- RSS Channel Showcase 9352399
- RSS Channel Showcase 9289736
- RSS Channel Showcase 7921317
- RSS Channel Showcase 6213921
Articles on this Page
- 07/16/15--07:50: _The One Hour Photo ...
- 07/17/15--07:06: _Notes on a definiti...
- 07/20/15--12:09: _#Review: The New Yo...
- 07/21/15--07:31: _Artist Profile: Lil...
- 07/22/15--14:12: _Feed my Feed: Radic...
- 07/27/15--07:00: _Artist Profile: Adh...
- 07/30/15--11:30: _Data Ontology: Jame...
- 08/04/15--09:00: _Parallax Maps: Joe ...
- 08/05/15--07:48: _Artist Profile: Mic...
- 08/06/15--05:00: _Why (and how) our m...
- 08/10/15--10:00: _Collectible After A...
- 08/14/15--08:10: _The Flash Artists w...
- 04/30/15--14:25: _The Final Post: Com...
- 08/19/15--07:00: _Interview: American...
- 08/20/15--07:46: _Art in Your Pocket ...
- 08/21/15--10:45: _Artist Profile: Law...
- 05/19/15--06:30: _Serial Experiments ...
- 05/18/15--06:30: _Poor Media on Deman...
- 08/26/15--07:15: _A Scanner, Darkly: ...
- 08/27/15--08:00: _Simulation as Insti...
- 07/16/15--07:50: The One Hour Photo Lab as Exhibition Venue
- 07/21/15--07:31: Artist Profile: Lilah Fowler
- 07/22/15--14:12: Feed my Feed: Radical publishing in Facebook Groups
- 07/27/15--07:00: Artist Profile: Adham Faramawy
- 08/04/15--09:00: Parallax Maps: Joe Hamilton's indirect.flights
- 08/05/15--07:48: Artist Profile: Michael Staniak
- 08/06/15--05:00: Why (and how) our museum started collecting Vines
- 08/14/15--08:10: The Flash Artists who Cybersquatted the Whitney Biennial
- 04/30/15--14:25: The Final Post: Computer Evolution on Law and Order
- 08/19/15--07:00: Interview: American Reflexxx
- 08/20/15--07:46: Art in Your Pocket 4: Net Art and Abstraction for the Small Screen
- 08/21/15--10:45: Artist Profile: Lawrence Abu Hamdan
- 05/19/15--06:30: Serial Experiments for a Better Future: Holly Herndon's 'Platform'
- 05/18/15--06:30: Poor Media on Demand: All the files of Printed Web 3
- 08/26/15--07:15: A Scanner, Darkly: On Andrea Crespo's "polymorphoses"
- 08/27/15--08:00: Simulation as Institutional Critique: Lawrence Lek's 'Unreal Estate'
One summer during college, I worked in a one-hour photo lab in a mall near my hometown. A big part of the job involved squinting at 35mm negatives and assessing the necessary color balance and exposure. I've always been bad at colors, and when a shift got slow I would make lots and lots of reprints and compare the results, trying to hone my eye. "You generate a lot of waste prints," my boss said one day. "Yes," my 19-year old self agreed placidly, without a thought for the store's bottom line, "that's true."
This week, I went to a CVS near my house to pick up an envelope of photo prints. The occasion was David Horvitz's project "An Impossible Distance," a "distributed exhibition" of works by 24 artists. To receive the "exhibition," you simply send an email to the organizers with your name and whereabouts, and they order the prints for you online, for delivery to a local photo Walgreens or CVS. When I went to CVS to collect my prints seven hours after the allotted time, they weren't ready; the cashier rang me up and started printing them. "It'll just be a few minutes," she said, and turned to the next customer, while a robot performed my old job.
I waited until I got home to break the seal, doing so with some anticipation. There were 52 prints in the envelope, jumbled up in random order; for some reason, I got doubles. One image included the words "An Impossible Distance" and thumbnails of all the images; another featured a list of works. The ocean was a recurring motif, which made the photos feel like the incoherent record of a very odd vacation.
Duane Linklater, Cape Spear
A couple of the works played on the photo lab customer experience, like Sean Dockray's untitled picture of a man and a boy sitting together on a bed. It felt like a wayward photo that was destined for someone else's envelope, the kind of mixup that happened pretty frequently in my photo lab days. Another successful contribution in this vein was Claudia Sola's The Ocean in My Left Ear, which looked like the kind of finger-on-lens misfire that was so often committed to print in the heyday of 35mm. (A closer look revealed some lossy JPEG noise that betrayed its digital origins.)
Sean Dockray, Untitled
What Sola got right was the general crappiness of the photo lab experience. When I was a technician, the store made half-hearted efforts to project an aura of quality, but our product was mediocre. CVS's photos are much worse, printed on cheap paper that handles light colors especially poorly. That made the more aesthetically sensitive, analog-feeling contributions to An Impossible Distance feel ill-suited to the format. Others felt like digital images, some of them interesting in their own right, but mostly treating the 4x6 print format as entirely incidental.
Marley Freeman, Untitled (blue resemble slide) (2011, photo by David Horvitz)
What I was most interested in, of course, was the format itself, which felt like a novel extension of the logic of the online exhibition. I liked the way that the project highlighted the decaying infrastructure of photo prints, calling attention to these mostly forgotten machines in the corners of drugstores. These kinds of places still serve their purpose; I imagine that Horvitz, who most recently was in the news for becoming a father in the back seat of an Uber, though presumably not as an artwork, is now probably sending baby pics to these kinds of places for his relatives to pick up, and so they're on his mind. But the general air of neglect surrounding the photo printer these days bodes poorly for its future. More and more new grandparents will learn to change the toner in their inkjet printer and invest in US letter-size picture frames, while the cases of vitamin water pile up higher and higher.
The CVS photo printer.
Lately, I've been feeling a sense of inhibition relating to Josephine Bosma's book Nettitudes, which I've had checked out from the library for the past six months. I started getting emails a few weeks ago that the book had to be returned, each one charting a steadily increasing overdue fine. (Update: the book is now being billed as lost.) The idea of returning the book became a source of anxiety, because even though I could make a copy or buy another one, I've become attached to it. Also, I don't quite remember where I put it.
This is relevant to my job because the Prix Net Art announcement, which went up earlier this week, had to of course include a definition of net art. And as with last year, this definition was something Chronus and TASML curator and Prix instigator and co-organizer Zhang Ga and I discussed intently. As Zhang has argued from the beginning, one signficant motivation for this prize was to publicly discuss and debate the definition of net art.
So we looked back at how we defined the term last year. That announcement put forth a fairly formal definition of the term: art that is primarily experienced via browsers and computer networks. Curator and critic Gene McHugh offers a similar, but more elegant, definition in his Net Art Hell podcast: "art that's primarily intended to be viewed on the internet."
These definitions don't quite convey the expansive understanding of the term that Zhang was hoping for, and they don't capture some of the useful edge cases that Bosma mentions in Nettitudes. Net art, she argues, was never only about what was seen "on the internet." From the beginning, it included Alexei Shulgin printing up newspapers and sitting in a city square, or Heath Bunting writing URLs in chalk on the sidewalk at a time when few people knew what a URL was. Arguably, these projects would be left out of net art according to McHugh's definition, or the Prix's previous one.
Last year, Brian Droitcour quoted Bosma's definition in Art in America: art "that is created from an awareness of, or deep involvement in, a world transformed and affected by elaborate technical ensembles." This is very useful, although I have some questions about this part: "a world transformed and affected by." It seems applicable to almost anything these days. I also don't like that it's in the past tense, as if this transformation happened and is now over. But it does helpfully point us in the direction of thinking about what the internet affects—both the artwork and the field in which it circulates.
As my colleague Dragan Espenschied argues, digital culture is made up of practices, not objects. Similarly, the internet is not just a technical infrastructure, it is also a social, economic, and cultural practice. (This is why, at Rhizome, we eschew the capitalization of "internet.") So thinking about "effects" is useful: net art is not defined so much by what it is (what it's made of, what it looks like) as what it does.
In his 1998 book Art and Agency, which I have also misplaced, Alfred Gell proposed that an artwork should be analyzed not in terms of meaning, but in terms of its effects on others, particularly on audiences who encounter it. These effects, he argues, are generally understood to reflect the intentions of an artist.
When we encounter a work of art, we understand it to be the result of certain intentions or actions on the part of an artist. As viewers, we make inferences and assumptions about that artist's impact on the work. We also understand an artwork to be the result of other actors too, not just the artist. An impressive carved figure, for example, might result from very impressive craftsmanship, and from a very impressive tree.
When one labels an artwork "net art," perhaps one is making inferences, or what Gell described as "abductions," about an artist's intent. For example, one might conclude that the artist intended for the work to be partly authored by the internet, as with Kari Altmann's participation in Tumblr networks as a way of reshaping memetic imagery. Or one might think that the artist intended the work to act on the internet, as when Ubermorgen.com, Alessandro Ludovico, and Paolo Cirio created a system for buying Google shares with revenue earned from Google ads, with the Quixotic mission of one day owning Google—or in more concrete terms, the execution of a script on a website by Jodi.org.
This is the thinking led Zhang and myself to the net art definition for this year's Prix Net Art call: net art acts on computer networks, and is acted on by them.
(And let's hope that Bosma, who is a Prix jury member this year alongside Chrissie Iles and Domenico Quaranta, forgives me for stealing her book from the library.)
Image generated by Online Art Critic (Terry Towery, 1997)
Online exhibitions are nothing new—here's Oliver Laric's incomplete timeline of the form from 2013 (he created this when ARTPLUS called theirs "the first exclusively online biennial exhibition of contemporary art" lol.) And yet reviews of these undertakings remain few and far between, not least at the highest echelons, in the pages of industry publications like Artforum and newspapers like the New York Times.
Notice that I'm speaking about (art) reviews particularly: focused critical writing that takes a qualitative position on an exhibition. Features—writing that points at something happening, or critically reports broader topics and trends—are more common. Here's a feature about an online exhibition in the Times from 2002. Here's a feature noting another online exhibition in Artforum from 2015.
Here's an actual review of an online exhibition. This one is by Josephine Bosma, discussing Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan's online exhibition "Body Anxiety." Notice that it is on rhizome.org. We're in the business of making online exhibitions ourselves; that we are also one of the few places people can turn to for writing about online exhibitions perfectly expresses the need for greater critical attention to this area of practice.
So it was with much excitement and great interest that I saw MoMA's Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of R&D Paola Antonelli's tweet last night directing her followers to an article at nytimes.com—"Review: 'Design and Violence,' Online at MoMA." Here it was, the Times reviewing an online exhibition, a first! (I believe—do correct me if I am wrong!)
Yes, the review projects an air of novelty—critic Martha Schwendener refers to "Design and Violence" as a "curatorial experiment"—but this is the museum's own characterization, and considering the institution, perhaps not undue. It is, after all, not MoMA's typical hang, but an online and print collection of critical writing, descriptions, documentation, and applications exploring the design of objects which participate in systems of violence, from bullets to stilettos.
And in the face of MoMA's admirable dualism—the commitment of Antonelli and her co-curator Jamer Hunt to curating online an exhibition with as much substance and research as any other MoMA project—the reviewer offers a cringe-inducing comparison to "online education," which works "best for students who are inquisitive, driven and do their homework." (How could the same not be said about any other exhibition?)
Notably, the piece confirms a common suspicion at Rhizome that one reason why mainstream publications don't review online exhibitions is the lack of end date—Schwendener makes specific note of "Design and Violence's" completion in her methodology. (Again, why does this review need a methodology?)
Intrigue and disappointment aside, it's nonetheless thrilling to see an online exhibition reviewed by a major publication. When all is said and done, the reviewer takes qualitative positions on works ("the applied-design objects are considerably more interesting than the artier objects") and even asks after questions left on the table (a question "largely unaddressed here...is why humans, historically enthusiastic about public executions and, more recently, cyberbullying in mobs, are so drawn to violence in the first place"). This is to say that Schwendener treats "Design and Violence" like any other exhibition at MoMA.
"Design and Violence", screenshot
The Museum of Modern Art
"Design and Violence" at designandviolence.moma.org.
Thru as long as moma.org is maintained.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Lilah Fowler, Module 1 (composition in grosplan) (2015; image courtesy of Clement & Schneider, Germany).
"Which Pixel am I standing on?," an online exhibition on Maria Stenfors's gallery website, opened on July 15. What does the exhibition title mean? What is the work like and what is the relationship between the work and the exhibition?
The gallery website displays an image of the Network Utility application performing a traceroute; the image links to the URL of the work, www.whichpixelamistandingon.com. This automatically plays a short looped animation of merging landscapes. There's a textbox below the video asking for GPS coordinates and when these are submitted the viewer can download a digital image.
I'm interested in thinking about what is tangible in digital representations of space and I suppose the title makes me think about how objects and structures "exist" there. Boundaries come into this as well: how you define exactly where you might be within that digital space.
For example, I was thinking a lot about the spaces of 3D drawing programs like SketchUp because space can become warped and indeterminable. In those potentially infinite planes you get these newly mapped spaces that correlate to reality, that relate to topography, mapping and your sense of location. But they also become plastic and interchangeable and they start to pull apart any one perspective of space.
Lilah Fowler "Passage and pair" (2013,installation view at Maria Stenfors, London; photography by Matthew Booth, Image courtesy of Maria Stenfors).
How does this exhibition reflect your interest in systems of production and dissemination, both on and offline?
In this show a lot of what I'm thinking about is obviously the location of the work but also how a lot of the structures we have can be quite arbitrary. I was looking at the early stages of data modeling, and the beginning elements of how the parameters are set for some of the entities can be incredibly arbitrary or random, bringing along their own attributes and relationships. A part of what I've been interested with in this piece is playing on that and I wanted it to be something that the viewer navigates through and participates in. The Landsat satellite images (that are used as a starting point for the landscapes in the animation) are taken from the locations along the traceroute path of a packet of information (in this case, a packet that runs from the gallery space to its web server). But the way the images were gathered via the search criteria also produced random results, a process I felt like was mirroring the arbitrary nature of data visualization.
Some examples of the things that I had been looking at for "Passage and pair" at Maria Stenfors (2013) or the Module and Vessel sculptures included my experience of the layered pedestrian routes in Hong Kong and the way American urban planning is framed through a car's windshield. The work has migrated from thinking about the uneasy space between planning and design of structures in my physical environment to a digital one. As our town halls get replaced and public services become digital, data centers become the new form of civic architecture, progressing from their former residences to anonymous new structures on the side of major roads. Despite thinking about these ideas, the work has remained quite physical up until now. I've been interested in bringing it into the workspace by not necessarily using the digital materials themselves but some of their ideas and components that enter into the work, almost as a methodology. One way I've tested this out is by arranging the work in a space according to the data that I find, using it as a way to map or place the works, trying to think about what deeper thing unfolds from that or how these structures can influence each other.
Lilah Fowler "Passage and pair" (2013, installation view at Maria Stenfors, London; photography by Matthew Booth, Image courtesy of Maria Stenfors).
Has the fact that this is an exhibition, which has a closing date, changed your approach to this project? What will happen to this work at the end of the exhibition?
The work is up for two weeks for the viewer to navigate from the gallery site to the domain page and download an image. The image is the last remnant of the work after that, whatever uses people make of it.
The image was made using a free 3D sketchup drawing of a rock, collapsed to show the flattened polygons. The rocks exist in this digital space, as something that's supposed to be three dimensional but is actually hollow and of an indeterminable scale that can be warped and flattened at the same time. The two don't necessarily correlate and they change in unexpected ways. (A vinyl flooring and wallpaper pattern that's used as a backdrop for some of my sculptures uses a similar source.)
It's also a chance to experiment with my own data gathering: anything that is submitted into the GPS text field is instantly sent to me. This will maybe shape future works.
Lilah Fowler, Vessel (Yucca) (2014)
This is not your first work experimenting with online dissemination and the online object. What is the relationship you see between the materials you produce and their presence online?
The first work that I made that played with the location of the artwork was part of an edition where I bought a domain name and made a plain white A2 print with the text in the middle saying:
which was also the title of the work); on the reverse of these prints was a password. The idea was that whoever bought the print would go to this web address and see the artwork (a color digital image of a quite architecturally intriguing rock). Beneath the image was a box where you could submit the password that would give access to a black and white, lower res version of this image, along with precise printing instructions. I consider the printout to be a record of the transaction. I was interested in playing with how someone can own something that exists in this space, copied into probably five different locations in different datacenters and also appears on your browser as a copy. This inability to grasp and take hold of the work that you own intrigued me.
We've talked so much about the relationship between the online and offline object here. I know you're also thinking about how this shift/exchange can be translated into public space. What is the public art commission you're planning for Tottenham Court Road, and how does it relate to that area's traditional connection with technology?
Tottenham Court Road was the place to go and buy transistor radio parts, stereos and computers; I remember going there as a teenager to buy a stereo and a minidisc player. This has now died out with internet commerce, and I've been looking deeper to the older heritage of the site owned by the Bedford Estates family since 1669. I worked with the material in the Estates archive, and looked at the way the area has been subject to development over the past several centuries, particularly for educational purposes, with many of London's universities based on that land. I began thinking about this history alongside the movement from analogue to digital and decided to translate some text taken from the 4th Earls' commonplace books. These are a gathering of notes from lectures, sermons, and books that he either heard or read in his lifetime which I imagine as something like the modern day Wikipedia. This Earl was an important figure in British history who developed Covent Garden with Inigo Jones and helped to drain the Cambridge Fens. I chose a section from the commonplace books titled "Knowledge" to be translated into binary code.
The building façade is a designed essentially as a grid of windows, so the idea is that the 1s and 0s will be transcribed onto the building by using the windows as the basis for the 0s and a strip of soft light positioned inside the frame as the 1s. The result would be a section of the pattern that could ostensibly be read. It's still ongoing and is at present yet to be confirmed by the London Borough of Camden.
A further part of it has involved working with a UCL Physics lecturer to make a quantum cryptology experiment to create a key that can be the basis of a pattern used within the building as well. The building essentially becomes a vessel for coded sections of information that won't necessarily be legible to passerby and need to be decoded. Nonetheless, it becomes this source of potential knowledge, thinking of technology as it translates not only from past to present but also from present to future.
Lilah Fowler, Module 4 (blood orange and a dash of mineral stone) (2015)
Location: Living and working in London
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I've always been pretty technological if you can say that, I don't know if it comes from being half Japanese and having family that worked in companies that produced computer chips and satellites, but I've always been very curious about discovering new things through it—but this doesn't necessarily mean that I can use it all! I made a few 3D printed pieces, which was novel at the time and made other works using 3D routers, etc., but I've arrived at the point now where I'm more interested in using this kind of technology for a reason rather than the novelty of it, I think in many ways it's no different from a bandsaw, or a chisel, it's just another tool. But nonetheless it can be fun to explore perhaps because I have a strong interest and curiosity in what materials do and how I can play with them and understand their limitations. For example, I've been making the more sculptural works by hand mainly because I was thinking a lot about how we live among things that are mass produced. I felt it was important to make the things that have that mark of imperfection, like with the more recent modules, metal sculptures and neon works.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I was in Scotland for my BA at Edinburgh College of Art doing Sculpture and later returned to London to do an MA in Sculpture at The Royal College of Art.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
I've been teaching for about six years, five of which have been at The Slade School of Art in London. It's great to be working there but also to be surrounded by conversations that feed back into my practice. Before this I worked for several years as a project assistant for a public art organization in London that produced exhibitions outside conventional gallery spaces.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!):
Robert M. Ochshorn, The App and the Territory (2014)
These days, Facebook is so widely used that opting out constitutes an act of defiance of the norm. The refusal to participate can be made for personal reasons, but there is a sizeable group who do so as a protest of the corporate control over interpersonal communication. In a 2014 blog post, Laura Portwood-Stacer used the metaphor of "breaking up with Facebook" to describe:
active refusal as a tactical response to the perceived harms engendered by a capitalist system in which media corporations have disproportionate power over their platforms' users, who, it may be said, provide unpaid labor for corporations whenever they log on.
The burdens placed on Facebook's users are certainly significant; they include not only cognitive labor, but also online harassment, dataveillence, and the performance of the profile–which is pulled in multiple directions, at the same time increasingly sexualized (pulled into online dating sites like Tinder) and entrepreneurialized (pulled into sites like Airbnb), even while the display of the body within the profile is regulated in punitive, sexist fashion.
One might question whether opting out constitutes a successful removal from the object of concern, or rather, just another performative act amid the impossibility of ever getting off the grid. In this piece, I want to use the example of the Facebook Group to argue that opting out also involves a disavowal of crucial forms of vernacular culture and solidarity. Through collective, thematic riffing, Facebook Groups offer a crucial form of contemporary social and political experience.
Facebook Groups have a low barrier to entry–for example, one doesn't need to understand domain registration or hosting to build a large network. Domain registrar GoDaddy claims 51 million domain names, but there were some 620 million Facebook Groups as of 2010. More than a third of Facebook's active users participate in Groups; some Groups are public, while others require new members to be approved by an admin. Once in, Groups facilitate communication among members via messages and posts, which may also be moderated. Groups are often established around particular topics, which are can be wonderfully specific: see, for example,"Medical Fashion Quarterly" and "Simpsons Shitposting," and a trove of Groups compiling aesthetic categories including the internet-of-things inspired, "HOMECARE AESTHETICS: Environment and Object, offspring of "CORPORATE AESTHETICS: Environment and Object," that bring iconic anomalies and internet garbage to the kitchen table of your feed so you don't have to waste time in Google image search.
The tech world calls these micro-media environments "communities," as it does many things. The most interesting Facebook Groups are often collective efforts; highly organized spaces that facilitate structured randomness. Take "Cool Freaks Wikipedia Club," a Group of about 35,000 members that has achieved cult status, with around 35 additional splinter Facebook Groups, and that was recently featured at Adrian Chen's Brooklyn live-presentation series IRL Club. Cool Freaks' theme is the re-posting of obscurantist Wikipedia articles, drawing members who enjoy a specific type of media consumption– going down "Wikipedia holes"– clicking from one interwiki-link to the next in search of joy-inspiring esoterica. These kinds of Groups are as vital to the culture of our time as any book or magazine.
Not incidentally, the Cool Freaks Facebook Group has been innovative not only in its choice of topic, but also in its establishment of ground rules on identity inclusion and language and its strict banning policies for "furthering / arguing an oppressive mindset (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, et cetera)." A recent blog post by Sally N. Marquez, "Week Two: Communication in Digital Spaces" contextualized Cool Freaks' Rules as exemplifying how Groups use "mediated communication in order to enhance a specific type of social interaction, as well as build and reinforce social structures." Cool Freaks' ground rules speak to the power of the Facebook Group to foster intentional, inclusionist practices.
Ben Wilson, one of the moderators or "mods" of Cool Freaks Wikipedia Club Facebook Group, tells me via email:
The moderation and rules cater to the disenfranchised as opposed to less moderated communities. This has been the guiding principle behind our moderation team as we do not want to suffer the same problems of other Groups. While publications like Vice have called this "fascist hypersensitivity," we remain firm on this position… While the size of the Group builds into a spectrum of political engagement whether online/off—or direct action and other forms, the online forum allows us the chance to bring central issues to the forefront as Leelah Alcorn and Ferguson unrest via the pinned post option… The Facebook Group offers us the opportunity to give back to the community whose core membership leans towards the radical left besides a prominent number of the moderation being activists themselves.
Cool Freaks shows that even a seemingly frivolous Facebook Group may be as much about solidarity-building and collective self-governance as it is about playful, weird content. Amid the failure of Facebook alternative sites like Ello and Diaspora to realize viable alternatives despite significant enthusiasm (and capital investment), Facebook Groups have led to more formal efforts to organize or lobby, and have played an important function in raising political awareness—all this, despite the burdens placed on users by the corporate platform they use.
The "New Platforms" Model
I'm feeling fatigued by the repeated attempts of alternative media to "build new platforms" over the past few years, always seeming to posit that our current sharing platforms are not good enough, or not radical enough, and that more platforms are needed. But the creation of new digital platforms is not necessarily synonymous with empowerment, and may instead splinter existing groups into a confused multiplicity of channels usually characterized by a high barrier to entry or lack of discoverability.
Are platforms publics? Conversations defining the public sphere in the context of contemporary mass media production might help answer this question. Jürgen Habermas identifies the public sphere as a historical condition emerging in the late 18th century, spurred by the merger of state and private life under capitalism concurrent with the abolishment of feudal states. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962) describes how capitalism's rapacious reach further into the private, social sphere is responsible for the transformation of the traditional forms of political expression that took place outside the home, into a participatory media landscape characterized by literary cultural/sociological exchange among competing constituencies, which vie for representation. These constituencies stretch into the most private aspects of our social lives in a way not possible under feudalism. In this way, contemporary publics are tethered to evolutions in free speech, where developments of discrete media platforms constitute our most viable forms of representation and expression even as they are entwined with co-opting technologies.
Geert Lovink has drawn from such canonical approaches to explore the creation of alternative publics through internet-based media activities informed by radical, theoretical frameworks, and their subsequent canonization. The noun and adjective "tactical media" describes such alternatives to mass media, where the strategic use of media to intervene in the oppressive, corporatized technologies of the majority, represents a radical approach. Lovink is co-founder of the new media mailing list <nettime>, founded in 1995 at the Venice Biennale. <nettime> is a moderated discussion with a more decentralized approach: most messages are written by participants, and moderators play a minimal role. The list of rules sent to new participants is much looser than those of the Cool Freaks Wikipedia Club; <nettime> moderator Pit Schultz once noted that "The less the moderator appears the better the channel flows." <nettime> is a space of consensus-building and the structured inter-pollination of ideas; it assumes a shared sense of purpose on the part of its users that public Facebook Groups generally do not. The list is quite careful to use like-minded organizations for its server space, ensuring that a hosting service will not exercise censorship.
Along these lines, one argument for the creation of new platforms would be that platforms created by corporations like Facebook or Gmail prevent the kind of autonomous, organic, social organization that characterizes the public sphere at its best. Then again, the "public sphere" has never meant unadulterated, uncensored speech for all, outside of existing social structures. Communication and connectivity exist under gendered, colonial surveillance reinforced by unsympathetic administrative protocol, pre-dating the internet. Full participation in the public sphere is dependent on citizenship, which is itself deeply enmeshed in xenophobia and policing. Citizenship attaches endless paperwork like the Social Security Number Card and the Driver's License to personage as a way of managing bodies to make them more readable by the state. These numbers, increasingly required in everyday transactions, double as state tools: to target and deport illegal and unregistered immigrants, to accumulate pre-emptive police intelligence, and to surveil.
Mailing list-based tactical media projects rely on the corporate, populist technology of email (and often the Google environment) to foster critical perspectives of the very platforms in which they disseminate information and vie for representation. For the <nettime> mailing list's 20th anniversary, its hosts sent around an April Fools message playfully suggesting that it would be shutting down; the message included a line that seemed to acknowledge an implicit elitism in its stance: "really, who cares what a bunch of straight white cis guys—which is 95% of the list's traffic—think about those things? Really." Of course, <nettime> has not shut down, and continues to host an active, vital discussion much as it always has, but the joke was an acknowledgment of the barriers to access that shape putatively open online discussions such as <nettime>.
Responding to the increasingly omnipresent Facebook, recent years have seen several notable attempts by institutions to build their own software-driven platforms for online conversation away from the platform. Rhizome was a pioneer in this, shifting in the mid-2000s from a mailing-list centered model to a blog with comments and profile pages, almost a quasi social network that mirrored Facebook saturation.
A critical viewpoint could also construe this gesture as an institutional strategy to resist critique by subsuming it. e-flux Conversations isn't a Facebook Group because its wants to avoid the many constraints of that platform, but essentially functions as a familiar mirror of Facebook's conversation style. In this way, it presents the problem of duplication, contributing to the contemporary problem of having to many platforms to choose from to post an idea, which usually results in laborious cross-posting.
e-flux Conversations and <nettime> represent two kinds of alternatives to the dominance of the Facebook Group; there are many more. The argument on behalf of such alternatives is clear: when communication is monopolized–as it is on Facebook—users cede significant control. Some of this control may be clawed back by using platforms and e-mail hosted with non-profit organizations, which at least make regulation and surveillance a bit less convenient, or using software platforms developed by for-profit organizations with compatible values.
Meanwhile, a 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 64% of adults use Facebook, while 30% of Americans use it as their primary news source. Its scale and omnipresence make Facebook Groups an ideal environment for vernacular culture as well as consciousness-raising and political organizing. Embracing Facebook and its corporate aesthetic doesn't have to be read as giving in, or as an accelerationist acceptance or even pursual of corporatization. Rather, in spite of seemingly insurmountable barriers like corporate centralization, solidarity and resistance can be, and are perhaps most likely to be, forged from within the very structures that seem most totalitarian.
The Anti-Facebook meta-discussion on Facebook
These days, Facebook's publics are responsible for "loading the canons" of the political subconscious, and we must be delicate in not dismissing their cultural value. Orit Gat in her recent Rhizome essay, "Has the Internet Changed Art Criticism? On Service Criticism and A Possible Future," argues that crowdsourced criticism "messes with predetermined economic structures, especially in the art context: scarcity." But it also produces some exciting new ground as the smaller, granular levels of conversation become fodder for the public sphere.
On February 17, 2014 I started my first Facebook Group: Immaterial Digital Labor. Having recently read Tiziana Terranova's 2003 essay, "Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy," it started as just a status update:
I started the Facebook Group partly as a web of disseminating critical writings with a critical, activist agenda springing from Terranova's paper, but also partly as a social experiment. It became evident early on that the Group was built with a sense of irony, insofar as it sought to call out discrete, and sometimes minute, new forms of labor embedded in its very platform of choice. But perhaps the irony is not unique to activist link-sharing on Facebook, or by mailing list, or any of the mediums through which we might attempt to speak in the present day, so much of which is subject to considerable surveillance, click-mining, and digital labor, no matter how precautionary one tries to be.
Irony must also be embraced as Facebook becomes the cultural lexicon for serious political and theoretical organizing. Facebook Groups allow for the formation of critical and engaged publics through the sharing of links and the forming of definitions for patterns in the media. We might be better off focusing on the strategies of solidarity endemic to its space, recognizing the irony of the situation in which creativity and modern-day organizing often take place, than being seduced by the escapist rhetoric of dismissal.
Dorothy Howard is a writer and internet researcher based in Brooklyn, New York. @DorothyR_Howard
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies. (This post contains nudity.)
Adham Faramawy, Vichy Shower (2014)
I've always been interested in the way material tensions are handled in your work, wherein great haptic spillovers or leaks actively confuse the natural with the synthetic. In Vichy Shower (2014) for example, you employ contrasting material densities. A model drinks mineral water in a parodic demonstration of refreshment; later, we see a pair of hands moisturizing with a digitally enhanced, absurd and all-consuming slime. It's a quick slip from Evian commercial to a kind of Cronenbergian symbiosis. Do you see these natural materials and digital simulations operating in contrast with each other, or in some kind of mutual continuation?
I like how you've phrased this question; it's florid but makes me feel trapped - as if I need air, almost as though there's no exit. Maybe that's my fault in that that's what the videos offer, as if we're in a room filling with viscous material - it's running down the walls and the doors are locked.
I guess I should answer both at different points? Contrast and continuation don't on the surface seem to be mutually exclusive options. In a way, I suppose what's important is that although there are continuations that stretch even beyond the confines of each work, it's often the case that I include aspects or conditions that ensure the simulation fails; it's that failure or friction that's often the most generative aspect.
Maybe the word "simulation" is a problem in the context of my videos so far. In a naive way, although the post-production describes or stems from a description of existing materials, I often see the images firstly as objects and secondly in some sense as propositions. They behave in multiple ways at once, or maybe sequentially. These images describe materiality while also delineating their own material presence and, by extension, that of the viewer.
Maybe that's convoluted or even a little conceited!
I don't think it's conceited. I'd agree that the videos frequently suggest claustrophobic conditions through their depiction of submersion or liquid envelopment, but it'd be too easy to read these factors as simple metaphors for, say, "digital immersion." I guess what I'm hinting at is the way your work seems to smear or blend any simple binaries into more complex relationships. That's where the interest lies for me. Could you tell me something about the process of working with live bodies? What happens when those bodies are subject to some of the processes you employ in post-production?
I like that you've gone "straight there." I totally agree - the idea of setting up a binary between digital and organic could be somewhat simplistic, but yes, I hope setting up those material frictions points towards more complex relationships - material, haptic and optic.
I've found Laura Marks's writing on haptic viewing in her book Touch offers me a few useful tools and textures to help organize my thoughts and delineate my position regarding the production of moving images:
The haptic image indicates figures and then backs away from representing them fully, or, often, moves so close to them that for that reason they are no longer visible. Rather than making the object fully available to view, haptic cinema puts the object into question, calling on the viewer to engage in its imaginative construction. Haptic images pull the viewer close, too close to see properly, and this itself is erotic.
Tellingly, that quote is pulled from a passage on pornographic images, a type of image that I'm often invited to define myself against. This passage not only debunks or at least confuses that reading of my work, but also offers some insight into my use of a shallow depth of field and visible edits to highlight or bring to the fore ideas about the image as object and about the image within an object, seeing the use of monitors as a form of embedding images. This allows me to consider screens as sculptural, or as components of a sculptural assemblage.
I guess in a way it begins to answer your question on what happens to bodies that are subject to processes of post-production. I suppose they become embroiled in a complicated or vacillating subject/object relationship which is dependent on the viewer's approach and the viewing conditions of the work.
I want to ask you about health cultures and cynicism. I don't think you're cynical. In fact, I'd suggest a lot of your work seems to move in the opposite direction, almost euphorically extending the promise of some of these rituals of bodily self-preservation via technological means, and regardless of whether or not you believe them to be effective.
I'm not cynical at all. I'm really prone to falling for the tricks adverts play. I respond, performing for the image in exactly the way I'm expected to. I enter and exit the diagetic space an advert constructs, taking the least resistant route. I then realize I'm being absurd and laugh at my own simplicity.
This almost over-identification with commercial images has so far been a useful critical strategy for me. Sometimes I feel like it's a desperate strategy, because it’s precarious and relies heavily on the viewer's foreknowledge.
It can be a risky strategy as I can become complicit in asserting and perpetuating a strategy of production and dissemination that I'm attempting to question, and this can be troubling.
Under certain conditions, over-identification can be the only option for critical engagement, allowing you to push the operation of an image until its operation is not only visible, but cracks.
Adham Faramawy, Total Flex (2012)
I remember seeing people engage with your film Total Flex during Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA; they were actively moving to the series of exercises performed in the video, being quite creative with their responses. It made me realize that your works make a certain appeal to the body of the observer. Violet Likes Psychic Honey 2(2013), your sculptural video installation, does something similar with its in-built speakers and infectious music. I wondered if you could talk about this appeal - how certain forms of embodiment might provide appropriate grounds for responding to the work.
That's very funny - were people really exercising along with the performer?! I wish I'd seen that.
Priming the viewer's approach to a work is important to me. With the videos and sculptures, this mostly serves to highlight the viewer's own "look," or gaze; trying to call attention to what the viewer brings to the work and not taking a normative gaze for granted.
I consider how the viewer is able to move around a work and which are the optimum points in a room from which to view it. Working with screens and monitor-based videos gives the work a front and a back. Playing with that and with the objecthood of the monitor and the image on it can be fun for me, and it's also an important way of engaging with viewers.
Thinking through physical presence is pretty important to me.
I released my first app earlier this year. It's an augmented reality sculpture called Hi! I'm happy you're here!
The app asks you to register an image then tethers a digital sculptural object to the image on screen. The sculpture morphs over time and has footage embedded in its surface of performers perpetually turning, smiling and waving. I'm in there if you stick with it long enough.
Every aspect of the work calls attention to the viewer/user's physical presence. I've found that the way the piece works encourages certain kinds of motion and engagement, particularly as the physical site of the sculpture is located in the interface between the viewer/user's body and their device. For me, this reading of the work is an extension of the investigation into the linguistic and psychological slippage posited by the binaries set up in the performance videos.
To continue with that interest in the body of the viewer, I'm wondering how the act of dissemination figures in your recent works. For Hyper-Real Flower Blossom (2015) you engineered the 'essence' of a favorite J-Pop YouTube video as a perfume. For me, the work suggested the migration of online content through olfactory diffusion whilst hinting at some kind of symbiotic interface between the video and the wearer of the scent. Similarly, Slimeface Emoji (2015), a downloadable program produced in collaboration with Terry Ryu Kim and launched recently at tank.tv, locates the face of the viewer and obfuscates it with an animated torrent of green slime. Would it be right to say you use media distribution as a kind of playful contamination, testing the thresholds and proximities between bodies and screens?
Adham Faramawy, Hyperreal Flower Blossom (2015)
Adham Faramawy, Hyperreal Flower Blossom (2015)
Thanks for asking this question in this way, because yes, the viewer's body fascinates me. The Hyperreal Flower Blossom perfume, for me, was a 'translation' of a video of a Vocaloid dancing in a garden. The scent smells like summer. In developing the perfume, I was thinking about the physicality of the Vocaloid; considering how fans produce those bodies and questioning how those bodies are disseminated and displayed. How does the Vocaloid's body occupy space? Vocaloids are an unstable performance of aggregated identities occupying multiple contested sites simultaneously. These ideas of occupation of space are conflated with issues of authorship (re ownership) and their usage as avatars and the relationship that creates with the user's body. This is a complex, precarious form and I find that compelling.
I approached the perfume as a sculpture - a presence without a body. I hadn't fully understood or even considered the implications of how it might transform the user/wearer's body. I don't really know what it does yet, as not enough people have worn it. Get some from Studioleigh.com and you tell me!
I'm really fond of the image of migration from the digital video into scent, but really I've been talking about it in terms of translation and slippage, which I think is slightly different in that it doesn't make the same claim of a transmission.
Adham Faramawy, Slimeface Emoji (2015)
This video screen capture demonstrates the facial recognition program I collaborated on with artist Terry Ryu Kim. The soundtrack is a separate track that was included in our sculptural installation of the program at the tank.tv space in London.
Slimeface Emoji has a different relationship to the body. It's a facial recognition program. Terry and I installed it as a sculptural installation with sound at tank.tv.
For me personally, this work came from the research I did with Cecile B. Evans for the Royal Academy symposium event we organized together. It was an attempt to work through the shifts in digital photography, moving away from claims to indexical representation and understanding that other forms of processing are now involved in in the production and dissemination of digital images.
I live really far away from my family and the way I work means I don't see friends in person all that often. I spend a lot of time video chatting and I suppose in a way that both Slimeface Emoji and Hi! I’m happy you’re here! are responses to the ways I need to mediate myself to form and maintain relationships.
I think that for both Terry and I, Slimeface Emoji was an attempt to think through the ways in which computer vision might affect the production, performance and mediation of emotion, so the interface with the viewer's body here was key.
Adham Faramawy, SlimefaceEmoji! (2015)
Age: Oh honey no.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I began experimenting with technology in high school. I recorded performance footage on Hi8 tape and edited on Premiere.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I studied art at the Slade (UCL) and then did a post-grad course, also in art, much later at the Royal Academy Schools - both in London.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I'm a sculptor. My previous jobs were varied and mostly pretty crummy. They range from washing dishes, selling used clothes and assisting artists to office work and light domination. There's more, but you get the idea; in the past I worked a lot of different jobs to make ends meet.
What does your desktop or workspace look like?
I'm fastidiously tidy and only just upgraded the Mac to Yosemite so I haven’t made the space my own yet, but here you go. It's the area around the computer that's really interesting, but I won’t show you that!
A new exhibition by writer/artist/publisher/technologist James Bridle, "The Glomar Response," is on view through September 5, 2015 at NOME, Berlin. Here, Bridle discusses the exhibition with Fiona Shipwright.
James Bridle, Fraunhofer Lines 001 (Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program) (2015). Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de
The title of the show is "The Glomar Response"—the official term for the response that one can "neither confirm nor deny" a particular fact. What do you find compelling about this term?
What I find so extraordinary about the Glomar Response is its spread. The fact that this thing—which was developed by the CIA at the height of the Cold War to disguise a top-secret operation to retrieve nuclear misses from the bottom of the ocean—is now a standard part of the vernacular of your local council. But it's also interesting because within that response is this kind of deep ambiguity of these knowledge forms; there's the danger of overloading the visible/invisible idea, the notion that "I've made this all transparent and possible for you to understand," because that assumes that it is even possible to do.
That is the underlying basis for these kind of technological forms of knowledge, this kind of data ontology. It's the same principle that surveillance relies on, the idea that "we'll just keep on gathering information, then we'll know for sure," that some absurd level of truth can be reached. At that point the Glomar Response actually almost feels like a kind of honest response to the genuine complexity of the world, that's now undeniable. Or rather it should be undeniable but we keep trying to generate these simplistic stories out of it.
This exhibition is structured around technological investigation, specifically this weird knife-edge between how technology obscures but also reveals—once you have literacy to read it. That balance is something I am constantly fascinated by. The work in in the show is also about limits; whether it's the limits of transparency, the limits of investigation through technological methods, the limits of visualization as means of representing data in a useful way, or the limit of what you can know from data alone, which is kind of the thing that I really want to get into understanding and critiquing.
"Unseen" can just be another word for "overly complex." There's also the question of what form of "unseen" is it? Is it unseen because it's quite literally invisible or is it because it's something that takes on the texture of the rest of the world? Or is it because it's just so deeply embedded into these technologies? Whilst I like the very literal "artness" of throwing paint over the invisible man, making something visible is also just bringing criticality to bear on these things, isolating them and discussing in such a way that means we can actually have a conversation about them.
James Bridle, Seamless Transitions (2015). Animation by Picture Plane. Commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
For Seamless Transitions you used freely available archival material to create architectural visualisations of the "unphotographable" spaces of the UK's immigration detention and deportation apparatus, but they arguably tell far more than any static photographs could. Are we past the point where a "no photos" rule is enough to keep something out of sight?
The subject matter of the Seamless Transitions piece is not even at the highest level of concealment. If I wanted to do the same thing and create visualizations for installations on Diego Garcia [a US military base and one of the geographical subjects of the Waterboarded Documents series, which features water-damaged evidence relating to a CIA black site that may have been used for waterboarding], whilst it would certainly not be impossible because there are satellite images, there wouldn't necessarily be things like the actual architectural floor plans available.
James Bridle, Diego Garcia (Waterboarded Documents 001) (2015). Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de.
But what that makes clear is that the limits to what we can see now are not determined where you can physically get to yourself: it's largely determined by what you're interested in. The thing that's stopping us seeing this stuff is a lack of interest. You can see every point on the earth's surface in Google maps but it still requires someone—either by chance or with a particular interest—to come along and say, "I need this bit" and to make sense of it.
Now you can see everything, what do you want to see? Or conversely, if it's all there, then why haven't we seen this? A lot of my projects are about filling in an image gap where one exists because that usually points to some kind of process of occlusion.
There's one work associated with the show which we don't see displayed: Citizen Ex, a browser extension that maps one's "Algorithmic Citizenship"—how you appear to the internet as a collection of data and the "real" consequences of that. The word "citizenship" often has connotations of democracy and participation, but in your project it has a more ambivalent status. Can you talk more about this?
I am uncomfortable with that aspect of Citizen Ex, for many reasons. I don't want to enact citizenship online. I don't think we should base new forms of identity on the nation state—the project is an articulation of one idea, and whilst it's not the one I necessarily want to see in the world it is a reflection of the way things are being constructed today.
When the question is asked, "why is surveillance is bad?" one of the reasons is because of the limitations it puts on individual expression—and there's no more obvious example of that than how the early net functioned. It allowed one to experiment with one's presentation of self, and that's just being stamped out on the larger platforms where people now operate. Preventing surveillance in the corporate context prevents advertising, targeting and money; that which is necessary for capitalism to function online. And that's the image that we've increasingly built the web in.
Joe Hamilton, Indirect Flights (2015). Screenshot, detail.
Indirect Flights (2015), an online work by Joe Hamilton with sound by J.G. Biberkopf and support from The Moving Museum, blends satellite images, organic textures, brush strokes, and architectural fragments into a dense panorama accessible via a Google Maps-like interface at the website www.indirect.flights. Rhizome's summer fellow Heloïse Cullen talked Hamilton about the project via email.
Navigating through indirect.flights I had a feeling of walking on the streets, smartphone on hands. I also felt a distance from actually being surrounded by natural landscapes (which for me is rather sad). The layers that show nature seem distant from a human—immersed—point of view, satellite images, mostly layered in the far bottom layer, watched while I navigated listening to urban sounds.
I can see how you felt a distance to the elements of nature in the work. The piece is rather dystopian when looked at in a certain light. Many elements are forced in the frame, overlapping and fighting for their own presence. A lot of the visual material is weathered and messy although still very high resolution and crisp. I didn't set about creating a piece about dystopia but It seems appropriate that some viewers could read it as such.
I sent the indirect.flights link the other day via SMS to a friend who was asking "what's net art?" and I was surprised to notice it works really well on mobile. A lot of net art doesn't work that well on mobile—was this a specific decision on your part?
It was super important for me that the work function well on mobile. To start with I think it's meaningful for some viewers to experience the work in transit on a touch screen. The work is navigated in a way similar to online maps and mobile has become the default way of using a map now. Secondly, people are increasingly accessing the internet through mobile devices so it's just good practice for anything put online to be optimised for mobile.
You’ve said that interfaces are "pivotal in shaping communities online." How do map interfaces, which you reference with indirect.flights, shape communities, especially since they’re so often used as we travel through what used to be thought of as "offline" space?
Online map interfaces are an authority on where, how and when we move around and that must contribute to shaping communities. I use maps not only when travelling to new places but in the city I live. If I'm meeting somebody and I know exactly how to get to the agreed location I will still often use a map to estimate the time it will take to get there. Having such a tool makes us more efficient and calculated in our decisions of how to move around in the world.
Can you talk a little about your process? How did you select the source material, including the photos and map elements, as well as J.G. Biberkopf's sound recordings? Was there a structuring logic?
The Indirect Flights website is part of a body work that was started in 2014 and was centred around visiting many destinations in the Middle East, Asia and Europe to experience a vast array of landscapes first hand and collect materials for the new work. The first destinations were selected because of their unique natural or urban landscapes and then additional destinations were selected by dissecting the flight paths. This created an experience that was dependent on the network of airports and available flights. Travel infrastructure, border control and flight availability play a role in regulating the flow of people and their experience of the world just like the infrastructure and localized policing of the internet controls the flow of data, communication and the user's experience of the world. While visiting these locations I recorded my own photographs and video and also searched the internet for additional material. This visual material was blended, layered and combined in to the artworks for the project. For the Indirect Flights website I was drawn to the use of found aerial photography as a base for the work and then contrasting it in the foreground with my own close up photographs of raw materials and architecture. A mixture of micro and macro, found and recorded, personal and impersonal.
For the audio J.G Biberkopf created four unique soundscapes that combine detail Foley and atmospheric sounds. As the viewer pans across the work the audio tracks fade in and out depending on your location. I am honoured to have been initially contacted by Biberkopf who noted my previous artwork as an inspiration for how his practice with sound evolved. As I understand it, Biberkopf works with both found and recorded material much like I do.
Indirect Flights is embedded below, and can be viewed at www.indirect.flights:
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Michael Staniak, IMG_800 (2014; image courtesy the artist and Steve Turner, Los Angeles)
Can you describe your process? Specifically, how do you simulate the appearance of inkjet printing that is evident in works like IMG_800, where, encountering a work like this in person, we discover that what at first appeared to be a flat, printed surface is in fact a textured, pigmented one.
Using industrial spray guns, I layer many fine coats of atomised acrylic paint onto my textured surfaces. The stippling of the spray imitates the print dots created by an inkjet printer. To further enhance the effect of a flat print, several layers of paint are applied directionally, causing the texture to seem flat when viewed in person.
Do you find the process to be more important than the object? What is the role of the finished, discrete object for you? In a way, looking you up on artsy and getting a grid of jpegs of works in monochrome, gradient, and stone pattern styles might be the way that many people encounter and become familiar with your paintings.
It is also how I mostly encounter paintings and images in general - on Instagram, Google image search, etc. Seeing a work in person can be a different experience. Often, if I respond to a work, I will take a picture and view it on my device, to get a more realistic impression. As a consequence of the materials and methods I choose, my work consciously engages the viewer in a totally different way in person than on the screen, even though everything will eventually end up on a screen or online. I consider the finished work as a moment in my practice; something to be considered and valued as an object that will ultimately end up as another picture entering the stream of the internet. In a similar way, then, my studio practice is a stream of image making. I am making these finite moments out of a need to constantly create. I do not picture a finished piece as being dead; quite the opposite - when it is ready for display it has the potential energy not only to inform my next works, but possibly to influence other objects unrelated to my practice. In this way, once it is finished, displayed, documented and uploaded to the web, I enjoy observing the process of an audience disseminating and distributing images of my work - seeing where it all ends up.
Michael Staniak, IMG_853 (2014; image courtesy the artist and Steve Turner, Los Angeles)
What is the reference in the titles to file names, as in IMG_853, etc., which in turn often have parenthetical addendums? Do you actually design the works on the computer first?
Some of the works I pre-design in Photoshop or a CAD program, such as the PSD_, PNG_, BMP_ and STL_ series. In my more recent works, digital content plays a stronger role in production where I amalgamate both as a final outcome. However, for the IMG_ works specifically, I do not use a computer at any stage. The aesthetic quality of the work, in particularly the textures, colours and gradients, call to mind Photoshop effects and filters. However, that is the extent of the relationship between these very physical works and computer aided design. I mainly use the prefixes IMG, PNG, STL, etc. as a way of categorizing a particular series of works, while also allowing each piece a certain freedom or anonymity when shared online. The numbers are neither chronological nor meaningful, but they do distinguish one work from another - particularly for my own records.
Michael Staniak, DATA_888 (752GB) (2014)
Do you continue to work on all the series you have created since starting the body of work entitled IMG_ in 2012 (a horizontal way of working)? Or do you switch from series to series as you develop new ideas (a vertical way of working)? For example, what is the relationship between those works which use a modeling compound, such as the IMG and PNG paintings, and those made up of pulverized storage devices - the DATA paintings?
I would I say I work both ways. It seems as though I have a linear practice but I do revisit old ideas as well. I have always allowed ideas to evolve quite organically, and it is while I work that most ideas come to me. A particular series is never fully complete for me, and I think that a finished work is just a remnant of a constant practice, which can always be looked back upon for ideas in the future. Some elements of works do relate to one another, some do not. For example, aesthetically the IMG_ and PNG_ paintings are complementary, as the textures and effects are quite similar. Also, I see distinct links between the PSD_ series and BMP_ series where I have created subconscious gestures using my fingers, whether on the track pad or in my casting compound. From a conceptual viewpoint, the PNG_, DATA_ and BMP_ series each explore information preservation but do not look at all similar. In my mind, they do operate on a similar level regardless of the difference in form, material or process.
Michael Staniak, BMP_667 (2015)
Could you discuss some of the new ideas you are working through for your recent show in LA at Steve Turner? As an example, I can see in a work like BMP_667 that you have introduced imagery which, while still abstract, seems somehow more specific than the earlier color field IMG, PNG, DATA, etc. paintings, and even in comparison with the looping gestures of the PSD paintings.
The works you mention from my earlier series are a broader survey of the aesthetic effects that digital technology has recently had on painting. The exhibition "SOLID STATE" explores the different ways that digital information is changing the physicality of objects and also the way we preserve such objects or the information contained within them. The show includes paintings that use traditional materials, such as casting plaster and acrylic paint on board and canvas, and sculptures that utilise bronze and stone. This is a homage to the history of image and object making as it has existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The works also include in them elements of the digital - UV pigment prints, 3D scanning, machine routing and selective laser sintering. This combination of old and new reflects upon the times in which we live, and specifically the material qualities that are changing according to the relatively new technology and digital methods we impose upon our seemingly antiquated creative traditions.
Michael Staniak, "SOLID STATE" (2015, exhibition view at Steve Turner, Los Angeles)
Michael Staniak, "SOLID STATE" (2015, exhibition view at Steve Turner, Los Angeles)
Location: Melbourne, Australia
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
I would say that learning Photoshop 4 in 1996 was the beginning. However, focusing on technology as a conceptual departure happened around 2002, when I was studying for a Bachelor of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I did an MFA focused on painting at the Victorian College of the Arts, the University of Melbourne.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Previously, I was a professional tennis player, then tennis coach. In 2010, I founded Paradise Hills, a not-for-profit gallery in Melbourne. I am now a full-time artist and director at Paradise Hills.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
The 2015-16 English premiere league season kicks off on Saturday, and the National Football Museum will be collecting fan-made archives throughout the season using Webrecorder Beta. To suggest fan-made football Vines for the NFM archives during the forthcoming season, use the hashtag #footyvinesnfm.
Vines shown in this article are embedded directly from the Webrecorder Beta platform, and are not yet viewable on all browsers. Links to the original Vines are included in the captions, and the archived Vines can be seen in context in NFM's Webrecorder collection.
The National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.
The National Football Museum (NFM) holds the world's greatest collection of football (soccer) artefacts, with 140,000 objects in its holdings. As well as shirts, balls, photographs, paintings, and trophies, much of the history of association football in England has been captured within commercial media—typically print and broadcast, but sometimes more imaginative things like these "Goal Action Replay" flipbooks which were produced for the Daily Mirror newspaper back in 1972.
Daily Mirror Newspaper Flipbook (1 of 6) (1972). Vine courtesy of Emily Briselden-Waters.
The fans' "voice" is also represented through homemade memorabilia, banners and fanzines (of which the museum holds a collection of over 1000). Independent and often cut n' paste, these lo-fi publications produced during the 1970s, 80s and 90s embody fan humor, attitudes, and media of the day in a way which would be impossible to replicate in any other way.
Cover of Adams Family (Wycombe Wanderers) Fanzine, August 1995. Detail.
For the last couple of Premier League seasons, the "Football Vine" has become ubiquitous, continuing the lineage of fans re-appropriating existing media to tell their own stories.
Many of the fans' "films" take existing footage being broadcast (typically filmed on mobile phones directly from a television screen) and then re-interpret this through cropping, editing and adding a soundtrack. The short nature of the Vine format (around 6 seconds) lends itself very well to single moments in a game—often crucial goals and saves—but also moments of skill, controversy, and humor. Even the traditional print media have been making use of fan-generated Vines embedded within their online match reports as is demonstrated by this Telegraph report of Raheem Sterling's first game as a Manchester City player vs Roma. Football Vines are an important part of the story of contemporary fan culture, and therefore are relevant to the museum's collection.
This moment when Liverpool's Jordan Henderson appears to stare down Chelsea's Diego Costa became a major talking point and was shared thousands of times. Many people used this incident to discuss Henderson's credibility as a future Liverpool captain.
Museums which include contemporary popular culture in their remit have always had to make difficult choices with respect to what they can collect, as so much of the story they seek to tell is happening in the immediate present. With Vines, this is complicated by the fact that the interaction that plays out as a "Vine" is shared and circulated and this activity can be as important as the video clip itself.
Vines are perhaps best experienced within social media, where a viewer can participate in this process of faving and sharing. Unfortunately, this is not a viable collection strategy. Football Vines are often at risk of takedown because the legal territory surrounding this culture is unresolved (see: Is posting football Vines copyright infringement?). The timely sharing of key moments from games via Vine and Twitter led in August 2014 to a backlash from the commercial broadcasters and the Premier League citing piracy laws (since they own the commercial rights).
"You can understand that fans see something, they can capture it, they can share it, but ultimately it is against the law," said Dan Johnson, director of communications at the Premier League (according to a BBC report). "It's a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it, we're developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity... I know it sounds as if we're killjoys but we have to protect our intellectual property."
The suggestion that clips deemed to be offending will be taken down is apparently being followed through on, as Vines of important Premier League goals from the 2014/15 season are now hard to come by, with many having been replaced by the above "Oops! Couldn't find it" image. Those that do remain online often have peculiar adjustments to their color or aspect ratio, presumably making it more difficult for the copyright holder of the original footage from which the Vine is derived to identify the clip.
So as not to lose quite so much fan-produced media next season, I have been working with Rhizome's Dragan Espenschied and developer Ilya Kreymer (formerly Internet Archive) to try out their Webrecorder platform, which records all of the functionality of online activity within native platforms (rather than downloading mere screengrabs). The aim is not be to contravene copyright, but instead to document online behaviors (sharing, comments, edited imagery) which are intrinsic to the Vine platform and demonstrate online fan culture now, in 2015.
For now I have produced a little test to document a series of weird and wonderful moments from the 2014/15 Premier League season. They can be seen as captured and archived with Webrecorder, and are embedded directly from Vine in their individual glory below—unless, by the time you read this, they've already been taken down.
Suggested by Fearghal Cross, Brendan Shanahan, Edward Jenks, Rick Banks, Gregory Povey, Peter Martin and Nuradin Abdi. Thank you also to Loz Kaye (former leader Manchester Pirate Party) for advice/support in early phase of this project.
Tim Howard (Everton against Southampton):
Terry and Sterling:
Tony Hibbert skills Everton:
Nigel Pearson Scuffle:
Steven Gerrard sending off:
Jason Puncheon free kick (Crystal Palace vs Manchester City):
Leah Williamson penalty kick:
Wayne Rooney Celebration (cinematic):
Alan Irwin—Deadline Day #PurpleDildo:
Nigel Pearson Ostrich:
"Brian Potter" Phoenix Nights Blackpool Pitch Invasion:
Bate Borisov captain Dzmitry Likhtarovich taken out by cheerleader in Belarusian Premier League:
Serbia vs Albania Drone Flag:
This research was conducted as part of Out of Play: Technology & Football, a season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts at the National Football Museum, Manchester UK, and Collecting Cultures: Art of Football, an intitiative to improve the NFM's art collection.
Out of Play also included two other projects that featured ephemeral online media in a museum context: We Tripped El Hadji Diouf, organized by Jason Eppink, and The Time of The Game, by Jer Thorp, Mario Klingmann, Teju Cole.
Supported by public funding from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Whitney Museum artport has been an important institutional presence in net art and new media since its launch in 2002. Created and curated by Christiane Paul, artport features online commissions as well as documentation of new media artworks from the museum's exhibitions and collections. This year, artport as a whole was made an official part of the Whitney Museum collection; to mark this occasion, participating artist Marisa Olson interviewed Paul about the program's history and evolution over thirteen years.
Douglas Davis, image from The World's First Collaborative Sentence (1994).
Collections like artport are a rare and valuable window onto a field of practice that, in some senses, was borne out of not being taken seriously. From mid-80s Eastern European game crackers to late-90s net artists, the first people working online were often isolated, by default or design, and were certainly marginalized by the art world, where few curators knew of their existence and fewer took them seriously, advocated for them, or worked to theorize and articulate the art historical precedents and currents flowing through the work. Help me fast-forward to the beginning of this century at one of the most important international art museums. Many of the US museums that funded new media projects did so with dot-com infusions that dried-up after 2000. Artport officially launched in 2001; the same year, you curated a section devoted to net art in the Whitney Biennial. What was the behind-the-scenes sequence of events that led to artport's founding?
I think artport's inception was emblematic of a wave of interest in net art in the US around the turn of the century and in the early 2000s. This more committed involvement with the art form interestingly coincided with or came shortly after the dot com bubble, which inflated from 1997–2000, had its climax on March 10, 2000 when NASDAQ peaked, and burst pretty much the next day. Net art, however, remained a very active practice and started appearing on the radar of more US art institutions. To some extent, their interest may have been sparked by European exhibitions that had begun to respond to the effects of the web on artistic practice earlier on. In 1997, Documenta X had already included web projects (that year the Documenta website was also famously "stolen"—that is, copied and archived—by Vuk Cosic in the project Documenta: done) and Net Condition, which took place at ZKM in 1999/2000, further acknowledged the importance of art on the web.
US museums increasingly began to take notice. Steve Dietz, who had started the Walker Art Center's New Media Initiatives early on, in 1996, was curating the online art Gallery 9 and digital art study collection. Jon Ippolito, in his role as Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim, was commissioning net art in the early 2000s and in 2002, Benjamin Weil, with Joseph Rosa, unveiled a new version of SFMOMA's E-space, which had been created in 2000. This was the institutional netscape in which I created artport in 2001, since I felt that the Whitney, which had for the first time included net art in its 2000 Biennial, also needed a portal to online art. The original artport was much more of a satellite site and less integrated into whitney.org than it is now. Artist Yael Kanarek redesigned the site not too long after its initial launch and created version 1.1. Artport in its early days was sponsored by a backend storage company in New Jersey, which was then bought by HP, so HP appeared as the official sponsor. I think it is notable that sponsorship at that point did not come from a new tech company but a brand name that presumably wanted to appear more cutting edge.
Lisa Jevbratt/C5, 1:1 (1999)
Can you discuss the different functions of artport as they have evolved over the years, ranging from commissioning works and gatepages to exhibitions and archiving? How have these functions come together, or how have they shifted?
It's a great question since the evolution and focus of artport mirror shifts in net art practice and in the cultural landscape of the web over time. Artport consists of several sections, at least one of which has become an archive. In the late '90s and early 2000s, splash pages—pop-up landing pages from which the users could move on to the main content of a site—were a trend, so artport's "Gatepages" were originally conceived as either splash pages to an artist's website or new online project, but occasionally became elaborate mini-projects in themselves. Needless to say, splash pages at some point vanished—among other factors, they fell victim to the increasing use of pop-up ads and the consequent resistance to them and default blocking of pop-ups in browsers—so the Gatepages section effectively became an archive of an outdated format. I quite like the Gatepages archive for precisely that reason—it is not only an archive of mini-projects created between March 2001 and February 2006, but also a testament to the cultural vernacular of web expression at a certain time. Some of that early language of the web has become folklore and experienced a comeback; it is fun, for example, to look at Wolfgang Staehle's artport Gatepage from 2001 and compare it to the retro-aesthetics homepage of a "postinternet" artist such as Petra Cortright.
The "Exhibitions" section of the site has also seen cultural changes. It is both an archive of the projects that were included in on-site exhibitions of net art (the 2000 and 2002 Biennials, which had net art sections, and Data Dynamics in 2001) and of the "CODeDOC" exhibition, which was purely online. Content aside, the "Commissions" section of artport has not changed that much and commissions will continue on an irregular and ongoing basis. I very much enjoyed the process of collaborating with Tate on three commissions in 2006: Golan Levin's The Dumpster, Marc Lafia's and Fang-Yu Lin's The Battle of Algiers, and Andy Deck's Screening Circle. It just made sense to join forces at the time, and I liked the idea of an institutional network behind the commissions. It would be nice to see more collaboration between institutions in networked space.
In 2009, we started a new ongoing commission series called "Sunrise/Sunset," which consists of net art projects that temporarily take over whitney.org only at the time of the sunrise and sunset, in New York City. Rafaël Rozendaal's Almost There launched on May 1, 2015. Occasionally, web visitors arrive at the site precisely at sunrise or sunset and then write us e-mails informing us that our website is "broken;" I like the idea of giving artists an opportunity to literally take over the (online) museum space. At some point, Sunrise/Sunset no doubt will be another mini-archive of a discontinued format, similar to the gatepages, but I also see these archives as snapshots of a moment in the life of the web.
Website of RTMark (1997-). Screenshot c. 2000.
In a sense, artport has grown up parallel to the maturing of net art into what is now a highly diverse field of practice. For instance, it began in those bubble days just prior to the backlash against the term "new media" that is reflected in Lev Manovich's 2001 use of the term "post-digital" (channeling Rosalind Krauss's "postmedium"), the 2003 Tate panel you were part of entitled "When New Media Was New," the Banff Centre show curated by Sarah Cook & Steve Dietz in 2005, "The Art Formerly Known As New Media," and subsequent uses of the term "postinternet." What shifts have you seen in net art since artport's founding, and how are they reflected in the collection?
You're right, net art has evolved and changed tremendously over the past fifteen years alone, and some have argued that it has ceased to exist—at least as the "pure," exclusively online work experienced on your home computer that we saw in the 1990s and early 2000s. I would agree with the latter part. Net art increasingly became networked art, for example by branching out onto mobile devices and becoming available as an app that might work in conjunction with an installation or other offline components etc. These changes are embedded in artport's evolution. Some of the projects featured on the site have become apps, for example Scott Snibbe's Tripolar or The Battle of Algiers. As I mentioned, artport from the beginning documented exhibitions of online or digital art in the Whitney's galleries, but it increasingly became an online gallery space for commissions of net art and new media art, featuring Scott Paterson's and Jennifer Crowe's Follow Through (2007), a performative tour of the Whitney's collection that was accessible on mobile devices, or Will Pappenheimer's AR project Proxy (2014). Social media platforms completely changed the web, and commissions such as Jonah Brucker-Cohen's and Katherine Moriwaki's America’s Got No Talent, a visualization of Twitter feeds for reality TV shows, reflect that change.
The practice of many, if not most, artists who work with the digital medium today is extremely hybrid. They may create online projects but they might also do object-based art, paintings or sculptures that are deeply informed by or use elements of the net or its "language," which is what the term postinternet tries to capture. I have issues with the term since it postulates a temporality that simply doesn't hold up—we are by no means "after" the internet—but it still captures a very real and important condition, a fusion of the material and immaterial that is different from anything we have seen before. The Internet of Things and James Bridle's New Aesthetic are both expressions of that. (Sadly I now frequently see postinternet used as a catchy term for art made by anyone born roughly after 1985 or for a sensibility characterized by an uncomplicated reverence for fame and success.) Artport no doubt will morph once again to incorporate aspects of what we now call postinternet practice while still being on, in, and beyond, rather than post, the net.
John F. Simon, Jr., Every Icon (1997). Screenshot of software-based artwork.
Before you came to the Whitney you earned your PhD at Düsseldorf University where you wrote about Herman Melville and Thomas Pynchon, then wrote a hypertext companion to TS Eliot's Wasteland in the mid-90s; around the same time, you were founding Intelligent Agent, which in its first iteration was a paper-based, full-color, highly intellectual, highly regarded publication on art and technology. How do you see your own transition from fiction to the poetry of code and towards the media arts? You also continue to be one of the most prolific and rigorous scholars in the field, balancing curating, art historical research, criticism and teaching. I know you never take vacations. What does the horizon look like for you?
The path that led me, along with many other people, into new media art was research into theories on hypertext and networked reading and writing which gained momentum in the late '80s. One of the side effects of my work on Intelligent Agent was that I was frequently asked by museums and curators to consult on curatorial practices for new media art. It finally came to a point where I realized that I might as well curate and organize those exhibitions myself. My background in literature is definitely directly connected to my interest in code as a form of creative writing and in digital storytelling: I teach a course on Experimental Narratives at The New School's School of Media Studies where I am a professor. I am very interested in the new kinds of materialities we see emerging right now as our physical environment is infused by digital technologies and starts "waving back at us." As to what's on the near horizon: continuing to build artport and the Whitney's media arts programming; and I will have exhibitions opening at Borusan Contemporary in Istanbul in September and at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in December. And definitely more vacations.
After thirteen years in existence, artport has now been recognized with the status of a full-fledged collection, equal to painting or photography, within the Whitney Museum. Among other things, this endowed artport artists with the same legitimacy that the artists in the rest of the collection already had. (Indeed, it was fun watching everyone post their Lifetime Artist Membership cards on Facebook as they arrived in the mail and then seeing them all at the private opening of the museum's beautiful new building, finally feeling legit.) How would you describe the significance, within the Museum and within the international art community at large, of artport being recognized with this enhanced level of credence?
I think artport's new status as a special collection was a very important step for both the works featured on the site and the recognition of net art(ists) in general. The Whitney's curatorial team had in-depth discussions about how we would approach this relationship with the collection, which has significant ramifications for the ways in which we think about net art in institutional contexts.
There is a major difference between commissioning works and acquiring them for a collection. All of artport's projects were commissioned under non-exclusive licenses, meaning that the Whitney Museum has the right to exhibit them in perpetuity and hosts projects on its server, but that artists are still able to retain copies and show their works in exhibitions with a credit line stating that the respective piece was commissioned by the Whitney. The Whitney does not have exclusive ownership of artport projects, which brought up the question of whether we needed to officially acquire all of the pieces to bring them in to the collection. After discussions within the curatorial team, we decided that it does not make sense to "lock down" the works as acquisitions.
While I believe that net art can and should be collected—Rafaël Rozendaal's Art Website Sales Contract, for example, is a very sound model—acquisition didn't make sense for all of the artport projects. Many of the gatepages, for example, are artistic gestures that can easily be copied and appropriated by anyone. They are significant as artworks, but making claims for their exclusive ownership seemed like a violation of the characteristics of the net and the digital medium. We therefore chose to take a hybrid approach that makes artport an adjunct of the collection: all the works maintain their non-exclusive status but, at the same time, artport as a whole became associated with the collection. The "artport collection" is now given the same administrative purview as the Museum's collections. This means that all of the artists are treated as collection artists and that we are committed to preserving their work. Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the Whitney's Melva Bucksbaum Associate Director for Conservation and Research, has been very supportive of net art's preservation and has also spearheaded the conservation initiative devoted to preserving Douglas Davis' online project The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, which was donated to the Whitney in 1995, but remained the sole piece of net art in its collection until artport became part of it.
Bringing artport into the collection makes the statement that net art as a medium has the same status as traditional art forms. Not all of the artists that contributed to artport are exclusively "net artists;" they may also be painters or sculptors and work across a range of media. Bringing their web projects into the collection means that they are as important and collectible as a painting or sculpture.
Joel Ford for whitneybiennial.com, as seen in 2015 on Chrome for Mac. Photo: Heloise Cullen.
One story of whitneybiennial.com opens at the electronicOrphanage (EO) in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Founded in 2001 by artists Miltos Manetas and Mai Ueda, the now-defunct EO was once a small artist-run project space on Chung King Road, a pedestrian pathway dense with independent galleries and studios. Until its demise in 2004, the "Orphanage" remained a stark black cube, completely barren if not for a white screen where digital art was occasionally projected, typically when neighboring galleries hosted opening receptions over drinks. For the most part, the space was a kind of laboratory for a group of artists, curators, and critics with a shared interest in the computer and digital culture—the "Orphans." It was here, sometime in February 2002, that a plot to cybersquat the Whitney Biennial began to take shape. Or at least this is how Manetas, the project’s architect, remembers it.
"Orphans" at the electronicOrphanage, Chinatown, LA (2001-2004). Source.
According to Manetas, the idea transpired from his exchange with art critic and fellow Orphan, Peter Lunenfeld. Less than a month away, the Whitney's 2002 Biennial was the focal point of their conversation, in particular the museum's heightened curatorial interest in emerging internet art forms. This seemingly ordinary chat eventually segued into an ambitious plan: to stage a net art show as an online foil to the 2002 Whitney Biennial. In time, the project developed into a full-on counter-exhibition, which would be hosted on the website whitneybiennial.com and installed IRL as a physical intervention, where a fleet of twenty-three U-Haul trucks, projecting artworks from the website, would blockade the Whitney Museum during the private opening reception of the Biennial.
The electronicOrphanage, (September 2001). Photograph by Peter Brinson. Source.
Like most Orphans at the EO, the works eventually displayed on whitneybiennial.com were predominantly identified with the currents known as Telic and Neen. Neen and Telic were closely related but distinct art brands, both devised in 2000 by the branding agency Lexicon at Manetas's request. In his elliptic explanation, "nature is Telic while miracles are Neen." Telic was more serious, more predictable, and readily identifiable; its aesthetics were firmly grounded in the capitalist market, its products were familiar and reproducible, at times channeled in commodities. Neen, on the other hand, was somewhat inexplicable, impossible to pin down, hard to recreate; it described a cathartic sensibility generative of creative epiphanies and breakthroughs: an artistic affect rather than a practice. While the definitions were fluid, at least one thing about the terms can be said with some certainty: by integrating networked technology with commercial design, Neen and Telic artists bridged many of the political and aesthetic chasms separating tactical media from proprietary software, net art from high-end fashion, and, ultimately perhaps, internet counter-cultures from consumer capitalism.
Cover of Manetas’s book, Neen: New Art Movement (Edizioni Charta: Milano, 2006). Source.
Contrary to most net art trends of the 1990s and early 2000s, Neen and Telic involved an unabashed embrace of commercial technology and corporate culture—the former as a production tool, the latter as a conduit for political critique. More often than not, Neen artists produced deeply ambiguous works that, while branded like a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, were displayed as single-serving websites identified by Top-Level-Domain (TLD) websites hosting multimedia graphics inspired as much by video-games as by Prada and Balenciaga, frequently designed with Adobe Flash.
In one of the last installations at the space, the EO was transformed into a storefront where a phone number was projected onto a large screen, calling the number prompted a Neen artwork to appear on the storefront window. Source.
EO storefront screen displaying an artwork by Mike Calvert generated by anonymous phone calls. Source.
My research on whitneybiennial.com started last May, when I was asked by Michael Connor, Rhizome’s Artistic Director, to work on a piece Nate Hitchcock had begun writing. Michael gave me Nate's notes and a response from Manetas himself, a generously offered personal narrative that—though it was rife with pleonasms and hyperboles—I first took at face value. In retrospect, however, this was a naïve assumption: not because Manetas shouldn’t be trusted, but rather because I missed the work his story performed in the project. The more I read on whitneybiennial.com, the more I corresponded with curators and artists involved, the more variations on the history of whitneybiennial.com came forth. Eventually I came to see that this contested brand mythology surrounding whitneybiennial.com, oscillating between fact and fiction as it does, can be thought of as a crucial formal feature of the project. In the words of Benjamin Bratton, "It is in molesting the Reality Principle that [Manetas’s] work takes the greatest pleasure." Because I share Bratton's sentiment, it is worth going into Manetas's story in detail.
Lev Manovich, thisismybeautifuldomainonedayiwillbegonebutitwillremain.com (2003). Part of the electronicOrphanage net art collection. Source.
A Strange History of whitneybiennial.com
According to Manetas, whitneybiennial.com resulted from a series of serendipitous events taking place between LA and NYC through the course of February 2002. During their conversation at the electronicOrphanage, Manetas told Lunenfeld of his dissatisfaction with the Whitney’s selection of net art for the 2002 Biennial. His dismay appears to have been lodged in his perception that, by omitting Neen artists from the show, the museum had consequently failed to recognize it as an important and unique strain of web-based art at the time. Indeed, the artworks exhibited on whitneybiennial.com, most of which were designed with Flash, contrasted with the works featured in the Whitney’s 2000 and 2002 Biennials, which were often more technically sophisticated. When Manetas proposed curating an online counter-show, Lunenfeld suggested hosting it on "whitneybiennial.com," which, surprisingly, was available at the time. In a matter of minutes, the domain was registered to Manetas and the project was on its way.
Later that month, Manetas emailed Lawrence Rinder, chief curator of the 2002 Biennial, with an overview of his ideas. He claims that no more than ten minutes went by before Rinder responded enthusiastically, expressing genuine interest in the project. The following morning Manetas was on a plane to New York City.
That day, Manetas met Rinder in the Whitney’s iconic Breuer building on Madison and 75th. Looking out from his office window, Rinder drew Manetas’s attention to an empty Chase Bank branch across the street: "I can help you to get permission to exhibit the internet art over there. You can install a few computers and monitors, maybe a projector."
After considering Rinder’s proposal for a moment, Manetas remembers replying with a frenzied sort of politesse: "Thank you, but making a Salon des Refusés 2002 is not exactly our intention. We have our Space: it is the internet itself, larger and a lot more powerful than the Whitney." Looking through the same window in Rinder’s office, Manetas saw a U-Haul truck parked opposite to the empty Chase branch and, within seconds, came up with an extravagant, off-the-cuff plan to stage his show as a public installation. "We are going to use 23 U-Haul trucks […] to surround your exhibition the day of the opening," he told Rinder. The U-Haul trucks would be transformed into large-scale, moving screens for the presentation of a selection of works, many by graphic designers, programmers, architects, and "Neenstars," curated by the likes of Alex Galloway, Lev Manovich, Marisa Olson, Patrick Lichty, and a host of other well-known figures in the net art world. As Manetas told Rinder that day: "The trucks will be looping around the Whitney tirelessly, each carrying a number of very special webpages."
While announcing his plan to disrupt the Whitney’s show, Manetas recalls leering at Rinder's collection of "obsolete" printed matter cluttering the curator's office, issues upon issues of Artforum and Art in America, which he interpreted as physical placeholders for the Whitney’s "antiquated" curatorial practice, tokens in the symbolic economy he was determined to defy. Before reaching for the door, likely with the allegorical magazines still in sight, Manetas turned to Rinder and said: "We consider webpages to be the real art of our days."
Miltos Manetas (2013). Source.
Lawrence Rinder (2013). Source.
The next day, Manetas describes being surprised by a wave of phone calls and emails that poured in from alarmed gallerists, curators, critics, and artist-friends, all counseling him against the U-Haul scheme. Matt Mirapaul, from the New York Times, allegedly fanned the flames by describing Manetas’s installation as "the Internet against the Art System."
For Manetas, the U-Hauls were never the point. The real aim of the counter-Biennial was to circulate works that he deemed important and representative of a marginalized trend in early-2000s net art, without necessarily being "net.art per se." His take on net art was quite particular; romanticizing Adobe Flash as a "creative bomb," Manetas was convinced that new internet art practices were emerging. If artists working in Flash were perhaps more readily overlooked by the museum sector because their chosen tool was associated with commercial culture, then a similar attitude may have been reflected in the Whitney's casual disregard of the similarly debased .com domain. "In a sense," Manetas writes, "it was Whitney itself that commissioned me to make an anti-show online, by failing to register its own .com domain." This was commercial web aesthetics positioned as outsider art, long before they became the postinternet mainstream.
Screenshot from whitneybiennial.com (2003 version).
On Tuesday, March 5 at 7:00 PM, the 2002 Whitney Biennial opened its galleries to invited guests and members in the Upper East Side. Onsite, not a single Neen U-Haul truck marred the private reception's high art gleam. Online, however, the counter-Biennial held its ground (and still mostly does to this day, despite the occasional missing plug-in). The 2002 version of the site, designed by carbonatedjazz (aka Alexander Chen), featured HTML tables with thumbnails or embedded .swf files for each artists. The works could be opened in full screen from there, or sent to a "turntable" (created by Michael Rees) where they could be overlaid and, yes, remixed, in true early 2000s style. In 2003, a new version was created for a CD-ROM published by the Italian Magazine POSH; this version placed the work in a navigable museum-like environment. Both iterations are carefully considered classics of the online exhibition genre.
Whitneybienial.com: History as Fable
Given the importance of branding to Manetas's practice, I reached out to a few other people involved in whitneybiennial.com to hear their stories. Quickly, the contradictions began to pile up. It is unclear, for instance, whether Manetas's encounter with Rinder, described with so much clarity and passion, was exactly as Manetas claims. At any rate, after I emailed Rinder asking about his exchange with Manetas, this is what he wrote back:
"None of that sounds familiar to me. I may very vaguely recall him saying something about a project with trucks but can't recall any details...I certainly did not contact the NYT." Larger screenshot.
Additionally, Patrick Lichty, a co-curator of whitneybiennial.com, says that Manetas contacted him about the project in December 2001. Meanwhile, Marisa Olson says she was invited to curate the show as early as November 2001; she was among the first curators invited to join the project and, in many respects, her recollection of whitneybiennial.com is an intriguing foil to Manetas’s story. "U-Hauls were part of the initial plan—as described to me by Miltos," she recalls. "From the very first minute," she continues, "[Manetas] described [his project] as renting U-Hauls [...] and having the back doors open, then projecting work onto a screen. Miltos was especially obsessed with artists working in Flash animations. He wanted me to roundup Flash artists. Then the trucks were going to circle the block projecting the work during the opening." Per Olson, the project was already underway, with the Neen U-Hauls as its centerpiece, several months before the meetings with either Lunenfeld or Rinder were supposed to have taken place.
Pointing out these contradictions only serves to demonstrate that storytelling played a role in the project. If the history of whitneybiennial.com can be read as a kind of net art fable, that's certainly not because Manetas or anyone else involved was purposefully malign or disnohest, but because the project itself was, and remains, a performative internet fantasy. As Olson remarked:
"Yeah. It is all a performance for Miltos. ;)" Larger screenshot.
Much of what is critical, even "radical," about the project stems from its more playful and performative elements. In Manetas’s own words, "when reality is not inspiring enough, you need to push it."
At the same time, though, when I asked Olson whether she thought of the project as a political intervention, she offered a pointed critique:
Maybe in its initial conception, but not considering what happened.... Here's what actually happened.... I busted my butt to reach out to 'Flash Artists' and get them excited to be part of this thing that was but wasn’t legit and was AT but not IN the Whitney Biennial. I promised them it would look the way they wanted and be handled professionally and be seen. And it was never seen. I was going to grad school in London at the time and couldn’t be present at the opening. I started contacting Miltos for photos, feedback, etc. Artists on the ground in NYC started complaining to me that they never saw the trucks, artists abroad were sending me panic emails.
Miltos was at first unresponsive, then said it was too hard to get the trucks and projectors, then he said he never meant to do it at all. Given the order of responses, I felt like it was an excuse and he was just trying to sound punk and cool, but that could also be a performance of its own kind?
Meanwhile, I started hearing rumors and started wondering what was true, what was generated, what was spun, when the rumors were set into motion in the first place... I heard that I wasn’t the only curator, but I never heard any other names or met anyone. I also heard that Miltos was in attendance inside the museum opening and that he had something like 5 guest passes (which is pretty baller) and that he was using them to sneak people in and out of the opening all night...
For me it was hard because I love providing access to ghettoized artists, but I felt pranked, the artists I invited were pissed at me (some for a long time) and I had no solid response, and in the end I felt a bit left out of the secret boys club.
Perhaps Manetas did not push reality quite far enough.
The Politics of Neen Aesthetics
As an intervention, whitneybiennial.com bears evident likeness to the tactics used by the Women's Art Committee (WAC) throughout the 1970s. The Committee sought to rectify the overwhelming predominance of male artists in the Whitney Annual by demanding that at least half of all artists in the exhibition be women. To this end, the group staged a series of artist demonstrations, sit-ins, and public installations—one of which was a slide show of feminist artworks projected on the Whitney’s façade. Additionally, Manetas’s counter-Biennial project draws on a similar, albeit more straightforwardly militant, online intervention against the Whitney Biennial by the collective RTMark. After being invited to exhibit their website in the inaugural net art section of the Whitney’s 2000 Biennial, RTMark not only auctioned their invitation to the private reception on eBay (which went for $8,400), but also opened their online exhibition space, on whitney.org, to anyone who wished to have their website displayed in the Biennial’s online gallery portal.
While whitneybiennial.com unequivocally draws on the institutional critiques staged by the WAC and RTMark, it is also categorically distinct from both. In fact, reading whitneybiennial.com with reference to the WAC and RTMark, or other similar art historical precedents, fails to convey what is particular to Manetas's intervetion, namely, its quintessentially "Neen" aesthetic. I find that in order to understand the political thrust of whitneybiennial.com, it is helpful to turn to the formal and conceptual elements that make it a Neen work of art, most notably, its ambiguous relation to postindustrial capital.
Building on Frederic Jameson's concept of the "double hermeneutic," which allows a work to be interpreted as both a reinforcement of and a challenge to asymmetries of power, Bill Nichols noted in 1988 that, to appreciate the political transformations in the modes of cultural production effected by cybernetic technology, cybernetics must be interpreted through a "double hermeneutic of suspicion and revelation." In other words, unveiling the political content of cybernetic art demands reading cybernetics in light of its "dominant tendency toward control" while appreciating, at the same time, its "latent potential toward collectivity." If, as Nichols suggests, a double hermeneutic is an indispensable tool for diagnosing the politics of artistic production within such dialectical systems as cybernetics or capitalism, then a similar ambivalent analytic framework should be no less useful for understanding the political matter of artworks created on the internet—whose deep-seated contradictions are numerous. Whatever the formal, technical, and conceptual merits or shortcomings of Neen art may be, its political efficacy finds its most biting expression in its ambivalent approach to the internet, one that is evinced in Neen's embrace of commercial design, proprietary technology, and corporate culture as fundamental components of online artistic production and critique.
From its very inception, Neen has been intimately and conspicuously interlaced with consumer capitalism. The term was in fact coined neither by art historians nor critics, but by Lexicon, a corporate branding firm responsible for creating many of the world's most famous brand names for such clients as Mercedes-Benz, Intel, and Apple, to name but a few. Combined, Lexicon's brands have generated over $350 billion in sales revenue since 1982. Given the company's financial success, it is hardly shocking that Lexicon charged $100,000 to re-brand contemporary net art, an amount paid in full by the Art Production Fund and venture capitalist Louis Marx Junior. More than merely coining the word Neen, Lexicon also identified the types of artistic dispositions that defined it. According to David Placek, Lexicon's CEO at the time, "'Neen' transcends art. It's more a state of mind than a form or school of art." Alongside "Neen," the company also coined the term "Telic" as a distinct yet related alternative to Neen. At the end of the day, however, it was Manetas's choice to purchase "Neen" as the "new name for art." To be sure, many of the mysteries surrounding whitneybiennial.com as well as the aesthetic specificities of Neen art are demystified by Lexicon's corporate philosophy: "The single most important value of a name is its storytelling ability." More importantly, a brand—be it Apple, Obama, or whitneybiennial.com—is only able to tell good stories if, and only if, it does three things: "Get their attention. Make it interesting. Tell them something new."
The term “Neen” was introduced in a conference held at the Gagosian Gallery in NYC on May 31, 2000. The panel comprised Yvonne Force (Neen project's producer), Manetas, Lunenfeld, David Placek (President of Lexicon Branding), J.C.Herz (writer and journalist), Steven Pinker (MIT Professor and writer), and Joseph Kosuth (artist). Source.
Since their nascent stages, then, both Neen and Telic were inextricably enmeshed in the logic of consumer capitalism, both aesthetically and conceptually. Expanding on Lexicon’s initial definitions, Manetas notes that Telic "covers pretty much everything that has to do with technology, [...] all kinds of cool and not so cool design[s], such as the Apple Computer but also IBM and Microsoft, fashion [labels] such as Prada and Calvin Klein." "Nike," he continues, "is Telic-goes-to-the analyst, Adidas is classy Telic," and "Italian Vogue is a Telic Fashion Miracle." Neen, on the other hand, is a "frame of mind" created in large part by new media technology, mostly video games, computers, and the internet; it is closely associated with Adobe and finds its commodity equivalent in apparel designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere for the high-end fashion label, Balenciaga. As such, commercial design and fashion—rather than technology, coding, open source software, or more overtly political forms of cultural production—appear to be the central references in Manetas's own definition of the very artistic currents framing his project. As a result, and in its capacity as an online branded performance, whitneybiennial.com is, like Neen and Telic, conceptually, technically, and formally indebted to corporate culture: from its use of narrative as an advertising maneuver to its reliance on commercial software as a design tool.
Rafaël Rozendaal, Falling falling, (2011). Source.
Commenting on the splash caused by whitneybiennial.com, Patrick Lichty foregrounds an important aspect of Manetas's practice: his use of the internet as a means to appropriate the marketing strategies and aesthetics of corporate or institutional brands, recreating them within his work. In certain respects, Manetas’s intervention in 2002 brings the more polemical aspects of Colin de Land’s curatorial legacy in dialogue with net art. De Land's provocative, though always humorous, defiance of the art market and its gatekeepers, as well as his interest in the politics and aesthetics of corporate culture as a vehicle for sabotaging both art and capital, are particularly notable. Much like the electronicOrphanage, a meeting place and studio for Neen scenesters, de Land's SoHo gallery, American Fine Arts, was another space where artists associated with oppositional artistic movements converged through the course of the 1990s, an "art world laboratory, hangout, and refuge," according to Roberta Smith. Both de Land and Manetas consistently transformed their spaces into sites for art protests through installations that sought to challenge the commercialization of art and the bourgeois ritual of opening receptions; while the EO often projected net art on its large white screen as a “counter-opening” while neighboring galleries hosted receptions, de Land allowed one artist to close his gallery for a month as a protest against the art market.
Brian McPeck, Lizzi Bougatsos, Spencer Sweeney, Souhi Lee, and Kembra Pfahler at de Land’s American Fine Arts (c May 2002). Source.
I found that reading whitneybiennial.com against the backdrop of Neen's political entanglements and anti-establishment references brings forth an alternative, and more compelling, answer to a pressing question: why the Whitney? If you recall from Manetas's story, one of his original explanations for targeting the Whitney was his dissatisfaction with its curatorial practice, more specifically, its selection of net artworks for the 2000 and 2002 Biennials. This is also how he justified the intervention to Olson back in 2001. "Miltos explained to me," Olson writes, "that he felt new media art and artists were being overlooked by the Whitney [...] and he wanted this project to raise visibility of these essentially 'outsider' artists by showing them outside of the museum into which they weren’t being let in."
As most readers involved with net art since the early 1990s can attest, the Whitney was one of the pioneering American art institutions of its scale to support net artists and curators in a sustained way. The museum’s early engagement with net art makes Manetas's choice to target the Whitney, as well as his dismay with its curatorial practice, all the more puzzling.
While its representation of net art practices was by no means comprehensive, the Whitney was, at that time, one of the few American museums seriously invested in bringing net art into its collection. Acquiring its first net art piece in 1995 (Douglas Davis’s The World’s First Collaborative Sentence), the Whitney was also among the first large-scale art museums to significantly incorporate such work into its curatorial program. In the year 2000, for instance, the Whitney devoted, for the first time in its history, an entire section of its Biennial show to net art. Two years on, in the 2002 Biennial, ten original artworks were exhibited online under the "net art" category, which was supplemented by a discussion panel, in collaboration with the "Netart Initiative," featuring all net artists in the exhibition. That same year the museum launched artport: its official portal to, and online gallery for, commissioned net art projects. Curated by Christiane Paul, the Whitney’s adjunct curator of new media, artport was (as much then as it is now) the institution’s central platform for the online exhibition and digital preservation of internet art.
Looking at whitneybiennial.com through the lens of Neen politics, though, the Whitney becomes less the target of Manetas's critique than its vehicle. The Whitney was an advertising vessel, chosen for its immeasurable value as a fine arts brand name and deployed as a means to establish Neen as a relevant, recognized, and accepted trend in contemporary art. Like a counter-cultural leech, Manetas capitalized on the institution's reputation, influence, and widespread popularity in order to promote his own curatorial agenda, while at the same time critiquing the institution's authority as an artworld sentry. In essence, what Manetas did to the Whitney in 2002, Art Club 2000 (under de Land's direction) had done to the Gap in 1993, Kenneth Aronson to Hell.com in 1995, and RTMark to GWBush.com in 1999. Like all these brands, "The Whitney Museum of American Art" and "The Whitney Biennial" were valuable brand names, which Manetas deployed strategically to, among other things, attract attention, publicity, and curiosity.
One common attack levelled against whitneybiennial.com is rooted in an interpretation of the Whitney as a target, rather than conduit, of Manetas's critique. Curt Cloninger expressed this position in 2004 as a response to Patrick Lichty: "My problem with this particular 'intervention' is that it doesn’t really dis the Whitney." As such, Cloninger’s "problem" seems to proceed from a misunderstanding of Manetas's goal, which was not to "dis" the Whitney, but to "use" it. Manetas took on the Whitney as a performative meditation on the institution's brand value, which he did by appropriating it from the outside, by cybersquatting the Whitney’s domain without the museum's consent. Cloninger concludes his own reading of whitneybiennial.com by arguing that RTMark's hack at the 2000 Biennial was a "much more focused and interesting conceptual tactic." This is yet another common move: to understand the political efficacy of whitneybiennial.com only in contrast to RTMark's intervention two years earlier. Even Matt Mirapaul of the NYT ended his piece on Manetas's counter-Biennial by crowning RTMark’s project as "the most effective commentary on the museum world's Internet aspirations," whereby "an exclusive domain became a populist website." Indeed, one of the reasons why RTMark’s project is seen as more "effective" (Mirapaul) or "focused and interesting" (Cloninger) than Manetas's appears to be, as Cloninger suggests, because the latter failed to be sufficiently critical of the Whitney. But, if the reaction of those targeted by institutional critiques are at all indicative of whether or not the project was "sufficiently critical" of its target, then it seems that the Whitney was as unaffected by Manetas as it was by RTMark. Maxwell L. Anderson, the Whitney’s director and one of the Biennial curators back in 2000, welcomed RTMark’s intervention, noting that "opening the site to submissions from the public is in accord with RTMark's concept, which is to provide an information brokerage—with limited liability—and public forum for Net activism." While I agree with Cloninger's and Mirapaul's praise for RTMark, I am not so much interested in assessing whitneybiennial.com as a more or less successful RTMark hack. What I am interested in is to think through the specific ways in which the formal and aesthetic (Neen-based) qualities of the project are fruitful avenues for reading whitneybiennial.com politically, in its own right.
Art Club 2000, Times Square/Gap Grunge 1 (1993). Source.
As finance and postindustrial capital overtook industrial manufacturing, the web provided companies with platforms—such as Top-Level Domain names—for enhancing their corporate branding strategies. The internet allowed brands to weave the use-value of their products as well as the lifestyle these commodities sustained into an accessible online narrative displayed in the company’s website. With the advent of e-commerce websites, advertising and sales became evermore connected. Unsurprisingly, TLDs and Adobe Flash were key creative tools in online branding strategies. This new corporate aesthetic, where material commodities, previously displayed as physical merchandise in storefronts, became virtually represented online as immaterial objects, was evident as much in capital as in art, a reality for the Gap and the Whitney alike.
Manetas was early to realize how profoundly this shift would also reconfigure artists' practices and rewire art's attention economy. For Manetas, the transformative potential of the web as a site for artistic creation and exhibition are found in two of its offerings: liberty for the artist and exposure for the artwork. "The Internet," he argues, "is for visual artists a platform to do their thing without making compromises and to show the output to the whole world. It presents an opportunity to move freely and to introduce one's work without the interference of gallery-owners and curators."
Even after whitneybiennial.com, the practices of branding, storytelling, and performance continued to drive Manetas’s artistic and curatorial endeavours. During the winter of 2002, he curated a group show titled Afterneen, featuring works by artists associated with Neen. The show opened at Casco Projects in Utrecht, The Netherlands on November 16, only to be mysteriously demolished two days later by what Manetas has called "a (digital) car crash."
Neen artworks from Manetas’s "Afterneen" show at CASCO (November 16 - December 15, 2002). Source.
A Google image search for the show yields digital photographs of a derelict office space packed with torn chairs, broken computers, and destroyed electronic appliances, alongside Neen posters and a glass door reading "CASCO." Given the specter of mystery that continues to haunt this exhibition, it comes as no shock that Afterneen builds on similar branding, performative, and mythmaking aspects of whitneybiennial.com. It is worth noting that the word "Neen," a combination of “screen” and "new," means "exactly now" in Greek. Moreover, if written in caps, "NEEN" is both a palindrome and a mirror-word, readable in all directions, including backwards and upside-down. As a palindrome and mirror-word, "Neen" elicits the experience of multidirectional movement; as a word in the Greek language, it denotes the present. Thus, much like Manetas's performative fables, the meaning and form of the word "Neen" challenge the linearity and temporality of historical narrative, the idea that facts can be recovered from the past, the natural ordering of chronology, and so on. In a similar vein to the Whitney intervention, Afterneen dabbled in a liminal and tenuous ontological space, at the vanishing point where hearsay meets evidence, history meets myth, and the internet becomes real. Like the U-Haul scheme, Afterneen tested the extent to which an actual exhibition could exist and cease to exist online—be constructed and destroyed materially through web-based narratives—without having necessarily existed physically.
Photograph from the opening of "Afterneen" at CASCO on November 16, 2002. Evidence that the show took place physically? Source
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
The fact that Manetas and other Neen artists were never given the Whitney’s seal of approval meant that whitneybiennial.com was faced with a considerable challenge: to show the art world that internet artworks made by graphic designers were just as valuable and relevant as those created by programmers and coders. Moreover, unlike RTMark and other net artists included in the 2000 and 2002 Biennials, artists involved with whitneybiennial.com did not necessarily adhere to particular tendencies and practices regnant among their contemporary net artists. While both Manetas and RTMark used web-specific tactics as a means to critique the asymmetries of power created and sustained by an institution such as the Whitney, only RTMark was able to deploy the cultural privilege of being affiliated with the Whitney brand name, since they were included in the Biennial. Manetas, on the other hand, was left to his own devices, having to appropriate the brand from the outside. It is no minor detail that, despite the movement's development within online cultures, Neen "is not 'net art,'" according to Manetas. In many ways then, if Manetas's intervention was in part meant to show the public and the Whitney that Neen art was an important and relevant web-based art form, he went about this goal by distancing Neen—technically, aesthetically, and conceptually—from net art. Perhaps the most evident distinction between whitneybiennial.com and other tactical interventions by net artists was in fact Manetas’s characteristically "Neen" embrace of corporate culture, which, as I stress above, is evinced in his preference for proprietary over open source software, his fixation in fashion labels, his fascination with commercial design, and, above all, his ambivalent approach towards the internet and late capital, somewhere between suspicion and revelation, as Bill Nichols so elegantly put it.
As the Whitney opened its doors to a select audience on March 5, 2002, Manetas says he stood at the entrance of the Breuer Building (or, according to rumor, inside as an invited guest) consoling disappointed artists and onlookers, reassuring them that his U-Hauls were actually present, but they were invisible. Much like the invisible cubes in Gino De Dominicis’s Second Resolution of Immortality (The Universe is Still), to whom whitneybiennial.com is dedicated, Manetas still holds that his U-Haul trucks were never meant to be seen, only heard as hearsay—as an entry in the probably meager annals of "net art oral history." But maybe Manetas’s fable, fantastic as it was, had a more concrete effect than eliciting terror and curiosity. By inscribing an immaterial art form within the physical space of his narrative, Manetas's project is also a crude and mythological meditation on the source of an art form’s influence and relevance, a commentary on the arbitrary value of physical objects in the context of an art world so profoundly organized by the financial and market-driven axioms of late capitalism. By foregrounding the extent to which an artwork’s "importance" is often enmeshed in the art object’s materiality as well as the physical space it inhabits, Manetas’s project reminds us of an old yet invaluable story about art's uneasy relation to the commodity form, its profoundly fetishistic allure, as well as its insidious and ambivalent ties to capital.
Commenting on the intersection between the physical and digital spaces of exhibition, Manetas remembers the events that led to the actual destruction of his Afterneen show through yet another, even more surreal tale. As the show unfolded inside CASCO, Manetas claims, a car operated in part by a human driver and a computer parking system lost control as the human operator became distracted while "making out with a young woman." The unruly car then accelerated into the gallery space, destroying everything in its wake. In the aftermath of Afterneen, no material remnants from the alleged show survived, not even the servers used to host the interactive "NEENWORLD" were spared.
NEENWORLD, designed by Andreas Angelidakis, was a virtual-reality environment where members of the Neen movement could interact with each other online. Source.
Andreas Angelidakis and Miltos Manetas, Chelsea, created on ActiveWorlds platform (1998-2000). "Chelsea was a virtual city for art and architecture, a 3D community that included artists, curators, architects, institutions and galleries. It was a world that we put together with Miltos Manetas, to experience the new sense of space that the internet was providing. Architecturally the challenge was to design buildings on the spot and in a way that they downloaded fast, and registered on the short attention span of the internet user. This produced buildings based on the existing Active Worlds 3D library, buildings that could register as quickly as a logo." Source.
Upon receiving this news, Manetas describes feeling "surprisingly calm and even relieved." "From the beginning," he recounts, "destiny was showing us that the space of the internet, is not to be mixed carelessly with real space, that we can host the internet in real space." If there is any hope for the "materialization" of web-specific environments, Manetas notes, it most certainly does not lie in the material, ideological, political, and aesthetic domains of the "exhibition," as traditionally conceived by museums and galleries. For Manetas, "The essence of the web must be experienced on its native domain." Yet, despite Manetas's own take on the curatorial politics of net art, whitneybiennial.com was never exclusively exhibited online, the native environment of it artworks. Even if the U-Haul plot never materialized, Manetas managed to expand the medium of whitneybiennial.com, over all these years, from an online exhibition to a living brand lodged in a surreal net art fable.
All in all, the most adamant testament that whitneybiennial.com was a critical asset for net art practice is that, amidst its many physical, "real-world" fantasies of Upper East Side meetings, enlightening conversations at the electronicOrphanage, U-Haul Trucks, threatening intimations, whimisical outbursts, unscheduled bi-coastal flights, and so on, the internet was, and remains, the only "real" and "true" residue of the project. The liminality and uncertainty of the performance are thus checked by the historical certainty and ontological tangibility of the counter-Biennial artworks, which live on in Manetas's own TLD website: whitneybiennial.com.
The first computer on the show (1,1).
Combining endurance performance art and media studies, artist Jeff Thompson captured over 11,000 images of the show Law & Order while watching the complete original series over the course of 18 months, often at an increased frame rate in order to save time. Through these images, he tracked the computer's changing role on the show from its debut as a static background prop to its starring role as the focus of characters' attention and the basis of plotlines. Those images have been published to a Tumblr on an ongoing basis since the launch of the project; the final post went up today.
Clunky monitors slowly move to the front of the desk (5, 89)
Computers on Law & Order was created per a Rhizome commission in 2012 — an apt time to analyze the ongoing interdependence of technology and daily life. As Thompson immersed himself in television drama's interpretation of the rise of the internet and the appearance of the Blackberry, real-world consumers were being influenced by appification and the mainstream prevalence of the cloud. The ability to “binge watch”—coupled with the power to stream comfortably with near immediacy—is what ignited Thompson’s initial interest in the project; after obsessive detailing and the creation of logical infographics, his ultimate findings sound like an anthropological study of American culture:
“Law & Order is an even more interesting cultural artifact than I could have ever expected. The show forms a unique database of images and speech, and one that reflects the fascinations, fears, and biases of its time. Law & Order's long run and its ‘ripped from the headlines’ content makes it a useful lens through which to look at a period of great political and economic change in the United States.”
In addition to the Tumblr, a curated book of image selections was self-published by the artist last year, along with an accompanying essay on Rhizome.
A still from Law and Order episode #456, 2010
A still from Law and Order episode #456, 2010
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
Two years ago, performance artist Signe Pierce and videographer Alli Coates staged a public intervention on the Myrtle Beach strip in South Carolina, a popular tourist spot. Concealing her face with a featureless mirrored mask, Pierce wore a tight blue mini dress and performed exaggerated, gyrating movements while walking through the streets at night through throngs of revelers. Coates did not intervene, instead passively recording the ensuing scene even as the safety of her partner was threatened. Earlier this year, the artists released a 14-minute "chopped and screwed" edit of the video on YouTube to an outpouring of public reaction. In the following conversation, Pierce discusses the work with writer and artist Alexis Anais Avedisian, Rhizome's spring Editorial Fellow.
I want to commend you for making a brave work that construes many related topics within current cyberfeminist discourses. To start, I felt your mirrored mask brought up parallels to privacy, in the sense that cultivated, crafted, and projected representations of the self are now rendered as trackable, malleable, and intended for public consumption. Feeling surveilled often intensifies our instinct to hide, yet every day we surrender our privacy to greater social, political, and economic forces.
Identity concealment poses a threatening question: is someone anonymous, possibly preconceived to be inauthentic, worthy of privacy? By putting on the mask, and claiming privacy through self-concealment, did your difference make you "less than human" in the eyes of the mob? As the "mob mentality" and its panic about your identity infringed upon your human rights, do you think that their fear was subconsciously related to a broader desire to be accessible and exposed on social media?
The nature of privacy during these still-early phases of the internet, and the notion of what's acceptable in terms of how we socially consume each other, is increasingly blurry. We've all been hanging out online for the past 8-10 years, and we've grown accustomed to feeling entitled to accessing other people's information. We watch each other on our various social media feeds as though we're TV, and in a sense, we are. We are the new TV. Through the scope of Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram, our individual realities play out like TV shows. Our posts are little "episodes", and our likes, favs, and follower counts are essentially "ratings".
When I meet someone who doesn't have a Facebook or social media presence, a number of thoughts run through my mind:
Are they a luddite?
What do they know that I don't?
I wish I had the self-control and willpower to have authentic experiences without needing to broadcast my minutiae online.
I think by asking these questions, I get a sense of how the people reacting to me in American Reflexxx felt. Everyone was desperate to figure out why I would be doing something that they themselves wouldn't consider doing; because they can't see my face, they automatically assume that I'm hiding something.
Online identity is a strange condition, because even if we choose to broadcast our lives, it is just as easy to revert to anonymity when we're sitting behind our screens. You can exist online as an avatar or an anon, but to do it in real life reads as a threat. I think I instilled fear in people.
The fact that it required the mob to push me down and see my blood to know that I was "real" is terrifying, but I think one of the scariest aspects is that only one person dared to accuse my actions as possibly being "pretentious high art." No one else thought to consider asking if it was art, which reinforces why it we did it in the first place. Art needs to live and breathe in the places that need it the most.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
Performing this work in public meant ceasing that kind self-control you mentioned through individual social media maintenance and catalyzing vulnerability within areas impossible to provide self defense. It's interesting here to think more about anonymity and invisible audiences in relation to internet harassment. We often feel like direct participants when we come across harmful threads or are made spectators to it in our newsfeeds. Negative interactions carry the potential to trigger very real emotional responses through associations to lived experiences, however direct or indirect the threat. Do you see the prevalence of internet harassment as a signifier of real-world oppressions, as harmful as it can be in physical reality?
Perpetuation of hate is rooted in people's subjective insecurities, with Reflexxx becoming a lived example. People were hurling bottles at my head and throwing slurs left and right on the streets. It went beyond bullying, it was assault.
We spent some time poring through the various message boards and comment threads to see what kinds of conversations it was spawning. The general outcry was one of love: we got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from all over the world, but it was really interesting to read the boards fixated on hate. It did feel similar to the mob scene all over again, only yes, people had the opportunity to bash me anonymously, to claim the role of a shielded, mediated aggressor. In this way anonymity can be detrimental.
Hatred on the internet creates a feedback loop. Whenever you perform in public you're relinquishing control of the situation to the environment that surrounds you. To me, the beauty of American Reflexxx is that all of the moments that make it so unique (the preacher, the comments, the "push") are the unchoreographed realities of harassment. I find reality to be the most inspiring, terrifying medium.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
You exhibited American Reflexxx in 2013, but waited some time before publishing it online. Were there any specific comment threads or reactions on YouTube that changed your relationship to the work, whether positive or negative?
We had debated the best way to handle its distribution, because we knew it was delicate material; there were a couple of different approaches we could have taken to its release. I think that waiting a year to put it online was overall a wise decision because our audience was much larger by the time it went up in April 2015, and the discourses that the film inspires have solidified more within the greater cultural zeitgeist.
More than anything, I've been motivated by all of the messages we've received from people telling us how much the performance meant to them. There are people who see the girl in the mirrored mask as a symbol for the oppression and hatred they've had to endure for being who they are. It's inspired me to think more about the ways that art can help others and how our work can serve to fuel conversations that need to be had.
At one point in the video, a voice emerges in a crowd of black teenagers — an urge not to "get arrested for the blonde girl" — alluding to extremely real phobias regarding race and sanctions of authority. Having made this work within the context of the American south, can you describe the importance of including instances of racial prejudice as a form of activism? How do these instances help to raise awareness about racial realities, in the wake of recent, horrific events?
To be completely honest, we don't know whose voice is saying that specific line. Her voice comes from off camera, and we also don't know who she's speaking to. I've always thought that comment spoke more towards the nature of men needing to be reminded not to view women as objects. It's "don't harass her so YOU don't get in trouble and go to jail…" not "don't harass her because she's a human being and not a sexual object who exists for your consumptive pleasure."
It's similar to the way that girls get sent home from high school for their shorts being too short. Rather than punishing and slut-shaming women, we should be educating men to stop viewing women as things to be consumed. We make up half of the population — we exist and have feelings and are entitled to our personhood. Dehumanization towards women happens every day, not just when we're provocatively dressed wearing a mask on the streets in an attempt to prove a point.
With regard to your original question, I'm a firm advocate of the power that we have as camera-carrying citizens in the promotion of unveiling civil injustices. This era is unlike any other: never before has the general population of a 1st-world country collectively carried cameras on their person. It's exciting and I think it comes with a responsibility to document and record injustices, to be aware and to speak up against police brutality.
Although the events that transpire in American Reflexxx are real and unstaged, what happened to me that night is not indicative of my own reality. I don't walk down the street every single day in a mask and stripper heels, I was wearing a costume and playing a character. The inherent privilege that I have as a biological white woman performing a provocative act like this is not lost on me. If I had been a trans woman of color performing this exact same piece, things almost certainly would've ended with even harsher consequences, possibly even fatality. To me, this is an important aspect in the aftermath of the performance and the conversations that surround it.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
There was speculation that you were being paid for the performance, which simultaneously reduced your activism to that of sex work and pornography. People questioning whether or not you were being paid might have been an attempt to find common ground, as if commodification is justifiable and relatable. However, as you mentioned, I do think your whiteness and projected heterosexuality became problematic because it reinforced an assumption that a cis white female body is more likely to produce a hetero-male valued commodity, in turn, producing a hetero male-specific "hero" fantasy that necessitates masculine protection and not fatal violence. We saw the most abject form of this in Charlestown, and it's important to note that the the "push" came from another white, cis woman, possibly subconsciously threatened by your ability to solicit male attention.
Throughout, men claimed their own emotional responses to an objectified female body as innately more important than a woman's individuality or independence. You identify your work as cyberfeminist, comparing your portrayed character to Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. But Haraway's cyborg renders as impersonal, a sort of throwback to an era when understanding and experiencing sentience within digital contexts was still unforeseen. How does early cyberfeminism continue to inform your practice, in light of current discourses on commodification, gender, and the more emotional connotations of social media?
I'm always inspired by reading about burgeoning concepts of identity in posthumanism before technology and the internet really hit. I love science fiction for this reason. Cyborg Manifesto was prophetic in its ability to succinctly describe an ideology that I and many of my friends relate to 30 years after it was written.
I am personally interested in the ways that women, or anyone who doesn't fit into the white male-driven patriarchy, for that matter, have been able to assert their voices in the age of the internet. We've been able to carve out our own hive where we can exchange ideas and aesthetics without being censored or discouraged by the powers that be. Everyone has an equal opportunity to take the mic, and it's creating a lot of necessary discourse about sexuality, race, class, etc.. There's still a lot of work to do, and perhaps I live in a bubble where I'm surrounded by progressive people, but I feel like feminism has come a long way in the past 5-10 years, and I think it's due much in part to the internet and the emotional relationships we build.
I'm curious as to what's next in terms of how we talk about and address gender. We immediately assign and assume people as male & female and, in a transgender world, the concept feels increasingly dated, binary, and exclusive.
It's becoming almost ironic to consider freedom of speech as a bedrock of America, when mainstream news reporting is still so fundamentally jaded and lacking in sincere brevity when compared with citizen-reporting. The reality experiment of American Reflexxx allowed for opinions to manifest themselves live, but the hate that ensued was much more evident of mainstream social conditioning, showing a definitive reluctance to adapt to more progressive ideologies.
Americans are supposedly taught to value individuality, but exhibiting difference proved to be dangerous in your work. As artists who "didn't intend to make a work about dehumanization, how does "being different" or even "being yourself" challenge American ideals of free speech?
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
I honestly would not say that Americans are taught to value individuality, and that's a sad plight. The notion of the first amendment is one that would appear to commemorate freedom, but it often serves the opposite. It seems that freedom of speech is defended as a means of oppression, as evident in people fighting for their right to use hate speech or to wave the confederate flag. Being different is radical, and it absolutely challenges American ideals. It's pretty absurd that a media circus is prone to break out anytime someone in the public eye comes out as gay or identifies as trans.
My personal reaction to re-watching American Reflexxx is that the audience is trying very hard to seem cool to one another. In that situation, everyone knew that they were not the weakest link or the weirdest person present, and thus they were granted the power of commonality, one that they could all bond over. They're all walking and talking with this corny, affected braggadocio and being loud to make sure that everyone can hear how tough and funny they are when they're making fun of me. It's pretty clear though that they were terrified because they knew I knew something that they didn't. A lot of kids and teens have written us to say that it reminds them of their experiences at school. People fear and hate what they don't understand.
It starts and ends with education and tolerance. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it's true, and it's the biggest message we wanted people to take away from this film. They say that you should "never underestimate the kindness of strangers," and in response, I try to remember to "never forget your ability to be the kind stranger." It is our intention to prompt a reconsideration of how we treat each other, how we allow others to influence our own lives and behaviors, and how we have the right to flexxx some freedom of speech for good and not evil.
Follow Alexis on Twitter as @holyurl
"The Facets of Obama" created by Jonah Brucker-Cohen using the Fracture application by James Alliban, 2011
The devices we carry with us can do much more than simply act as communication tools and entertainment appendages. They can also bring us into a growing world of artistic projects that could have never been imagined without their existence.
The recent boom in creative software for the iPhone and iPad now enables artists to remake existing web projects as iOS apps or use the physical world as a canvas for augmented reality, reimagining our physical surroundings through painting and rendering. In this article, the fourth one in a series that I've written over the past six years of reviews surveying art for the iPhone and iPad, I cover projects that both revive net art pieces that were once only possible on traditional computer systems or in browsers, as well as those that use the iPhone and iPad's sound and camera capabilities to their fullest.
Thicket:Classic (Hairy Circles mode), 2011, Interval Studios (aka Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard)
Beginning with abstraction and sound, two works examine methods of sound production through algorithmic composition. Thicket (2011) by Interval Studios (programmer and artist Joshue Ott and composer Morgan Packard) is an amalgam of abstract shapes and patterns that engage with touch-based interaction, visual stimulation, generative pattern creation, and mesmerizing sound transference. The original version of Thicket, or Thicket:Classic, feels like a musical masterpiece on the edge of a high precipice. As a user changes the orientation of their phone in four directions (up, down, right, left) the onscreen graphics shift to new modes.
Thicket 3.11 Video, Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard, Interval Studios.
My favorite mode in Thicket:Classic is "Hairy Circles," which features menacing yellow-orangish circles of tangled lines that correspond to each finger's touch and shift when dragged around, creating a machine-like beat that evokes an industrial assembly line. Ott explains, "Thicket uses a bunch of different algorithms—for both audio and visuals. The aesthetic came from repeated experimentation and rapid prototyping of modes. Sometimes we would start with the visuals, sometimes with the audio, but there was often a back and forth process of each of us adjusting our part until we both liked the results."
"It's all very intuitive, rather than thought-out, " adds Packard. "At the time we started Thicket, I was coming out of a period of being very involved with a lively group of indie electronic musicians and record labels—Ezekiel Honig's Anticipate label in particular. The idea of a group of artists forming a scene, forming a tiny tribe, and developing an aesthetic of their own has always been very close to my heart. So with the sound at least, I was looking toward the sounds my friends and I had been making, and trying to make stuff that fit into that aesthetic world."
TURUX, Lia, 2015
TURUX Interface , Lia, 2015
Also playing with sonic possibilities through the screens of the iPhone and iPad is Austrian artist Lia, who has remade her RE:MOVE (www.re-move.org) and TURUX (www.turux.at) interactive websites from the late 1990s. Lia, who herself also maintains a personal and very useful online archive of iPhone art at iphoneart.org, continues to be prolific as a solo artist using this medium. What used to exist as Shockwave-enhanced web experiences has since migrated to the handheld and the results are a much more seamless experience overall. The current version of RE:MOVE features algorithmic compositions that endlessly auto-generate into abstract patterns of lines, circles, and waves. The app features an abstract menu and control system that allows users to customize their sonic and visual output with surprising results every time the app is launched. Since no two users can have a similar experience, the app maintains our interest through its ability to stay fresh and offer new experiences the more one manipulates its underlying system.
RE:MOVE, Lia, 2015
TURUX also plays with this dynamic of shifting abstract patterns but does so with a more colorful interface of twenty-one different composition modes that mix minimalist shapes, dynamic sound effects, and interactive vector graphics. Lia explains the reasoning behind the piece and her focus on code as a method for understanding and playing with generative possibilities. "My lack of understanding the code structures in the beginning probably helped getting unexpected results," explains Lia. "The aim was never to think everything through from the beginning on, then sit down and program it, but to play with code itself...simply put: exchange a plus with a minus in a formula that you don't understand and a) something interesting might happen and b) you might learn how the formula actually works. The idea behind the experiments on TURUX as well as on RE-MOVE later on was in principle not to explain everything to the user, but let him/her play..and experiment as much him/herself....With RE-MOVE I added a lot of tiny buttons, that basically allowed the user to change parts of the executed code without knowing what will happen, buttons without labels."
Fracture (2011), James Alliban, video of iPhone app.
Further engaging with the camera to create both abstraction and augmentation is British designer and programmer, James Alliban's trio of apps, Konstruct, Fracture, and Composite. After playing with these three interactive marvels for a few minutes, it becomes obvious that an entire article could have been dedicated to his work. Each piece feels novel in its ability to manifest new ways of interacting with the everyday, physical world, and the sense of limitless composition that it offers. Fracture is not only a painting tool, it is a real-time video and still image mixing application that allows users to create portraits like those painted by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 1900s through the iPhone and iPad's cameras. Although some might write these graphical renderings off as the equivalent of Photoshop filters, the ability to paint a picture from live imagery as seen through the camera using Cubist-style brushes is something that only an app could accomplish. "The intention was definitely to allow users to recreate this aesthetic using their own subjects," explains Alliban, "Although for the more creative users I made sure there was enough room to step outside of this style and create their own imagery. It was interesting to see some of the work people made with it."
New York Nearest Subway, AR App for iPhone from Acrossair, 2009.
Konstruct, James Alliban and Juliet Lall, 2011
Working in the realm of 3D space, Alliban and collaborator Juliet Lall's Augmented Reality (AR) app Konstruct allows users to create an AR environment by speaking into the microphone on their device, which then dynamically generates a 3D object floating on the screen over the camera's vantage point. This abstraction retains its simulated depth as one moves the iPhone forward and backward through the 3D creation. Alliban describes touch interaction as something that is becoming so ordinary, that it is losing its appeal in the context of digital art. "Touch is such a personal, private, and, lets face it, boring interaction. Forcing people to speak, sing, whistle or clap makes the experience a type of (potentially collaborative) performance. Much of my work invites the user to play and perform in space to create abstractions of some aspect of themselves. Space is one thing that smartphones tend to lack. With Konstruct, however, just as the AR aspect broadens the interaction area beyond the tablet screen, incorporating sound broadens it further." As the phone and tablet's processors get faster, this type of experience will be more common and built into more apps that we now use daily, engendering new ways of experiencing information retrieval and public space. These types of locative applications for AR are already evident in apps like Across Air's Nearest Subway, which made its debut back in 2009. The app displays a floating arrow that points the direction to the nearest NYC subway station, as well as its name and distance from the phone.
Finally, Alliban is interested in ways we can better our seen reality through the lens of a device by virtually painting on the world around us as if it was a giant canvas. His app, Composite, was "inspired by the neo-dadaist collages of Robert Rauschenberg. Composite runs on both Windows Phone and iOS [iPad only], and allows you to remix your surroundings to create artistic compositions." By "remix," Alliban means paint and color the world around us through the lens of your device, altering an image of your surroundings in real time. The device allows you to work on captured images, then layer new views from the live camera on top, allowing multiple perspectives in a single composition. Alliban explains that his work riffs on Rauschenberg but stands on its own. "Although Composite was inspired by the work of Rauschenburg I didn't make it intending myself or others to use it to replicate his visual style (although some did to some extent). It was more a case of adopting the spirit of his work—the idea of telling stories using the things that surround you. I did, however, keep it open enough for users that want to experiment. Like Fracture, it was important not to constrain users to a single aesthetic."
Composite, James Alliban, 2011.
Also playing with movement and engagement in physical spaces with people and their mobile devices are the Dutch and Belgium based collective of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, a.k.a. JODI.org. Their app, ZYX.app, uses a minimal stick figure and audio feedback to guide users through a series of gestures while holding their phones, such as turning in a circle or raising their arm up and down. When the gesture is performed correctly, the phone lets out an audible "click" sound and a celebratory alarm goes off notifying the user of their success. ZYX.app transforms the user into a performer, amplifying the the ways in which people already engage with their phones by moving around while talking, pacing, breaking away from a crowd, or siphoning frustration through the device. JODI explains the connection between software apps and how they relate to our bodies movements in physical space. "ZYX.app is a tool for physical performance, it calls for the user's postures overdoing mobile body language. We focused on the sensor kinetics inside the phone, programming the gyroscope and the accelerometer to involve the user movements and using the screen only for interaction directions. While swinging and jumping around with the mobile, the user gets returning signals, as sound and vibration. The screen serves as a counter for initiating the next content."
Video of ZYX.app, JODI, 2012
As prolific as artists can be, none seem to be producing as many abstract apps as Jason Edward Lewis. Lewis, an Assistant Professor of Digital Image/Sound and Fine Arts in the Department of Design Art at Concordia University in Montreal, makes work that re-examines the world of text from a novel perspective. Lewis creates generative apps that allow users to compose new and recycled poetry into endless iterations. The P.o.E.M.M. Cycle or Poetry for Excitable [Mobile] Media is Lewis' main series of iOS apps that challenge our interaction with the screen. Lewis explains why the iPhone's interface has changed how he thinks about screen-based composition and interaction. "I had been frustrated for some time with the development of electronic literature, and one point of frustration was the conventional keyboard-mouse-screen configuration," says Lewis. "It felt physically distant, with the awkward triangle between the three, as well as impersonal and utilitarian, given the general purpose nature of the standard workstation. It wasn't comfortable, it wasn't focused—and it wasn't intimate, in the way I felt writing and reading poetry required."
Video of The Great Migration (Installation Version of iPhone app Migration), Jason Edward Lewis, 2011
This type of direct connection to the user is a quality that that many artists have been trying to gain from mobile devices where the traditional computer interface of the keyboard and mouse runs short. Lewis explains this point of contention. "At first, we were of course focused on the phone. Then the iPad came out in mid-2010, and I realized that was really the right form factor. We had been putting a ton of detail into the exhibition versions that was just getting lost in the small screen size of the phone—the pad allowed us to keep most if not all of the detail found in the exhibition versions. Yet it was still an intimate, personal device, and its single-tasking nature allowed you to create a powerfully focused experience for people. People have a personal connection to their mobile devices that is much rarer for their desktops or even laptops; if you design your apps well, you can leverage that connection."
BIFURCAN, Devine Lu Linvega, 2015.
Leaving the realm of animation and narrative composition, there is also a trend towards minimalism that is bringing artists to these platforms. Turning the iPhone and iPad into a cryptic and beautiful timepiece is BIFURCAN by artist and designer Devine Lu Linvega. The interface is both purposely unusable and elegantly poetic in its representation of the passage of seconds, minutes, hours, and days. The project is named after a Borges short film of the same name, and manifests time as a constantly rearranging labyrinth that changes as each second ticks away. Creating it in only 30 minutes during a coding jam session, Linvega has released its source online in an attempt to lead more developers to create versions of it for more platforms. One such version of BIFURCAN written by artist Chase Colburn is a watch face for the Pebble Watch. With all of the possibilities that these devices allow for in both interaction and location-based information, there is a calming feeling when artists only use it for minimalist output such as a watchface or timepiece. By limiting its capabilities, the device seems to become much more than its original creators had imagined.
As platforms for digital art continuously expand with the plethora of devices and methods of delivery, there seems to be no limit to what artists can accomplish with these form factors. In fact, my next article on the subject might cover artists apps for the Samsung and Apple watches, which would be the most personal method of art delivery yet on a digital medium. Integrating artistic endeavors with built-in heart monitors and force-sensitive touch screens (which is supposedly also coming to the next generation iPhone 7), there will be many different input sources that artists can leverage to create new forms of interaction. The most striking aspect of these projects is that the medium allows for artists to engage with people interacting with their work on a personal and intimate level, far beyond what any gallery or museum might afford. Now, anyone with a phone can engage with art on the go, carrying a personal collection of artworks that allow new kinds of artistic experiences and new forms of interactive artistic expression.
Given the incredible power of the handheld device, which is daily relied upon by millions of people while also marketing to them and surveilling them, carving out a space for aesthetic experience through the device seems particularly important. Thicket's Morgan Packard puts it bluntly: "The work Joshue and I have done together, in contrast to data viz and design, has no immediately obvious value or use. It doesn't tell stories, it doesn't make the complex accessible, it doesn't reveal the beauty of nature. It's really just an exploration of how certain arrangements of light and sound and a certain type of control over them can make us feel."
Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Ph.D., is an award winning researcher, artist, and writer. He received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department of Trinity College Dublin. He is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Networked Culture and the Director of the Digital Humanities MFA program at Lehman College / CUNY. He is cofounder of the Dublin Art and Technology Association and His work and thesis is titled "Deconstructing Networks" and includes creative projects that critically challenge and subvert accepted perceptions of network interaction and experience. His work has been exhibited and showcased at venues such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, ICA London, (Artport), Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art, Palais du Tokyo,Tate Modern, Ars Electronica, Transmediale, and his project Bumplist is included in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. His writing has appeared in publications such as WIRED, Make, Gizmodo, Rhizome, Neural and more. His Scrapyard Challenge workshops have been held in over 14 countries in Europe, South America, North America, Asia, and Australia since 2003.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2015; courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris; photo, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Stefan Jäggi).
Your current solo exhibition "تقيه (Taqiyya)–The Right to Duplicity" in St. Gallen brings together recent works exploring the ways in which "enforced expression" is manifest in contemporary society. Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2014) focuses on the (apparent) forced conversion of a group of Syrian Druze—a Levantine cultural minority who practice an esoteric religion which incorporates aspects of Islam but which is considered "heretical" by Islamic purists—by Jabhat al-Nusra. You cite the doctrine of Taqiyya—a feature of Islamic jurisprudence which you compare to the concept of diplomatic immunity—as underlying the apparent ease of the conversion: i.e. that the Druze were expressing Taqiyya as a means of resisting their conversion rather than cooperating with it. A number of your works explore this tension between verbal expression and "truth". Could you speak about your views regarding such "sonic geographies" as contested spaces?
Contra Diction (Speech Against itself) focuses on the event you spoke about because it is a very fleeting moment where Taqiyya raises its head, and people start to make claims about whether this is Taqiyya or not. It’s not really in line with the work or what I’m interested in to make any claim that this was a forced conversion, or that this use of Taqiyya was a strategy in order to avoid converting by employing stealth, or to make a conversion that saves face. Taqiyya is very difficult to talk about because it’s essentially about the right to lie; because of its proximity to lying, it becomes very difficult to place or to make any direct assertions about. That is very interesting not because of its use in this event in particular, but as a way to take a legal right to speech like Taqiyya and have it stand shoulder to shoulder with more conventional ways in which speech is governed in society, like the right to silence and freedom of speech. I find that quite urgent—as can be seen in a number of my works: we’re living in a kind of "post freedom of speech" society. Freedom of speech is increasingly being understood as something that exists without the right to silence. President Obama made a speech where he was talking about the trials of the Guantanamo inmates where he said there should be trials, but they (the inmates) shouldn’t be allowed the right to silence. Without the right to silence, we can see that the freedom of speech becomes part of a confessional society, where everything that people are afraid to say qualifies them with a certain guilt, so that when people don’t want to say something out loud, it means they have something to hide. This became increasingly interesting to me in both in the case of WikiLeaks and the NSA, which rely on different understandings of total transparency. There is the idea that something like Taqiyya would emerge to challenge this way in which freedom of speech has become about the enforced full disclosure of speech. So I was kind of using it in that way, to challenge both what it means to speak freely and also that we insist on this speaking of the truth and to ask, "what does it mean to speak the truth in the age of the NSA?"
What’s important with Taqiyya is the fluidity of being multiple—insisting on it as a way to push politics forward, and I think we’re seeing this more and more with collaborators like Varoufakis, who speaks the language of the hedge funders, or Edward Snowden who has made several kinds of conversions himself in the course of becoming a whistleblower. I’m really interested in the role of the collaborator and the way that Taqiyya can be understood as a new type of progressive politics. Of course, it also has a very dark side in that it’s not about being objective in one’s critique of society, but is actually symptomatic of society’s ills. This does start to speak about sonic geographies, but not really that kind of classic sonic geography of producing aural jurisdictions or sonic conquest over the other’s speech; rather, what this points to is something more profound about the politics of representation. It’s about a politics of listening, about how we can be heard and what kind of hearing we’ll receive when we utter a claim. So that’s why I think these moments add to the discussion of the ways in which we represent ourselves in this all-hearing, all-speaking world.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Conflicted Phonemes (2012; courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris; photo, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Stefan Jäggi).
You’ve spoken of the "palimpsestic" quality of audio tapes in works like Tape Echo (2014). This metaphor seems to resonate with your work, Conflicted Phonemes (2012), in that the accents of refugees often have a palimpsestic quality as well. In the work, you show how a word, or even a single phoneme, can make the difference between being granted or denied political asylum. The technological capacity of voice analysis provides a kind of "certainty" with regard to a particular portion of data which is then privileged by the authorities, and this then licenses them to discount other data (for example, the biography of the person seeking asylum). Do you feel that this false, technological "certainty" is playing an increased role in political disempowerment in technologically advanced societies at large?
You draw a very interesting parallel between the tone of the works in the Tape Echo series—which is called Conversations with the Unemployed, which involves microscopic enlargements of the surfaces of the cassette tapes—and the subject matter of "Conflicted Phonemes", because, like a cassette tape, an accent is something that never really loses or fully erases its biography. Unlike digital recordings, cassette tapes don’t delete their media. They constantly overlay and overlay, so that what you have on top is every recording and tape head ever applied. In some ways, the biography of an accent is very similar because, of course, our accents are really the product of all the different people we’ve ever spoken to in our lives. This gains even more power in Conflicted Phonemes in which people’s voices and accents are being used—rather than their biography—as a birth certificate. What they’re trying to say is that the accent is from one place, that it’s from where you were born and that’s it. But, of course, having lived a life in migration, as many asylum seekers do, the opposite is probably true: if they really want to find a genuine asylum seeker, they should look for voices which show irregularities, and reflect an itinerant life. In a lot of works, I try to use the visualization of sound to expose its complexities, the ways it resists being fixed to an association with a specific physical space.
It’s very important to emphasize that it’s not a technology that is doing these accent tests; it’s actually a Swedish company which is using former refugees who have no linguistic expertise to screen applicants’ accents. It’s really anecology, using former refugees, and it’s a very unscientific way of screening anybody, for a number of reasons. What’s very important to say is that it’s politically disempowering because the attack is on speech, and speech is what makes us political animals in the kind of society we’ve constructed. Speech is the form by which we negotiate our rights. What many of the asylum seekers say is that they don’t want to speak back to the state because they don’t know how they’re being listened to. The conditions of listening have changed, and I think that is really the key moment of political disempowerment. It’s an attack on speech; the conditions of listening are what have altered the means for those people to speak and to testify about their plight. We’re increasingly seeing—in what you call "technologically advanced societies"—an accelerating shift in which listening is moving outside what we could think of as "listening to what we say", and more towards listening to "other parts" of our speech. And it’s that shift from what we say to how we say it that produces the political disempowerment of the people being listened to.
This points to another work I did about lie detectors—it is currently installed in Kunst Halle St. Gallen—seven walls, acoustic panels painted with sound deadening paint. It’s called Beneath the Surface. I realised the seven articulations of the seven verdicts that the machine gives, and showed the micro-second where the machine makes the verdict, and then I hand drew the pitch of the voice at that moment to try to expand on this tiny moment where this machine produces something that can have a great effect on somebody’s life. In reproducing them by hand, you reinsert the human behind the machine.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tape Echo (2014)
In Gardens of Death (2013), you discuss the floating sound-system culture of Cairo in which open-topped boats blast party music along the Nile, creating what you describe as "sonic islands". These represent the classic paradox of loud music vs. the sort of noise that characterizes urban life: It seems that the devotion of perceptual attention to one set of sounds over another is really the sole means of distinguishing what is noise and what is music (i.e. one boat’s music is another’s noise, and vice versa). Clearly, there are questions of power and aggression in this dynamic, which The All Hearing (2014) also touches upon. Do you feel that the question of "sonic autonomy" vs. "sonic aggression" will be an increasing topic of ethical/legal study in the future, not least that a new generation of "sound weapons" are being developed by Western governments for use as "non-lethal" crowd control technologies?
The questions that the Tape Echo project throws up with works like Gardens of Death and The All-Hearing include "what is noise?" as well as "what is hearing, in fact?" When we talk about hearing damage, hearing itself as a measurable capacity has its own history and its own discriminations, and I think it’s a very interesting area through which to talk about conflict and negotiation in mega-cities, of which Cairo is one. It’s one of the loudest cities in the world.
In The All-Hearing the question becomes more urgent because of the political conditions that surround noise pollution. When I first asked two Cairene sheikhs if they’d be interested in delivering sermons about noise pollution and hearing damage, there was no law at that moment which would forbid the sheikhs from talking about what they wanted to every Friday. So you have a city that is awash with ethical promise, telling you about how to live the life. There’s a huge cluster of amplified ethics that fills the sonic environment of Cairo every Friday; I was very interested in noise pollution being one of the discussions that enters this very intense sonic environment—that was my initial intention as a means of intervention. Of course, it became much more urgent when a law was passed to forbid sheikhs to deliver sermons. Of the three sheikhs I asked to work with me on this, two of them felt the law, passed in the name of noise pollution by the government, made it even more imperative for them to talk about noise pollution and to give their perspective on it. Noise pollution became a way to talk about the censorship they were undergoing. That meant that they didn’t directly address it, risking even more fallout. In a similar way to Taqiyya, it was both subversive and submissive at the same moment, and that also gets close to the question of sonic autonomy and sonic aggression. The question of what noise is became vital in fighting censorship as well as discussing what those kinds of relations of aggression and autonomy in the sonic space mean in a space like Cairo.
What is interesting in the original question is that word "future", because if we’re to talk about the future of listening, some things are being outlined for us already. Basically, any science that reveals a greater ability to listen is immediately being swept up into the economy of surveillance. This is something I touch on with A Convention of Tiny Movements (2015), which talks about the near future of listening. It is a work that really looks in detail into the experiments of scientists at MIT who have realized that all objects can function, basically, like microphones, particularly, those which have a plastic- or foil-like consistency—such as a potato chip packet. Speech that vibrates this surface is recoverable using high-speed cameras. To talk about it now is a kind of "near future fiction", which is what I call A Convention of Tiny Movements. It is also important not to allow these things simply to go from the lab in MIT to the workshops and backrooms of the NSA. Opening this discussion means that we can start to think about other applications, and it means we aren’t in a position where we’re subjects to the technologies that are emerging but that they are something we can participate in developing.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The All-Hearing (2014; 2 minute extract).
In your talk for "What Now? The Politics of Listening", you mentioned an episode in which Defense for Children International applied your forensic audiological expertise in an investigation of an IDF shooting. Do you feel that the blurred competencies research-heavy art work such as your own may provide a means of increased interdisciplinarity between the arts, sciences and, possibly, the political sphere as well, in that art and aesthetic practice can often conceptualize or formalize questions that the sciences and politics overlook or fail to account for? Or, is it more likely that information generated through artistic practice will be discounted by structures of authority in other disciplines?
I was asked by Forensic Architecture if I could determine whether or not the sound of gunfire was rubber bullets or live ammunition in the case of the murder of two boys in the West Bank by Israeli Defense Forces. This case, which involved Defense for Children International, threw up interesting questions in the nature of your question regarding the roles of discipline and expertise because I could, in fact, do this investigation very easily, as could pretty much anybody who has experimented with digital music. From the perspective of somebody who has worked with the aesthetics of audio and somebody who has a keen ear, this question was very simple. This was not a question of expertise. The real experts are those Palestinian boys and girls who can identify in a micro-second what a shot is. And that’s something that’s more difficult than it sounds, because the live rounds are being suppressed by a rubber bullet extender that works like a kind of silencer, so the sound of a rubber bullet and live ammunition is being conflated. The rubber bullet adapter is being used to disguise the fire of live ammunition, but these Palestinian teenagers can exactly identify a tiny distinction in the frequencies and react accordingly. Those are the real acute listeners in this case. Someone like me—an artist, a practitioner of audio aesthetics—can simply provide a visual language for understanding the differences. It's very interesting to turn the nature of expertise on its head and to reclaim the skills that we artists—or musicians, or image-makers, or graphic designers, or architects—have learned from our field of aesthetic practice and research, so that we can listen back to the state and use these tools in other ways as a mode of political intervention. I think it’s really a question of aesthetic training, and this comes from my studies under Eyal Wiezman, who is my Ph.D. supervisor, who set up a very important centre for forensic architecture which exists to do exactly this kind of thing. It’s an inspiring space in which to think through questions about the role of the artist.
How/When did you begin working creatively with technology: 1998
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Still Studying-Ph.D. candidate: Research Architecture Programme at Goldsmiths College, London.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
Private audio investigator (& visual artist).
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
William Kherbek is author of the novel Ecology of Secrets, published by Arcadia Missa (London, 2013). He has been the visual art critic for Port Magazine since 2012. His work has appeared in the essay collection Turning Inward, published by Sternberg Press, a forthcoming novel, UltraLife, will be published by Arcadia Missa in 2016.
Ever the defender of the laptop as a gateway to more accurate and speculative expressions of the self, Herndon goes for the throat of the issues of our contemporary future with her second album, Platform.
Having gathered together several collaborators with varied abilities and perspectives, she holds a sort of speculative symposium in the form of ten audio tracks. Her focus is the "exit" to a new "platform," a collaborative space in which possible futures may take shape. There is a brighter future ahead in Herndon's world; technology has the effect not of separation, but of creating a deeply intrinsic closeness and intimacy strewn through collapsed spaces. The laptop: the medium is the message, is the massage.
Drawing on the work of philosopher of design Benedict Singleton, Herndon is proposing a mechanization of "platform dynamics theory.” Traditional planning for the future will always fail in the face of complexity and contingency, the theory goes, so instead we should focus on the design of platforms—the material and social infrastructures we inhabit, which have certain affordances and limitations and therefore open the way to different kinds of futures.
Herndon’s album, as a collaborative space for development, is offered as one such platform. The future is cooperation; Herndon has moved on from thinking about the laptop as an extension of the body to thinking about it as a platform through which a superstructural, collective experience can be had. Along with “platforms,” the album’s other essential keyword is "exits," signaled by the title to Track 06, “An Exit.” Exits leading from our present situation to new platforms, that is, rather than escapes to impossible utopias.
I do not share Herndon's optimism, but that doesn't detract from the resounding beauty of the record and her intentions. Many of her songs slip into dashing permutations not only for the listeners’ energies and attentions, but for the sake of shirking formal atomization. In this vein of personal experience amongst surveyed scapes, "Locker Leak" (featuring Spencer Longo) spits out "word sculptures" like luscious (a)targeted advertisements; tingling, visceral phrases like "Who lasts, lasts? Glass lasts, lasts" or "Be the first of your friends to buy Greek yogurt this summer."
Possibly the most indicative and radical tracks on Platform are placed beside each other, forming a quite beautiful top/bottom approach to - and critique of - net-body dualism. The first, "Lonely at the Top," featuring programmer and ASMR performer Claire Tolan, explores intimacy on the internet through the elicited sensations and mimicry of the tactile and auditory (acrylic nails on a keyboard, vocal intonations, etc.), whereas the following song, “DAO” (which stands for Data Access Object) contains the mapping of a body - a community as object through improvised, urbane movement.
“Lonely at the Top” contains a single voice along with eerily recognizable and affective sounds - Tolan preaching the intent of the record in a Brechtian turn in which the audience is the subject: "You naturally know how to attract possibility, and you always follow possibility into success." The track reminds me quite a bit of K-Hole’s Creative Leadership trend report for 032c magazine, in which they examine the corporation as defined by a perennial genius godhead. The image in the song is of a corporate one pecenter being given a massage, the masseuse acting as a chorus of fans, these being people who rely on the talents of the creative leader to better the world with their exceptional abilities.
In the anterior of the dualistic investigation,“DAO” follows the feet and vocal flexibility of two performers taken from Herndon's Body/Sound Guggenheim performance. Contact mics are applied to a dancer who is then tracked; Herndon surveys his movements, archives them, and then tosses them back out. She wrestles with the body, hoping to tame it, and every so often the operatic vocal of the other 'body' makes its way sporadically into the mix as pure data metabolism. The track ultimately comes off as violent - feral in its attempt and eventual failure to escape the algorithmic categorization of the dancer's gestures. Herndon - in the middle, like a clinical chanteuse, a weaver of context and form - wrangles the desperate flinging subjects: the dromoscope is put into effect, the bodies blur into one, and identity is now an un-object of desire.
Exploration of the controlled expansion, and thus expression, of atomized form shows up in an earlier collaborative song called “Unequal.” “Unequal” is speculative, riding the boundary between deterritorializied gender-bent ballroom aesthetics and astral hymnal passages. Clods of digital debris are flung around the stereofield as composer and drag performer Colin Self and Herndon perform a modular duet. The inspirational material for this, I suspect, could be traced back to her online installation for DIS Magazine. In Dummy magazine, Herndon speaks of Colin Self playing a Joan of Arc figure, a sort of Ghost in the Shell take on Terre Thaemlitz (aka DJ Sprinkles).
I have many reservations about Herndon's hopeful approach, which could be ungenerously characterized as "teamwork as panacea for the total wreckage of humanity inflicted upon itself and its environment." This kind of platform is simply not available to everyone; Herndon and her cohort have enough capital to perform these collaborative acts and to create the space for an imagined future. All the same, I suppose that that is neither here nor there given that the effort is incredible and legitimate, and not completely founded on starry-eyed visions. Herndon and her record are practical and functional. Platform is automatic, investigative and hypertextual: boundless.
Platform is out today via 4AD and RVNG INTL.
Earlier this year, I announced an open call for the third issue of Printed Web, a semi-annual publication dedicated to web-to-print discourse. I received a stunning array of files from recognized artists like Olia Lialina, Kim Asendorf, and Clement Valla, but the real beauty of the open call was connecting with a new group of people working with material found or created on the web —147 contributors in all. A particularly diverse view of networked culture formed on my desktop through an accumulation of notes, attachments, tweets, and downloads. Gathering this community around Printed Web was immensely satisfying for me, and I wanted to include every submission in the issue — but having received hundreds of PDFs, JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs, the logistical challenges to this have been considerable.
My intention had always been to publish all of the files received in a single print edition, but as submissions poured in, I decided that “scattering” the material across different networked versions would allow the project to occupy multiple positions in a way that suited its multiplicitous content.
A cheap, black-and-white, print-on-demand paperback book becomes just one of the physical artifacts of Printed Web 3. All of the artists' files come together in this Index/Reader as a "defense of poor media," prioritizing accessibility and circulation over craft and polish. Potent texts by Alexander Galloway (an interview) and Silvio Lorusso (a manifesto), grabbed from the web, provide some context and framing.
A collection of 10 print-on-demand zines focuses the material into curated groupings. A tight selection of 10 images printed onto neoprene fabric slows some of the work down even further, wrapping PDFs around books like insulating skin.
If the books, zines, and skins are a meager attempt to fix some stability into the work as printout matter, the files are also offered for download in several different formats, allowing "readers" of Printed Web 3 to perform their own versions of the material. A 147-page-frame GIF compresses all the material into a single loop, while all 329 files submitted to the open call are organized into artist folders as an archive (in the order that I received them). These files, available via Dropbox or a server directory on rhizome.org, may be browsed, downloaded, printed, posted, and circulated.
Paul Soulellis is a New York-based artist, designer and publisher, maintaining his studio at NEW INC at the New Museum. He teaches at Rhode Island School of Design. Paul is the founder of Library of the Printed Web, an expanding physical archive devoted to web-to-print artists’ books, zines and other printout matter, and he publishes Printed Web, a semi-annual print-on-demand publication of web-to-print art and discourse. He writes and speaks extensively about his experimental publishing research.
Andrea Crespo, multi (sensorygates), (2015; detail)
In futurist Ray Kurzweil's early version of the flatbed scanner, angled mirrors feed the image of a document through a series of encoding CCDs. Similarly positioned mirrors are also used in the treatment of amputee victims; the image of an extant limb is projected onto the phantom limb, allowing the patient to engage with this limb's sensory map.
Constantly reflecting on this imagery, Andrea Crespo's recent solo show "polymorphoses" at Hester in New York evokes an environment of clinical intimacy in its aesthetic and conceptual coherence. Similar to an LED screen or scanner, the digital prints on the four poly voile curtains covering the windows are backlit by the sun. Positioned in front of these curtains, an EMDR light bar (used by cognitive therapists to treat post-traumatic stress disorder) replicates a scanner's mobile light in the sculpture polymist: echolalic transponder; its accompanying soundtrack abstracts the diegetic sound of this light's kinetics as low digital tones.
Andrea Crespo, "polymorphoses," exhibition view
A scanner's white light rhythmically appears, segmenting the film parabiosis: neurolibidinal induction complex 2.2. The film's DeviantArt-sourced images of conjoined anime characters appear in bluish-white on a dark background, recalling the emerging effect of minimal boot-up images; they regularly converge, split, and merge again. The visually spare figuration is combined with minimal diagrams of mitochondrial reproduction, suggestive of the biological processes within technology. Through this parallel between biological and technological encoding and multiplication, the film links the scanner's abstraction of materiality into a system of digital circulation and memetic engineering with the production of DNA. Conjoined figures are considered within the interfaces and hardware in which they are embedded: in the film, they are suggested in a chatroom, cycled through on a Gameboy screen, and presented on a twitchy flatscreen monitor.
Furthering this intertwinement of hardware apparatuses and the images they circulate and encode, the show's series of data security boxes, cut to protrude two inches from the wall, schematically sequences this bodily association with data. This is done to great effect in plurisim (incubator), in which a four-prong Nintendo Game Link cable is interwoven with a polymesh fabric behind a reflective glass, its surface lined with a column of conjoined stickers designed in the sprite style of early videogame graphics. Despite the comparatively shallow immediacy of –--––-––-––––-– (encrypted), a data security box with a key in its lock and a UV-print on reflective darkened glass that recalls the smears, dust, and grease that form a scanner's white noise, the piece's necessity within the series becomes apparent in the works somatospasm (disinterface) and teratosyzygy (host). The UV print in the former depicts hands in the midst of grasping or releasing this detritus over a soft-focused digital print of a linen-like fabric. In the latter, the LED lighting of a computer cooling fan only partially illuminates a mesh fabric and a minimal, white etching of a conjoined figure. Fittingly, getting close enough to observe the minutiae of these works often involves avoiding one's own reflection.
Andrea Crespo, plurisim (incubator) (2015)
Andrea Crespo, plurisim (incubator) (2015)
As well as subtly referring to the imagery's use by Autism Awareness groups, puzzle pieces, appearing in the foam tiles of the seating mat for polymist and as vinyl decals on the scanners in the works s-curves (plasticities) and mobility slopes (long-tails 2.2), echo a type of cloud-based, memetic consciousness implied in Crespo's curation of DeviantArt.
Because this type of unpaid content-production is vital to online communities such as DeviantArt and Wikipedia, these conjoined anime characters, in turn, convey a certain malleability of the self that is made necessary by the biopolitics of an information-driven economy. This curation does not simply consider DeviantArt as a theater for wish-fulfillment. Rather, it becomes indicative of how technology encodes the image of the body.
Andrea Crespo, teratosyzygy (host), (2015)
Andrea Crespo, "polymorphoses," exhibition view
Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) (2015; video game still)
Wealth is monolithic: it refutes argument, pointed criticism, direct gaze. The architecture of today's wealth is monolithic, as well: a crucial expression of modern oligarchies' centralized power. Where the estate once served as a neat symbol of riches, our edifices are more diverse and inventive. They are built heavy and tall, as rebuff. They have to symbolize abstract figures, tens of billions of dollars on paper.
Artist Lawrence Lek offers us entry into the monolith in his work Unreal Estate. In it, we, the viewers, are the new billionaire owner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. To recreate a virtual Royal Academy out of surveyor's drawings, Lek used Maya and Unity, graphics software used in both video game environmental modeling and level design, and in architectural practice as a rendering tool for visualizing elaborate structures. Unreal Estate is the ninth level in Lek's Bonus Levels series; Lek created Bonus Levels as nine "utopian fiction" iterations of different sites in London. ("Bonus levels" are secret, productive, freeform sections in a video game in which the game's rules are suspended.)
In the film for Unreal Estate, a voiceover reads a training manual by the real daughter of a Russian oligarch named Maria Baibakova. The guide prescribes how to run a household of servants like a corporation. Her tract was widely mocked, and to hilarious effect. In Unreal Estate, Baibakova's text is reworked, here recited in Mandarin by Joni Zhu. The future is for sale to the highest bidder, and it will continue to be. The real Royal Academy is on a lease contract; London's housing crisis, like that in New York City, is largely caused by the ultra-wealthy inflating values by buying up property they barely live in.
Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) (2015)
A commercial real estate investor's white flag greets us as I enter the main courtyard: Jones Lang LaSalle: Real Value in a Changing World. The voiceover congratulates me: my bid for Burlington House and 6 Burlington Gardens has been successful. I float on towards a Jeff Koons bunny, cradling, in its left steel arm, a painter's easel: Koons is always good for a solid grotesque reflecting us back to ourselves. All the iconic, massive art brought here is first valued for the cultural capital it represents.
This Royal Academy is, further, reconstructed on a surreal private island. Helicopters clip across the sky, and I am blinded intermittently by the hot pink flashes of a laser alarm system perimeter. Threading through is an exquisite score by Oliver Coates, with cello that swells and retreats as my gaze floats over the uncanny prints and décor of each room, the marble, the CCTV monitors. There is talk of panic rooms.
I had a long conversation with Lek about his work over Skype. He was in his studio in London, sitting before a poster of Rorschach inkblot tests. Lek trained and worked as an architect, and so he deploys its language with ease. He posits his critical game worlds as "three-dimensional essays," inspired by Chris Marker and Harun Farocki's essayistic films. This is, he argues, "simulation as institutional critique."
What is the thesis, then, of this simulation essay? Lek is attempting several highly ambitious projects at once here, among them the gamification of our world to reveal its rules, and a steady critique of art's live-in relationship with banking. He demonstrates how capitalism reproduces itself through spectacular edifices, how it squashes social critique by submitting the mind to awe. The museum enshrines the market's choices of cultural winners.
By placing his viewers, who with all statistical likelihood are mostly not billionaires, in the shoes of one, Lek also plays on the neoliberal ethic of extreme self-sufficiency. Perhaps, we think, if we work unimaginably hard, everything is attainable: land, culture, one of the most respected museums in the world. Through this fantasy of disembodied ownership, the viewer is forced to contend with whether she believes in it in real life. Interestingly, Unreal Estate was shown in the Royal Academy itself. Viewers remarked that they had a new feel for the familiar interior after having experienced the space as "owners."
I listen to instructions on how to manage my "army of servants": the drivers, nannies, maintenance workers, cooks and butlers. The score turns dark and bittersweet as we move down into the vaults. I have to wear a heavy mantle of responsibility to keep my family legacy and dominion intact. My workers will sign confidentiality agreements. I will only hire legally, and all relations must be kept above board. And I have to resist treating maids like "sweet but poor relatives," the monologue continues; it is best to not show anger, as we must only "express our strongest emotions to our equals."
My walk through Unreal Estate is a journey inward. This is the purpose of deploying a first-person, meditative, role-playing experience. I am invited to meditate on my own relationship to the space. I walk deeper into the museum, past gold-leafed borders, up columned stairs. I hear: To become master of your home, you must define its mission. What mission would I give a home this grand?
This virtual Royal Academy, as metonymy of the art world, makes me acutely aware of how successive historical articulations of power and desire can converge in one space. The building, in this context, makes the fantasy of total ownership and real prestige both accessible and understandable. And what, I think, looking up at these totalizing facades, is wrong with desiring protection? The precariat of earlier ages used his pluck, endurance, and resilience to rise up from the dusty streets into the lit, rolling gardens of the aristocracy. Today's white collar office worker, though a little less smudged and hungry than Pip, still lives in an unsure world. He dreams of security, of safety, of continuity.
Though the simulation and dislocation in Unreal Estate should allow the space to be more fluid and plastic, it is interesting that the systems and symbols of great power are replicated again on the island. The logic and language of titanic ownership inspire potent longing. Wealth is, as ever, anything but just wealth: it is controlling desire, it is channeling anxiety into taste, it is the promise of protecting and supporting future generations.
In the final minutes of the film, I watch the sunlight cut thick gold lines across a smaller, seemingly gold model of the Royal Academy, kept on a dais, in a hall lined with thick maroon carpet. Then, I am up on the roof. I skip past Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate to the helipad. I feel deeply settled as the helicopter lifts up over my property; I survey my new estate for the first time. I think of my banker friends breaking out champagne to laugh at thousands of protesters from the balcony of their investment firm. I think of a young monarch assuming her duty, frozen into the image of the Virgin Queen at the end of the film Elizabeth.
Below, the glass ceilings of the gallery rooms, about fourteen in total, glitter in their gold and stone settings. I see rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, all ensconced, like jewels set in the lid of a tomb.