extremely small differences mark bodies with very different values.

    HB: There's this idea that youre objectifying yourself, but if you take it as a given that you've already been objectified by the surrounding culture, then the question of self-objectifying becomes kind of different.

    I think that comes across really well in the sort of cyborg African American women or whatever. If you start from "you are an object," which women, and especially black women or women of color do, then it's like "well, what are you going to do about it?" You could desperately aspire to some kind of human authentic identity, which in some ways, you are never quite going to be allowed to have. Or you could go straight full bore for this "I'm going to be the best kind of…" which [to Derica]  I don't know if you read that…

    DS: Yeah, in the Lil Kim video, her self as commodity is the horizon. That is the possibility. That's what she is and what she is aspiring to. She is very aware of that. The video was not well received by many because people already felt that she was pandering towards this idea of herself as commodity. I think she's saying "No, this is just a loop. We don't go anywhere from here. This is it." It's kind of a bleak place.

    AM: Maybe the idea is making it so obvious that it becomes disgusting, and people really realize what exactly is going on by exacerbating it instead of doing "the natural thing."

    DS: Right.

    MC: It's interesting because when we met and talked about this panel, I thought you were going to show a different segment of media culture in which the cyborg was assigned a lower social value, that the cyborg was the first soldier to die.

    DS: That image of the cyborg has definitely been part of the screenings that we have done. There's a film by a British filmmaker, Kibwe Tavares called Robots of Brixton (2011). In it, the cyborgs have basically taken the place of immigrant populations, so they live in Brixton. They do all the most menial jobs, and there is a riot, which is then folded back on to Brixton riots as they have occurred in recent histories. That is a really interesting point to look at the cyborg. I guess I was interested more in what do people who experience, who know themselves as part of a demographic that is already disposable, how  do they imagine themselves through technology? What kinds of fantasies emerge? And how are those…And what kind of bodies are displaced by those fantasies? What kind of bodies are rejected? And what kinds of bodies are created?

    HB: I think it's also interesting, I think a lot of this stuff sort of conceals, like what you were saying, making something so evident that it becomes disgusting. I think there are a lot of efforts, ideologically or whatever, to prescribe that to a sort of—

    For example, how sex work can be very horrifying to people, but there's always some kind of exchange especially in heterosexual relationships. Like the deal is, you put up with quite a lot of shit, like for most women in heterosexual relationships,  in order that then you have someone, especially with like a middle class white man who is probably going to be like, you're probably going to have a nice apartment. This is my personal favorite thing like sometimes you have a really nice apartment if you have a rich, white boyfriend. But that's not supposed to be—

    AU: [Laughing] That never happened to me with my white boyfriends.

    HB: Ohh, I'm sorry. Well…

    MC: So, paid sex work is…

    HB: Well maybe I can find you another one…[Amalia and Hannah laughing] But I think it's interesting how you're not supposed to say that's why you're doing it. So you're also just spontaneously… So Petra Cortright does this thing, which I also find kind of annoying, but then, I sort of checked myself for it, when she's like "Oh, I'm really into my wedding registry and planning my wedding." Of course, I also recognize the kind of cultural edict that everyone should be in a relationship, like it's fucking tragic if you're a woman whose not in a relationship, especially an older woman. Like even though people shit on Tracy Emin, she's quite cool in that she's like "I'm single! It's awful." I love that she does that in public, even though, she's a horrible Tory and stuff like that as well.

    I just think it's interesting thing where you're not supposed to say what the inner logic of things are. You're supposed to pretend you just happen to be doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

    AM: That's one of the things I really wanted to talk about in the performance. It's like I have this fictional boyfriend, and everything in the end revolves around that idea... So I break with this boyfriend, and this is why this happened, and then I get into relationships with rich men, which are my sugar daddies, and something else happens, and everything is because of this male figure there. At the end, I go back home and everything, and then, I have a new boyfriend, stylized again, this idea of being saved, which is like something I had to deal without me wanting it because of the female artist sterotype, as well.

    DS: How do people who comment respond to your various boyfriends?

    AM: When I split with the first one, they were like "Oh, he's such an idiot. You'll be fine." With the new one, they were confused. The break-up was funny because I was like sad and going on dates again and dressing up and doing all these things.

    [Michael's microphone doesn't work]

    HB: Should I do an impression of you?

    MC: Should you do an impression of me?

    HB: I'm Michael Connor


    MC: I don't think you can speak slowly enough

    HB: No, it's just dying out.

    MC: I think the way—What?

    HB: Sorry, please continue.

    MC: It's getting more and more difficult by the minute.

    But, thinking about the positions that are being staked out... I mean, the narrative detail of your [Amalia's] performance is so rich, we could talk about that all day. But the positions are interesting because— I like the way Hannah described it, like you accept the terms that your body is a commodity or object, and what do you do with that? In Amalia's case, there's a different set of options at her disposal and an intent to move that to the nth degree. To return to your [Hannah's] video, I think your video is moving towards a disavowal of the body.

    HB: I think we talked before about how it's really interesting this idea of abolition of the body, but then it sounds like I'm really into the singularity, or whatever that thing is where people upload themselves to the internet and everyone is happy—

    MC: But it's like a void or a negation.

    HB: Well I think that's why I thought it would be interesting, in terms of an image-body, instead of presenting some kind of surface of a body, it's supposed to be this kind of internal—I was actually imaging one body that transforms into lots of different kinds of people—the idea there is this sort of mutability of those kinds of concepts of the body.

    I think that came out of a whole set of thinking, which is maybe a bit dubious, but this idea that the body as we know it is kind of inventedwith these two big historical moves, which I mentioned in that short thing I read out. 

    Wage-labor: Where the body becomes the site of your labor-power. The thing you sell when you go to the capitalist and go "Please give me some money, so I can pay my rent." You're like, "I have the capacity to work." So that's one way in which the body is given substance in the world.

    The other way is the body literally as commodity. There's this long tradition of writers on the idea that Silvio Federici writes about, that a lot of people write about, that as men are proletarianized and taken away from their own means of reproduction, it's like "don't worry, you can have women!" So women become a common resource between men. These are broad historical gestures. They at least suggest the body is this complex thing that is historically formed.

    If you met someone from— I don't know, whatever, I can't even think of a period in time— 400B.C. Oh the body! You might share the same kind of appearances but we might not share, possibly, the same concepts of what a body signified.

    Another thing I think is interesting and is tied to the whole post-internet or whatever, attempts to grasp the contemporary, which I think are kind of worthwhile. Thinking about patriarchy and white supremacy complicates these attempts to periodize a little bit, then you don't have this post-crisis, precarious, post-2008 capitalism, what you have is a continuous assault on basically everyone who isn't a capitalist. That has literally been going on since the birth of current social order. So rather than "oh my god there's this bank crisis and it's gotten very precarious and bad, and some rich people don't have as much money anymore." Maybe people who weren't rich but had more access—

    Anyway, it's not to throw out the window that things like the internet have not had particular social meaning and make particular effects on our behavior. Because I feel like the stuff Amalia is talking about for example, you could have probably talked about in the seventies or whatever, it's just the methods of distribution have changed. But I don't know if it was the case. Like I feel like a lot of these things have been fairly historically consistent.

    AM: Yeah, in that sense, I think this performance is very related to an essay, one of the first essays I wrote, which was about these internet social works in Latin America where people would really use selfies to determine their class. The background of the selfies would mean a lot. Like if you were in the slums, it would be very obvious because the quality of the camera was really bad and you have some shitty bedframe in the background and everything is falling apart. The rich people would be in these normal looking houses. It's just in the background of the picture but it means a lot.

    This is one of the things I wanted to play with in the performance: this idea of deception, of how things could be manipulated to that extent, that it becomes real. It was criticized in the media in itself. Not just with female bodies, but in the news: how, by repeating again, again, and again whose the bad one, it becomes an obvious answer.

    HB: I just have a bit random, a bit tangential. When you were talking about backgrounds of images, I was thinking about this woman who does "Critique my Dick Pic" who we just ran an essay about in the New Inquiry. She's always like, "Clean your room before you take your dick pic." I don't know if anyone's written about the dick pic and the selfie as these kind of like—because it seems like this totally interesting construction. The selfie, which is mainly young women and they're narcissistic or whatever, and then there's the dick pic where a man kind of signals his erotic capital—

    AU: Or happiness—

    MC: I think one of the things about your performance that strikes me is that it is very sealed. There's all of these men and people that commented. A lot of them wanted to touch you. It's very much about how there is this disparate nature between what's happening in the social media performance—

    AU: One of the interesting things that happened was that even though it's obvious that I am very good at constructing images, even if you don't know it's a performance, they're pretty well done. The amount of messages of guys have been "Can I shoot you?" But taking that power out of me like "Let me represent you," which I found really interesting. That was one of the most interesting things.

    MC: There's something interesting about the permeability suggested in your video and the idea of the cyborg image, which is impermeable. Another image that we're seeing now is the impermeable human technological entity, which has been circulating a lot virally in the media. I'm not going to get too specific because I think it's time to see if any of you would like to join in.

    AM: Oh sorry, one of the last things that I— with the performance, one of the main things was to point out how femininity is constructed and what's supposedly femininity is this set of symbols, and like, we are not born like that. That was one of the main things, like how it can be manipulated and constructed.

    MC: Yeah, I think one of the anxieties I mentioned was specifically around plastic surgery, and it's funny like your performance really situates that in a continuum of ways in which both the body and the feminine identity are as much fiction as social reality. "Social fiction as social reality" to use the Haraway phrase. I would really like to see if anyone from the floor would like to join in.

    Audience: I guess I just wanted to ask, how far does it go, the performance. I'm thinking about how I would feel to post something on Facebook and I'm alone and in my room, I'm feeling shit and I want to post something. I'll post it, and it'll get likes. That kind of online-ego will collapse into my real life-ego and I'll feel better at that moment by myself. I was wondering, obviously this discussion is about this performance, but do you ever find yourself falling into the pulls of that?

    AM: Actually not, for good actually. I was 100% performing, so it wasn't me. I didn't find myself beautiful in those images. I knew the likes were not for me but for this constructed thing. Especially because, to avoid doing that, I would devote maybe three days of my week to do these: go to a hotel, take all of the pictures, and forget about it and go back to my routine. I would have a folder, and I would upload these things every day to make it more impersonal. For the second episode, which was the one where I got more bullied for, the most extreme one or whatever, I generated all the content for a month in one week, and then the rest of the time I was actually in a meditation retreat in the forest with very limited internet access. While on the internet there was this crazy bitch whoring about Los Angeles and New York, I was actually cleaning cabins and cooking vegan meals. That helped me separate it more and see it more as a project, and it didn't really affect me in that way, at all.

    MC: We have time for a couple more. I wanted to ask you— Oh there's a question. It's difficult to see.

    Audience: So you're talking about criticisms of society against body as commodity or slave, but you are not talking about the empowerment of occupying your body.

    MC: It's a disembodied voice.

    HB: It's very scary.

    MC: Can you raise your hand? There you are.

    AM: Sorry.

    MC: So what about the empowerment of occupying your body. This is kind of a Hannah question, can we reclaim embodied experience? I think you were getting into that.

    HB: I find this a really, or this is one of my favorite stupid obversations. This strange idea that embodiment is like definitely good, like "occupying your body," I don't really know what you mean by that, but I guess you mean some sort of "I am my body" Kind of thing, which I think can be really great. There are obviously really good experiences of that like eating or sexual experiences or whatever, but there's also terrible experiences of having a body; there's being tortured, there's being abused in various ways, and so I don't know.

    As much as it can be good and you can work it to your advantage, there's no like… I'm just interested in the idea that your body is quite a complicated site that also makes you vulnerable to lots of different forms of oppression. For example, you wouldn't have to go to work if you weren't occupying your body. Unfortunately, occupying your body is the reason you have to be able to pay your rent and eat and other things that mean you have to do things you hate doing, probably, unless you’re lucky.

    DS: I also think this question of being in your body as sort of mantra has arisen and is circulated, like "be present and be in your body" has really interesting significance in what the subject-position is. I think in terms of encountering racism or sexism, often there's a dissociative mechanism that people who have to negotiate these very abusive and strange terrains employ, which is emphatically not about being in your body in that moment. It's in fact about circumventing that idea. I agree; I don’t feel wedded to that idea about being in your body as being uncomplicatedly empowering.

    MC: When you were talking about occupying your body as a mantra, I was thinking about the fact that permeability as another kind of mantra that people kind of pull out as something good, I was thinking about that just because it's this image of going into the interior and, well, so much of what we looked at was about the exterior, except for like Janet Jackson, which somehow seemed very much about permeability. So maybe it's a similar thing, like permeability isn't necessarily good because it’s like who are you permeable to; it's not an inherently good thing.

    HB: Sorry, I keep doing slight tangents, but it just occurred to me yesterday and I'm pleased with it. A few days ago, I was complaining about the way that some men in my life (I was saying this as some sort of gendered thing, I know it's not always men, women can do it too), but that thing of being very upset and then sort of retreating, then not wanting to talk about it. It's just something that I personally find frustrating. Obviously, everyone's different; I’m not saying all men and women are like that.

    I was complaining on twitter like men blah, blah, blah. And my twitter feminist harrodin persona and someone said "But men don’t talk about there feelings because they feel like it makes them vulnerable." I was like "it does make you vulnerable to talk about your feelings." It’s actually kind of awful sometimes. It’s not always fun. It can be compulsive, or it can make you feel shit. So that thing of like vulnerability, this idea of "it's good to be vulnerable." This idea that we offer men the promise of vulnerability. Actually you're probably doing quite well if you can be totally invulnerable in a hard, like a hard bitch, whatever it is you are. There's a reason people do that.

    Same Audience Member: I still feel like you're avoiding the subject of occupying your bodies like if you're being beaten, and you are not within yourself being beaten then you are not actually going to respond appropriately to being beaten to change the fact that you are being beaten. You're going to deny it by some abstract othering—

    HB: What’s the appropriate response to being beaten?

    DS: Yeah I don’t know if its your responsibility…

    Still that same Audience Member: If your posting images of yourself as an anorexic girl having some kind of crisis, maybe you're experiencing that, but you said that you weren't working through it yourself. Meanwhile, you were eating vegan food in a cave—

    AU: Oh! What? You’re talking to me now I'm sorry.

    Yep, that guy again: Isn't that a more empowering thing to be presenting to other people?

    AU: I'm not vegan. I was cooking vegan meals for others. All of the material of the performance has been based on personal experience through me and girlfriends that I had. I was an escort myself; I know how it looks to be in that world. I was in Monaco. I've seen the hookers; I know how it looks like. I didn't have to revisit it to know what it is. For the other part, let’s say the kawaii-aesthetics, I was into animé when I was 16, and I have friends who have eating disorders. I know how that works; I’ve been through that. I've also been through the fact that I don’t really have a family, and I know how to pretend to have one very well like posing with a baby. I know how it feels to have that background, so I did experience that before. During the performance, I was actually working on other things, other essays, like my shows and everything, but it is actually based on personal experience.

    HB: The question is funny to me because I thought we’d been fairly articulate on the idea that authenticity as a demand to women is kind of fucked-up, and I feel like it’s a bit strange to them to basically make an authenticity-demand. I just would have hoped that would have been at least something you’d reflect on if you feel very strongly, like "Wow, a lot of people don’t want to be told by men how to be authentic."

    MC: I think there is a structure in the world that asks you to disassociate from your body in certain ways. Let’s say some conditions of capitalism, like when you’re on your iPhone on the bus, you're not experiencing being on the bus or something.

    HB: Shit on the bus! In London, it's not very good on the bus.

    DS: We don't have to be in every single moment. I do find that demand quite tyrannical in an oppressive way.

    MC: I think the specific ways in which we are not on the bus are ways that can be—

    AU: I love the bus. I’m a weirdo, so..

    MC: You can sort of be like monitored and become part of the enormous social experiment that we are all a part of on the internet. Also, in London, I really enjoy the bus; in New York, it's not quite as nice, but it's like public transportation is a really important way in which different social classes can come in contact with each other in the city. I think that maybe some people use the internet in really expansive ways and come into contact with a wide variety of people and have productive exchanges between people who are more or less peers.

    Rosalie: Michael we have another question, right here.

    MC: We have another question? From the same person, though?

    Rosalie: A different person. A woman this time.

    Audience Member 3: I guess my question is a bit general. Sort of to get away from the whole feminist discussion, female bodies, male bodies, that distinction. Can you, apart from Amalia because with your project I guess it’s obvious, but how does the whole theme of this panel, the digital, affect the perception of your own body? I don’t think that was discussed enough. So how does the fact that with this digital revolution or the acceleration or whatever we’re experiencing now, whatever the terminology for it is, the present internet, with digital and social media, how does this change or affect your view of the body or as woman or as the gender/race?

    MC: The specific theme is internet circulation, and I think the point was made well by Hannah that internet circulation is just the latest form of previous forms of circulation, but I would say there is a difference in scale.

    HB: That’s a really contentious point, I know. I thought it would be an interesting thing with what you put out there with the prompt. I wasn't sure who you were asking.

    Audience Member: Just generally. Apart from just accelerating it, was there any other change you see or in your work?

    HB: Personally, because I’m quite ADHD, and I also have no sense of direction, so in lots of ways, the internet and also having a smartphone— I can't believe iPhones have only existed since 2007. I feel like, in lots of ways, it's been quite life-changing. Also, I use twitter in a very embarrassing way: basically to self-soothe because I get very anxious and sometimes can’t sleep very well, so I'll go on twitter. Especially, most often, I'll be on my own, like in those moments, I'll be very anxious and I'll go on twitter, and I'll say things. People favorite it, and it's a little whatever dog-treat reward. Maybe sometimes people say nice things to you or whatever. It's a bit embarrassing because sometimes people follow me on twitter, it's like "oh god, you have access to my worst moments." So, whatever, I'm just compulsively putting it on there.

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    Danklands by Holly Childs, European edition of 100, Australasian edition of 100. Cover artwork by Marian Tubbs.

    Danklands, the second novella by Holly Childs, coming out as an e-publication this February (first published November 2014 by London gallery/publisher Arcadia Missa), prose-poetry in 15 chapters over 100 pages. Australian edition of 100 in bb pink; European edition in bb blue.

    Holly Childs is an Australian writer, editor, and artist, making work around "digital semiotics, transformations of language, obscurities, fashion, aberration and corruption:" Danklands is a corruption of Docklands, Melbourne; immediately west of Melbourne's Central Business District, "one of Australia's largest urban renewal projects," an ex-industrial harbor flanked by office and residential high-rise; Etihad Stadium, Direct Factory Outlet shopping, Costco. (In 2014, Holly Childs lived next to Docklands; I lived 2km west).

    Andre, Stan, Augusten, Bam, Pansy, a genderfluid cast populate a future-past; an Australian nowhere; second decade of the third millenium. Fractured narrative of a cast of twenty-something friends who write, make art, chat, fight, fall in love; fracture and fissure of faces, bodies, cities, oceans, ozone, social relations, apps, and gadgets that age rapidly:


    This is Augusten and today I'm going to show you how to achieve a very cute make-up look for seafaring or lounging by the ocean or even just for when you're dredging a swamp or lake….I am going for a deeply oceanic look today so I'm starting with a BB creme mixed into your regular foundation. If you're going to be using this look in an area of planet Earth that has a lot of ozone layer depletion, like for instance you might be in Antarctica….like maybe you're a scientist who's just started dating again after a massive break-up, or doing some whaling, or actually just on a regular cruise...make sure you are using a BB cream that has a high SPF rating…(5)

    More colours from Danklands: "World Trade Center memorial, salmon." (5) "I'm also using this eyeshadow shade which is called Slutshame."(6)

    Rising damp is when a wall gets acne, interestingly, it may also lead to the bodies of occupants developing acne too....(22)

    Danklands in the age of disaster capitalism: the apocalypse is in the air and water, we're sipping White Hair Silver Needle tea as the atmosphere's getting thin:

    Hey, Bam, if you're just changing your pad in there - Are you on your period? Just FYI, in future you don't have to go all the way to the bathroom just to change your sanitary pad. I don't mind if you do it in front of me. (23)

    Someone's been sleeping overnight at the office: "wet towel...tooth brush..." (37)

    In her introduction to Danklands, Astrid Lorange describes the book as an "index of labor" (i). Danklands is also a document of the dissolution of labor and leisure into one another: Is downloading labor or leisure? Is uploading labor or leisure? Nobody in Danklands has a job...apart from Pansy at the ice rink, though there's rumors Bam used to work at Valleygirl...Andre is an artist and Bam is a writer: "I make $3 an hour." (45)

    Our apartment is actually a ghost in the shell within this apartment block. That's why we don't have a letterbox, and that's why they use our place as their base when cleaning all the windows from outside…We don't exist on any council plans….In MySpace genres I'd call it cobweb/net-art/prayer room. In emoji: crystal ball, toilet, water feature, red pawprints. Janitor's closet. The Shining. (23)

    In Danklands it isn't hard to have an apartment, iPhone, MacBook. It's just hard to breathe, and to wake-up:

    Sleep and the sixteen hours that follow. (54)

    One forgets the exact feeling/formation of pain. (49)

    Ocean girl but sick. (41)

    Over 39°C for five consecutive days:

    The beheadings kept coming. On Twitter Hannah Black said "dont share pix of that poor dead white man, think of the family *shares pix of dead babies in gaza*," "sorry if u wanna look at pictures of dead people u gonna have to stick to dead black & brown people or else its immoral." (69)

    Danklands gathers and disperses. Leaks of data, bodies:

    I fingered your girlfriend for the first time today. she has never had sex or been fingered. I don't know if she has ever masturbated, but I had slightly long fingernails….(83)

    Time runs out for everyone:

    I am so scared I haven't installed enough artworks in the text yet. I haven't done one unboxing. (54)

    Everything the reviewer forgot to mention as an index at the bottom: Andre's axes, Selected Ambien Works (See Quake II, Marian Tubbs & Andre Piguet, Arcadia Missa, November 2014, Holly Childs No Limit, holy x hela, Holly Childs fan/stalker Twitter (@allergic2holly cf. Holly Childs 2013 Twitter @allergic2cum), Bjork, Aphex Twin, Fitch/Trecartin. Katherine Botten [REDACTED]. Holly sleeping on my couch September 2014. (Holly sleeps a lot). Cosplay. Rape culture. Netflix.)

    Why would you care more about finding a body than finding an external hard drive? Both house data and experience, both to a certain extent sentient. (93)

    Dredging swamps and data at the end of the world, LDR (long-distance relationship not Lana Del Ray):

    Stan using iPad to look up how to do dredging in a black iPad 2 3 4 Military Tough Hard Rugged Heavy Duty Shock Protective Survival Case that feels thick and heavy to touch, and he's wearing fatigues (99)

    claiming a gully is net art. claiming a swamp is net art. fuckn GPS some shit and put in a flag. gully video

    romeo + juliet sex and an extra stabbed in the filming (100)


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    Last fall, Gabriella Hileman, Violet Forest, and May Waver issued this statement, the cybertwee manifesto, in defense of internet saccharine:

    Gabriella Hileman, Violet Forest, and May Waver, the cybertwee manifesto (2015).

    Waver's new work Embedded Lullabies, released yesterday as the latest in an impressive series of net art commissions by experimental online publishing startup NewHive, embodies the principles of sentimentality and sweetness celebrated in this text. The project consists of home video footage of her bedding in various lights, overlaid against lo-res digital backdrops and accompanied by home recordings of the artist singing mournful love songs.

    The piece reminds me a lot of something you might have seen back in the day on a Joanie4Jackie tape, updated for the present-day web. Joanie4Jackie was a kind of home video chain letter/zine initiated by Miranda July in 1996; incidentally, a selection of the tapes are included in the touring exhibition "Alien She," opening on Sunday at the Orange County Museum of Art

    Please fix this.

    Waver's piece has that unflinchingly lo-fi, self-consciously sincere, made-in-the-bedroom quality that I associate with Joanie4Jackie, but moreso, and updated for the modern web. (The singing even specifically reminds me of Sativa Peterson's The Slow Escape.)

    But the context is very different. Joanie4Jackie was intended to circulate primarily in Riot grrl networks, while Embedded Lullabies will be stared at by a lot of lonely straight men too, even if the artist's body doesn't appear onscreen. Plus, of course, NewHive is a commercial company. The work's place in a different kind of libidinal attention economy seems to make Embedded Lullabies very different from Joanie4Jackie; as the always provocative Deanna Havas tweeted yesterday, "In the anarcho-capitalist present, girls make their own American apparel ads." 

    To think of selfie-making (or bedroom videos) as only about economics, though, is a kind of vulgar Marxism. As the cybertweeists argue, "our sucre sickly sweet is intentional, our nectar is not just a lure, or a trap for passing flies, but a self indulgent intrapersonal biofeedback mechanism spelled in emoji and gentle selfies." Not outside of economics, but not outside of human emotion in all its weird manifestations, either.

    May Waver, Embedded Lullabies (2015). NewHive.

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    Image: Scott Gelber

    It may seem odd to cite a syllabus as required reading, but this RISD class on Experimental Publishing offers a cogent way of thinking about what instructor Paul Soulellis, after de Certeau, calls the "scriptural economy." 

    Let's begin with the post, exposing its origins as a physical note publicly nailed to a piece of wood. Its descendants persist today, plainly visible on the wall, in the feed and in the stream as traces of a deeper history of documents — the scriptural economy. Is posting (always) publishing?

    With form following function, Soulellis posted the syllabus to NewHive, making use of its design tools to make his syllabus actually interesting to look at, and generating praise and critique as the link circulated on Twitter. 

    Soulellis is a resident at NEW INC, where Rhizome has its office, and he recently gave a talk on Experimental Publishing as part of a panel organized by Brian Droitcour. He's made his slides available online, and for anyone looking for project examples from the world of digital publishing today, it's a great resource. 

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  • 02/17/15--06:30: Artist Profile: Hannah Black
  • 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.


    Hannah Black, My Bodies (2014). Digital video.

    Your work concerns bodies, or the condition of being bodied. Your last video Fall of Communism (2014) feels like a sculpture in the sense that as a viewer, one's own body is pulled into relief, as with an object in space. I felt pulled into the space of the video, vertiginous. At your show at the Legion TV gallery in London, one half of what was on display was a hand-cut latex the color of skin. Is the work an analog for the body, or otherwise, where does the body (of the maker or the viewer) intersect or interact with the body of the work for you?

    It's true that if you look at a lot of my work there is an interest in viscera, in the interior of the body—but it's not a Paul McCarthy guts and blood thing, it's a stand-in for interiority in general, for the inside being outside and vice versa. The phrase "being bodied" could mean "getting killed" as well as "being embodied" and I think that tension is one of the ways that I'm interested in what it means to have, or not have, something called "a body." I tried to write about how our concept of the body might one day, in a utopian way, be replaced by the framework of lifetime or different concentrations of experience. My wildest idea was that this reinterpretation of sensory experience would "render death merely chronological," a phrase I still love, though it's hard for me to recall exactly what I meant by it. Something about placing yourself in the long flow of time, allowing your self-conception to accommodate more than just your own conscious physical experience, I think. In the end it was too sci-fi an idea and didn't work out as an essay, so instead became the video My Bodies. I wanted to say something about how there is no generic body, no such thing as "the body"; bodies are raced, gendered, and assisted differently in the world. I collected images of white business executives, and you hear the voices of African-American female singers—Aaliyah, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, and many others—all singing the phrase "my body." I also use Ciara's song "Body Party." There is a whole tradition in black philosophy of trying to think about to what extent white thought is able to conceptualize black people as having bodily integrity. Hortense Spillers says that the enslaved body, for example, becomes just flesh; Frank Wilderson picks up this train of thought. This is part of the black critique of white feminism: the latter assumes, absurdly, that all women have bodies in the same way. The first part of the video presses on this tension. The second part of the video imagines a realm in between lives where someone is considering whether or not to be born again into a new body, knowing all of the implications of that, knowing how many people in this world have bodies that are racialized or impoverished or perhaps don't, in some senses, fully have bodies at all. It's like the famous romantic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where they realize they have had their relationship before: would I do it again? Would I choose to be embodied again?

    Hannah Black, Intensive Care II (detail) (2013)

    The Intensive Care latex piece that you mention is obviously evocative of practices of self-harm and self-beautification, and the mortification of certain bodies. My work in latex draws on the issue of how our subjectivities are formed by histories of brutality, with aggressive literalness. I cut line drawings, like ruined linotypes, into fabric whose texture and color evokes skin. Again, this is simultaneously violent and reparative; More Love Than I've Ever Seen (2014) suspends a carved image of the young Whitney Houston amid childlike representations of planets and creatures. (As in my video The Neck, I am really interested in drawings by and for kids, and also just the mode of drawing in general. Video editing and drawing are the most like writing of anything, and I don't know why. I made a fan drawing of Houston for the Wysing screensavers project in 2013.) The title borrows an emotionally ambiguous line from her song "All the Man That I Need" that reminded me of Mike Kelly's More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid: Houston sings, "He fills me up, he gives me love, more love than I've ever seen." It evokes both the laborious process of cutting the images into the latex, and the difficult idea that love given is often not commensurable to love received. I don't mean this as just a universal emotional observation, but also specifically to women, and even more specifically women of color and black women: historically that's who the wealth of colonial countries is ultimately derived from, and what did they get in return? Houston is an iconic figure, almost a sacrificial victim who gave abundantly and didn't get enough back, and her voice and image recur in my work.

    She's in my video Fall of Communism, for example, where her famous, virtuosic sustained long notes become the scream of a falling body. I was interested in how a body could be both fungible with other bodies (through social forms like race and gender) and singular, in the same way that a commodity is both itself and a portion of everything else at the same time. We could think of a body is a register of experience: it's the place where we experience the world and where we carry experience as identity.

    I could say that the body of work is also my body, or  part of how I circulate in the world. I sometimes think that my work is a way of expanding my possibilities of intimacy with others, but maybe that's also just a way of saying that intimacy can be really hard. Channeling desire into objects—texts, videos, whatever—is a way to acknowledge the problems inherent in any kind of desire.

    Hannah Black, screengrab from video Fall of Communism (digital video, 2014)

    Language feels like a sinewy thing running through all your work, like an expertly handled weapon. Can you talk a bit about your relationship to language, your story with it?

    The writing in the videos is inseparable from the images and other sound; I write and rewrite according to the rhythm of the edit, so when I'm asked for the text (which happens occasionally, like if it's being screened in a non-Anglophone country) I have to watch the video to reconstruct it. The texts I write for video and performance are very different from my essays. Working with images brings my language closer to how I speak, how I am. A good friend who read my writing before he met me said that I laughed less in writing than in real life. But I know how to laugh in a video.

    I resent writing, but I also love it. Earth is the language planet.

    I was thinking about whether it's possible to identify something like "straight materiality" and "queer materiality," the hypothesis being that all works are an analog for the body in the world, and when the condition of that body is complicated or compromised then the work seeks to/is forced to/learns to occupy space accordingly. Could we speak of, for instance, a white materiality and a non-white materiality?

    I read your question as something like, "How white is the white cube?" The tradition of western art does seem kind of bound up with whiteness, at least for now, because a certain mode of self-conscious cultural production becomes part of the alibi for white supremacy, part of the sketchy evidence for the white bourgeoisie being exemplarily human. "Look, we create Great Art, we're not like these savages!" Contemporary practice still evokes the modernist gesture of appropriating indigenous culture, seen as unselfconscious craft that can be transformed into art by the more refined subjectivity of the artist. In a way, art is always implicated in these transfers of power and vitality away from the specificity of their origin and back into capital flows. I don't think this is specific to any particular institution, but just is about the institutionalization of art. I'm not sure if I can claim any ethics in relation to this, maybe only that I hope my work also has its own power and doesn't rely on vitiating other people's. 

    My work isn't really "about" race, but it comes from my experience and thoughts and my experience and thoughts are marked by race, or specifically blackness and Jewishness, in weird ways. Can my work be part of a black tradition? I hope so, but I don't know. As a person who has both black and white heritage, who grew up partly in white households, obviously I have a particular kind of experience. In any case, I don't think this is only a matter of what some people dismissively call "identify politics": questions of globalization, the commodity and circulation are already ingrained in these experiences. 

    A lot of the work that I come across is by white men—some work I like, some I don't, but certainly a lot of it. As a result, I know a lot about what that experience of the world is like, perhaps more than I even know about my own experience. As people who are not cis white men we have to try to take art as an institution approximately as seriously as it takes us, which is not very. 

    Can art be a legitimate form of activism or otherwise an agent for social change? 

    I don't think art or at least my art should aim to be activist. All I can do is to express a relationship to my own conditions of being. Those conditions are historical and I didn't determine them, but I can think about them. For me, that's basically what art does.

    I'm sometimes really surprised that people want to read my work as activist. I make artworks, objects, in an approximately conventional way, even if they are mostly videos. I'm always trying to drag big geopolitical or historical narratives into the realm of direct individual experience, and I even go so far as to find that kind of funny, that weird combination of scales: funny and also a bit painful. For example, The Neck puts together my bad childhood drawings where I didn't understand how to draw a neck between the head and the body, and my dad's black radical politics that he had at one time, some of which was great but sometimes we would go to political meetings and be told, "The man is the head of the household and the woman is the neck." Jaki Liebezeit During A Power Cut Circa 1970 fuses the economic changes in the organization of capital that happened in the 1970s and a child listening to her parents' records. The child is partly me and partly someone else—I wasn't born yet in the 1970s, but someone I was in love with at the time was. I don't see how any official politics can be any more important than the intensity of listening to music. Maybe, more than anything else, the videos are about rhythm. I fantasize that one day I will just make music.

    Hannah Black, Jaki Liebezeit During A Power Cut Circa 1970, (2012). Digital video.

    What I'm saying is, my work is a kind of refusal of politics, as much as an affirmation of politics. But I want to take those things seriously. I'm not sneering at any of it. I ended up reading the neck as the idea of mediation, the impossibility of mediations between the image and the self, between a racial identity and the self, partly because maybe we don't even know what's really there, in the place of the self. I don't think this follows the logic of activism at all. Those kinds of links are so insubstantial, they are almost arbitrary, something to do with memory, maybe, and I think they can only really happen in art or in a joke.

    An artwork might change something I guess because of how it is received or how people carry the memory of it. When we're talking about art changing anything, we're talking about art changing a person, and what that person might do in response to this encounter with a work. There are definitely artworks that have changed me and not all of them were even works that I particularly liked. 

    Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure which is more prominent: my desire for change or my desire to give form to some kind of anger/sorrow. Those things are all mixed up: look at what's been happening recently in the USA, the Ferguson moment, where anger and sorrow are politicized. But in terms of the direct concerns of my work, I don't have anything to say about changes that might never happen.

    Can you describe your process, e.g. with a video? Do you begin with a text or with an image or a proprioceptive kinetic sense of something, or what? And then how do you proceed? In conversation, you have spoken about your editing style, which you have conversely described as no style at all. This relates back to rhythm of course, and materiality—I want to know how you make your work. How do you know it's finished? How do you know what it's becoming, or become?

    This is a really good question because it's hard for me to say. The videos mostly begin with texts, but the texts just decompose as I'm editing. Sometimes I rewrite directly into the titles box in Premiere. There's a thing that happens as I'm working, which you're right, is rhythmic. I discover what the rhythm of the edit should be. It doesn't feel like a style because it's like dancing: I know I do have a style of dancing, I'm recognizably myself dancing, but I don't approach it consciously. I collect images from the internet but the recent videos also have something approximately "hand-made" even if it's only vaguely so. That's a kind of weird compromise between making new moving images, which seems so weird and pointless, and not wanting the kind of stylistic collapse or neutrality that can come from just collaging other people's images.   

    Hannah Black, Intensive Care/Hot New Track (2013). Digital video.

    Intensive Care/Hot New Track began with this text conflating celebrity gossip about Rihanna and Chris Brown with Abu Ghraib and then everything came from there, using the karaoke track for "What's My Name?", the spinning images. That video was very personal, but look how many impersonal things I had to use to give myself that permission. I still laugh sometimes when thinking about how I took a song about oral sex and turned it into a video about violence: "The square root of 69 is 8 or something…" Fall of Communism came from the idea of someone falling into an abyss in Manhattan and at every level they change into a different person, but it didn't start to really work until I realized that Whitney Houston's voice could also signal falling. At some point, the text, the images, and sound fuse together.

    The video I'm working on right now is a nightmare because I tried to start without a script. I'm really curious to see how it goes. Maybe it will be my first wordless video, which would be really weird for me.

    Hannah Black, gif from You Must Not Be Your Mother's Body (digital video, 2013)


    Location: Berlin

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    That's a really hard question. Do you remember when we would go on weird forums online and just make shit up, when we were around 15? Maybe that was performance art. I made my first video with Final Cut Pro in 2007 where I made a papier mache head in Jamaican colors to represent my dad and then cut it up with scissors. I was at film school at the time and had a boyfriend who made real films and he laughed when he saw it and said, "Why did you make that?" and kind of patted me on the head. Now I use Premiere. That man moved back to Serbia, I think. I hope he's doing OK, but I am sure he would still hate my videos.

    Where did you go to school? What did you study?

    In my teens I wanted to be a dancer and left home at 17 to do a one-year program in that, but then I went to Cambridge and got a degree in English literature. A few years later I went to film school on a scholarship, but dropped out after six months as I realized I really wanted to go to art school. I graduated from the MFA in Art Writing at Goldsmiths in 2013—it was an experimental text-led art practice program and no longer exists, but it was really wonderful, I now realize, because we were basically left to our own devices. Last year I did the Whitney ISP in New York.

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

    I've done bar work, clerical work, babysitting, sales work, whatever. Now, I have some income from screenings, but mainly I do writing, editing and video editing for money. I'm an editor at The New Inquiry. My first job was in a stationery store when I was 14.

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



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    Photo: "Through the Eyes of a Paratrooper: 173rd Jumps in Ukraine for Rapid Trident 2011" by U.S. Army Europe Images on flickr. © Artwork by The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger

    True to its title, "Capture All," the program of this year's transmediale festival in Berlin was ambitiously panoramic, with such a marathon, round-the-clock schedule that by the last day a number of attendees had come down with the same cold. Separated into the thematic tracks of Work, Play, and Life, the events revolved around the quantification of everyday activities, mass data acquisition, algorithmic sorting of information about people and the planet, and the systems of power and control implicit in all of those processes—topics in which most of the festival's target audience is well-versed.

    The majority of that audience is made up of academics, artists, cultural workers, technologists, and students. This year for the first time, tickets sold out completely; on opening night the 1,035-seater auditorium was over capacity, and throughout the five-day festival, waiting lines stretched around corners. Besides lectures and panels, the schedule included a steady stream of performances and screenings as well as ongoing workshops in the cacophonous foyer—from a six-hour workshop on feminist network methodology to four days of open meetings held by the unMonastery.

    A 14-person exhibition, sharing the festival's title and curated by Daphne Dragona and Robert Sakrowski, showcased reflections on "the future of algorithmic work and life" with artists like Erica Scourti, whose video Body Scan compares images of her own body with those of a Google search algorithm, and Jennifer Lyn Morone (Inc), who created a corporation out of herself to advocate for compensation for her digital labor. Any exhibition with the keyword #algorithm is also an invitation for artists to reflect on exhibition-making itself as a potentially algorithmic process. Jonas Lund, who has long dissected and replicated the gamification of art practice, created a pre-recorded audio tour called FTFY (Fixed That For You) describing (imaginary) artworks with an algorithmic mashup of words and phrases from previous transmediale press texts. A guest exhibition down the hall, "Time and Motion: Redefining working life," produced by FACT Liverpool, shifted the emphasis onto quantified labor in the context of mass production and automation.  

    transmediale Opening Night. Photo: Julian Paul.

    Well-known names (assuming you go to these sorts of things) cropped up across the lecture and discussion program—McKenzie Wark, William Binney, Sarah Harrison, Metahaven, Evgeny Morozov, Benjamin Bratton, Tiziana Terranova—speakers who appear regularly on the conference circuit and know each other (or at least each other's tweets). As one speaker announced, overjoyed, in his lecture introduction: "This is like Christmas! I get to see all my friends here!"

    Familiarity can breed lively and productive conversation and debate, but it also risks a known pitfall: stagnation. Reminding one of this fact, the typical meta-question "What is the point of all this talk?" periodically reared its head. During his presentation, Morozov, in keeping with his role as a polemic public figure, expressed exasperation at discursive redundancy and made a rousing call for overt political action. A more ambivalent response was more common. On a panel called "Predict & Command: Cities of Smart Control," designer and artist Tobias Revell responded hesitantly to an audience question about how to combat top-down planning, saying (according to my notes) "I don't know about what we can do from the bottom up. As far as I know, transmediale isn't full of hedge fund managers who are like, 'I wonder what's going on in the media art scene?'"

    "Predict & Command: Cities of Smart Control." Photo: Katharina Träg.

    While Revell went on to suggest methods of revision or resistance, the implications of the Hedge Fund Question hung in the air. Far from damning transmediale as an initiative, questions like these are absolutely necessary to keep it alive—and point, in fact, to its unique position among events of its kind as a place for experimentation without instrumentalization. For better or for worse, and with some inconsistencies, transmediale manages to sustain an annual balancing act between autonomy and hermeticism—as any platform aiming to uphold a space for critical thought has to.

    transmediale is one of the oldest European events focused on interactions between digital technology and creative practice. It began in Berlin in 1988 as a small film festival called VideoFilmFest; in 1997, its name was changed to Transmedia and the following year to transmediale, an evolution indicating its broadening scope. At the start of the millennium the annual event was relocated to its current home, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and an exhibition was added to the live events. 2011 saw the appointment of artistic director Kristoffer Gansing, whose inclusiveness, vision, energy, and encyclopedic knowledge have in many ways characterized the programming since; that same year, the parallel CTM festival for electronic music was launched: a further trans-gression of genre boundaries.

    Today, the event is both a staple in the international media arts community and in Berlin, whose population it also engages throughout the year in a roster of city-wide programming called reSource. transmediale's activities have been funded primarily since 2004 by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (Federal Culture Foundation). This year the foundation, along with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg supported 70% of the festival, 18% was covered by national and international foundations (like embassies, the Goethe-Institut, and the EU) and 10% came from merchandising, sponsoring, and ticket sales—for a total of around 850,000 euros.

    Art Hack Day Berlin: Afterglow. Photo: transmediale 2014

    These public endowments allow Gansing and his collaborators to remain relatively uncompromising in terms of who they invite. As he says: "I'm pretty pragmatic when it comes to certain things, but in terms of programming, I'm not." A few corporate toasts lightly smatter the proceedings—cheers to Audi—but branding is at a minimum. Instead, transmediale's self-branding—a hyper-hip graphic identity updated each year by Berlin-based designers at Laboratory of Manuel Bürger—plays with the visual language of corporate design.

    Public funding from the nation-state is of course fettered in different ways than private sponsorship, but overall, transmediale is tethered to its roots in maker culture with the "alternative" or critical edge that entails. Gansing doesn't prevaricate. "I have realized that you get more attention from 'power players,' so to speak, if you need them, by doing radical content than by trying to have a meet-up." To illustrate, he describes a clash of interests that happened at last year's festival: at the same time that Laura Poitras, Trevor Paglen, and Jacob Appelbaum were giving a keynote at the HKW, "Vice President John Kerry, one of the most outspoken Snowden critics, was visiting the American Embassy in Berlin—which is one of our investors on a small scale." A balancing act, indeed.

    For comparison's sake, take the development of another of Europe's oldest and best-known new media art festivals: Ars Electronica in Linz, which dates back to 1979 and has had a very different and also very successful trajectory. In 1995 Ars Electronica was incorporated as a limited company, and in 1996 it opened the now well-oiled Futurelab program—a team of artists and researchers with a "unique hybrid research model…which allows them to take prototypes developed from artistic projects and apply perfected solutions to industry projects, or vice versa." FutureLab has explicit goals based around that verb "apply": innovation, product development, and revenue—the latter of which contributes to the festival budget, which is just over a million euros. Profits from FutureLab, in conjunction with private partnerships and ticket sales, have led Ars Electronica to yield "a larger surplus every year," in the words of pleased Linz Mayor Klaus Luger—in 2013, 60% of Ars Electronica GmbH (the umbralla company responsible for all projects) revenue was self-financed. Over time and through its shifting model, Ars Electronica has come to epitomize a collaborative approach across the arts, technology, industry, and society—also aiming for autonomy, but in this case via self-sufficiency.

    Internet Yami-ichi (Internet Black Market). Photo: Cristina Ara / transmediale

    And closing the collaborative circle, culture-science-nation-corporation reaches ultimate fusion at the DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference held annually in Munich since 2005. DLD is a mega two-day event described by founder Hubert Burda Media as an "innovation platform"—indicating both its positive startup rhetoric and its goal to actively produce change through new ideas and products. The upcoming 2015 conference in May, themed "It's Only the Beginning" (striking a neat contrast with transmediale's 2014 title, "Afterglow: The Revolution is Over"), brings together chief executives, government ministers, investors, start-up managers, artists, designers, and innovators from around the globe.

    Though corporate collaboration probably does imply a forward-looking approach reliant on some notion of technological progress, it would be simplistic and naïve to suggest that criticality is compromised in direct proportion to the amount of private funding a project receives. Collaboration is not the same as cooption, and even the most ivory tower purist would have to admit that the "untainted cultural production" implied by that sort of continuum is a (rather cringeworthy) myth. The point of these comparisons is not to make some sort of value judgment on how to run a festival. Instead, it's to do the following:

    First, to ask whether "trans," in the sense of cutting across sectors with fundamentally different perspectives, may have shifted meaning in the last decade or so. Rather than indicate cross-collaboration between artists and philosophers, for instance, "trans" disciplinarity in the way it is often used now refers to public-private partnership—which might in turn suggest a gelling of "culture" into its own kind of conglomerate.

    Second, to consider the usefulness of a distinction between "goal-oriented" platforms in which a potentially commodifiable outcome is necessary or expected, and platforms where the goal is to provide a space without a predefined goal. Do the necessary compromises one has to make in order to run anything in a bureaucratic society mutate the critical space to such an extent that it might as well define a target?

    To think further on the second point, one could throw back to last year’s transmediale. This entailed a goal-oriented event called Art Hack Day—a meeting of over 80 of artists and hackers who were given 48 sleepless hours in the HKW to come up with novel collaborative hacks. The event, though well attended, was criticized by many—including invitee Constant Dullaart, who wrote an open letter explaining his reasons for not attending. He argued that, rather than hyperspeed artistic production, today "we desperately need art that deals with contemporary cultural issues relating to technology and media that has had a chance to ripen outside of this techie neoliberal pressure cooker format."

    Time and Motion: Redefining Working Life | Exhibition Hall © Paco Neumann

    Another issue was that the artists and hackers were expected in this context to hack for free. Participants received neither the compensation that would be expected in an industry setting, nor the time for criticality and contemplation afforded within the cultural sphere. Goal-oriented but not goal-rewarded: "Wonderful during a Google job interview, or Facebook Hackathon perhaps," said Dullaart, "but I could not get it to rhyme with my belief in art."

    The art-hack experiment and its ensuing controversy were entirely productive in that they led to a reconsideration of the role of the art exhibition within transmediale’s other proceedings, and of the role of transmediale in general. If it is to preserve an autonomous space for criticality without dependence on specific kinds of production (apps, social movements, revenue), transmediale also has to resist the lifestyle mandates that come with those production models, and to stick to its philosophy that a space without tangible results is not necessarily a space without agency. It’s worth noting in this vein that the idea of activity as a means to its own end, rather than as a means to a functional or ideological end, is the role that has been historically ascribed to art.

    So how does an independent space resist instrumentalizating discourse while managing still to engage systems of power? Gansing has a convincing, if somewhat circular answer. "That's not a valid question, unless you think that the power is only held by people who hold the money. But then, why are you at transmediale in the first place?"

    Screenshot of sick selfie by @lvpw viewed on iOS smartphone.

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    Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Construction Chart #2, 1975

    The sophistication and prescience of Lynn Hershman Leeson's decades-long engagement with identity under networked conditions, bioengineering, surveillance, and on becomes more evident with each year (and its attendant tech, genetic splices, and corporate and governmental intrusions). Gratifyingly, then, 2015 promises the continued run of the artist's retrospective at ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, with its forthcoming comprehensive monograph, and, opening tonight, a solo presentation at Bridget Donahue's new gallery:

    Long before the digital revolution and the virtualization of everyday life, Lynn Hershman Leeson created surrogate personas to investigate relationships between humans and technology, and the media’s potential as a tool to counter censorship and political repression. Origins of the Species traces these prophetic concerns in works that span from 1968 to 2014, including photography, collage, sculpture, and interactive installations. The exhibition maps Hershman Leeson’s early gestures toward the split self, her notion of "Self Portrait as Another Person" exercises, and her parsing of the double bind of voyeurism and surveillance that has, in recent decades, become increasingly fraught. 

    Alongside this solo, Hershman Leeson will convene this Sunday at MoMAPS1 a panel called "The Future of Humanity":

    In an era of programmable DNA when human organs can be printed and banked, limbs regenerated and new life forms created daily, who will have the power to make decisions that affect us all? Will wealth alone determine who benefits from biological engineering? What will it mean to be human? 

    Participants include Karen Archey, Aimee Mullins, Oron Catts, Melissa Logan, Patricia Maloney, Luke Massella, Aimee Mullins, Keith Murphy, Anicka Yi, and Dr. Josiah P. Zayner.

    You'll see us out at both—this kind of focused, thematic presentation with temporal breadth, as represented by the solo exhibition and its concurrent public program, seems particularly urgent at a moment when Silicon Valley, and its adherents worldwide, seem committed to a confused "posthuman."

    See also: Hershman Leeson's speech upon being honored at the 2008 Rhizome Benefit

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  • 02/20/15--06:30: Ana Maria Uribe, Anipoems
  •  Ana Maria Uribe, Escalera 3 (1999).

    Ana Maria Uribe (1951-2004) was an Argentine visual poet who made work online beginning in 1997 after working in other media for many years. When she passed away, visual poet and programmer Jim Andrews (who runs the website posted a moving tribute to her work on Rhizome's mailing list, including this quote in which she recounts her formative experiences as a poetry: 

    I started with visual poetry in the late 60's after seeing some of Apollinaire's poems and Morgenstern's "Night Song of the Fish". Shortly afterwards I met Edgardo Antonio Vigo, who was then editing a magazine called "Diagonal Cero", devoted to visual poetry and mail art, and other poets such as Luis Pazos and Jorge de Lujan Gutierrez. They all lived in La Plata, a town which is 50 km from Buenos Aires, where I live, and we communicated by ordinary mail, either because there was a shortage of telephones at that time or to save costs, I don't remember which. I still keep some of the letters...

    At a moment when many artists are again considering the medial qualities of poetry, Uribe's work seems well worth revisiting, particularly because (as Andrews noted, of her CD-ROM works) it reflected an understanding of "the poem on the screen as a performance." In the works, text is generally used pictorially (as with the ladder made of capital H's in the Escalera series), and rotated or otherwise manipulated to introduce a sense of motion into the scene. In the Rebote series, for example, the dots of lowercase i's bounce around playfully:

    Ana Maria Uribe, Rebote 1 (1999).

    Cardena's visual poems were defined by a careful economy of means, even when they consisted of multiple gifs arranged in HTML tables (as with the 1997 series A Host of Halfties) or when they were made with Flash, as with Disciplina (2002):

    Uribe's understanding of published poetry as performance can be seen even in her work for the ostensibly more static medium of  typewriter. See, for example, this online translation of her 1968 typewritten work Catarata (o Le Parc):

    Visually, this "tipoema" suggests cascading water, and thinking of its typewritten origins gives it a soundtrack and a sense of motion as well: the clunk of spacebar interrupted by the key striking the paper, the "ding" when the carriage reaches the end of a line.  The sense of motion and the typography activating the page is still there, even though the image itself does not move. 

    For more on Uribe's work, see Jorge Luiz Antonio's "From Printed Page to Digital Media: The Poetry of Ana Maria Uribe" and visit or her original Tripod page (with ads).

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    Chris Anderson has famously compared the nascent drone market to the early days of PCs, comparing it with the Homebrew Computer Club, the Bay Area hobbyist meetup where the Apple I was first unveiled. It may seem an odd comparison—the drone is thought of as military technology and (more recently) luxury plaything, while the Homebrew Computer Club is remembered for its utopian beliefs about putting technology into the hands of the people. But while Apple's forays into personal computers were groundbreaking, the "PC" abbreviation historically referred to its greatest threat, the IBM PC standard, a revolutionary form of computer architecture that was easily licensed and copied, and which shaped the personal computer market for over a decade. Drones do not yet have a "PC standard," but if they did, it might be the tipping point that could catapult drones into the mainstream and unlock their social utility.

    We have yet to see what this social utility will be. Militarized drone technology has a well-established place among the many tools of the surveillance state. Looking at the history of the computer's shift from an awkward, heavy, military and commercial engineering project to something we carry in our pockets, one wonders how drones might make a similar transition. Some of the first ideas for non-military drones, such as catching poachers, have some way to go in development before they will actually be useful. So far, one of the best uses for drone technology is in the field of cartography. Drones like senseFly's eBee can map a large area very quickly, and rectify imagery to GPS maps. But drones like these cost thousands of dollars and run proprietary software in order to work so seamlessly. What if drone technology were to be transformed in a similar manner to computers, so that standard architecture and operating systems allowed cheaper, more universal hardware and software?

    In the late 1970s, desk-sized computers were typically terminals linked to mainframes where the real processing was done. But with the miniaturization of transistor functions into integrated circuits, desktop computers became possible.These early personal computers were sold as kits, and required a hefty investment as well as technical know-how to assemble and operate. When the Apple II was introduced in 1977, it was one of the first "out of the box" personal computers; BYTE magazine called it the first "appliance computer". But the Apple II was still expensive, and with an operating system and architecture limited to this machine only, all compatible software had to be designed specifically for this system. In 1980, less than 10% of 14 million small businesses in the US had personal computers, and of large corporations, less than 3% used personal computers on a regular basis.1 Investing in a limited hobby system was not a priority for most companies.

    IBM, one of the primary providers of business computers and machines in the 1970s, did not want to be left behind by Apple, Tandy, Atari, and the other hobbyist offerings, and set out to design their own. But rather than simply introduce another competing proprietary system, they produced an open system. They designed an architecture that was larger than necessary, accessible, and easy for the user to understand. They hired Microsoft to develop an operating system that could be licensed independently from the hardware.

    Once the news got out that "Big Blue" was making a PC, peripheral and software companies sat up and took notice. Because they could easily reverse-engineer the architecture and license the OS, by the time the IBM PC hit the market, there were software and peripherals ready to be purchased alongside it. It wasn't long until cheaper, compatible clones were sold by other computer manufacturers, for which one could use the exactly same software and parts as for an IBM PC. As businesses began adopting personal computers and figuring out how to use them, they chose IBM PC-compatible systems; this, because they could be assured their investment wouldn't be outdated or isolated from other software and systems.

    The IBM PC is a famous story in support of open standards—although IBM lost sales by not preventing cheap clones of their product, they gained the market domination of their design standard, which still enabled them to keep the widest potential customer base among businesses with the budget for large purchases. In addition, the standard allowed smaller companies to take the risk of spending their own development resources on designing software and peripherals. Companies like Lotus and Compaq—let alone Microsoft—would not have developed their own products without this standard to rely on (we can see the benefits of open standards in other technology as well, for example USB and WiFi 802.11 standards; and in the failure of Betamax video technology and HD-DVD, we can see what is at stake with competing proprietary design standards).

    In the consumer drone swarm there are, as yet, no standards. The most popular consumer drones are the DJI Phantom line, which comes with a closed operating system and associated software. For more adventurous hobbyists, Chris Anderson's own 3DRobotics company sells kits using components such as the Pixhawk autopilot, which runs on the PX4 open-source firmware. But while this open-source system is a powerful tool for the hacker-minded drone operator, it isn't exactly accessible to those not familiar with unix-like OS. Even the US military's open standards for drone control have been unevenly adopted. The history of the IBM PC was not a targeted goal, but the combination of several technological factors that managed to come together at the right time.

    An "IBM PC for drones" standard would likely make it much easier to self-assemble drones from component pieces—and to fix them if they broke. In the same way that one can pull together a motherboard, a hard drive, a power supply and a video card and have a functional computer, one could plug together a battery, an autopilot, some motors and speed controllers, an RF receiver and a sensor kit and have a functional drone. The open-source kits are moving in this direction, but we are not yet at plug-and-play.

    Costs would also drop, as manufacturers would be certain that their newer, cheaper components could easily be subbed into the drone's open-architecture. Specialized software could be developed, certain to run on any drone, making some of the likely drone tasks that much more accessible: precision agriculture software, hobby flying software, aerial mapping software, or cinematic filming software. Currently, single-use drones designed for these specific tasks are sold by companies targeting one particular market. A cheap, standardized "drone clone" could enable a new generation of "drone literate" businesses and households, and from there, who knows what classes of new software would result.

    We might remember that word processing and accounting software was hardly an obvious use for home PCs before the IBM PC clone price point made this market possible. Computers could handle text and data, but what this was "good for" was as yet undiscovered. Drones can handle imagery. What happens when you make a flying camera available to every home? Right now, we have drone selfies and mountain biking videos. But drones could provide analysis of home insulation, find the best place for solar panels or a satellite dish, inspect for roof leaks, or figure out how the squirrels are getting into the attic. Super accurate and updated aerial maps of neighborhoods could track infestations, help with urban gardening, track traffic patterns, map pedestrian and bicycle commuting, among many other data intensive tasks. An Australian company reported last week that it was using deons to find methane gas leaks released during fracking operations; demonstrators have used drones to monitor the police (and have sometimes had their drones shot down by officers). To discover what drones are "good for," we must separate them from what they are currently marketed for in closed, proprietary silos, and let people discover their uses themselves.

    It's also likely that drones would be safer. DJI recently updated its software to ensure its drones couldn't fly in no-fly areas such as Washington DC. But that only applies to their drones. Standardized software could enable wide-reaching safety upgrades, such as when the FAA announces its rules for commercial drones, expected this year. Also, a standard architecture could allow new safety components, such as sense-and-avoid technology, the widest possible adoption. And compatibility standards could take security into account, requiring GPS systems to be resistant to spoofing, and drones' data collection to adhere to privacy standards. But of course, there will be downsides. There will be malware, just as there was when PCs became common and networked. There will be unresolved privacy issues, just as there are, still, with computers today.

    But drones are not PCs, and a historical model is no guarantee of parallel development. In particular, there is considerable public anxiety about hobbyist drone usage in a way that differs from the reception of the personal computer. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Americans are much more comfortable with the use of drones by police than by news organizations or private individuals; this may prove to be a bigger barrier to its social utility than any technical standard. Perhaps drones will never be a widespread technology but a limited, specialist tool—more like a mail processing machine or a forklift than a computer, perfect for particular businesses but useless to others. At this point, as the technology continues to evolve, it is difficult to predict. But open standards for drones will put them in the hands of more people for purposes that go beyond law enforcement and surveillance, to help us discover what the capacities of this technology are, and in as many areas as possible.

    Adam Rothstein's book Drone is out now from Bloomsbury as part of their "Object Lessons" series. Follow him on Twitter @interdome

    Drone icons by Max Cougar Oswald & Nihir Shah, via IBM PC ad from Time Magazine, January 18th, 1982.  


    1 James Chposky, Blue Magic: The People, Power, and Politics Behind the IBM Personal Computer (Facts on File, 1988), 10.

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    After extensive deliberation, the Prix Net Art jury—comprising curators Michael Connor, Samantha Culp, Zhang Ga, and Sabine Himmelsbach—is proud to announce that inaugural $10,000 Prix Net Art is awarded to artist duo JODI, with a $5,000 Award of Distinction granted to Kari Altmann. For detailed information about Prix Net Art, visit

    Jury Statement:

    The internet is more than just a canvas, medium, or publishing platform for art. The internet is a system that links human and machine intelligence to produce politics, economics, culture, and subjectivities. To make "internet art" is to intervene in, or participate mindfully in, these processes.

    For this inaugural edition of the Prix Net Art, the top award was given in recognition of the rich tradition of web-based art. Following the release of the first widely used web browser in 1993, a number of artists embraced the web for its aesthetic and political possibilities, particularly as a way of reaching far-flung publics with a minimum of resources. JODI were key figures in this generation, often disrupting the web—its HTML and other code—in order to make its processes and effects more transparent. Throughout their careers, they have remained committed to the internet, in its changing forms over the years, as a contested and vital site for artistic practice.

    The Award of Distinction, in contrast, is given this year in recognition of future directions and possibilities for internet art. Kari Altmann's practice is especially important in regard to the changing role of the artist in a highly networked culture. Referring to her practice as "based in the cloud," she works as an artist embedded within internet culture, forming collaborations and sharing images across Tumblr, Instagram, and other social media platforms and apps. Altmann works fluidly across the web and the gallery space, considering each artistic medium as another kind of file format, and each artwork as a node in an evolving, collaborative, and networked system in which she is also a node.

    While the selected artists have differing approaches—and, in fact, are only two examples of possible practice in a field defined by diversity of form—they both reflect a sophisticated understanding of the internet not simply as a space or an object, but as a series of processes. Through intervention and participation, they find ways to make these processes more comprehensible, and to contest and critique their effects.


    JODI, or – a Netherlands-based artist duo comprising Joan Heemskerk (1968, the Netherlands) and Dirk Paesmans (1965, Brussels) – pioneered web-based art in the mid-1990s. By radically disrupting the conventions and functions of systems such as webpages, computer programs, video and computer games, mobile apps, and other digital technologies, JODI's work destabilizes the relationship between computing technology and its users. JODI continue to work in the widest possible variety of media and techniques, from installations, software and websites to performances and exhibitions.

    JODI's work is featured in most art historical volumes about electronic and media art, and has been exhibited widely at venues such as Documenta-X, Stedelijk Museum, ZKM, ICC (Tokyo), CCA Glasgow, Guggenheim Museum (New York), Centre Pompidou, Eyebeam, FACT (Liverpool), and Museum of the Moving Image (New York), among others.


    A screen of garbled green text looks like a broken website, until the viewer checks the HTML code through the browser's "View Source" function and realizes that the page is generated from a text drawing of a nuclear missile. The code also includes the <blink> tag, which in legacy browsers makes the text flash on and off, adding to the chaotic effect.

    Geo Goo (2008) 

    A software-driven artwork built on Google Maps that uses "dropped pins" and other default features for creating user-generated maps as the raw materials for a frenetic animation. (1998)

    This website uses only a few lines of code to create an abstract animation consisting of rapidly changing blocks of black and white text displayed against flashing backgrounds. The site is broken up into a series of individual pages, each of which offers a slightly different variant and appears for a few moments before redirecting the user to the next in the series. (2009)

    A blank grey webpage where the overenthusiastic voice of video game character Duke Nukem (voiced by American actor Jon St. John) narrates the menu options (Open, Edit, Save, etc.) of the ubiquitous, free TextEdit program for Mac. (2008)

    For this project, JODI collected and categorized a vast set of YouTube videos of what they describe as "people doing strange things with computers": smashing laptops, singing about their love of HTML, using keyboards as skateboards. Past iterations of the site have allowed users to choose from obscure categories such as "win" (for Windows) or "cub" (for office cubicles); the site now streams a selection of four videos at a time according to a predetermined logic.

    ZYX (2012)

    An app that uses the iPhone's built-in motion-tracking capabilities to guide the user through a series of pointless gestures. Each time a gesture is performed correctly, the phone clicks; when the full sequence has been completed, the device sounds an alarm in celebration.


    Kari Altmann (1983, USA) is an American artist who works fluidly across multiple platforms and formats. Working in an online ecosystem of memes, brands, trends, algorithms, prosumer software, and other communal imaging systems, Altmann creates, tracks, and intervenes in microgenres of content that constantly evolve through her own online management. Her work often uses survival fantasy aesthetics from various sources to create new imagery that pushes this visual logic to its extremes. She circulates the resulting images back through her social networks, where they generate new meanings and versions. A resulting work can take many forms, from a reproducible meme to an installation of objects and performers to an audio mix. Altmann is one of the most influential artists involved in recent discourse around the term "post-internet" and its offshoots.

    Recent featured projects include a solo web commission, Soft Mobility Abstracts, for the New Museum, New York; "Extinction Marathon" for Serpentine Gallery, London; and "Art Post Internet" at Ullens Center, Beijing. She has done projects for and with Art Dubai, The Goethe Institute, Fade to Mind, Rhizome, Mixpak, Dis Magazine, Nero Magazine, and many more. She also collaborates with peers in many industries as an artist, creative director, and ghost producer.



    A collaborative project initiated by Kari Altmann in which a network of participants (described by the artist as "search bots for each other") search and arrange content into evolving categories—"new black market civilizational tropes," per Altmann. The evolution of the project's organizing logic could only be fully grasped by following the network over time: "Posting an image of a Toshiba TV with a canyon on the display could yield 10 videos of Toshiba products, 4 variations of demo canyon imagery, and 20 images of name-brand displays almost instantly."

    Altmann's tags for this project: "handheld, blackmarket, brands, lens, optics, frames, petrosumer, fetish, viral, architecture, tribe, trade, tradeshow, etc."

    Participants: Iain Ball, Emily Jones, Nick Lalla, Sam Hancocks, Matteo Giordano, Sebastian Moyano, Matei Samihaian, Silvia Saitoc, and many more.

    Read more about this project here.

    Soft Mobility Abstracts (2013-ongoing)

    A stream of content that evolved across multiple platforms, including Vine, Tumblr, Instagram, and a standalone site, Soft Mobility Abstracts takes the logic of art direction and branding around “mobility” to an ambiguated extreme. Altmann's image stream evoked a merging of urban and off-grid survival actions, the tactility of card swipes and the hard, hi-tech surfaces of smart cities.

    Altmann's tags for this project: "softmobility, security, swipe, footprint, credit, roaming, handheld, etc."

    Resting Point (Native Arrangement, Vital Signs, Tribal Council) (2013-ongoing)

    Altmann organized a series of similar content about action and acceleration into this small installation that took the form of a digitally-manipulated jpeg. After circulating only as a digital file, Resting Point was turned into an actual installation in 2014; documentation of this exhibition was then fed back into the network where it continues to evolve.

    Altmann's tags for this project: "action, acceleration, anxiety, curve, arc, vitality, spine, leap, arrow, throttle, control, ergonomic, debt, decline, custom interior, stroke, sweep, horizon, vista, primitive, exchange, etc."

    Special thanks to our nominators—Lindsay Howard, Omar Kholeif, Christiane Paul, and Domenico Quaranta—who helped to develop a competitive list of candidates, and to the shortlisted artists: Cao Fei, Petra Cortright, Constant Dullaart, jimpunk, Olia Lialina, Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, Ryder Ripps, and Rafaël Rozendaal.




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    Preliminary Materials

    At this very moment, countless dicks compete for your attention. Some archived and waiting to be accessed through the same internet search tools you use to find new restaurants, some directed at you personally through the same applications through which you tell your family you are doing just fine. Surely, in your 5-block radius, someone is in the process of organizing his, her, or their junk for a photo, and someone has, to their disdain or delight, on a phone or computer that looks remarkably like yours, just laid their eyes on one.

    Despite its omnipresence, the dick pic is remarkably under-theorized. Besides the click-bait paradigm of pathologizing individual senders (albeit sometimes deservedly), the aesthetics, history, and (yes) cultural significance of dick pics has yet to be worked out. But I'm taking up the task today. With a bit of panic and a lot of excitement about debasing my philosophical heroes, I will attempt to place the dick pic at the intersection of anatomical and juridical photography, the #selfie, pornography, and finally, the global brand.[1]


    Photo Forensis

    Even while the Tumblr Critique My Dick Pic urges its users to think beyond size (and, crucially, beyond gender), it seems essential to remember that measurements—size, width, length, girth, whatever—are some of the dick pic's primary obsessions. Consider how many include a lighter or pencil for scale—or, most literally, are framed against a measuring tape (as in a mug shot). This desperation to quantify persists despite the reams of seemingly excellent advice that sex partners couldn't care less, and the intuitive or experiential evidence that some particularly endowed forms do not function during sex. Size seems inherent to the dick pic's peculiar forensics.

    Why the obsession with measurements? In the now-familiar narrative, photography served the essential modernist drive to link vision and truth. Allan Sekula's seminal text "The Body and The Archive," essential for discussing our collective compendium of single body parts, traces photography's perceived truth-function to its mobilization by the police. Indeed, the interpretive conventions of the photograph were established within phrenology and physiognomy, two disciplines bent on interpreting the body's "truths" through its measurements, most often to diagnose criminal or medical pathologies. Of course, during a period of European colonial expansion and in the midst of the emergence of Darwin's theory of evolution, the "truths" photography exposed were often classist, racist, and sexist fictions intended to legitimate class, racial, and gender differences "on organic ground."[2]

    Two architects of the medical and criminological image serve as instructive examples for the dick pic's hermeneutics. In the late 1800s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon invented a schema for identifying suspected criminals that required their photo archived according to 11 measurements of their body—identification made possible through calculated comparison. Embedding each new photo in this expanding archive, Bertillon called for what Sekula described as "a massive campaign of inscription, a transformation of the body's signs into a text." That dick pics are, on some level, streams of textual 1s and 0s makes this inscription literal.

    Around the same time, as Sekula tells it, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, invented the composite photograph as a tool to determine a generic criminal type. Galton would take a series of photos on one piece of film and underexpose each according to the ratio of photos in the series so that, he argued, only the visual similarities would emerge. Here, the process called for by Bertillon is inverted: the archive is embedded in the photograph. Galton's methodology is a disturbing precursor of the algorithmic tools that construct our every photo, separating the signal from the noise according to predictive data generated by prior images. Each dick pic, then, bears the marks of all others that came before.[3]

    Dick pics suggest that masculinity as we know it was a product of modernity's visual regime. Not only did modernity seek "a biologization of existing class relations," pathologizing the proletariat, as Sekula wrote, but a biologization of existing gender relations as well. It's not that modernity created the demand for a visual basis for masculinity—for centuries, at-birth gender assignments have violently enforced a binary schema on a continuum of genital cues. What modernism added to the farce of gender was the absurd idea that masculinity could exist as a rational quality on a scale, which makes some "more men" than others, and it proliferated the even more absurd idea that that "more" could be marked by the visual cue of a larger cock. At the heart of a dick pic, then, is a profound anxiety about value and the modernist notions that have governed our world.[4]

    The dick pic, though, is rarely just about genitals. The discourse around 19th Century medical and juridical photos was characterized by a constant anxiety about extraneous information, prompting a need for what medical scholar Martin Kemp calls "visual pointing."[5] The crumpled sheets, bad lighting, and dirty bathroom floor of the average dick pic take the place of the extraneous details of fashion and setting in the early medical or juridical photo. The very conventions of the genre—and the lack of visual information in the average cock—ultimately promote the ground over the figure of the dick, and, by the logic of conspicuous consumption, highlight mise-en-scène—and not the dick itself—as the ultimate assessor of the dick pic's impact or import. In Suzannah Biernoff's words, "as historical and cultural artifacts, they inadvertently reveal too much."[6]

    With digital photography, the inadvertent revelations of the dick pic expand: each photo can bear a time stamp, a location stamp, and an IP address. Now, just as the image is embedded in the archive of digital communication technologies, written in the 1s and 0s of code and the predictive algorithms of camera phones, the archive's system of classification—its metadata—is embedded in the image.


    Phallus Envy

    As former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) learned through a well-documented sexting scandal, the juridical function of the dick pic is often trumped, in the public imagination, by the psychoanalytic insight it is thought to yield. Indeed, the first recipient of a dick pic is always understood to be the person making it. Besides the genre's notorious penchant for compositional errors, this self-editing and self-exploitation makes the dick pic an urgent object of psychoanalytic as well as photographic critique. From a psychoanalytic perspective, dick pics attempt to biologize an icon: the phallus—that mutable, privileged signifier of power which has inspired the obelisks of the ancients and the Freedom Towers of today. Of course, the penis always fails. A "wounded instrument of penetration," as Judith Butler writes, the penis is always symbolized by the phallus, yet fails to be it or possess it: "the anatomical part is never commensurable with the phallus itself. In this sense, men might be understood to be both castrated (already) and driven by penis envy (more properly understood as phallus envy)."[7] If the dick pic serves as evidence of one's actual, bodily penis, it can also be read as evidence of one's lack of symbolic, ideal phallus—evidence, in other words, of one's castration.

    That "pic" always appears as an abbreviation offers a linguistic parallel to this symbolic snip. Dick pics are spasms of phallus envy—missing the lighting, fluffing, photoshopping technologies of porn, which are presumably meant to close the gap, but seem only to make it more visible. Besides the inevitable share with the BFFs, a dick pic is neutered by its circulation through a wider puritanical public. As Weiner learned, the dick pic relegates its subject from the phallic sphere of politics to the embodied everyday of the penis—a pathetic #fail. Often, as in Weiner's case, this failure can be tracked in the photo itself. Its aesthetics were subjected to a proprietary overhaul, watermarked by tabloids and incorporated into their content channels and revenue streams. Finally, the castration is doubled, and the dick pic ceased to be a photo at all, its visuals eclipsed by its reference in written news coverage—the sexting scandal has its own Wikipedia page. It is not the photo itself that circulates, but rather the two words "dick pic" that evidences sufficient degeneracy or embarrassment, its own rhyming punch line.


    The Organ Without the Body

    If the dick pic is under-theorized, the same cannot be said for its #SFW twin: the #selfie, taken with a smartphone and shared on social media, the topic of countless exhibitions and think pieces. "A selfie is not a portrait," Brian Droitcour has written, arguing that #selfies differ from self-portraits in that the portrait inscribes the self into history—an image to extend beyond the subject's life—while the #selfie inscribes the self into a contemporaneous, networked present. Cogent, but ultimately over-eager, his theory overstates the internet's role: photographs have always assumed a place within systems that give them meaning in the present. Every portrait, Sekula wrote, was simultaneously a look up at one's betters and a look down at one's inferiors, indexing petite bourgeois subjectivity embedded in an invidious, comparative system of ordering, not unlike aspirational purveyor of the #selfie, tallying Instagram likes.

    "Every proper portrait has its lurking, objectifying inverse in the files of the police," Sekula wrote. Surely, every #selfie has its lurking, objectifying inverse in the dick pic. The dick pic marks a stage in photographic representations of the self unlike the portrait or the #selfie. For if both the photographic portrait and the #selfie subject humans to representation and quantification within an archive and a social sphere, then the dick pic figures what happens when humans extend the logic of that subjection to objectify—and dismember—themselves. If the #selfie invites competitive likes and favs, the dick pic (when not also aiming for a grade) seems to invite more, ahem, detached judgments—likely because most dick pics are headless, shot from the perspective of a camera placed in front of the face, and so notoriously full of feet. The networked camera stands in for the subject's gaze, overtakes it, and looks at the self as if an external object. This is not Droitcour's invitation for #artselfies—"Let us see you see you"—but instead, "Let us see you see yours" panoptically elided into just "Let's see it." This is not Deleuze and Guattari's body without organs, but the organ without the body.


    Index This


    As I write this paragraph, somewhere in Los Angeles my dreamy little slave is waiting for further instructions. I have something for him. An image I think he will like. I want something in return. It is an image as well. Some forms of exchange in our recent interactions include: emoji, clothes, songs, texts, images, spit. More might be: vulnerability, power, pleasure, pain. There is a foreground and a background in a transaction of digital photos across two iPhones, with equally material realities. On either side of our recurrent (…)s are our bodies, their surroundings, their productions (verbal, emotional, and otherwise), but also the faux palm tree scaffolding broadcasting his cell signal, my neighbor's modem (how I steal wifi), the fiber optic cables than tunnel beneath the city, connecting our data (how romantic), the government satellites tasked with surveying it, the guarded server farms where it is inevitably stored.

    Many feminist critics rightly read the non-consensual dick pic symbolically, that is, as a symbol of rape and sexual abuse. Of course, this feminist critique aligns almost tragically with the misogynistic fantasy of desperate senders. But the symbol is only one kind of sign. Under Charles Peirce's well-worn triad (yup), the symbol takes its place alongside the icon, which bears resemblance to its referent, and the index, which points to, or evidences it: i.e., the word "fire," the flame emoji, smoke. 

    Whether consensual or not, the dick pic can be taken as an icon of the genitals or, more convincingly, of the ideal phallus. But what if we read the dick pick indexically? In Sekula's words, an index "registers a physical trace" of its object—even if only in the microscopic transistors of a smartphone's flash memory. As an index, the dick pic registers not only the sender's body, but also the relationship between sender and receiver, and the larger system in which the dick pic is exchanged. What emerge are not just tried and true tokens of patriarchy, but also a patriarchal system of capitalist circulation that operates constantly without our consent. Certainly, our consent was not solicited for the massive data exchange between Google and PRISM, for the pervasive surveillance apparatus installed in public space, for the budgets and militarized tactics of police; lack of consent is a fundamental term of service for citizenship itself.

    The word "dick" itself emerged indexically: a name for an everyman that pointed to a part that every man was thought to have. A central index of capitalism, we might argue, is the logo. The logo, in the form of a swoosh, a golden arch, even Hello Kitty, signals nothing except the abstract value of a commodity, not its materials (synthetic fabrics, questionable meat, soft plastic) but (as Marx would call it) its Spirit, animated through the necromantic process of exchange. As the mark of a brand, a logo implicates a product in the capitalist transition from use to exchange-value, serving as a visual cue for how this value is added. As an index, the dick pic points to the economy of affect, attention, and libido that has come to define the century. Ultimately, the dick pic functions as our economy's crowd-sourced logo.[8]


    Cum Tribute Capital

    The dick pic registers two massive shifts in the production of value: the well-noted transition from material to (feminized) immaterial labor, and the less-noted transition from productive to reproductive industry. In areas where capitalism organizes itself around finance, industry moves from producing to securing the possibilities of producing in the future. Just as the production of stable gender identities (and stable links between the body's organ's and reproductive functions) is essential to reproducing the biopolitical order, literally by reproducing the labor force, the reproductive industry of financial speculation ensures that the capitalist system doesn't die each day.

    Financial speculation twins with new heights of resource extraction from laborers: emotional and libidinal fracking. As scholars of post-Fordism insist, labor in the global north consists of information management or affective theater: from purchasing entertainment to generating unpaid content, consumers offer their creativity for the benefit of corporations and their attention as a material resource; from the conviviality of retail to the confidence that animates the spirits of investment, consumers don't just buy things, they buy experiences, and laborers don't just sell products, they sell themselves. "Is It Love?" Brian Kuan Wood recently asked, that allows the precarious labor ordained by late capitalism to continue—helping us survive, but keeping us hooked?

    We should congratulate the dick pic for its capacity to make visible the processes that structure our social whole. Late capitalism in the global north puts to work traditionally feminine competences—performative and emotional labor—occasioning an (overblown) "crisis of masculinity" by re-distributing to men those special kinds of exploitation from which men were historically protected. Though equal exploitation is not the kind of gender equality feminists have been seeking, the dick pic's phallic posturing takes on particular theatrical impotence here. Or, perhaps the dick pic would do better to adapt to its current conditions, as in, "Your Dick Looks Great in Those Heels."

    While on the surface a dick pic suggests we read its erection as a signal (desperate or otherwise) of (predominantly male) potency—that is, as a phallus—what an erection signifies in the context of late capitalism is not agency but attention—standing at it and asking for it, simultaneously. Within the context of communication technologies in which it appears and circulates, the dick pic is more subjection than subject. And this, often, is its great virtue.

    "The attention economy requires one to be permanently erect," Paul B. Preciado wrote in Testo Junkie, his illuminating treatise on contemporary biopolitics. Surely, the dick pic reflects a profound libidinal cathexis in audiovisual industries and within communication technologies. If a logo is that which represents how value is added to a commodity through processes of exchange, then the dick pic captures precisely that moment when what's added is our very own attention and energy. To the circulation of images, affects, and information that sustains contemporary capitalism, we offer our bodies, ourselves. "The raw materials of today's production processes," Preciado insists, "are excitation, erection, ejaculation, and pleasure." If, as we've seen, photography was always inseparable from its disciplinary instrumentalization, then dick pics enact and—like pornography—extend this instrumental function: to discipline, and at the same time, to generate value-form arousal—that is, arousal easily re-circulated within systems of capital exploitation.

    Leave it to a distinguished genre of the dick pic to portray this cybernetics best: the cum tribute, that dick pic that contains within it the image that apparently occasioned it in the first place. As dick pics go, cum tributes are raunchy mixed media works expert in a kind of graphic layering that epitomizes the digital age: a photograph, cum, and the obligatory hard dick. Certainly an uptick in cum tributes to actor Emma Watson since her recent foray into public intelligence might be a pitiful reminder of proprietary phallus-posturing; yet how easy it is, in the psychosexual imaginary, to reverse our perception of domination and submission. As every middle schooler knows, erections are almost embarrassingly literal: arousal and its cause. Who sacrificed a retina screen or a magazine? For what is a #tribute without sacrifice? And ultimately, fantasies (no matter what's in them) are as consensual as sex can get.

    Truly, I defy you to find a pictorial genre that better reflects an exchange of information and affect. Fuck "semiocapital." Fuck the "pharamapornagraphic era." This is Cum Tribute Capitalism. In this economy of images and affective value additions, the dick of the average cum tribute might just provide a silhouette for our immaterial labor, the contours of our collective neoliberal shadow. Is it love? The answer, my darling fuck prisoner, is yes.

    Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal is a nerd-based artist and sometime switch. If you are not her dad, you can find her at @un_frack or
    Photo series by @malaise69 with a lil help from @unfrack.


    [1] I take comfort in the first sentence of Judith Butler's "The Lesbian Phallus" here: "After such a promising title, I knew that I could not possibly offer a satisfying essay; but perhaps the promise of the phallus is always dissatisfying in some way."

    [2] For example, Liet.-Col. William Marshall used phrenology to study "the mysterious process by which, as appears inevitable, savage tribes melt away when forced into contact with superior civilization." "Isolated races," he wrote, "present scarcely more differences in appearance and character than any one dog does from any other in the same kennel of hounds." (quoted in Kemp, 129)

    [3] This predictive data has material bio-feedback. By positioning individuals according to their deviation from the mean, medical photographs are indispensible to the assignment of gender in newborns, a practice which has even involved surgical reconstruction of the genitals. See Suzanne J. Kessler, "The Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Intersexed Infants" in Signs, Vol. 16, No. 1, (Autumn, 1990), pp. 3-26.

    [4] It seems essential to contextualize epistemologies of race here. Certainly, the biologization of racial meaning was equally essential to modernist aims: racist ideology is often concerned with black male (hyper)sexuality, just as racist practice often involved castration. Secondly, pornography's bizarre linguistic repetition of racial signification in stupidly close proximity to a sex organ, i.e. "black cock," seems intuitively to demonstrate a twin anxiety about how neither race nor gender can really be said to inhere as properties, and to highlight race and gender as discursive categories.

    [5] See Martin Kemp, "'A Perfect and Faithful Record': Mind and Body in Medical Photography before 1900," in Beauty of Another Order: Photography in Science, ed. Ann Thomas (Yale University Press, 1997), 122. 

    [6] Suzannah Biernoff, "Flesh Poems: Henry Tonks and the Art of Surgery," Visual Culture in Britain (March 2010, 11(1)), 25–47.

    [7] Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 2014), 62, 85.

    [8] Harry Dodge's 2010 video, An Analog Comments on Itself, perhaps predicted this argument: a slimy tenderloin-as-cock with a gash for a mouth wiggles to a breathy beat and smugly reminds us, "there are no holes or gaps in the machine."

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     Paul Kneale, "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions", exhibition view at Evelyn Yard

    For Paul Kneale's show "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions" at Evelyn Yard, the gallery windows have been blacked out and emblazoned with the artist's name. Approaching the space feels like walking up to a monogrammed stretch limousine where tinted windows conceal luxury objects. Surprisingly, once inside, the works look cheap and fragile.

    The exterior treatment of the gallery is echoed by the monochrome page design and white text of Kneale's concurrent residency on the publishing platform, a visual link that reinforces the work's existence on and off-line, between different types of screen. Seven hyperlinks are listed on the website beneath the title "~~~~***PAUL KNEALE__888^NEW ABJECT___2015," taking the user to pages hosted on the classified ad site Craigslist. Together, these posts constitute Kneale's written response to Julia Kristeva's 1980 text Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.

    For Kristeva, abjection was a state of mental and physical disgust provoked by indeterminate subject-object/self-other relations felt, for example, at the point of contact between one's lips and the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk. It was a condition, she wrote, without "a definable object." Kneale's response proposes a "new abjection”: the disgust arising from engagement with cultural products and services that have recognizably changed in the wake of Web 2.0.

    Paul Kneale, Late afternoon light falling on an advertisement for a non-prescription cognitive enhancement medication (2015).

    As much a humorous provocation as a serious argument, Kneale illustrates his concept of the "new abjection" anecdotally. In part four of his essay, for instance, the artist compares the music industry's former conversion of record sales into platinum discs with a contemporary measure of success: the number of YouTube video views. How does the subject relate to such insurmountable figures as the "1,111,658,442" recorded beneath Justin Bieber's video for "Baby," Kneale asks, calculating that, if multiplied by the duration of the video, the time taken to experience these views one after the other would require immortality and infinite battery supply. This, he asserts, is the "new abject time," in which the individual subject confronts its formation by a product used en masse.

    Though gallery-based work does not correspond to text in a direct, illustrative way, the parallels are often clear. Pound shop purchases, alluded to in part two of Kneale's essay, are on view downstairs at Evelyn Yard. Quantum £1 shop I-V (2015) consists of an array of weightless-looking plastic clocks hovering face down, UFO-like, blinking LED light into the mirrored surfaces of five tables made from drywall frames. Meanwhile, laid on a ledge overhanging the lower space but more easily visible from the ground floor, Late afternoon rays falling on an advertisement for a non-prescription cognitive enhancement medication (2015) features photocopied marketing blurb reminiscent of Luc Besson's sci-fi film Lucy (2014). Wondering at the text's provenance, a Google search took me to, an operational website selling brain-boosting drugs. Another Hollywood film, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, 2014, is evoked downstairs in the wall-mounted canvas Interstellar Crash (2015)— a digital print made from a slide capturing an open scanner's movement across glass; this is also projected onto the opposite wall as one slide in the series titled Post-post-post production (2015).

    Paul Kneale, Quantum £1 shop (2015).

    The most delightful reference to cinema comes in the work 3D lens flare (2015). Filling the ground floor space, three yellow circles and a crescent moon cut from perspex are suspended from the ceiling, lit and aligned in such a way as to imitate the filmic effect created when light scatters inside a lens, often heightening the "realism" of a sun-drenched scene. In Kneale's essay, he points out that the lens flare effect, which is an artefact of the medium itself, takes on a corporeal quality in 3D cinema, seeming to protrude out of the screen. Highly photogenic, this piece feels like a direct response to Brian Droitcour's criticisms of postinternet as "art made for its own installation shots." In installation shots, the three-dimensional sculpture would invite misreading as a visual artefact of the camera lens.

    As if to further acknowledge Droitcour's demand that "the artist does something to make the documentation strange and emphasize the difference between the work's presence online and its presence in the gallery," Kneale has photographed his exhibition and emailed the images to researchers in the early stages of developing automatic text captioning software for Google. Through this additional process, Kneale extends his continuing enquiry into feedback loops between physical works (or images thereof) and their attendant texts, and the state of human subjectivity as constructed by contemporary demands to project and receive images.

    Paul Kneale, Post-post-post production (2015).

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  • 11/12/14--09:51: Bodies on the Line
  • "You can have the party. Give us the power!"

    Andrea Fraser had already been onstage in front of a packed house at the New Orleans Museum of Art's auditorium for more than half an hour. Dressed in a black suit, she was delivering a monologue based on the transcript of an epic 1991 city council meeting. In that meeting, an ordinance was discussed that would ban discrimination in any of the social clubs that apply for parade permits in New Orleans. The discussion opened up into a marathon airing of thoughts and grievances on racism, heritage, and the role of the carnival in a city defined, in many ways, by its Mardi Gras.

    Fraser's performance was astonishing. In one moment, she would be raising her voice in anger, playing the role of an activist speaking on behalf of marginalized black communities in a largely white district. In the next breath, she would be stridently castigating that activist, channeling the presumably white woman who represented these affluent uptown neighborhoods. Then, a nervous bumpkin who hadn't been to a council meeting since elementary school, interspersed with drawling asides from a dry, imperturbable council president. The performance wasn't just based on city council archives; it seemed to tap into an archive of gesture and voice and facial expression and lived experience, brought together, through performance, in the body of the artist.

    The line paraphrased above was from one particularly powerful speaker, who made the argument that the economic benefits of Mardi Gras were unevenly distributed. Who, she asked, owns the hotels and restaurants? Who even gets to work in those establishments? If Mardi Gras generates $400 million in economic activity, and $35 million of that ends up in city and state coffers, then where was the rest of it going? Not to the city's many disintegrating black communities, who are so important to the city's culture. It was at this moment that the performance began folding back on itself. It was at once a profoundly moving testament to what art can do, to what it can be, and a critique of its own context. It was impossible not to draw a parallel between the unevenly distributed benefits from Mardi Gras and those derived from Prospect.3, the Biennial that commissioned it. And it did this while paying devastatingly powerful tribute to the city and its people.

    Artists who attempt to grapple with the ethics of their host institutions would do well to look hard at Fraser's work. This week, another performance work (this one playing out in a hotel room, by email, and on social media, with a series of drawings generated as part of it) has garnered a great deal of discussion. Ryder Ripps' ART WHORE was made in response to an invitation from a hotel to stay in a room and make art for one night, and be reimbursed up to $50 in supplies. Ripps' response to this appraisal of his value, which he has characterized as exploitative in his online discussions of the project, was to hire people who were advertising sexual services on Craigslist and commission them to make drawings and pose with them for his Instagram feed, where they became fodder for a social media shitstorm in which Ripps has avidly participated.

    Comparing and contrasting this work with Fraser's performance is instructive. Both works involved people who were in a position of less power than the artist. Both works made use of content created by these people.

    But the differences are instructive. Fraser did not put any words in their mouths apart from their own; Ripps did, often making the claim that they were fine with the experience or enjoyed it. Fraser did not use labels except those used by her subjects; Ripps seems only ever to refer to his participants as sex workers. Fraser's work did not visually represent her subjects' bodies, but Ripps' did. Fraser used her own body in her performance as a way of making her own position (of power) visible; Ripps depicted his own body in the full documentation video, but not in the more widely circulated photographs.

    By choosing to narrate the experiences, define the identities, and depict the bodies of those in a less powerful subject position than him, Ripps acted in a way that was ethically unsound: It reinforced and did not interrogate inequitable power relationships. (The argument has been made that no one was hurt and that there was therefore no ethical problem, but this is actually beside the point, and also, the only ones who can say that for sure are Ripps' "sex workers.")

    This claim shouldn't be controversial; it seems pretty much aligned with Ripps' intentions going into the project. The work was framed as a response to the often asymmetrical power relationship between brands and the artists they hire; this asymmetry was performed in the relationship between artist and the "sex workers" he hired.

    Some defenders have bandied about the name Santiago Sierra, which offers us another useful opportunity for compare and contrast. Sierra has staged spectacles in which participants are hired to perform exhausting, painful, and demeaning tasks for menial pay; this labor is made visible as a performance, often in a gallery or museum. For his work Nine Forms of 100x100x600cm Each, Constructed to Be Supported Perpendicular to A Wall (2002), a series of crude rectangular volumes are displayed in the gallery, supported at one end on the gallery wall and on the other by several dozen workers. This work was shown at Deitch Projects in 2002, with a press release consisting only of Sierra’s proposal for the work. In it he demands that: "The workers will always remain facing the wall and have to be Mexican or Central American."

    One reviewer described the experience of seeing the work in the gallery as follows:

    The workers in the gallery were neither exclusively from his two areas of preference, nor were all facing the wall. They were slightly bemused, somewhat pissed and eager to voice their opinions about the work, which were polite, but, as might be expected, negative. The workers were also very good at getting around their absurd job, and asked viewers to stand in their place to see what it was like. One pulled down his shirt to show me the bruised shoulder on which Sierra’s large minimalist forms were supported. At that point, the white, thrift-store-clad gallery attendant came over and asked if everything was OK. (Menick)

    Sierra's work and Ripps' both involve paid workers, from sectors of the labor force that are undervalued and not infrequently in harm's way, in the production of a work or exhibition. Both make the economic transaction behind this involvement explicit. Both reveal the bodies of the participants. Both reveal the specifics of the underlying economic transactions.

    One central proposition of Sierra's work is that the gallery visitor is prompted to confront his or her own role in the perpetuation of inequity and oppression: What cause could there be for imposing such discomfort on the workers, except to present this situation to an audience? It's not just the institution; the visitor is the root cause of this exploitation. In order to do this, Sierra not only foregrounds the economic transaction, he also makes it explicit that the job required will be painful and is only available to people of a more marginalized racial group.

    In contrast, by playing down the role of race and downplaying the potential negativity of his participants' experiences, Ripps makes it less obvious to the viewer that inequity is in fact being perpetuated, and many have argued that his actions were not unethical. Thus, the work can't be defended on the basis that it reminds the viewer of their complicity. If measured by the standard of Sierra's work, it is a miserable failure.

    To be perfectly clear, giving this project positive attention, and to some extent any attention at all, does make one complicit in Ripps' unethical actions. I'd rather not write about it, because this makes us even more involved, but it became necessary to do so because we are already complicit in the attention this project has received, thanks to our support of his earlier work and our public statements on Twitter yesterday, in response to requests for comment.

    I once tweeted that no one understands the "biopolitics of branding" better than Ripps, in other words, that he understands the way that brands get inside you. Someone who understood the biopolitics of branding should understand that, as a curator and writer who has previously bought into and supported on a personal and organizational level, the brand of Ryder Ripps became a part of me and of Rhizome, and our public knows this. In fact, our support for Ripps' earlier work, most recently with a prominent nomination in the Prix Net Art, is one small reason why people have felt all fucked up about his project for the past few days. ART WHORE essentially forced us into taking a position. On the one hand, silence, which would be (and was) interpreted as tacit approval of the project; on the other, public disavowal of the work.

    If the project was intended as an elaborate troll, which is the most generous possible interpretation, then it was still not interesting. A more nuanced troll would have forced us to confront contradictions in our own position, making it difficult to make any statement at all. The lines drawn by Ripps' project are just a little too clear; we have little doubt about our own position, and binary opposition seems like the only possible result.

    Right now, we are seeing a crisis resulting from the perceived erosion of the internet (and of technology in general) as a white male-dominated space. The effort to police that space in subtle ways or via outright harassment in order to retain control will inevitably fail, but it is already clear that the effort to foster an internet culture that supports a diversity of digital experience will take persistence over years, in the face of bitter opposition.

    Fraser offers us a glimpse of how bitter arguments can suddenly open up into moments of possibility, yielding real social change. In the meeting that came to life again in her performance, antagonistic viewpoints were expressed, voices were raised, names were called, people were ejected forcibly. And yet, in the end, something happened that made things a little less unjust in the Crescent City, and the vote was unanimous. I still get chills thinking about it.


    Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ripps did not appear on camera; as corrected above, he did not appear in still documents, but he was prominent in a webcam stream.

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    In this online exhibition, six poets approach internet language as a bodily, social, and material process. 

    New poetry works will be published every Monday through April 6, 2015. Co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look exhibition series; curated by Harry Burke.

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    Screenshot of Leonard Nimoy in Y2K Family Survival Guide (1999). 

    In December, artist and technologist Perry Chen organized a panel discussion at the New Museum (copresented with Rhizome and Creative Time Reports) exploring the phenomenon and legacy of the Y2K bug, as part of his ongoing project Computers in Crisis. Along with a presentation of books and video clips from the time, he assembled three Y2K experts to share their own experiences of preparing for 1/1/00, at which point many computer systems were expected to interpret the two-digit date as "1900" rather than "2000," with harrowing results. 

    The event was a fascinating narration of an overlooked moment in technological history. If Y2K has been remembered as a "non-event," a hysteria and a farce, is that because it was an overblown threat? Or is it because the preparation for it was successful? In particular, the Y2K compliance effort was characterized by a sustained, collaborative effort to understand and update the aging software that had been lurking in many of the world's most crucial business and public sector computer systems. (As Chen wrote for Creative Time Reports, even the US and Russia worked together to prepare for the unknown, jointly staffing a Y2K command center in Colorado.) It was not only a collective attempt to understand and manage the risks of that dependence, but also a public discussion about our dependence on complex technological systems—a public discussion which is sorely needed today, as if you needed another reason to miss Leonard Nimoy.

    The panelists (David Eddy, who coined the term "Y2K," Margaret Anderson, formerly of the Center for Y2K and Society, and Shaunti Feldhahn, author of Y2K: The Millennium Bug—A Balanced Christian Response) all had interesting stories to share, but the most memorable moment of the night belonged to Anderson:

    Margaret Anderson: A whole lot of people on a global basis started working on it, and sharing information. There were really great lessons learned on how to address a complex, unknowable problem, and it was cooperation, collaboration, and a lot of information sharing. There was a huge undercurrent of engineers and programmers, and people like us who found a problem in a piece of equipment or in a software package, and let all of their networks know that it had that problem, and "here is the fix." They didn't tell their bosses they were doing this, they just did it because it was the right thing to do.

    It was incredible around the world. There were regional meetings sponsored by the UN and helped a lot by the world bank and the US government, of regions of Africa and regions of South America; countries getting together and recognizing "you have the electrical infrastructure my country is dependent on…or, you have the water source my country is dependent on…let's talk about it," and "are you ready for Y2K?"

    Perry Chen: The Y2K was a moment where a large number of women were heading these projects...

    MA: I was mostly familiar with the federal government agencies, and I was a woman in technology, and really aware that there weren't many around me. And what I found with Y2K was all of a sudden I'd be in meetings, and so many of the program managers and the project managers were women. And they were there because it was not a good career move to be in Y2K. It was short term. If there were problems, you were going to get blamed for them. You didn't have the authority to really make the changes. So many people wouldn't take the responsibility, so all of a sudden there were a lot of women around, and I saw an unprecedented level of cooperation and information sharing… really. It was beautiful. (audience laughs/claps).

    Watch the edited video of the event here:

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  • 03/05/15--07:16: Speaking in Code

    "The future of poetry is with the programmers." - Kenneth Goldsmith

    "Does everything that exists, exist to be presented and represented,to be mediated and remediated, to be communicated and translated?" - Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, Excommunication.

    Kenneth Goldsmith's aphoristic tweet has been coming true for a long time: some version of the "future of poetry" has been happening at least since 1959, when Theo Lutz wrote poems using the programming controls of a Zuse Z22 computer.[1] Since then, a small yet sizeable number of poets have ventured into pre-internet computer poems, yielding an even smaller number of specialists who know about their creative pursuits. Not only that, but digital poems take resources to conserve, programmers who know how to do so and, considering that many of these poems pre-date the internet, they are not as accessible as their successors, such as hypertext narrative.

    Given the obscurity of these niche endeavors, it is not surprising that Wired published an article claiming that code poetry was invented in 2011, when a group of engineers noticed the similarities between code and language. But this is not necessarily a new idea: the connection between code and language goes back to its earliest inception. Code is language. It seems only natural that code should be, or would become, poetry.

    In fact, this realization came early to digital poets. In the late 1960, the poet Carl Fernbach-Flarhseim asked, of a paper tape program used to randomly compose verses, "If the score is a poem, why not the program which controls the score?"[2] The work done by early digital poets was coincident with the rise of related forms beyond the processor: concrete poetry, in which the visual appearance of the poem is as important as the words comprising the typographical placement, and Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle), a movement entirely concerned with implementing and working within stringent linguistic or mathematical constraints.[3] 

    While these early works primarily used the computer to generate static texts, often for output to film or paper, later poets used the computer to generate dynamic compositions. In the 1980s, poet Barrie Phillip Nichol, more commonly known to by his lower case initials bp, experimented with an Apple IIe 8-bit home computer and the Applesoft BASIC programming language. Unlike previous models of the Apple II, the "enhanced" edition supported up to 1MB of memory, a full ASCII character set and keyboard, and the ability to input upper and lower case letters, as well as other features that simply made it easier to type.[4] At the same time, BASIC (an acronym which vaguely indicates its meaning: Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was all about making code more user-friendly. Plus, the machine was becoming less expensive to build.

    The result of Nichol's encounter with the machine was First Screening: Computer Poems (1984), a suite of a dozen programmed, visual, and kinetic poems published in an edition of one hundred 5.25" floppy disks. In the printed introduction to the works, included with the diskette, Nichol briefly recounts the long process of programming these poems, highlighting that it took a year and a half to complete the series. Given the simplicity of each poem, however, they appear deceptively effortless. Each poem is composed of one, two, three, or up to six words or letters at the most, with the entire series taking less than ten minutes to view. 

    Due to research and conservation efforts undertaken by a group of Nichol's friends and fellow poets, First Screening is available online as a viewable, readable resource with several versions and one emulated option enabling interactivity. Reading through the essays, we are reminded of (or can imagine) the difficulty of working with such a new technology, before the mouse and GUI.

    The poems in First Screening have many similarities to poems Nichol made before he experimented with digital poetry: repetition, permutation, and movement. Letters, words, and phrases are treated as both linguistic and aesthetic elements of a composition, with the "page" serving as a dynamic space for fluid forms. With a careful, sparse selection of words, Nichol gives the same amount of importance to the words themselves as the way they appear on the page, or move across the screen. Programming enabled Nichol to employ these properties to their fullest, so that his computer poems are more effective than those in print: Motion isn't implied, as it would be in print; instead, it is actively happening.

    The cover of the booklet could be considered the first poem in the series, with computer-generated drawings rendered as pixelated line tracings.[5] In the opening sequence, a group of nine "O"'s, 3 across and 3 tall, seem to circle around one another in a grid. The series then opens with "SELF-REFLEXIVE NO. 1":


    bpNichol, "SELF-REFLEXIVE NO. 1" (1983-1984). GIF from JavaScript version of Basic program for Apple IIe

    The closeness of "LOST" and "TOSS" is similar to an imperfect rhyme, yet the two words almost touch each other—the T of LOST sliding into the T of TOSS—rather than both ending their respective phrases. The first line appears and the second follows in such rapid succession that they appear almost to happen at once, and the following line comes just as quickly as the preceding line ends. As the lines moves so rapidly, the repeated lines pile up, one after the other, so that the poem begins to scroll as it continues to replicate. This feels very contemporary ("Clicking is through, it's all about scrolling.")—unlike hypertext narrative, which necessitates clicking, Nichol's poems scroll in a predetermined way. What's more, the scrolling that the repetition induces is indicative of the repetitive motion of tossing and turning. The motion of the words is concrete, rather than the words themselves and their form.  

    "LETTER" begins with the phrase


    bpNichol, "Letter" (1983-1984). GIF from JavaScript version of Basic program for Apple IIe

    which then changes by one word into




    going through each word of the phrase so that the first word of the phrase reappears at the end, and an entirely new sentence comprising the same words follows in the sequence so that the poem ends like this




    In its transformation, the last line becomes indicative of the process of "reading writing interfaces," as described by Lori Emerson in her book of the same title, with the poem serving as the interface that needs to be activated, mediating "between writer and text as well as between writer and reader."[6] You sat down to write the poem; the poem sat down to write you. In the preface to her book, Emerson states, "Reading Writing Interfaces…is about demystifying devices—especially writerly demystification—by opening up how exactly interfaces limit and create certain creative possibilities."[7] Nichol's First Screening exemplifies this for Emerson, as the "reader/user" had to type in commands. The program also prompted reader/users to look and engage with the text further, with a "hidden" poem at the end, and with access to the .txt file, meaning the code was meant to be investigated and free to be augmented, or at least viewed, by any person curious enough to open the file. Through this, both the writerly process and the device are demystified, enabling reader/users to see and enact the program, and to remember that we are interfacing with an interface,  that there is an exchange happening behind the screen, or off it, as bpNichol alludes to from the poem entitled "OFF-SCREEN ROMANCE."

    The poems in First Screening were the first and last Nichol ever wrote for the computer; he passed away in 1988. The title implies that there could be a second screening, or maybe it simply meant that this is the first instance of something. Because of the small selection of works, I compared his pre-digital poems with his computer poems. What becomes strikingly apparent, aside from the formal elements listed above, is that his work is incredibly methodological; it is almost obsessively experimental, a tendency that is as much that of a writerly one as that of a programmer.

    However, unlike written human language, a programming language is often largely the invention of one person: the inventor of that language is therefore the only one who truly grasps all of its intricacies and understands its full potential. Speaking about programming languages and security vulnerabilities at DEF CON ® 20, Dan Kaminsky explains how all of the most successful programming languages are the brainstorm of one guy (note, guy): "There's one guy [sic] who has it in his head." He goes on, "Our languages that are popular are artistic endeavors by one person, supported by others, but one guy's got the vision." Thus, to locate vulnerabilities in any given code requires getting into someone's head, an intense investigation must be undertaken into the structure of a language, how it is organized, its syntax, its logic.

    Translation is an entry point for those trying to fully grasp a language: to learn its nuances, colloquialisms, cadences, and irregularities. One pre-digital project of Nichol's, entitled "Translating Translating Apollinaire: A Preliminary Report" (1975-1978, and potentially ongoing among a network of collaborators as an experiment in pedagogy and practice) is a series of poems that reveals the centrality of this methodology to his writing.[8] In the introduction, Nichol references the first poem he had ever published, written nearly a decade before: Translating Apollinaire (1963), in bill bissett's Blew Ointment magazine circa 1964.[9] Describing the experiment, Nichol writes "I...decided to put that poem thru as many translation/ transformation processes as i & other people could think of. I conceived of it as an openended, probably unpublishable in its entirety, piece. [sic]"[10]

    While Nichol eagerly began experimenting with the capabilities of Apple IIe upon its release, the novelty of the tool was not necessarily the allure, though that is the story often told with new media practices. In this instance, the tool enables the practice and, in turn, the form. The poems were experiments in formalism, concerned with properties and their output, and not necessarily the (probably unpublishable) content of the poem—with process, rather than its resulting object. This emphasis on process is what made the computer such a suitable environment for Nichol's work, and—given the fact that this process was partly enacted by the computer—what makes it so inseparable from its original technological context.

    Related: Brian Droitcour's The Animated Reader, a poetry collection published as part of the New Museum's 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience, and Harry Burke's Poetry as Practice, a First Look exhibition co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum, now on view


    [1] C. T. Funkhouser, Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2007), 37.
    [2] Quoted in Mary Ellen Solt, Concrete Poetry: A World View, Indiana University Press; 1st edition (January 17, 1970).
    [3]  One of the most cited example being Georges Perec's La Disparition (1969), written without the letter "e," save the author's name—a feat more difficult in French than English, given that nearly every feminine word must end with an "e."     
    [5]  In his notes in the booklet, Nichol wrote that the dozen poems in the series "could be considered a baker's dozen if you count the cover piece."
    [6] Lori Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2014).
    [7] Lori Emerson, Reading Writing Interfaces, ix.
    [8] See "During the time we were going through the manuscript, bp began asking people if they'd like to participate in TTA 29 (some had already participated in other sections, such as TTA 20). We intended this to be the first in a series of "reports," and bp included an invitation to participate in his introduction. We discussed a number of ways of including other participatory sections in further volumes, including the alter-and-pass-on and alter-and-return type familiar to people in the mailart network. We received several of the TTA 29 type before bp's death in 1988, and I have received several since then."
    [9]This poem is particularly apt for such an exercise, given the number of times it has been translated. Further, French is a particularly ambiguous and colloquial language; its translations can have a variety of interpretation, depending on the translator.
    [10]bpNichol, "Translating Translating Apollinaire: A Preliminary Report," (1978)

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    Penny Goring, DELETIA – self portrait with no self (2015, screenshot). Web-based poem with audio and video. Courtesy the artist.

    Part of First Look: Poetry as Practice, copresented with the New Museum.

    DELETIA – self portrait with no self(2015) is a seventy-plus-page epic created on the web platform NewHive that includes, among other things, an original font produced by Goring named "Hell Lobster"—a mix of Helvetica and lobster.

    This is the second of six new works released as part of the online exhibition "Poetry as Practice," which considers online poetry as a bodily, social and material process. Last week, the exhibition began with Alex Turgeon's Better Homes and Gardens Revisited; it continues next week with work by Tan Lin.

    Penny Goring lives in London.

    This piece features some content which might not be safe for work.

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