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The Rhizome Blog and Rhizome News

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    Sara Ludy, Acid Cloud (2015, digital video) embedded on rhizome.org.

    Sara Ludy's video works will be on the front page of rhizome.org all week as part of the ongoing online digital painting exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum for the First Look series.

    For this series of abstract video works, originally created for the online collaborative w-a-l-l-p-a-p-e-r-s.net, Sara Ludy begins with images created in Adobe Photoshop using the "Difference Clouds" feature, which alters color levels in an image according to cloud-like patterns. This software-generated image is then imported into Adobe Aftereffects, where Ludy adjusts preset parameters to create these swirling cloud patterns. In part, the works are an investigation of the aesthetics inherent in the software tools—but unlike artists such as Cory Arcangel, who previously explored such "default" aesthetics in his Photoshop gradient series, Ludy allows more latitude for her own improvisation, seeking out visual complexity that transcends the seemingly mundane origins of her imagery.

    During the creation of the works, all of the artist's mouse movements take place outside of the image canvas, through the adjustment of various parameters. This pushes against the definition of this online exhibition, which brings together works in which the artist's physical gesture plays a defining role. Ludy's gestures are no longer interpreted by the computer as "marks" on the screen; however, such marks are never literal, one-to-one interpretations of an artist's gesture anyway. The movement of the artist's hand on an input device is always subject to a high level of interpretation and processing. Ludy's work provides an opportunity to question whether a hard-and-fast line can be drawn between digital abstractions that are made "by hand" and those generated by code, while finding in the inner workings of the computer the possibility of sublime aesthetics.

    View the videos on the "Brushes" exhibition page.

    For more on Ludy's work, see a review of a 2011 WALLPAPERS exhibition, Ludy's Artist Profile, and Nicolas Sassoon's discussion of her work for Computers Club.

     


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  • 10/14/15--11:55: Artist Profile: Lou Cantor
  • 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.

    Lou Cantor, "The Labor of Watching" (exhibition view at Oslo 10, 2015)

    Your most recent exhibition, "The Labor of Watching" (2015), takes as a primary reference point historical images from automobile safety test videos. These videos, as your work notes, are now widely available on internet video-sharing platforms; they are thus radically de/re-contextualized by audiences who in many cases have no firsthand memory of the vehicles shown or the context the videos were designed for. How do you see the proliferation of digital images changing expectations of visual experiences?  

    In our work, we use the videos only as a point of reference. In the space in Basel we presented just the crash barriers themselves. These objects are present in the videos, but they usually escape the attention of audiences who are focused on what happens to the cars. Depending on your perspective, this focus could be understood as a distraction. For us, the barrier is a much richer object, conceptually speaking; it's made only for the test, and, unlike a car, it does not serve any other purpose than to be something to crash into while being watched by researchers. Secondly, in forthcoming exhibitions we plan to contextualize the barriers differently, creating new structural meanings with them in line with (Oskar) Hansen’s notion of the "open form." We assume that, in part, because of the infinite proliferation of internet imagery, the viewers of our work will bring a memory of these videos with them when they view the objects; it therefore becomes superfluous to actually present the video content in the space.

    Such an overt connection to the digitalized images would limit, rather than expand the chain of references and possible interpretations we seek to evoke in the work. Frequently, it is the case that the sheer availability of images distorts the expectations a viewer brings to a given context. For example, despite all information to the contrary, young women often believe the models they see on fashion magazine covers actually look the way they do despite open admissions of the use of Photoshop by the designers; or, more directly germane to the works in "The Labor of Watching," Formula 1 viewers often attend races expecting dramatic crashes despite how rarely these occur. We did not want to prime expectations directly in our methodology of display, merely to evoke what we believed would likely already be there in the minds of our interlocutors.  

     Lou Cantor, "The Labor of Watching" (exhibition view at Oslo 10, 2015)

    In Masks (2013), you highlight the physicality of the process of overwriting and erasure in text production in ancient societies. The works themselves incorporate images from ancient cultures imbricated with images which allude to or directly feature the components of digital representation. Do you feel that the infinite reproduction of digital images is in dialogue with such highly physical methods of production as referenced in the work—particularly as digital images are themselves the product of much overwriting (e.g. code writing onto hardware writing onto the pixels which then compose images or representations of images)?

    We are interested in how perception can be seen as a multilayered construction in which access to certain levels of awareness is restricted or obstructed. We aim to create works in which the audience and the artwork itself are equally important points of aesthetic reference. Elements of our pictographic reality are products of endless systems of evolution—and revolution—thus, many aspects of contemporary imagery, for example visual tropes or compositional relations, can be traced to ideas prevalent in ancient cultures. Moreover, the psychological construction of our perception can also be seen as a result of a lifetime of overlaying experiences. The work grows out of this background as well as a number of studies we have read of patients being able to recall traumatic events in minute detail despite large amounts of time elapsing between the recall and the underlying event. We wanted to create a work that embodied these features of the process of visualization and remembering. The physical aspect of the work, addressing the scraping out and the overwriting, was important to us because of its brutality, unpredictability and irreversibility. Once a certain cognitive event takes place, we are unable to see things the way we saw them before. The event cannot be "unseen." In a time of visual overload and an endless stream of traumatic imagery, it is important not to underestimate the consequences of this feature of our cognitive faculties.

    The choice of masks in the work was also a game of contextualization—a mask is an artifact that, more than anything else, shows how context can change a message. The familiar Shakespearean gesture of removing a mask is probably the most beautiful example of manifesting this reality while simultaneously exposing or sabotaging its logic. In our case, we decided to hide digital print and contemporary masks behind a screen print of historical African masks. The sense we had was one of civilizations in dialogue across time; the overlaying of technologies is yet another aspect of this discourse. We are also interested in how changing standards and constant scripting and re-scripting influences messages. Digital images are written in 0-1 systems, and binary itself is meaningless until such time as an executed algorithm defines what should be done with each bit, byte, word or block. We concentrate on this dynamic of instruction and translation in other works as well; for example, in a series of textiles we are presently working on we are breaking internet-sourced images down into their source code in order to reproduce them according to a different logic of translation in Jacquard fabrics (the Jacquard loom was the first machine with software written in binary—a protoplast of our digital era, in a sense).

    Lou Cantor, Masks (2013)

    The work Autumn in Peking takes its title from a 1947 novel by the French writer Boris Vian. Specifically, it references the archeologists in Vian's novel who are tasked with smashing ancient vases so that they can be reassembled by museum preservation staff. In the work, vases can be bought from a vending machine; as the vases drop into the retrieval tray at the bottom of the machine, they break. The work is described as having been inspired by the ubiquitous vending machines in Japan which sell seemingly incongruous objects like live lobsters. As the process of commercial sales is increasingly automated and digitalized, do you see the role of human beings in contemporary economies as being fundamentally redefined? Vian's conservationists could be seen as representing a branch of the "knowledge economy" such as is frequently described in contemporary business and economic discourse. For you, is such a "knowledge economy" simply a hollow concept ripe for satire in the Vian sense, or are there entirely new relations emerging in post-digital capitalism that you think are important to recognize, acknowledge and discuss?

    For someone who grew up in a post-communist reality, Vian's idea seemed like quite a realistic situation! When we first thought about preparing a work for a vending machine, we wanted to focus on the performative and economic aspects of the specific dynamics of display the machine provides—the exhibition was visible through the machine's glass door, but the "exhibits" were displayed according to the machine's internal design logic, completely different from what is expected of an exhibition. In the work, you could only fully interact with a piece if you purchased it. To truly exist, the work needed an active audience, and, importantly, there was the additional action performed by the machine as a mediator between the audience and artwork.

    We also wanted to address the Japanese context in two specific ways, first, the vending machine, and the practice of Kintsugi (金継ぎ), a special technique of decorative mending for broken ceramics that became so popular that some works were deliberately smashed just to be repaired. The work thus has a specificity of place that we regard as critical to its realization. In a larger sense, with regard to the question, the work mirrors features of global capitalism in that in order to participate, you must be a buyer. The role of the seller is now increasingly complicated and automated on both basic and sophisticated levels (from automated check-out in supermarkets to high-frequency trading). We felt the machine seller and the conscious buyer (at least in theory) referenced these relations. 

    Lou Cantor, Autumn in Peking (2011)

    As inter-subjectivity is such a central concern in your practice, and you have made a number of works intended to be displayed or experienced in digital formats, for example on smartphones, could you talk about the ways in which the "internet of things" is reshaping the discourse between individuals and objects, in your understanding? Do you feel the emergence of "smart devices" is changing the nature of the philosophy of inter-subjectivity in meaningful ways, or does it merely represent a re-categorization/re-branding of the same core concepts?

    For us, in this case, the answer is both yes and no. Devices are used to facilitate communication, but they bring with them their own logic; this is a highly intentional logic as a result of meticulous design. In this sense, inter-subjectivity does take on new dimensions because of the specific logic written into and output by such devices. Our relationship to objects fundamentally changes even if similar conceptual principles to "classical" inter-subjectivity theory are at work in the design of the new objects.

    The field of inter-subjectivity can be thought of as a trading zone—a place where thoughts and ideas are confronted, valued, exchanged, some resonate and make a career for themselves, and some fall into oblivion. All the devices and technologies you mentioned change the nature of our communication; they enhance speed and precision—or perhaps the opposite. They simplify in the name of faster dispersion. They memorize, and they monitor us. They observe humans in the same way devices were used to measure, for example, weather phenomena in the past, and they bring meaning to dynamic systems. In the economic reality in which we live today, they also render that meaning as a transaction.

    Lou Cantor, Crisis (2015)

    Questionnaire:

    Age, location: 

    Lou Cantor is a Berlin-based artists' collective founded in 2011.

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    From the beginning of our practice.

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

    Kunst Akademie Düsseldorf, Akademia Sztuk Pięknych Warsaw, Universität der Künste Berlin. Fine arts.

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

    Prefer not to answer.

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

    In a hotel at the moment...


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    A recombinant series of digital paintings by artist Michael Manning will be on the front page of rhizome.org all week as the final work in the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum for the First Look series.
     
    The works are from 100paintings.gallery, a new online work by Manning with code by Zach Shipko. The site randomly combines a selection of 100 different paintings in five layers to create a unique composition each time the page is refreshed. According to the artist statement, "this set of parameters allows for over 9 billion unique works." Each 800x1000px composition can be downloaded as well as shared via a generated permalink.
    Read Michael Manning's Artist Profile here. Read about his Microsoft Store Paintings on Rhizome and on artist Tom Moody's blog.  

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    Laura Brothers, come and be real for us (Dec 25, 2007). Detail area of 803 x 840 digital image.

    Artist Laura Brothers, whose work was included in the online exhibition "Brushes" (co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look), is featured on the newest installment of Gene McHugh's podcast, Net Art Hell.

    Brothers has been posting her images to a LiveJournal blog under the moniker out_4_pizza since 2007; in his podcast, McHugh tracks the visual progression of the images through the evolution of Brothers' style and content. He points to the use of cut-and-paste image appropriation in the earlier work: imagery drawn from 1980s television, imagery from the past 40 years of rock music album cover culture, and other imagery that Brothers refers to as "timestamped." Building on this exploration of temporality, McHugh adds that the LiveJournal platform is itself dated, which emphasizes the datedness of the image content. In addition, the chronological structure of the LiveJournal feed allows the viewer to understand how Brothers' practice unfolds over time. As artist Giovanna Olmos noted in the Brushes panel at the New Museum, scrolling is a new narrative form.

    Brothers' newer work is still inspired by timestamped cultural imagery, but unlike the earlier clearly appropriated collages, it alludes to its sources in loose, gestural abstractions. This style can be seen in the recent posts Cake Walk Howl (posted, according to LiveJournal, at 24 September 2015 @ 03:42 pm) and Alfredo Frenzy (posted 10 September 2015 @ 04:40 pm), which have Brothers' signature pixelated texture, but refer more to expressive sketches and figure drawing than to specific timestamped cultural images.

    McHugh concludes:

    What the viewer may come to understand in out_4_pizza is all of this is leading to a representation of its medium: an ongoing blog or image stream in which every image is always-already a ghost, always already in flux, becoming and falling away. It's a medium-specific, self-reflexive work, not just because its imagery is born digital and pops on the screen, which it does do, but also because it describes the overwhelming power time has over images displayed in streams on screens by again and again referring to image types from the just-past and now dated and doubling the sense of that by setting everything over the LiveJournal interface. out_4_pizza performs its being right now.

    Brushes is on view here.

     Laura Brothers, alfredo frenzy (Sept 10, 2015). Detail area of 940x700 pixel digital image.


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    EITHER WE INSPIRE OR WE EXPIRE (2015) by artist Liam Gillick and data journalist Nate Silver considers technological failure and its lack of visibility in a society obsessed with success.

    Created as part of Rhizome'’s Seven on Seven conference, which convenes leading artists and technologists for high-level collaborations, this web-based project draws on a selection of words handpicked by Gillick and Silver—such as THE .COM FOR MOMS, ASSASSIN VAPORS, DRONE CON, and WRAPIPEDIA—from a database of inactive trademark applications.

    Gillick and Silver embarked on the project by taking one of the questions commonly addressed using statistical analysis—How can we reduce risk?—and inverting it, asking instead: How can we guarantee risk? Applying this question to the creative process, Silver observed that our understanding of innovation suffers from "sample bias": we have a distorted perception of the success rate of new ideas because only the successful ones, or the ones that change the game or disrupt an industry, are discussed. Thus, failure in creative production and innovation represents a "dark corner" for statisticians.

    The database of failed trademarks that Gillick and Silver used for the project lists 4.5 million companies whose ideas didn't quite play out. From this vast trove, they curated a selection of names, presenting them one after another in a web-based slideshow that puts a momentary spotlight on the traces of failure in creativity and innovation. The words appear in white on a black background, with each entry representing a set of aspirations: sometimes grandiose, sometimes humble, sometimes sad or funny, but always unrealized.

    View work

    Image: Liam Gillick and Nate Silver presenting an early version of EITHER WE INSPIRE OR WE EXPIRE at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven conference at the New Museum, May 2015. Courtesy Madison McGaw / BFA

    SPONSORS
    Major support for First Look is provided by the Neeson/Edlis Artist Commissions Fund. Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.


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    Raphaël Bastide, Handmade Deep Dream (2015). If this were a real Deep Dream image these would be dogs probably.

    Participants in social media will by now be well aware of the artistic renaissance that has been underway since the release of Google's Deep Dream visualization tool last week. Antony Antonellis' A-Ha Deep Dream captures well the experience of encountering these unsettling images on the internet:

    Antony Antonellis, A-ha Deep Dream (2015).

    By way of recap: Deep Dream uses a machine vision system typically used to classify images that is tweaked so that it over-analyzes images until it sees objects that aren't "really there." The project was developed by researchers at Google who were interested in the question, how do machines see? Thanks to Deep Dream, we now know that machines see things through a kind of fractal prism that puts doggy faces everywhere. 

    It seems strange that Google researchers would even need to ask this question, but that's the nature of image classification systems, which generally "learn" through a process of trial and error. As the researchers described it,

    we train networks by simply showing them many examples of what we want them to learn, hoping they extract the essence of the matter at hand (e.g., a fork needs a handle and 2-4 tines), and learn to ignore what doesn't matter (a fork can be any shape, size, color or orientation). But how do you check that the network has correctly learned the right features? It can help to visualize the network's representation of a fork.

    Strangely, the same question was actually posed during Rhizome's Seven on Seven conference this year, by Adam Harvey, Mike Krieger, and Trevor Paglen. The group was able to reverse engineer a machine vision system to generate what could be described as its archetypal image of a "goldfish." It looked like a kind of orange blur against a blank background. Their goal, though, was not to check the accuracy of the system exactly, but to begin to better understand how such systems might be altering visual culture and society.

    In the case of the Google researchers, they didn't simply try to isolate these archetypal images, but to tweak parts of existing images until they became recognizable to the machine as particular objects. 

    Johan Nordberg, Inside an Artificial Brain (2015). (H/T Kari Altmann.)

    I was curious about why all the Deep Dream images seemed to have eyes in them, and dog faces. This is part of the appeal, I think; the promise of Deep Dream is that it allows people to "see" algorithms, which are often invoked in the modern press as a kind of all-powerful sorcery. Now that these hidden forces are finally visible, we know that they are actually eyes hidden in everything, watching us. So on one level, these visualizations are deeply satisfying representations of digital wizarding.

    This Reddit thread, though, offered some more useful insight. An image classification system must be "trained" on an image set. Before it can identify a fork, it must be fed a number of pictures of forks, so that it can analyze their key characteristics. The dataset used to train the Deep Dream system, according to knowledgeable Reddit user emptv, is called ImageNet, which contains many image sets of dogs. In an alternative quickly proposed by other Reddit users, Deep Dream could alternatively be trained on the dick algorithm, and then it would see dicks everywhere.

    According to the New York Times, ImageNet was initiated by computer scientists at Stanford and Princeton in 2007 after running up against the limits of image captions supplied by internet users. They wanted to train image classification systems to recognize images based on clearly captioned photos, not the kind of trollish, inane labels slapped onto images by most internet users. They built a database of 14 million human-labeled images. "Each year, ImageNet employs 20,000 to 30,000 people," says the Times, "who are automatically presented with images to label, receiving a tiny payment for each one." (About those tiny payments...)

    In particular, the subset of the ImageNet data used by Google is from a smaller group of images released in 2012 as part of an important annual image-recognition competition/conference. The contest is like this:

    Presented with an image of some kind, the first task is to decide whether it contains a particular type of object or not. For example, a contestant might decide that there are cars in this image but no tigers. The second task is to find a particular object and draw a box around it. For example, a contestant might decide that there is a screwdriver at a certain position with a width of 50 pixels and a height of 30 pixels.

    And in 2012, as it happens, there was also a bonus task: "Fine-grained classification on 120 dog sub-classes!" 

    So the data given to the competing teams, and then later re-used for Deep Dream, had lots of extra doggy images, categories like Siberian huskyAlaskan malamutewhippet, and papillon, which I didn't even know was a kind of dog:

    This is a papillon?

    And of course, as one of the teams from 2012 put it, "since bodies of dogs are highly deformable, the parts being most reliably detectable are their heads....Therefore, we use a simple head detector by applying a hough circle transform to find eyes and noses." (I mean, I get that deformable is a word that computer vision people use a lot, but still, are you listening to yourselves?) There seem to be no humans in the subset of images used in the Deep Dream release, perhaps because of likely qualms about what it might mean to "classify" humans, but no such qualms apply to other species; there are many other species of animal as well, probably all of which have "highly deformable" bodies and more easily detectable eyes. 

    The fact that dog recognition was identified as an additional task might have been a way of making ImageNet more appealing to the interests of the general population. In the Times article cited above, a Google researcher is quoted saying that "Most people are more interested in Lady Gaga or the iPod Mini than in this rare kind of diplodocus." Dog breeds are a kind of happy medium. They appeal to the classificatory mania that machine vision researchers seem to have inherited from the 19th century Natural History Museum. And, they are popular on the internet.

    So this is what we get. We clicked on doggy pictures so much, and now everything is turning into weird half-doggy monsters. And the dick pics we clicked on are coming for us next.


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  • 07/14/15--15:00: Some news from Rhizome HQ
  • A bittersweet announcement: after serving for three years as Executive Director of Rhizome, Heather Corcoran will step down from her position at the end of September to join her partner in the UK.

    From Heather:

    It's been my great honor to lead this influential digital arts organization, from programs like Seven on Seven, to our world-class conservation initiatives, to the very question of what it means to be an art institution based on the internet. It's in a strong position and I'm confident that Rhizome will continue to thrive with its expert staff, a dedicated board and our partners at the New Museum as it heads into its 20th anniversary next year, and beyond.

    Thank you, Rhizome community, for welcoming me these past years, and thank you especially to the artists we've collaborated with during that time. Working at an organization whose mission is so clear and vital, and whose culture is so strong, has been incredible.

    A search is currently underway for a new Executive Director.


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    Chronus Art Center, Rhizome, and TASML are pleased to announce the second edition of the Prix Net Art, a $10,000 prize for net art. The prize will recognize the future promise of an artist making outstanding work on the internet, as demonstrated by past achievement. A second distinction prize of $5,000 will also be awarded. Awards are made to acknowledge excellent artists who remain committed to working online. Nominations are now open, and guidelines available here. The winners will be selected by a jury of three international judges: Josephine Bosma, Chrissie Iles, and Domenico Quaranta.

    Learn more about the prize, the call for nominations, the jury, and past winners JODI and Kari Altmann at http://prix-netart.org

    About the Prize
    The Prix Net Art celebrates the current moment of net art and its future, and was created to acknowledge the shifting relationship between art and the web. Increasingly, the internet is the frame through which all contemporary art and culture is seen and understood. As many artists tackle technology as subject matter through different forms—sculpture, installation and painting—this prize seeks to address the relative scarcity of support for artwork that takes place primarily or exclusively online. The prize emphasizes the unique and crucial importance of such work in order to encourage those who continue to make art on the internet.

    Each prize is an acknowledgement of one artist's work in net art, and their future promise to contribute to the field, as evidenced by excellent and significant past achievement. The award is made on a "no strings attached" basis, acknowledging those who have continued to make work on the internet despite limited financial and institutional support, and who remain committed to working online.

    About Net Art
    An expansive area of artistic practice, net art is artwork that acts on computer networks, and is acted on by them, in ways that are defining, not merely incidental. This could include Twitter bots, chatrooms, networked installation, webcam performance, social media interventions, tactical media tools, or Instagram accounts. For the purposes of this prize, though, emphasis will be given to works that are primarily experienced in a web browser.

    About the Organizers
    CHRONUS ART CENTER is China's first nonprofit art organization dedicated to the presentation, research / creation and scholarship of media art, established in 2013. CAC creates a multifaceted and vibrant platform for the discourse, production and dissemination of media art in a global context, with its exhibitions, residency-oriented fellowships, lectures and workshop programs, and through its archiving and publishing initiatives. CAC is positioned to advance artistic innovation and cultural awareness by critically engaging with media technologies that are transforming and reshaping contemporary experiences.

    RHIZOME is an arts organization based on the internet, affiliated with the New Museum in New York. It advocates for contemporary art that creates richer and more critical digital cultures. Working online and off, it re-thinks artistic creation, distribution, and reception in relation to changing conditions associated with the internet, through exhibitions, events, commissions, collection and critical writing. It is a leading international organization to support art and technology, online since 1996.

    Under the auspices of the Art and Science Research Center of Tsinghua University, TASML is a research laboratory that aims to synergize the rich resources available among the Tsinghua's diverse research institutions and laboratories to create an incubator for crossbred, interdisciplinary experiments among artists, designers, scientists and technologists. TASML also functions as a center and a hub for worldwide exchange and collaboration both with academic and research institutions and the global media art and design community.

    Additional support for Rhizome and the Prix Net Art is provided by the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation


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    Rhizome is accepting proposals for its $500 microgrants until July 23. Here, one of last year's awardees shares her experience.

    You can tell that my hired hacker is good at computers by his effective use of Photoshop's Neon Glow filter.

    To be an artist in New York is to be a brand, or at least it is if you have any hope of achieving whatever your metric for success is. (Unless your metric for success is the pure self-fulfillment that comes from creation and intellectual exploration.) I am a terrible brand; my pursuits are as scattered as my online identities, and my Klout score is currently a meager 44.11 thanks to my lackluster Twitter and Instagram offerings. To solve at least one of these problems, I submitted a proposal to Rhizome's microgrant open call for web-based projects last year in the hope of using the award money to hire a hacker to secure two abandoned accounts on Twitter and Tumblr sharing the username "everyoneisugly," a brand I have been trying to get on lock since I bought everyoneisugly.com in 2011 on a whim because I was surprised that the URL was available. I make a living as a developer and have been goofing around online for over twelve years, but my knowledge of the deep web (here I use the term to describe the hidden-but-public networks that can only be accessed via special configurations or software like TOR, although pedants insist that it has something to do with the early 2000s) was limited to a cursory understanding of encryption and an assumption of criminality. I was bluffing, I was a finalist, and I decided I had better start filling in the gaps in my knowledge. I quickly discovered that the deep web is as much of a parade of clumsily manicured personas as any comment thread on a popular art world Instagram.

    With my soul I have desired this dead account for about 4 years.

    I've been coding since I made my first "Which Weasley are You?" online quiz in middle school, so how hard could this be? I signed up for a secure communications workshop hosted by Thoughtworks, just to play it safe, and diligently wrote down the email address of the ACLU representative present, for when I inevitably ended up on a watchlist or in court for having the audacity to hack the planet. I set up a burner laptop with Tor (could never get a virtual machine to work), and kept a little notebook with all the passwords and mnemonics for all my new deep web accounts. I finally finished reading Bleeding Edge; I bleached my hair. I was ready to go.

    The deep web is above all else the sort of he-man women haters club that puts the greatest warriors of Gamergate to shame; its users idly post vile images and threats without fearing the consequences. But if everyone is anonymous, no one is actually doing any doxxing, and the whole pissing contest is underscored by how difficult it is to hire anyone to do anything truly illegal. The markets are flooded with bogus listings guaranteeing to teach you how to hack anything, or how to be better at oral sex, or how to make $1000 working from home, and the forums are similarly full of real or emotional teenagers begging for a cracked login to Pornhub. I couldn't find anyone prepared to hack Twitter for me, but I did find someone trading Pokémon cards for bitcoin.

    Like all deep web markets, BlackBank caters to the deepest needs of your average 14-year-old boy.

    I kept hitting dead ends, and couldn't even find anyone who knew how to send and receive encrypted emails. Even when I contacted firms whose logo featured Comic Sans and a logo made in MSPaint in '02 (surely an indication that a business is too successful to fail due to marketing), I couldn't find a single hacker or service with any sort of positive reputation.

    Before I knew it, I was well past my 4 month deadline for the grant with nothing to show for it. I began to exchange the money for bitcoin at least to be prepared to pay someone when I found them—a painfully slow and paranoid process of moving the money though increasingly unreliable services. I told friends there was no way anyone would prosecute me for the project, it was so clearly satire, yet I still lost sleep worrying that someone would care enough to take legal action. I was preemptively mortified at the thought of jail time for an art joke. And yet I was still too lazy at least to meet someone in Jersey to buy untraced bitcoin with cash. I went with the only online service that wasn't a mess of dead links, and when I finally lost the money in the sort of exit scam now well known in the mainstream web thanks to the fall of Evolution and other markets, it was a relief. I had $16 left of the original $500 grant and none of the anxiety of searching or the inescapable gloom of seeing so many people pathetically trying to scam each other.

    The one that got me. It seemed about as legit as anything else on the deep web.

    I decided to backtrack and mine my experience for other content, which lead me to a British comedian who was unwittingly advertising scamware. If you Google "how to hack twitter," there are plenty of mainstream web solutions. You're advised to report squatters to Twitter, which doesn't work. You can try and hire someone through Fiverr or Hackers List, who will probably return your $5 after you tell them that a PDF about how to root a server isn't what you asked for.

    Hackers-for-hire on Fiverr typically offer to teach you how to do your own dirty work "for educational purposes."

    Or you can dig around through the piles of instructional videos showing you how to do the job yourself. DailyMotion, a throwback to YouTube's golden days, is full of these, and I stumbled upon what I thought was an obvious satire of the genre:

    But clearly, it was not obvious enough. Several scamware sites use the video as promotional material, and the comments for it include wannabe hackers asking for advice or begging to hire the creator. It was easier to track down Michael Spicer, the comedian responsible, than it was to dig up any information on my account squatters. "If it's on the internet, there will always be people falling for it. And if scammers want to use my videos, well then, knock yourself out," said Spicer in an interview I conducted in February, about a week after I had lost the money and given up the cause. "Whenever I got these begging tweets from young people, desperate to hack into their friends' accounts, all I felt was pity. Many teenagers these days are drowning in the digital world. When I was young, falling out with a friend didn't get as ugly as it does now. The Internet is a terrifying weapon in the hands of an aggrieved teenager."

    The scammers using Spicer's video as advertisement market themselves to the forgetful user, not only the vengeful one.

    "Peter," who I first contacted via one of the many forums I scoured, may be such a teenager, although I don't know how old he is. He was responding to someone else's plea for a Twitter hack, saying he knew how to make that kind of thing happen. I tried to encrypt our conversation, but he was one of the many self-styled hackers I encountered on the deep web who didn't know how to use PGP, which should have been a tip-off at the outset. Nevertheless, I enlisted his help. This was the moment of my greatest anxiety: I would have to reveal my identity to my hired hacker in order to finish the job. A simple Google search of "everyoneisugly" brings up my own website, Instagram, and several other accounts in addition to the two I am trying to acquire. It also brings up the Rhizome announcement of my intention to do the project in the first place. Could I trust Peter to preserve my secrecy and understand that he was only to go after the Twitter and Tumblr accounts with the username? Probably not, but what did I have to lose at that point? Would he be offended by my treating the noble art of hacking as an inside joke for artists? Well, too late. I told him I had a budget, but when the money was stolen I just fell out of touch with him, since it didn't seem to be going anywhere regardless.

    After a short hiatus, Peter reached out to me via two different email accounts to try and phish me in order to sell my own clear web accounts back to my deep web self. Some l33t sk1llz for sure. I wanted to think he was maybe exacting revenge on me for flaking on our deal, but I honestly believe he was just confused. Both email accounts he used were easily traceable to his real name, his location, and multiple online profiles. I still don't know who owns @everyoneisugly, but I know where Peter lives, that he's pro-gun, and that he likes to stalk gymnast Shawn Johnson on her Flickr. I know that he's the kind of guy who makes his Google+ profile pic an Anonymous logo and then comments on hacker instructional videos asking for more help with cracking WEP keys. I changed my passwords, but I don't know that I needed to bother. I told Peter off for being stupid, but, to be fair, it's not as if I was any better.

    I still have the $16 and have, nearly a year later, looped back to my original strategy of griping to friends who know people working at Twitter in the hope that someone will just nuke the dead account and let me have it. "Hacking Twitter" amounts to phishing, and if there's no one to phish on a dead account, you're out of luck. I still dream that some clue will surface, or that someone will respond to my multiple offers to buy the accounts. Despite threats and stories about this online haven for assassins, I found navigating the deep web to be as innocuous, tedious, and fruitless as trying to schmooze at an art opening in the hopes that someone, anyone, will actually show up for a studio visit.

    I could have bought so many followers with that money. But mostly I just want to move on. I'd really rather be painting.


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    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.


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    WWWWWWWWWW.JODI.ORG (1995)

    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.)


    August 2015 Update: Michael found the book.


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    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.  


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  • 07/21/15--07:31: Artist Profile: Lilah Fowler
  • 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:

    www.ofalltheobjectsintheuniversethereisnothingsmallerthantheearth.com

    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)

    Questionnaire:

    Age: 34

    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!):


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    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 more recent foray into institutional platform-building, e-flux Conversations, is more like a Facebook Group with a professional editor. The hybrid discussion / blog platform and event blogging ecosystem started in October 2014, can be seen as an attempt to facilitate communication among networks of multiple and geographically dispersed voices and readers. 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


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    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)

    Questionnaire:

    Age: Oh honey no.

    Location: London

    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!


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    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.

    Berlin-based writer Fiona Shipwright is an editor of uncube magazine. She can be found on Twitter @edwardiansnow


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    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. 

    It's easy to forget but another important point is that the maps we use for free are offered to us by companies that are running a for-profit business. This has an impact on what information we see on a map and the data we create from using the map is stored and analyzed for further business opportunities. While it might seem insignificant in the short term it has the potential over time to shape people and communities by manipulating their decisions on where, when and how to go anywhere. 

    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. 

     

     
    Screenshot, detail. Indirect Flights can be viewed at www.indirect.flights

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    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)

    Questionnaire:

    Age: 33

    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!)


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