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Articles on this Page
- 08/06/15--05:00: _Why (and how) our m...
- 08/10/15--10:00: _Collectible After A...
- 08/14/15--08:10: _The Flash Artists w...
- 08/19/15--07:00: _Interview: American...
- 08/20/15--07:46: _Art in Your Pocket ...
- 08/21/15--10:45: _Artist Profile: Law...
- 08/26/15--07:15: _A Scanner, Darkly: ...
- 08/27/15--08:00: _Simulation as Insti...
- 09/02/15--10:06: _A black market for ...
- 09/03/15--14:20: _First Look: Brushes
- 09/09/15--11:00: _Announcing the 2015...
- 09/11/15--07:50: _Born-Digital Art In...
- 09/15/15--13:09: _New digital paintin...
- 09/17/15--12:07: _Jacob Ciocci at Int...
- 09/21/15--14:30: _Flatness: an interv...
- 09/22/15--09:30: _Between 'Total War'...
- 09/24/15--08:25: _Artist Profile: Sha...
- 09/29/15--07:15: _It Doesn't Just Wor...
- 09/29/15--08:30: _Announcing: Zachary...
- 09/29/15--11:01: _Jacob Ciocci Paints...
- 08/06/15--05:00: Why (and how) our museum started collecting Vines
- 08/14/15--08:10: The Flash Artists who Cybersquatted the Whitney Biennial
- 08/19/15--07:00: Interview: American Reflexxx
- 08/20/15--07:46: Art in Your Pocket 4: Net Art and Abstraction for the Small Screen
- 08/21/15--10:45: Artist Profile: Lawrence Abu Hamdan
- 08/26/15--07:15: A Scanner, Darkly: On Andrea Crespo's "polymorphoses"
- 08/27/15--08:00: Simulation as Institutional Critique: Lawrence Lek's 'Unreal Estate'
- 09/02/15--10:06: A black market for people "consumed by the internet"
- 09/03/15--14:20: First Look: Brushes
- 09/09/15--11:00: Announcing the 2015 Net Art Microgrants
- 09/11/15--07:50: Born-Digital Art Institutions: TEDxMet
- 09/15/15--13:09: New digital paintings by Petra Cortright
- 09/17/15--12:07: Jacob Ciocci at Interstate Projects
- 09/21/15--14:30: Flatness: an interview with Shama Khanna
- 09/24/15--08:25: Artist Profile: Shawné Michaelain Holloway
- 09/29/15--07:15: It Doesn't Just Work: DullTech on Kickstarter and Shenzhen
- 09/29/15--08:30: Announcing: Zachary Kaplan Appointed Rhizome's Executive Director
- 09/29/15--11:01: Jacob Ciocci Paints Outside of the Box
The 2015-16 English premiere league season kicks off on Saturday, and the National Football Museum will be collecting fan-made archives throughout the season using Webrecorder Beta. To suggest fan-made football Vines for the NFM archives during the forthcoming season, use the hashtag #footyvinesnfm.
Vines shown in this article are embedded directly from the Webrecorder Beta platform, and are not yet viewable on all browsers. Links to the original Vines are included in the captions, and the archived Vines can be seen in context in NFM's Webrecorder collection.
The National Football Museum, Manchester, UK.
The National Football Museum (NFM) holds the world's greatest collection of football (soccer) artefacts, with 140,000 objects in its holdings. As well as shirts, balls, photographs, paintings, and trophies, much of the history of association football in England has been captured within commercial media—typically print and broadcast, but sometimes more imaginative things like these "Goal Action Replay" flipbooks which were produced for the Daily Mirror newspaper back in 1972.
Daily Mirror Newspaper Flipbook (1 of 6) (1972). Vine courtesy of Emily Briselden-Waters.
The fans' "voice" is also represented through homemade memorabilia, banners and fanzines (of which the museum holds a collection of over 1000). Independent and often cut n' paste, these lo-fi publications produced during the 1970s, 80s and 90s embody fan humor, attitudes, and media of the day in a way which would be impossible to replicate in any other way.
Cover of Adams Family (Wycombe Wanderers) Fanzine, August 1995. Detail.
For the last couple of Premier League seasons, the "Football Vine" has become ubiquitous, continuing the lineage of fans re-appropriating existing media to tell their own stories.
Many of the fans' "films" take existing footage being broadcast (typically filmed on mobile phones directly from a television screen) and then re-interpret this through cropping, editing and adding a soundtrack. The short nature of the Vine format (around 6 seconds) lends itself very well to single moments in a game—often crucial goals and saves—but also moments of skill, controversy, and humor. Even the traditional print media have been making use of fan-generated Vines embedded within their online match reports as is demonstrated by this Telegraph report of Raheem Sterling's first game as a Manchester City player vs Roma. Football Vines are an important part of the story of contemporary fan culture, and therefore are relevant to the museum's collection.
This moment when Liverpool's Jordan Henderson appears to stare down Chelsea's Diego Costa became a major talking point and was shared thousands of times. Many people used this incident to discuss Henderson's credibility as a future Liverpool captain.
Museums which include contemporary popular culture in their remit have always had to make difficult choices with respect to what they can collect, as so much of the story they seek to tell is happening in the immediate present. With Vines, this is complicated by the fact that the interaction that plays out as a "Vine" is shared and circulated and this activity can be as important as the video clip itself.
Vines are perhaps best experienced within social media, where a viewer can participate in this process of faving and sharing. Unfortunately, this is not a viable collection strategy. Football Vines are often at risk of takedown because the legal territory surrounding this culture is unresolved (see: Is posting football Vines copyright infringement?). The timely sharing of key moments from games via Vine and Twitter led in August 2014 to a backlash from the commercial broadcasters and the Premier League citing piracy laws (since they own the commercial rights).
"You can understand that fans see something, they can capture it, they can share it, but ultimately it is against the law," said Dan Johnson, director of communications at the Premier League (according to a BBC report). "It's a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it, we're developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity... I know it sounds as if we're killjoys but we have to protect our intellectual property."
The suggestion that clips deemed to be offending will be taken down is apparently being followed through on, as Vines of important Premier League goals from the 2014/15 season are now hard to come by, with many having been replaced by the above "Oops! Couldn't find it" image. Those that do remain online often have peculiar adjustments to their color or aspect ratio, presumably making it more difficult for the copyright holder of the original footage from which the Vine is derived to identify the clip.
So as not to lose quite so much fan-produced media next season, I have been working with Rhizome's Dragan Espenschied and developer Ilya Kreymer (formerly Internet Archive) to try out their Webrecorder platform, which records all of the functionality of online activity within native platforms (rather than downloading mere screengrabs). The aim is not be to contravene copyright, but instead to document online behaviors (sharing, comments, edited imagery) which are intrinsic to the Vine platform and demonstrate online fan culture now, in 2015.
For now I have produced a little test to document a series of weird and wonderful moments from the 2014/15 Premier League season. They can be seen as captured and archived with Webrecorder, and are embedded directly from Vine in their individual glory below—unless, by the time you read this, they've already been taken down.
Suggested by Fearghal Cross, Brendan Shanahan, Edward Jenks, Rick Banks, Gregory Povey, Peter Martin and Nuradin Abdi. Thank you also to Loz Kaye (former leader Manchester Pirate Party) for advice/support in early phase of this project.
Tim Howard (Everton against Southampton):
Terry and Sterling:
Tony Hibbert skills Everton:
Nigel Pearson Scuffle:
Steven Gerrard sending off:
Jason Puncheon free kick (Crystal Palace vs Manchester City):
Leah Williamson penalty kick:
Wayne Rooney Celebration (cinematic):
Alan Irwin—Deadline Day #PurpleDildo:
Nigel Pearson Ostrich:
"Brian Potter" Phoenix Nights Blackpool Pitch Invasion:
Bate Borisov captain Dzmitry Likhtarovich taken out by cheerleader in Belarusian Premier League:
Serbia vs Albania Drone Flag:
This research was conducted as part of Out of Play: Technology & Football, a season of commissions, artists residencies and artefacts at the National Football Museum, Manchester UK, and Collecting Cultures: Art of Football, an intitiative to improve the NFM's art collection.
Out of Play also included two other projects that featured ephemeral online media in a museum context: We Tripped El Hadji Diouf, organized by Jason Eppink, and The Time of The Game, by Jer Thorp, Mario Klingmann, Teju Cole.
Supported by public funding from Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Whitney Museum artport has been an important institutional presence in net art and new media since its launch in 2002. Created and curated by Christiane Paul, artport features online commissions as well as documentation of new media artworks from the museum's exhibitions and collections. This year, artport as a whole was made an official part of the Whitney Museum collection; to mark this occasion, participating artist Marisa Olson interviewed Paul about the program's history and evolution over thirteen years.
Douglas Davis, image from The World's First Collaborative Sentence (1994).
Collections like artport are a rare and valuable window onto a field of practice that, in some senses, was borne out of not being taken seriously. From mid-80s Eastern European game crackers to late-90s net artists, the first people working online were often isolated, by default or design, and were certainly marginalized by the art world, where few curators knew of their existence and fewer took them seriously, advocated for them, or worked to theorize and articulate the art historical precedents and currents flowing through the work. Help me fast-forward to the beginning of this century at one of the most important international art museums. Many of the US museums that funded new media projects did so with dot-com infusions that dried-up after 2000. Artport officially launched in 2001; the same year, you curated a section devoted to net art in the Whitney Biennial. What was the behind-the-scenes sequence of events that led to artport's founding?
I think artport's inception was emblematic of a wave of interest in net art in the US around the turn of the century and in the early 2000s. This more committed involvement with the art form interestingly coincided with or came shortly after the dot com bubble, which inflated from 1997–2000, had its climax on March 10, 2000 when NASDAQ peaked, and burst pretty much the next day. Net art, however, remained a very active practice and started appearing on the radar of more US art institutions. To some extent, their interest may have been sparked by European exhibitions that had begun to respond to the effects of the web on artistic practice earlier on. In 1997, Documenta X had already included web projects (that year the Documenta website was also famously "stolen"—that is, copied and archived—by Vuk Cosic in the project Documenta: done) and Net Condition, which took place at ZKM in 1999/2000, further acknowledged the importance of art on the web.
US museums increasingly began to take notice. Steve Dietz, who had started the Walker Art Center's New Media Initiatives early on, in 1996, was curating the online art Gallery 9 and digital art study collection. Jon Ippolito, in his role as Associate Curator of Media Arts at the Guggenheim, was commissioning net art in the early 2000s and in 2002, Benjamin Weil, with Joseph Rosa, unveiled a new version of SFMOMA's E-space, which had been created in 2000. This was the institutional netscape in which I created artport in 2001, since I felt that the Whitney, which had for the first time included net art in its 2000 Biennial, also needed a portal to online art. The original artport was much more of a satellite site and less integrated into whitney.org than it is now. Artist Yael Kanarek redesigned the site not too long after its initial launch and created version 1.1. Artport in its early days was sponsored by a backend storage company in New Jersey, which was then bought by HP, so HP appeared as the official sponsor. I think it is notable that sponsorship at that point did not come from a new tech company but a brand name that presumably wanted to appear more cutting edge.
Lisa Jevbratt/C5, 1:1 (1999)
Can you discuss the different functions of artport as they have evolved over the years, ranging from commissioning works and gatepages to exhibitions and archiving? How have these functions come together, or how have they shifted?
It's a great question since the evolution and focus of artport mirror shifts in net art practice and in the cultural landscape of the web over time. Artport consists of several sections, at least one of which has become an archive. In the late '90s and early 2000s, splash pages—pop-up landing pages from which the users could move on to the main content of a site—were a trend, so artport's "Gatepages" were originally conceived as either splash pages to an artist's website or new online project, but occasionally became elaborate mini-projects in themselves. Needless to say, splash pages at some point vanished—among other factors, they fell victim to the increasing use of pop-up ads and the consequent resistance to them and default blocking of pop-ups in browsers—so the Gatepages section effectively became an archive of an outdated format. I quite like the Gatepages archive for precisely that reason—it is not only an archive of mini-projects created between March 2001 and February 2006, but also a testament to the cultural vernacular of web expression at a certain time. Some of that early language of the web has become folklore and experienced a comeback; it is fun, for example, to look at Wolfgang Staehle's artport Gatepage from 2001 and compare it to the retro-aesthetics homepage of a "postinternet" artist such as Petra Cortright.
The "Exhibitions" section of the site has also seen cultural changes. It is both an archive of the projects that were included in on-site exhibitions of net art (the 2000 and 2002 Biennials, which had net art sections, and Data Dynamics in 2001) and of the "CODeDOC" exhibition, which was purely online. Content aside, the "Commissions" section of artport has not changed that much and commissions will continue on an irregular and ongoing basis. I very much enjoyed the process of collaborating with Tate on three commissions in 2006: Golan Levin's The Dumpster, Marc Lafia's and Fang-Yu Lin's The Battle of Algiers, and Andy Deck's Screening Circle. It just made sense to join forces at the time, and I liked the idea of an institutional network behind the commissions. It would be nice to see more collaboration between institutions in networked space.
In 2009, we started a new ongoing commission series called "Sunrise/Sunset," which consists of net art projects that temporarily take over whitney.org only at the time of the sunrise and sunset, in New York City. Rafaël Rozendaal's Almost There launched on May 1, 2015. Occasionally, web visitors arrive at the site precisely at sunrise or sunset and then write us e-mails informing us that our website is "broken;" I like the idea of giving artists an opportunity to literally take over the (online) museum space. At some point, Sunrise/Sunset no doubt will be another mini-archive of a discontinued format, similar to the gatepages, but I also see these archives as snapshots of a moment in the life of the web.
Website of RTMark (1997-). Screenshot c. 2000.
In a sense, artport has grown up parallel to the maturing of net art into what is now a highly diverse field of practice. For instance, it began in those bubble days just prior to the backlash against the term "new media" that is reflected in Lev Manovich's 2001 use of the term "post-digital" (channeling Rosalind Krauss's "postmedium"), the 2003 Tate panel you were part of entitled "When New Media Was New," the Banff Centre show curated by Sarah Cook & Steve Dietz in 2005, "The Art Formerly Known As New Media," and subsequent uses of the term "postinternet." What shifts have you seen in net art since artport's founding, and how are they reflected in the collection?
You're right, net art has evolved and changed tremendously over the past fifteen years alone, and some have argued that it has ceased to exist—at least as the "pure," exclusively online work experienced on your home computer that we saw in the 1990s and early 2000s. I would agree with the latter part. Net art increasingly became networked art, for example by branching out onto mobile devices and becoming available as an app that might work in conjunction with an installation or other offline components etc. These changes are embedded in artport's evolution. Some of the projects featured on the site have become apps, for example Scott Snibbe's Tripolar or The Battle of Algiers. As I mentioned, artport from the beginning documented exhibitions of online or digital art in the Whitney's galleries, but it increasingly became an online gallery space for commissions of net art and new media art, featuring Scott Paterson's and Jennifer Crowe's Follow Through (2007), a performative tour of the Whitney's collection that was accessible on mobile devices, or Will Pappenheimer's AR project Proxy (2014). Social media platforms completely changed the web, and commissions such as Jonah Brucker-Cohen's and Katherine Moriwaki's America’s Got No Talent, a visualization of Twitter feeds for reality TV shows, reflect that change.
The practice of many, if not most, artists who work with the digital medium today is extremely hybrid. They may create online projects but they might also do object-based art, paintings or sculptures that are deeply informed by or use elements of the net or its "language," which is what the term postinternet tries to capture. I have issues with the term since it postulates a temporality that simply doesn't hold up—we are by no means "after" the internet—but it still captures a very real and important condition, a fusion of the material and immaterial that is different from anything we have seen before. The Internet of Things and James Bridle's New Aesthetic are both expressions of that. (Sadly I now frequently see postinternet used as a catchy term for art made by anyone born roughly after 1985 or for a sensibility characterized by an uncomplicated reverence for fame and success.) Artport no doubt will morph once again to incorporate aspects of what we now call postinternet practice while still being on, in, and beyond, rather than post, the net.
John F. Simon, Jr., Every Icon (1997). Screenshot of software-based artwork.
Before you came to the Whitney you earned your PhD at Düsseldorf University where you wrote about Herman Melville and Thomas Pynchon, then wrote a hypertext companion to TS Eliot's Wasteland in the mid-90s; around the same time, you were founding Intelligent Agent, which in its first iteration was a paper-based, full-color, highly intellectual, highly regarded publication on art and technology. How do you see your own transition from fiction to the poetry of code and towards the media arts? You also continue to be one of the most prolific and rigorous scholars in the field, balancing curating, art historical research, criticism and teaching. I know you never take vacations. What does the horizon look like for you?
The path that led me, along with many other people, into new media art was research into theories on hypertext and networked reading and writing which gained momentum in the late '80s. One of the side effects of my work on Intelligent Agent was that I was frequently asked by museums and curators to consult on curatorial practices for new media art. It finally came to a point where I realized that I might as well curate and organize those exhibitions myself. My background in literature is definitely directly connected to my interest in code as a form of creative writing and in digital storytelling: I teach a course on Experimental Narratives at The New School's School of Media Studies where I am a professor. I am very interested in the new kinds of materialities we see emerging right now as our physical environment is infused by digital technologies and starts "waving back at us." As to what's on the near horizon: continuing to build artport and the Whitney's media arts programming; and I will have exhibitions opening at Borusan Contemporary in Istanbul in September and at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in December. And definitely more vacations.
After thirteen years in existence, artport has now been recognized with the status of a full-fledged collection, equal to painting or photography, within the Whitney Museum. Among other things, this endowed artport artists with the same legitimacy that the artists in the rest of the collection already had. (Indeed, it was fun watching everyone post their Lifetime Artist Membership cards on Facebook as they arrived in the mail and then seeing them all at the private opening of the museum's beautiful new building, finally feeling legit.) How would you describe the significance, within the Museum and within the international art community at large, of artport being recognized with this enhanced level of credence?
I think artport's new status as a special collection was a very important step for both the works featured on the site and the recognition of net art(ists) in general. The Whitney's curatorial team had in-depth discussions about how we would approach this relationship with the collection, which has significant ramifications for the ways in which we think about net art in institutional contexts.
There is a major difference between commissioning works and acquiring them for a collection. All of artport's projects were commissioned under non-exclusive licenses, meaning that the Whitney Museum has the right to exhibit them in perpetuity and hosts projects on its server, but that artists are still able to retain copies and show their works in exhibitions with a credit line stating that the respective piece was commissioned by the Whitney. The Whitney does not have exclusive ownership of artport projects, which brought up the question of whether we needed to officially acquire all of the pieces to bring them in to the collection. After discussions within the curatorial team, we decided that it does not make sense to "lock down" the works as acquisitions.
While I believe that net art can and should be collected—Rafaël Rozendaal's Art Website Sales Contract, for example, is a very sound model—acquisition didn't make sense for all of the artport projects. Many of the gatepages, for example, are artistic gestures that can easily be copied and appropriated by anyone. They are significant as artworks, but making claims for their exclusive ownership seemed like a violation of the characteristics of the net and the digital medium. We therefore chose to take a hybrid approach that makes artport an adjunct of the collection: all the works maintain their non-exclusive status but, at the same time, artport as a whole became associated with the collection. The "artport collection" is now given the same administrative purview as the Museum's collections. This means that all of the artists are treated as collection artists and that we are committed to preserving their work. Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the Whitney's Melva Bucksbaum Associate Director for Conservation and Research, has been very supportive of net art's preservation and has also spearheaded the conservation initiative devoted to preserving Douglas Davis' online project The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, which was donated to the Whitney in 1995, but remained the sole piece of net art in its collection until artport became part of it.
Bringing artport into the collection makes the statement that net art as a medium has the same status as traditional art forms. Not all of the artists that contributed to artport are exclusively "net artists;" they may also be painters or sculptors and work across a range of media. Bringing their web projects into the collection means that they are as important and collectible as a painting or sculpture.
Joel Fox for whitneybiennial.com, as seen in 2015 on Chrome for Mac. Photo: Heloise Cullen.
One story of whitneybiennial.com opens at the electronicOrphanage (EO) in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Founded in 2001 by artists Miltos Manetas and Mai Ueda, the now-defunct EO was once a small artist-run project space on Chung King Road, a pedestrian pathway dense with independent galleries and studios. Until its demise in 2004, the "Orphanage" remained a stark black cube, completely barren if not for a white screen where digital art was occasionally projected, typically when neighboring galleries hosted opening receptions over drinks. For the most part, the space was a kind of laboratory for a group of artists, curators, and critics with a shared interest in the computer and digital culture—the "Orphans." It was here, sometime in February 2002, that a plot to cybersquat the Whitney Biennial began to take shape. Or at least this is how Manetas, the project's architect, remembers it.
"Orphans" at the electronicOrphanage, Chinatown, LA (2001-2004). Source.
According to Manetas, the idea transpired from his exchange with art critic and fellow Orphan, Peter Lunenfeld. Less than a month away, the Whitney's 2002 Biennial was the focal point of their conversation, in particular the museum's heightened curatorial interest in emerging internet art forms. This seemingly ordinary chat eventually segued into an ambitious plan: to stage a net art show as an online foil to the 2002 Whitney Biennial. In time, the project developed into a full-on counter-exhibition, which would be hosted on the website whitneybiennial.com and installed IRL as a physical intervention, where a fleet of twenty-three U-Haul trucks, projecting artworks from the website, would blockade the Whitney Museum during the private opening reception of the Biennial.
The electronicOrphanage, (September 2001). Photograph by Peter Brinson. Source.
Like most Orphans at the EO, the works eventually displayed on whitneybiennial.com were predominantly identified with the currents known as Telic and Neen. Neen and Telic were closely related but distinct art brands, both devised in 2000 by the branding agency Lexicon at Manetas's request. In his elliptic explanation, "nature is Telic while miracles are Neen." Telic was more serious, more predictable, and readily identifiable; its aesthetics were firmly grounded in the capitalist market, its products were familiar and reproducible, at times channeled in commodities. Neen, on the other hand, was somewhat inexplicable, impossible to pin down, hard to recreate; it described a cathartic sensibility generative of creative epiphanies and breakthroughs: an artistic affect rather than a practice. While the definitions were fluid, at least one thing about the terms can be said with some certainty: by integrating networked technology with commercial design, Neen and Telic artists bridged many of the political and aesthetic chasms separating tactical media from proprietary software, net art from high-end fashion, and, ultimately perhaps, internet counter-cultures from consumer capitalism.
Cover of Manetas's book, Neen: New Art Movement (Edizioni Charta: Milano, 2006). Source.
Contrary to most net art trends of the 1990s and early 2000s, Neen and Telic involved an unabashed embrace of commercial technology and corporate culture—the former as a production tool, the latter as a conduit for political critique. More often than not, Neen artists produced deeply ambiguous works that, while branded like a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, were displayed as single-serving websites identified by Top-Level-Domain (TLD) websites hosting multimedia graphics inspired as much by video-games as by Prada and Balenciaga, frequently designed with Adobe Flash.
In one of the last installations at the space, the EO was transformed into a storefront where a phone number was projected onto a large screen, calling the number prompted a Neen artwork to appear on the storefront window. Source.
EO storefront screen displaying an artwork by Mike Calvert generated by anonymous phone calls. Source.
My research on whitneybiennial.com started last May, when I was asked by Michael Connor, Rhizome's Artistic Director, to work on a piece Nate Hitchcock had begun writing. Michael gave me Nate's notes and a response from Manetas himself, a generously offered personal narrative that—though it was rife with pleonasms and hyperboles—I first took at face value. In retrospect, however, this was a naïve assumption: not because Manetas shouldn't be trusted, but rather because I missed the work his story performed in the project. The more I read on whitneybiennial.com, the more I corresponded with curators and artists involved, the more variations on the history of whitneybiennial.com came forth. Eventually I came to see that this contested brand mythology surrounding whitneybiennial.com, oscillating between fact and fiction as it does, can be thought of as a crucial formal feature of the project. In the words of Benjamin Bratton, "It is in molesting the Reality Principle that [Manetas's] work takes the greatest pleasure." Because I share Bratton's sentiment, it is worth going into Manetas's story in detail.
Lev Manovich, thisismybeautifuldomainonedayiwillbegonebutitwillremain.com (2003). Part of the electronicOrphanage net art collection. Source.
A Strange History of whitneybiennial.com
According to Manetas, whitneybiennial.com resulted from a series of serendipitous events taking place between LA and NYC through the course of February 2002. During their conversation at the electronicOrphanage, Manetas told Lunenfeld of his dissatisfaction with the Whitney's selection of net art for the 2002 Biennial. His dismay appears to have been lodged in his perception that, by omitting Neen artists from the show, the museum had consequently failed to recognize it as an important and unique strain of web-based art at the time. Indeed, the artworks exhibited on whitneybiennial.com, most of which were designed with Flash, contrasted with the works featured in the Whitney's 2000 and 2002 Biennials, which were often more technically sophisticated. When Manetas proposed curating an online counter-show, Lunenfeld suggested hosting it on "whitneybiennial.com," which, surprisingly, was available at the time. In a matter of minutes, the domain was registered to Manetas and the project was on its way.
Later that month, Manetas emailed Lawrence Rinder, chief curator of the 2002 Biennial, with an overview of his ideas. He claims that no more than ten minutes went by before Rinder responded enthusiastically, expressing genuine interest in the project. The following morning Manetas was on a plane to New York City.
That day, Manetas met Rinder in the Whitney's iconic Breuer building on Madison and 75th. Looking out from his office window, Rinder drew Manetas's attention to an empty Chase Bank branch across the street: "I can help you to get permission to exhibit the internet art over there. You can install a few computers and monitors, maybe a projector."
After considering Rinder's proposal for a moment, Manetas remembers replying with a frenzied sort of politesse: "Thank you, but making a Salon des Refusés 2002 is not exactly our intention. We have our Space: it is the internet itself, larger and a lot more powerful than the Whitney." Looking through the same window in Rinder's office, Manetas saw a U-Haul truck parked opposite to the empty Chase branch and, within seconds, came up with an extravagant, off-the-cuff plan to stage his show as a public installation. "We are going to use 23 U-Haul trucks […] to surround your exhibition the day of the opening," he told Rinder. The U-Haul trucks would be transformed into large-scale, moving screens for the presentation of a selection of works, many by graphic designers, programmers, architects, and "Neenstars," curated by the likes of Alex Galloway, Lev Manovich, Marisa Olson, Patrick Lichty, and a host of other well-known figures in the net art world. As Manetas told Rinder that day: "The trucks will be looping around the Whitney tirelessly, each carrying a number of very special webpages."
While announcing his plan to disrupt the Whitney's show, Manetas recalls leering at Rinder's collection of "obsolete" printed matter cluttering the curator's office, issues upon issues of Artforum and Art in America, which he interpreted as physical placeholders for the Whitney's "antiquated" curatorial practice, tokens in the symbolic economy he was determined to defy. Before reaching for the door, likely with the allegorical magazines still in sight, Manetas turned to Rinder and said: "We consider webpages to be the real art of our days."
Miltos Manetas (2013). Source.
Lawrence Rinder (2013). Source.
The next day, Manetas describes being surprised by a wave of phone calls and emails that poured in from alarmed gallerists, curators, critics, and artist-friends, all counseling him against the U-Haul scheme. Matt Mirapaul, from the New York Times, allegedly fanned the flames by describing Manetas's installation as "the Internet against the Art System."
For Manetas, the U-Hauls were never the point. The real aim of the counter-Biennial was to circulate works that he deemed important and representative of a marginalized trend in early-2000s net art, without necessarily being "net.art per se." His take on net art was quite particular; romanticizing Adobe Flash as a "creative bomb," Manetas was convinced that new internet art practices were emerging. If artists working in Flash were perhaps more readily overlooked by the museum sector because their chosen tool was associated with commercial culture, then a similar attitude may have been reflected in the Whitney's casual disregard of the similarly debased .com domain. "In a sense," Manetas writes, "it was Whitney itself that commissioned me to make an anti-show online, by failing to register its own .com domain." This was commercial web aesthetics positioned as outsider art, long before they became the postinternet mainstream.
Screenshot from whitneybiennial.com (2003 version).
On Tuesday, March 5 at 7:00 PM, the 2002 Whitney Biennial opened its galleries to invited guests and members in the Upper East Side. Onsite, not a single Neen U-Haul truck marred the private reception's high art gleam. Online, however, the counter-Biennial held its ground (and still mostly does to this day, despite the occasional missing plug-in). The 2002 version of the site, designed by carbonatedjazz (aka Alexander Chen), featured HTML tables with thumbnails or embedded .swf files for each artists. The works could be opened in full screen from there, or sent to a "turntable" (created by Michael Rees) where they could be overlaid and, yes, remixed, in true early 2000s style. In 2003, a new version was created for a CD-ROM published by the Italian Magazine POSH; this version placed the work in a navigable museum-like environment. Both iterations are carefully considered classics of the online exhibition genre.
Whitneybiennial.com: History as Fable
Given the importance of branding to Manetas's practice, I reached out to a few other people involved in whitneybiennial.com to hear their stories. Quickly, the contradictions began to pile up. It is unclear, for instance, whether Manetas's encounter with Rinder, described with so much clarity and passion, was exactly as Manetas claims. At any rate, after I emailed Rinder asking about his exchange with Manetas, this is what he wrote back:
"None of that sounds familiar to me. I may very vaguely recall him saying something about a project with trucks but can't recall any details...I certainly did not contact the NYT." Larger screenshot.
Additionally, Patrick Lichty, a co-curator of whitneybiennial.com, says that Manetas contacted him about the project in December 2001. Meanwhile, Marisa Olson says she was invited to curate the show as early as November 2001; she was among the first curators invited to join the project and, in many respects, her recollection of whitneybiennial.com is an intriguing foil to Manetas's story. "U-Hauls were part of the initial plan—as described to me by Miltos," she recalls. "From the very first minute," she continues, "[Manetas] described [his project] as renting U-Hauls [...] and having the back doors open, then projecting work onto a screen. Miltos was especially obsessed with artists working in Flash animations. He wanted me to roundup Flash artists. Then the trucks were going to circle the block projecting the work during the opening." Per Olson, the project was already underway, with the Neen U-Hauls as its centerpiece, several months before the meetings with either Lunenfeld or Rinder were supposed to have taken place.
Pointing out these contradictions only serves to demonstrate that storytelling played a role in the project. If the history of whitneybiennial.com can be read as a kind of net art fable, that's certainly not because Manetas or anyone else involved was purposefully malign or disnohest, but because the project itself was, and remains, a performative internet fantasy. As Olson remarked:
"Yeah. It is all a performance for Miltos. ;)" Larger screenshot.
Much of what is critical, even "radical," about the project stems from its more playful and performative elements. In Manetas's own words, "when reality is not inspiring enough, you need to push it."
At the same time, though, when I asked Olson whether she thought of the project as a political intervention, she offered a pointed critique:
Maybe in its initial conception, but not considering what happened.... Here's what actually happened.... I busted my butt to reach out to 'Flash Artists' and get them excited to be part of this thing that was but wasn’t legit and was AT but not IN the Whitney Biennial. I promised them it would look the way they wanted and be handled professionally and be seen. And it was never seen. I was going to grad school in London at the time and couldn't be present at the opening. I started contacting Miltos for photos, feedback, etc. Artists on the ground in NYC started complaining to me that they never saw the trucks, artists abroad were sending me panic emails.
Miltos was at first unresponsive, then said it was too hard to get the trucks and projectors, then he said he never meant to do it at all. Given the order of responses, I felt like it was an excuse and he was just trying to sound punk and cool, but that could also be a performance of its own kind?
Meanwhile, I started hearing rumors and started wondering what was true, what was generated, what was spun, when the rumors were set into motion in the first place... I heard that I wasn't the only curator, but I never heard any other names or met anyone. I also heard that Miltos was in attendance inside the museum opening and that he had something like 5 guest passes (which is pretty baller) and that he was using them to sneak people in and out of the opening all night...
For me it was hard because I love providing access to ghettoized artists, but I felt pranked, the artists I invited were pissed at me (some for a long time) and I had no solid response, and in the end I felt a bit left out of the secret boys club.
Perhaps Manetas did not push reality quite far enough.
The Politics of Neen Aesthetics
As an intervention, whitneybiennial.com bears evident likeness to the tactics used by the Women's Art Committee (WAC) throughout the 1970s. The Committee sought to rectify the overwhelming predominance of male artists in the Whitney Annual by demanding that at least half of all artists in the exhibition be women. To this end, the group staged a series of artist demonstrations, sit-ins, and public installations—one of which was a slide show of feminist artworks projected on the Whitney's façade. Additionally, Manetas's counter-Biennial project draws on a similar, albeit more straightforwardly militant, online intervention against the Whitney Biennial by the collective RTMark. After being invited to exhibit their website in the inaugural net art section of the Whitney's 2000 Biennial, RTMark not only auctioned their invitation to the private reception on eBay (which went for $8,400), but also opened their online exhibition space, on whitney.org, to anyone who wished to have their website displayed in the Biennial's online gallery portal.
While whitneybiennial.com unequivocally draws on the institutional critiques staged by the WAC and RTMark, it is also categorically distinct from both. In fact, reading whitneybiennial.com with reference to the WAC and RTMark, or other similar art historical precedents, fails to convey what is particular to Manetas's intervetion, namely, its quintessentially "Neen" aesthetic. I find that in order to understand the political thrust of whitneybiennial.com, it is helpful to turn to the formal and conceptual elements that make it a Neen work of art, most notably, its ambiguous relation to postindustrial capital.
Building on Frederic Jameson's concept of the "double hermeneutic," which allows a work to be interpreted as both a reinforcement of and a challenge to asymmetries of power, Bill Nichols noted in 1988 that, to appreciate the political transformations in the modes of cultural production effected by cybernetic technology, cybernetics must be interpreted through a "double hermeneutic of suspicion and revelation." In other words, unveiling the political content of cybernetic art demands reading cybernetics in light of its "dominant tendency toward control" while appreciating, at the same time, its "latent potential toward collectivity." If, as Nichols suggests, a double hermeneutic is an indispensable tool for diagnosing the politics of artistic production within such dialectical systems as cybernetics or capitalism, then a similar ambivalent analytic framework should be no less useful for understanding the political matter of artworks created on the internet—whose deep-seated contradictions are numerous. Whatever the formal, technical, and conceptual merits or shortcomings of Neen art may be, its political efficacy finds its most biting expression in its ambivalent approach to the internet, one that is evinced in Neen's embrace of commercial design, proprietary technology, and corporate culture as fundamental components of online artistic production and critique.
From its very inception, Neen has been intimately and conspicuously interlaced with consumer capitalism. The term was in fact coined neither by art historians nor critics, but by Lexicon, a corporate branding firm responsible for creating many of the world's most famous brand names for such clients as Mercedes-Benz, Intel, and Apple, to name but a few. Combined, Lexicon's brands have generated over $350 billion in sales revenue since 1982. Given the company's financial success, it is hardly shocking that Lexicon charged $100,000 to re-brand contemporary net art, an amount paid in full by the Art Production Fund and venture capitalist Louis Marx Junior. More than merely coining the word Neen, Lexicon also identified the types of artistic dispositions that defined it. According to David Placek, Lexicon's CEO at the time, "'Neen' transcends art. It's more a state of mind than a form or school of art." Alongside "Neen," the company also coined the term "Telic" as a distinct yet related alternative to Neen. At the end of the day, however, it was Manetas's choice to purchase "Neen" as the "new name for art." To be sure, many of the mysteries surrounding whitneybiennial.com as well as the aesthetic specificities of Neen art are demystified by Lexicon's corporate philosophy: "The single most important value of a name is its storytelling ability." More importantly, a brand—be it Apple, Obama, or whitneybiennial.com—is only able to tell good stories if, and only if, it does three things: "Get their attention. Make it interesting. Tell them something new."
The term “Neen” was introduced in a conference held at the Gagosian Gallery in NYC on May 31, 2000. The panel comprised Yvonne Force (Neen project's producer), Manetas, Lunenfeld, David Placek (President of Lexicon Branding), J.C.Herz (writer and journalist), Steven Pinker (MIT Professor and writer), and Joseph Kosuth (artist). Source.
Since their nascent stages, then, both Neen and Telic were inextricably enmeshed in the logic of consumer capitalism, both aesthetically and conceptually. Expanding on Lexicon's initial definitions, Manetas notes that Telic "covers pretty much everything that has to do with technology, [...] all kinds of cool and not so cool design[s], such as the Apple Computer but also IBM and Microsoft, fashion [labels] such as Prada and Calvin Klein." "Nike," he continues, "is Telic-goes-to-the analyst, Adidas is classy Telic," and "Italian Vogue is a Telic Fashion Miracle." Neen, on the other hand, is a "frame of mind" created in large part by new media technology, mostly video games, computers, and the internet; it is closely associated with Adobe and finds its commodity equivalent in apparel designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere for the high-end fashion label, Balenciaga. As such, commercial design and fashion—rather than technology, coding, open source software, or more overtly political forms of cultural production—appear to be the central references in Manetas's own definition of the very artistic currents framing his project. As a result, and in its capacity as an online branded performance, whitneybiennial.com is, like Neen and Telic, conceptually, technically, and formally indebted to corporate culture: from its use of narrative as an advertising maneuver to its reliance on commercial software as a design tool.
Rafaël Rozendaal, Falling falling, (2011). Source.
Commenting on the splash caused by whitneybiennial.com, Patrick Lichty foregrounds an important aspect of Manetas's practice: his use of the internet as a means to appropriate the marketing strategies and aesthetics of corporate or institutional brands, recreating them within his work. In certain respects, Manetas's intervention in 2002 brings the more polemical aspects of Colin de Land's curatorial legacy in dialogue with net art. De Land's provocative, though always humorous, defiance of the art market and its gatekeepers, as well as his interest in the politics and aesthetics of corporate culture as a vehicle for sabotaging both art and capital, are particularly notable. Much like the electronicOrphanage, a meeting place and studio for Neen scenesters, de Land's SoHo gallery, American Fine Arts, was another space where artists associated with oppositional artistic movements converged through the course of the 1990s, an "art world laboratory, hangout, and refuge," according to Roberta Smith. Both de Land and Manetas consistently transformed their spaces into sites for art protests through installations that sought to challenge the commercialization of art and the bourgeois ritual of opening receptions; while the EO often projected net art on its large white screen as a “counter-opening” to receptions hosted by neighboring galleries, de Land allowed one artist to close his gallery for a month as a protest against the art market.
Brian McPeck, Lizzi Bougatsos, Spencer Sweeney, Souhi Lee, and Kembra Pfahler at de Land’s American Fine Arts (c May 2002). Source.
I found that reading whitneybiennial.com against the backdrop of Neen's political entanglements and anti-establishment references brings forth an alternative, and more compelling, answer to a pressing question: why the Whitney? If you recall from Manetas's story, one of his original explanations for targeting the Whitney was his dissatisfaction with its curatorial practice, more specifically, its selection of net artworks for the 2000 and 2002 Biennials. This is also how he justified the intervention to Olson back in 2001. "Miltos explained to me," Olson writes, "that he felt new media art and artists were being overlooked by the Whitney [...] and he wanted this project to raise visibility of these essentially 'outsider' artists by showing them outside of the museum into which they weren't being let in."
As most readers involved with net art since the early 1990s can attest, the Whitney was one of the pioneering American art institutions of its scale to support net artists and curators in a sustained way. The museum's early engagement with net art makes Manetas's choice to target the Whitney, as well as his dismay with its curatorial practice, all the more puzzling.
While its representation of net art practices was by no means comprehensive, the Whitney was, at that time, one of the few American museums seriously invested in bringing net art into its collection. Acquiring its first net art piece in 1995 (Douglas Davis's The World's First Collaborative Sentence), the Whitney was also among the first large-scale art museums to significantly incorporate such work into its curatorial program. In the year 2000, for instance, the Whitney devoted, for the first time in its history, an entire section of its Biennial show to net art. Two years on, in the 2002 Biennial, ten original artworks were exhibited online under the "net art" category, which was supplemented by a discussion panel, in collaboration with the "Netart Initiative," featuring all net artists in the exhibition. That same year the museum launched artport: its official portal to, and online gallery for, commissioned net art projects. Curated by Christiane Paul, the Whitney's adjunct curator of new media, artport was (as much then as it is now) the institution's central platform for the online exhibition and digital preservation of internet art.
Looking at whitneybiennial.com through the lens of Neen politics, though, the Whitney becomes less the target of Manetas's critique than its vehicle. The Whitney was an advertising vessel, chosen for its immeasurable value as a fine arts brand name and deployed as a means to establish Neen as a relevant, recognized, and accepted trend in contemporary art. Like a counter-cultural leech, Manetas capitalized on the institution's reputation, influence, and widespread popularity in order to promote his own curatorial agenda, while at the same time critiquing the institution's authority as an artworld sentry. In essence, what Manetas did to the Whitney in 2002, Art Club 2000 (under de Land's direction) had done to the Gap in 1993, Kenneth Aronson to Hell.com in 1995, and RTMark to GWBush.com in 1999. Like all these brands, "The Whitney Museum of American Art" and "The Whitney Biennial" were valuable brand names, which Manetas deployed strategically to, among other things, attract attention, publicity, and curiosity.
One common attack levelled against whitneybiennial.com is rooted in an interpretation of the Whitney as a target, rather than conduit, of Manetas's critique. Curt Cloninger expressed this position in 2004 as a response to Patrick Lichty: "My problem with this particular 'intervention' is that it doesn't really dis the Whitney." As such, Cloninger's "problem" seems to proceed from a misunderstanding of Manetas's goal, which was not to "dis" the Whitney, but to "use" it. Manetas took on the Whitney as a performative meditation on the institution's brand value, which he did by appropriating it from the outside, by cybersquatting the Whitney’s domain without the museum's consent. Cloninger concludes his own reading of whitneybiennial.com by arguing that RTMark's hack at the 2000 Biennial was a "much more focused and interesting conceptual tactic." This is yet another common move: to understand the political efficacy of whitneybiennial.com only in contrast to RTMark's intervention two years earlier. Even Matt Mirapaul of the NYT ended his piece on Manetas's counter-Biennial by crowning RTMark's project as "the most effective commentary on the museum world's Internet aspirations," whereby "an exclusive domain became a populist website." Indeed, one of the reasons why RTMark's project is seen as more "effective" (Mirapaul) or "focused and interesting" (Cloninger) than Manetas's appears to be, as Cloninger suggests, because the latter failed to be sufficiently critical of the Whitney. But, if the reaction of those targeted by institutional critiques are at all indicative of whether or not the project was "sufficiently critical" of its target, then it seems that the Whitney was as unaffected by Manetas as it was by RTMark. Maxwell L. Anderson, the Whitney's director and one of the Biennial curators back in 2000, welcomed RTMark's intervention, noting that "opening the site to submissions from the public is in accord with RTMark's concept, which is to provide an information brokerage—with limited liability—and public forum for Net activism." While I agree with Cloninger's and Mirapaul's praise for RTMark, I am not so much interested in assessing whitneybiennial.com as a more or less successful RTMark hack. What I am interested in is to think through the specific ways in which the formal and aesthetic (Neen-based) qualities of the project are fruitful avenues for reading whitneybiennial.com politically, in its own right.
Art Club 2000, Times Square/Gap Grunge 1 (1993). Source.
As finance and postindustrial capital overtook industrial manufacturing, the web provided companies with platforms—such as Top-Level Domain names—for enhancing their corporate branding strategies. The internet allowed brands to weave the use-value of their products as well as the lifestyle these commodities sustained into an accessible online narrative displayed in the company's website. With the advent of e-commerce websites, advertising and sales became evermore connected. Unsurprisingly, TLDs and Adobe Flash were key creative tools in online branding strategies. This new corporate aesthetic, where material commodities, previously displayed as physical merchandise in storefronts, became virtually represented online as immaterial objects, was evident as much in capital as in art, a reality for the Gap and the Whitney alike.
Manetas was early to realize how profoundly this shift would also reconfigure artists' practices and rewire art's attention economy. For Manetas, the transformative potential of the web as a site for artistic creation and exhibition are found in two of its offerings: liberty for the artist and exposure for the artwork. "The Internet," he argues, "is for visual artists a platform to do their thing without making compromises and to show the output to the whole world. It presents an opportunity to move freely and to introduce one's work without the interference of gallery-owners and curators."
Even after whitneybiennial.com, the practices of branding, storytelling, and performance continued to drive Manetas's artistic and curatorial endeavours. During the winter of 2002, he curated a group show titled Afterneen, featuring works by artists associated with Neen. The show opened at Casco Projects in Utrecht, The Netherlands on November 16, only to be mysteriously demolished two days later by what Manetas has called "a (digital) car crash."
Neen artworks from Manetas's "Afterneen" show at CASCO (November 16 - December 15, 2002). Source.
A Google image search for the show yields digital photographs of a derelict office space packed with torn chairs, broken computers, and destroyed electronic appliances, alongside Neen posters and a glass door reading "CASCO." Given the specter of mystery that continues to haunt this exhibition, it comes as no shock that Afterneen builds on similar branding, performative, and mythmaking aspects of whitneybiennial.com. It is worth noting that the word "Neen," a combination of “screen” and "new," means "exactly now" in Greek. Moreover, if written in caps, "NEEN" is both a palindrome and a mirror-word, readable in all directions, including backwards and upside-down. As a palindrome and mirror-word, "Neen" elicits the experience of multidirectional movement; as a word in the Greek language, it denotes the present. Thus, much like Manetas's performative fables, the meaning and form of the word "Neen" challenge the linearity and temporality of historical narrative, the idea that facts can be recovered from the past, the natural ordering of chronology, and so on. In a similar vein to the Whitney intervention, Afterneen dabbled in a liminal and tenuous ontological space, at the vanishing point where hearsay meets evidence, history meets myth, and the internet becomes real. Like the U-Haul scheme, Afterneen tested the extent to which an actual exhibition could exist and cease to exist online—be constructed and destroyed materially through web-based narratives—without having necessarily existed physically.
Photograph from the opening of "Afterneen" at CASCO on November 16, 2002. Evidence that the show took place physically? Source
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
Photograph of CASCO taken after the "digital car crash" (November 2002). Source.
The fact that Manetas and other Neen artists were never given the Whitney's seal of approval meant that whitneybiennial.com was faced with a considerable challenge: to show the art world that internet artworks made by graphic designers were just as valuable and relevant as those created by programmers and coders. Moreover, unlike RTMark and other net artists included in the 2000 and 2002 Biennials, artists involved with whitneybiennial.com did not necessarily adhere to particular tendencies and practices regnant among their contemporary net artists. While both Manetas and RTMark used web-specific tactics as a means to critique the asymmetries of power created and sustained by an institution such as the Whitney, only RTMark was able to deploy the cultural privilege of being affiliated with the Whitney brand name, since they were included in the Biennial. Manetas, on the other hand, was left to his own devices, having to appropriate the brand from the outside. It is no minor detail that, despite the movement's development within online cultures, Neen "is not 'net art,'" according to Manetas. In many ways then, if Manetas's intervention was in part meant to show the public and the Whitney that Neen art was an important and relevant web-based art form, he went about this goal by distancing Neen—technically, aesthetically, and conceptually—from net art. Perhaps the most evident distinction between whitneybiennial.com and other tactical interventions by net artists was in fact Manetas's characteristically "Neen" embrace of corporate culture, which, as I stress above, is evinced in his preference for proprietary over open source software, his fixation in fashion labels, his fascination with commercial design, and, above all, his ambivalent approach towards the internet and late capital, somewhere between suspicion and revelation, as Bill Nichols so elegantly put it.
As the Whitney opened its doors to a select audience on March 5, 2002, Manetas says he stood at the entrance of the Breuer Building (or, according to rumor, inside as an invited guest) consoling disappointed artists and onlookers, reassuring them that his U-Hauls were actually present, but they were invisible. Much like the invisible cubes in Gino De Dominicis's Second Resolution of Immortality (The Universe is Still), to whom whitneybiennial.com is dedicated, Manetas still holds that his U-Haul trucks were never meant to be seen, only heard as hearsay—as an entry in the probably meager annals of "net art oral history." But maybe Manetas's fable, fantastic as it was, had a more concrete effect than eliciting terror and curiosity. By inscribing an immaterial art form within the physical space of his narrative, Manetas's project is also a crude and mythological meditation on the source of an art form's influence and relevance, a commentary on the arbitrary value of physical objects in the context of an art world so profoundly organized by the financial and market-driven axioms of late capitalism. By foregrounding the extent to which an artwork's "importance" is often enmeshed in the art object's materiality as well as the physical space it inhabits, Manetas's project reminds us of an old yet invaluable story about art's uneasy relation to the commodity form, its profoundly fetishistic allure, as well as its insidious and ambivalent ties to capital.
Commenting on the intersection between the physical and digital spaces of exhibition, Manetas remembers the events that led to the actual destruction of his Afterneen show through yet another, even more surreal tale. As the show unfolded inside CASCO, Manetas claims, a car operated in part by a human driver and a computer parking system lost control as the human operator became distracted while "making out with a young woman." The unruly car then accelerated into the gallery space, destroying everything in its wake. In the aftermath of Afterneen, no material remnants from the alleged show survived, not even the servers used to host the interactive "NEENWORLD" were spared.
NEENWORLD, designed by Andreas Angelidakis, was a virtual-reality environment where members of the Neen movement could interact with each other online. Source.
Andreas Angelidakis and Miltos Manetas, Chelsea, created on ActiveWorlds platform (1998-2000). "Chelsea was a virtual city for art and architecture, a 3D community that included artists, curators, architects, institutions and galleries. It was a world that we put together with Miltos Manetas, to experience the new sense of space that the internet was providing. Architecturally the challenge was to design buildings on the spot and in a way that they downloaded fast, and registered on the short attention span of the internet user. This produced buildings based on the existing Active Worlds 3D library, buildings that could register as quickly as a logo." Source.
Upon receiving this news, Manetas describes feeling "surprisingly calm and even relieved." "From the beginning," he recounts, "destiny was showing us that the space of the internet, is not to be mixed carelessly with real space, that we can host the internet in real space." If there is any hope for the "materialization" of web-specific environments, Manetas notes, it most certainly does not lie in the material, ideological, political, and aesthetic domains of the "exhibition," as traditionally conceived by museums and galleries. For Manetas, "The essence of the web must be experienced on its native domain." Yet, despite Manetas's own take on the curatorial politics of net art, whitneybiennial.com was never exclusively exhibited online, the native environment of its artworks. Even if the U-Haul plot never materialized, Manetas managed to expand the medium of whitneybiennial.com, over all these years, from an online exhibition to a living brand lodged in a surreal net art fable.
All in all, the most adamant testament that whitneybiennial.com was a critical asset for net art practice is that, amidst its many physical, "real-world" fantasies of Upper East Side meetings, enlightening conversations at the electronicOrphanage, U-Haul Trucks, threatening intimations, whimisical outbursts, unscheduled bi-coastal flights, and so on, the internet was, and remains, the only "real" and "true" residue of the project. The liminality and uncertainty of the performance are thus checked by the historical certainty and ontological tangibility of the counter-Biennial artworks, which live on in Manetas's own TLD website: whitneybiennial.com.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
Two years ago, performance artist Signe Pierce and videographer Alli Coates staged a public intervention on the Myrtle Beach strip in South Carolina, a popular tourist spot. Concealing her face with a featureless mirrored mask, Pierce wore a tight blue mini dress and performed exaggerated, gyrating movements while walking through the streets at night through throngs of revelers. Coates did not intervene, instead passively recording the ensuing scene even as the safety of her partner was threatened. Earlier this year, the artists released a 14-minute "chopped and screwed" edit of the video on YouTube to an outpouring of public reaction. In the following conversation, Pierce discusses the work with writer and artist Alexis Anais Avedisian, Rhizome's spring Editorial Fellow.
I want to commend you for making a brave work that construes many related topics within current cyberfeminist discourses. To start, I felt your mirrored mask brought up parallels to privacy, in the sense that cultivated, crafted, and projected representations of the self are now rendered as trackable, malleable, and intended for public consumption. Feeling surveilled often intensifies our instinct to hide, yet every day we surrender our privacy to greater social, political, and economic forces.
Identity concealment poses a threatening question: is someone anonymous, possibly preconceived to be inauthentic, worthy of privacy? By putting on the mask, and claiming privacy through self-concealment, did your difference make you "less than human" in the eyes of the mob? As the "mob mentality" and its panic about your identity infringed upon your human rights, do you think that their fear was subconsciously related to a broader desire to be accessible and exposed on social media?
The nature of privacy during these still-early phases of the internet, and the notion of what's acceptable in terms of how we socially consume each other, is increasingly blurry. We've all been hanging out online for the past 8-10 years, and we've grown accustomed to feeling entitled to accessing other people's information. We watch each other on our various social media feeds as though we're TV, and in a sense, we are. We are the new TV. Through the scope of Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram, our individual realities play out like TV shows. Our posts are little "episodes", and our likes, favs, and follower counts are essentially "ratings".
When I meet someone who doesn't have a Facebook or social media presence, a number of thoughts run through my mind:
Are they a luddite?
What do they know that I don't?
I wish I had the self-control and willpower to have authentic experiences without needing to broadcast my minutiae online.
I think by asking these questions, I get a sense of how the people reacting to me in American Reflexxx felt. Everyone was desperate to figure out why I would be doing something that they themselves wouldn't consider doing; because they can't see my face, they automatically assume that I'm hiding something.
Online identity is a strange condition, because even if we choose to broadcast our lives, it is just as easy to revert to anonymity when we're sitting behind our screens. You can exist online as an avatar or an anon, but to do it in real life reads as a threat. I think I instilled fear in people.
The fact that it required the mob to push me down and see my blood to know that I was "real" is terrifying, but I think one of the scariest aspects is that only one person dared to accuse my actions as possibly being "pretentious high art." No one else thought to consider asking if it was art, which reinforces why it we did it in the first place. Art needs to live and breathe in the places that need it the most.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
Performing this work in public meant ceasing that kind self-control you mentioned through individual social media maintenance and catalyzing vulnerability within areas impossible to provide self defense. It's interesting here to think more about anonymity and invisible audiences in relation to internet harassment. We often feel like direct participants when we come across harmful threads or are made spectators to it in our newsfeeds. Negative interactions carry the potential to trigger very real emotional responses through associations to lived experiences, however direct or indirect the threat. Do you see the prevalence of internet harassment as a signifier of real-world oppressions, as harmful as it can be in physical reality?
Perpetuation of hate is rooted in people's subjective insecurities, with Reflexxx becoming a lived example. People were hurling bottles at my head and throwing slurs left and right on the streets. It went beyond bullying, it was assault.
We spent some time poring through the various message boards and comment threads to see what kinds of conversations it was spawning. The general outcry was one of love: we got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from all over the world, but it was really interesting to read the boards fixated on hate. It did feel similar to the mob scene all over again, only yes, people had the opportunity to bash me anonymously, to claim the role of a shielded, mediated aggressor. In this way anonymity can be detrimental.
Hatred on the internet creates a feedback loop. Whenever you perform in public you're relinquishing control of the situation to the environment that surrounds you. To me, the beauty of American Reflexxx is that all of the moments that make it so unique (the preacher, the comments, the "push") are the unchoreographed realities of harassment. I find reality to be the most inspiring, terrifying medium.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
You exhibited American Reflexxx in 2013, but waited some time before publishing it online. Were there any specific comment threads or reactions on YouTube that changed your relationship to the work, whether positive or negative?
We had debated the best way to handle its distribution, because we knew it was delicate material; there were a couple of different approaches we could have taken to its release. I think that waiting a year to put it online was overall a wise decision because our audience was much larger by the time it went up in April 2015, and the discourses that the film inspires have solidified more within the greater cultural zeitgeist.
More than anything, I've been motivated by all of the messages we've received from people telling us how much the performance meant to them. There are people who see the girl in the mirrored mask as a symbol for the oppression and hatred they've had to endure for being who they are. It's inspired me to think more about the ways that art can help others and how our work can serve to fuel conversations that need to be had.
At one point in the video, a voice emerges in a crowd of black teenagers — an urge not to "get arrested for the blonde girl" — alluding to extremely real phobias regarding race and sanctions of authority. Having made this work within the context of the American south, can you describe the importance of including instances of racial prejudice as a form of activism? How do these instances help to raise awareness about racial realities, in the wake of recent, horrific events?
To be completely honest, we don't know whose voice is saying that specific line. Her voice comes from off camera, and we also don't know who she's speaking to. I've always thought that comment spoke more towards the nature of men needing to be reminded not to view women as objects. It's "don't harass her so YOU don't get in trouble and go to jail…" not "don't harass her because she's a human being and not a sexual object who exists for your consumptive pleasure."
It's similar to the way that girls get sent home from high school for their shorts being too short. Rather than punishing and slut-shaming women, we should be educating men to stop viewing women as things to be consumed. We make up half of the population — we exist and have feelings and are entitled to our personhood. Dehumanization towards women happens every day, not just when we're provocatively dressed wearing a mask on the streets in an attempt to prove a point.
With regard to your original question, I'm a firm advocate of the power that we have as camera-carrying citizens in the promotion of unveiling civil injustices. This era is unlike any other: never before has the general population of a 1st-world country collectively carried cameras on their person. It's exciting and I think it comes with a responsibility to document and record injustices, to be aware and to speak up against police brutality.
Although the events that transpire in American Reflexxx are real and unstaged, what happened to me that night is not indicative of my own reality. I don't walk down the street every single day in a mask and stripper heels, I was wearing a costume and playing a character. The inherent privilege that I have as a biological white woman performing a provocative act like this is not lost on me. If I had been a trans woman of color performing this exact same piece, things almost certainly would've ended with even harsher consequences, possibly even fatality. To me, this is an important aspect in the aftermath of the performance and the conversations that surround it.
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
There was speculation that you were being paid for the performance, which simultaneously reduced your activism to that of sex work and pornography. People questioning whether or not you were being paid might have been an attempt to find common ground, as if commodification is justifiable and relatable. However, as you mentioned, I do think your whiteness and projected heterosexuality became problematic because it reinforced an assumption that a cis white female body is more likely to produce a hetero-male valued commodity, in turn, producing a hetero male-specific "hero" fantasy that necessitates masculine protection and not fatal violence. We saw the most abject form of this in Charlestown, and it's important to note that the the "push" came from another white, cis woman, possibly subconsciously threatened by your ability to solicit male attention.
Throughout, men claimed their own emotional responses to an objectified female body as innately more important than a woman's individuality or independence. You identify your work as cyberfeminist, comparing your portrayed character to Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. But Haraway's cyborg renders as impersonal, a sort of throwback to an era when understanding and experiencing sentience within digital contexts was still unforeseen. How does early cyberfeminism continue to inform your practice, in light of current discourses on commodification, gender, and the more emotional connotations of social media?
I'm always inspired by reading about burgeoning concepts of identity in posthumanism before technology and the internet really hit. I love science fiction for this reason. Cyborg Manifesto was prophetic in its ability to succinctly describe an ideology that I and many of my friends relate to 30 years after it was written.
I am personally interested in the ways that women, or anyone who doesn't fit into the white male-driven patriarchy, for that matter, have been able to assert their voices in the age of the internet. We've been able to carve out our own hive where we can exchange ideas and aesthetics without being censored or discouraged by the powers that be. Everyone has an equal opportunity to take the mic, and it's creating a lot of necessary discourse about sexuality, race, class, etc.. There's still a lot of work to do, and perhaps I live in a bubble where I'm surrounded by progressive people, but I feel like feminism has come a long way in the past 5-10 years, and I think it's due much in part to the internet and the emotional relationships we build.
I'm curious as to what's next in terms of how we talk about and address gender. We immediately assign and assume people as male & female and, in a transgender world, the concept feels increasingly dated, binary, and exclusive.
It's becoming almost ironic to consider freedom of speech as a bedrock of America, when mainstream news reporting is still so fundamentally jaded and lacking in sincere brevity when compared with citizen-reporting. The reality experiment of American Reflexxx allowed for opinions to manifest themselves live, but the hate that ensued was much more evident of mainstream social conditioning, showing a definitive reluctance to adapt to more progressive ideologies.
Americans are supposedly taught to value individuality, but exhibiting difference proved to be dangerous in your work. As artists who "didn't intend to make a work about dehumanization, how does "being different" or even "being yourself" challenge American ideals of free speech?
Signe Pierce and Alli Coates, American Reflexxx (2013)
I honestly would not say that Americans are taught to value individuality, and that's a sad plight. The notion of the first amendment is one that would appear to commemorate freedom, but it often serves the opposite. It seems that freedom of speech is defended as a means of oppression, as evident in people fighting for their right to use hate speech or to wave the confederate flag. Being different is radical, and it absolutely challenges American ideals. It's pretty absurd that a media circus is prone to break out anytime someone in the public eye comes out as gay or identifies as trans.
My personal reaction to re-watching American Reflexxx is that the audience is trying very hard to seem cool to one another. In that situation, everyone knew that they were not the weakest link or the weirdest person present, and thus they were granted the power of commonality, one that they could all bond over. They're all walking and talking with this corny, affected braggadocio and being loud to make sure that everyone can hear how tough and funny they are when they're making fun of me. It's pretty clear though that they were terrified because they knew I knew something that they didn't. A lot of kids and teens have written us to say that it reminds them of their experiences at school. People fear and hate what they don't understand.
It starts and ends with education and tolerance. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it's true, and it's the biggest message we wanted people to take away from this film. They say that you should "never underestimate the kindness of strangers," and in response, I try to remember to "never forget your ability to be the kind stranger." It is our intention to prompt a reconsideration of how we treat each other, how we allow others to influence our own lives and behaviors, and how we have the right to flexxx some freedom of speech for good and not evil.
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"The Facets of Obama" created by Jonah Brucker-Cohen using the Fracture application by James Alliban, 2011
The devices we carry with us can do much more than simply act as communication tools and entertainment appendages. They can also bring us into a growing world of artistic projects that could have never been imagined without their existence.
The recent boom in creative software for the iPhone and iPad now enables artists to remake existing web projects as iOS apps or use the physical world as a canvas for augmented reality, reimagining our physical surroundings through painting and rendering. In this article, the fourth one in a series that I've written over the past six years of reviews surveying art for the iPhone and iPad, I cover projects that both revive net art pieces that were once only possible on traditional computer systems or in browsers, as well as those that use the iPhone and iPad's sound and camera capabilities to their fullest.
Thicket:Classic (Hairy Circles mode), 2011, Interval Studios (aka Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard)
Beginning with abstraction and sound, two works examine methods of sound production through algorithmic composition. Thicket (2011) by Interval Studios (programmer and artist Joshue Ott and composer Morgan Packard) is an amalgam of abstract shapes and patterns that engage with touch-based interaction, visual stimulation, generative pattern creation, and mesmerizing sound transference. The original version of Thicket, or Thicket:Classic, feels like a musical masterpiece on the edge of a high precipice. As a user changes the orientation of their phone in four directions (up, down, right, left) the onscreen graphics shift to new modes.
Thicket 3.11 Video, Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard, Interval Studios.
My favorite mode in Thicket:Classic is "Hairy Circles," which features menacing yellow-orangish circles of tangled lines that correspond to each finger's touch and shift when dragged around, creating a machine-like beat that evokes an industrial assembly line. Ott explains, "Thicket uses a bunch of different algorithms—for both audio and visuals. The aesthetic came from repeated experimentation and rapid prototyping of modes. Sometimes we would start with the visuals, sometimes with the audio, but there was often a back and forth process of each of us adjusting our part until we both liked the results."
"It's all very intuitive, rather than thought-out, " adds Packard. "At the time we started Thicket, I was coming out of a period of being very involved with a lively group of indie electronic musicians and record labels—Ezekiel Honig's Anticipate label in particular. The idea of a group of artists forming a scene, forming a tiny tribe, and developing an aesthetic of their own has always been very close to my heart. So with the sound at least, I was looking toward the sounds my friends and I had been making, and trying to make stuff that fit into that aesthetic world."
TURUX, Lia, 2015
TURUX Interface , Lia, 2015
Also playing with sonic possibilities through the screens of the iPhone and iPad is Austrian artist Lia, who has remade her RE:MOVE (www.re-move.org) and TURUX (www.turux.at) interactive websites from the late 1990s. Lia, who herself also maintains a personal and very useful online archive of iPhone art at iphoneart.org, continues to be prolific as a solo artist using this medium. What used to exist as Shockwave-enhanced web experiences has since migrated to the handheld and the results are a much more seamless experience overall. The current version of RE:MOVE features algorithmic compositions that endlessly auto-generate into abstract patterns of lines, circles, and waves. The app features an abstract menu and control system that allows users to customize their sonic and visual output with surprising results every time the app is launched. Since no two users can have a similar experience, the app maintains our interest through its ability to stay fresh and offer new experiences the more one manipulates its underlying system.
RE:MOVE, Lia, 2015
TURUX also plays with this dynamic of shifting abstract patterns but does so with a more colorful interface of twenty-one different composition modes that mix minimalist shapes, dynamic sound effects, and interactive vector graphics. Lia explains the reasoning behind the piece and her focus on code as a method for understanding and playing with generative possibilities. "My lack of understanding the code structures in the beginning probably helped getting unexpected results," explains Lia. "The aim was never to think everything through from the beginning on, then sit down and program it, but to play with code itself...simply put: exchange a plus with a minus in a formula that you don't understand and a) something interesting might happen and b) you might learn how the formula actually works. The idea behind the experiments on TURUX as well as on RE-MOVE later on was in principle not to explain everything to the user, but let him/her play..and experiment as much him/herself....With RE-MOVE I added a lot of tiny buttons, that basically allowed the user to change parts of the executed code without knowing what will happen, buttons without labels."
Fracture (2011), James Alliban, video of iPhone app.
Further engaging with the camera to create both abstraction and augmentation is British designer and programmer, James Alliban's trio of apps, Konstruct, Fracture, and Composite. After playing with these three interactive marvels for a few minutes, it becomes obvious that an entire article could have been dedicated to his work. Each piece feels novel in its ability to manifest new ways of interacting with the everyday, physical world, and the sense of limitless composition that it offers. Fracture is not only a painting tool, it is a real-time video and still image mixing application that allows users to create portraits like those painted by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 1900s through the iPhone and iPad's cameras. Although some might write these graphical renderings off as the equivalent of Photoshop filters, the ability to paint a picture from live imagery as seen through the camera using Cubist-style brushes is something that only an app could accomplish. "The intention was definitely to allow users to recreate this aesthetic using their own subjects," explains Alliban, "Although for the more creative users I made sure there was enough room to step outside of this style and create their own imagery. It was interesting to see some of the work people made with it."
New York Nearest Subway, AR App for iPhone from Acrossair, 2009.
Konstruct, James Alliban and Juliet Lall, 2011
Working in the realm of 3D space, Alliban and collaborator Juliet Lall's Augmented Reality (AR) app Konstruct allows users to create an AR environment by speaking into the microphone on their device, which then dynamically generates a 3D object floating on the screen over the camera's vantage point. This abstraction retains its simulated depth as one moves the iPhone forward and backward through the 3D creation. Alliban describes touch interaction as something that is becoming so ordinary, that it is losing its appeal in the context of digital art. "Touch is such a personal, private, and, lets face it, boring interaction. Forcing people to speak, sing, whistle or clap makes the experience a type of (potentially collaborative) performance. Much of my work invites the user to play and perform in space to create abstractions of some aspect of themselves. Space is one thing that smartphones tend to lack. With Konstruct, however, just as the AR aspect broadens the interaction area beyond the tablet screen, incorporating sound broadens it further." As the phone and tablet's processors get faster, this type of experience will be more common and built into more apps that we now use daily, engendering new ways of experiencing information retrieval and public space. These types of locative applications for AR are already evident in apps like Across Air's Nearest Subway, which made its debut back in 2009. The app displays a floating arrow that points the direction to the nearest NYC subway station, as well as its name and distance from the phone.
Finally, Alliban is interested in ways we can better our seen reality through the lens of a device by virtually painting on the world around us as if it was a giant canvas. His app, Composite, was "inspired by the neo-dadaist collages of Robert Rauschenberg. Composite runs on both Windows Phone and iOS [iPad only], and allows you to remix your surroundings to create artistic compositions." By "remix," Alliban means paint and color the world around us through the lens of your device, altering an image of your surroundings in real time. The device allows you to work on captured images, then layer new views from the live camera on top, allowing multiple perspectives in a single composition. Alliban explains that his work riffs on Rauschenberg but stands on its own. "Although Composite was inspired by the work of Rauschenburg I didn't make it intending myself or others to use it to replicate his visual style (although some did to some extent). It was more a case of adopting the spirit of his work—the idea of telling stories using the things that surround you. I did, however, keep it open enough for users that want to experiment. Like Fracture, it was important not to constrain users to a single aesthetic."
Composite, James Alliban, 2011.
Also playing with movement and engagement in physical spaces with people and their mobile devices are the Dutch and Belgium based collective of Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, a.k.a. JODI.org. Their app, ZYX.app, uses a minimal stick figure and audio feedback to guide users through a series of gestures while holding their phones, such as turning in a circle or raising their arm up and down. When the gesture is performed correctly, the phone lets out an audible "click" sound and a celebratory alarm goes off notifying the user of their success. ZYX.app transforms the user into a performer, amplifying the the ways in which people already engage with their phones by moving around while talking, pacing, breaking away from a crowd, or siphoning frustration through the device. JODI explains the connection between software apps and how they relate to our bodies movements in physical space. "ZYX.app is a tool for physical performance, it calls for the user's postures overdoing mobile body language. We focused on the sensor kinetics inside the phone, programming the gyroscope and the accelerometer to involve the user movements and using the screen only for interaction directions. While swinging and jumping around with the mobile, the user gets returning signals, as sound and vibration. The screen serves as a counter for initiating the next content."
Video of ZYX.app, JODI, 2012
As prolific as artists can be, none seem to be producing as many abstract apps as Jason Edward Lewis. Lewis, an Assistant Professor of Digital Image/Sound and Fine Arts in the Department of Design Art at Concordia University in Montreal, makes work that re-examines the world of text from a novel perspective. Lewis creates generative apps that allow users to compose new and recycled poetry into endless iterations. The P.o.E.M.M. Cycle or Poetry for Excitable [Mobile] Media is Lewis' main series of iOS apps that challenge our interaction with the screen. Lewis explains why the iPhone's interface has changed how he thinks about screen-based composition and interaction. "I had been frustrated for some time with the development of electronic literature, and one point of frustration was the conventional keyboard-mouse-screen configuration," says Lewis. "It felt physically distant, with the awkward triangle between the three, as well as impersonal and utilitarian, given the general purpose nature of the standard workstation. It wasn't comfortable, it wasn't focused—and it wasn't intimate, in the way I felt writing and reading poetry required."
Video of The Great Migration (Installation Version of iPhone app Migration), Jason Edward Lewis, 2011
This type of direct connection to the user is a quality that that many artists have been trying to gain from mobile devices where the traditional computer interface of the keyboard and mouse runs short. Lewis explains this point of contention. "At first, we were of course focused on the phone. Then the iPad came out in mid-2010, and I realized that was really the right form factor. We had been putting a ton of detail into the exhibition versions that was just getting lost in the small screen size of the phone—the pad allowed us to keep most if not all of the detail found in the exhibition versions. Yet it was still an intimate, personal device, and its single-tasking nature allowed you to create a powerfully focused experience for people. People have a personal connection to their mobile devices that is much rarer for their desktops or even laptops; if you design your apps well, you can leverage that connection."
BIFURCAN, Devine Lu Linvega, 2015.
Leaving the realm of animation and narrative composition, there is also a trend towards minimalism that is bringing artists to these platforms. Turning the iPhone and iPad into a cryptic and beautiful timepiece is BIFURCAN by artist and designer Devine Lu Linvega. The interface is both purposely unusable and elegantly poetic in its representation of the passage of seconds, minutes, hours, and days. The project is named after a Borges short film of the same name, and manifests time as a constantly rearranging labyrinth that changes as each second ticks away. Creating it in only 30 minutes during a coding jam session, Linvega has released its source online in an attempt to lead more developers to create versions of it for more platforms. One such version of BIFURCAN written by artist Chase Colburn is a watch face for the Pebble Watch. With all of the possibilities that these devices allow for in both interaction and location-based information, there is a calming feeling when artists only use it for minimalist output such as a watchface or timepiece. By limiting its capabilities, the device seems to become much more than its original creators had imagined.
As platforms for digital art continuously expand with the plethora of devices and methods of delivery, there seems to be no limit to what artists can accomplish with these form factors. In fact, my next article on the subject might cover artists apps for the Samsung and Apple watches, which would be the most personal method of art delivery yet on a digital medium. Integrating artistic endeavors with built-in heart monitors and force-sensitive touch screens (which is supposedly also coming to the next generation iPhone 7), there will be many different input sources that artists can leverage to create new forms of interaction. The most striking aspect of these projects is that the medium allows for artists to engage with people interacting with their work on a personal and intimate level, far beyond what any gallery or museum might afford. Now, anyone with a phone can engage with art on the go, carrying a personal collection of artworks that allow new kinds of artistic experiences and new forms of interactive artistic expression.
Given the incredible power of the handheld device, which is daily relied upon by millions of people while also marketing to them and surveilling them, carving out a space for aesthetic experience through the device seems particularly important. Thicket's Morgan Packard puts it bluntly: "The work Joshue and I have done together, in contrast to data viz and design, has no immediately obvious value or use. It doesn't tell stories, it doesn't make the complex accessible, it doesn't reveal the beauty of nature. It's really just an exploration of how certain arrangements of light and sound and a certain type of control over them can make us feel."
Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Ph.D., is an award winning researcher, artist, and writer. He received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Department of Trinity College Dublin. He is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Networked Culture and the Director of the Digital Humanities MFA program at Lehman College / CUNY. He is cofounder of the Dublin Art and Technology Association and His work and thesis is titled "Deconstructing Networks" and includes creative projects that critically challenge and subvert accepted perceptions of network interaction and experience. His work has been exhibited and showcased at venues such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, ICA London, (Artport), Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art, Palais du Tokyo,Tate Modern, Ars Electronica, Transmediale, and his project Bumplist is included in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. His writing has appeared in publications such as WIRED, Make, Gizmodo, Rhizome, Neural and more. His Scrapyard Challenge workshops have been held in over 14 countries in Europe, South America, North America, Asia, and Australia since 2003.
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2015; courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris; photo, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Stefan Jäggi).
Your current solo exhibition "تقيه (Taqiyya)–The Right to Duplicity" in St. Gallen brings together recent works exploring the ways in which "enforced expression" is manifest in contemporary society. Contra Diction (Speech Against Itself) (2014) focuses on the (apparent) forced conversion of a group of Syrian Druze—a Levantine cultural minority who practice an esoteric religion which incorporates aspects of Islam but which is considered "heretical" by Islamic purists—by Jabhat al-Nusra. You cite the doctrine of Taqiyya—a feature of Islamic jurisprudence which you compare to the concept of diplomatic immunity—as underlying the apparent ease of the conversion: i.e. that the Druze were expressing Taqiyya as a means of resisting their conversion rather than cooperating with it. A number of your works explore this tension between verbal expression and "truth". Could you speak about your views regarding such "sonic geographies" as contested spaces?
Contra Diction (Speech Against itself) focuses on the event you spoke about because it is a very fleeting moment where Taqiyya raises its head, and people start to make claims about whether this is Taqiyya or not. It’s not really in line with the work or what I’m interested in to make any claim that this was a forced conversion, or that this use of Taqiyya was a strategy in order to avoid converting by employing stealth, or to make a conversion that saves face. Taqiyya is very difficult to talk about because it’s essentially about the right to lie; because of its proximity to lying, it becomes very difficult to place or to make any direct assertions about. That is very interesting not because of its use in this event in particular, but as a way to take a legal right to speech like Taqiyya and have it stand shoulder to shoulder with more conventional ways in which speech is governed in society, like the right to silence and freedom of speech. I find that quite urgent—as can be seen in a number of my works: we’re living in a kind of "post freedom of speech" society. Freedom of speech is increasingly being understood as something that exists without the right to silence. President Obama made a speech where he was talking about the trials of the Guantanamo inmates where he said there should be trials, but they (the inmates) shouldn’t be allowed the right to silence. Without the right to silence, we can see that the freedom of speech becomes part of a confessional society, where everything that people are afraid to say qualifies them with a certain guilt, so that when people don’t want to say something out loud, it means they have something to hide. This became increasingly interesting to me in both in the case of WikiLeaks and the NSA, which rely on different understandings of total transparency. There is the idea that something like Taqiyya would emerge to challenge this way in which freedom of speech has become about the enforced full disclosure of speech. So I was kind of using it in that way, to challenge both what it means to speak freely and also that we insist on this speaking of the truth and to ask, "what does it mean to speak the truth in the age of the NSA?"
What’s important with Taqiyya is the fluidity of being multiple—insisting on it as a way to push politics forward, and I think we’re seeing this more and more with collaborators like Varoufakis, who speaks the language of the hedge funders, or Edward Snowden who has made several kinds of conversions himself in the course of becoming a whistleblower. I’m really interested in the role of the collaborator and the way that Taqiyya can be understood as a new type of progressive politics. Of course, it also has a very dark side in that it’s not about being objective in one’s critique of society, but is actually symptomatic of society’s ills. This does start to speak about sonic geographies, but not really that kind of classic sonic geography of producing aural jurisdictions or sonic conquest over the other’s speech; rather, what this points to is something more profound about the politics of representation. It’s about a politics of listening, about how we can be heard and what kind of hearing we’ll receive when we utter a claim. So that’s why I think these moments add to the discussion of the ways in which we represent ourselves in this all-hearing, all-speaking world.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Conflicted Phonemes (2012; courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris; photo, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Stefan Jäggi).
You’ve spoken of the "palimpsestic" quality of audio tapes in works like Tape Echo (2014). This metaphor seems to resonate with your work, Conflicted Phonemes (2012), in that the accents of refugees often have a palimpsestic quality as well. In the work, you show how a word, or even a single phoneme, can make the difference between being granted or denied political asylum. The technological capacity of voice analysis provides a kind of "certainty" with regard to a particular portion of data which is then privileged by the authorities, and this then licenses them to discount other data (for example, the biography of the person seeking asylum). Do you feel that this false, technological "certainty" is playing an increased role in political disempowerment in technologically advanced societies at large?
You draw a very interesting parallel between the tone of the works in the Tape Echo series—which is called Conversations with the Unemployed, which involves microscopic enlargements of the surfaces of the cassette tapes—and the subject matter of "Conflicted Phonemes", because, like a cassette tape, an accent is something that never really loses or fully erases its biography. Unlike digital recordings, cassette tapes don’t delete their media. They constantly overlay and overlay, so that what you have on top is every recording and tape head ever applied. In some ways, the biography of an accent is very similar because, of course, our accents are really the product of all the different people we’ve ever spoken to in our lives. This gains even more power in Conflicted Phonemes in which people’s voices and accents are being used—rather than their biography—as a birth certificate. What they’re trying to say is that the accent is from one place, that it’s from where you were born and that’s it. But, of course, having lived a life in migration, as many asylum seekers do, the opposite is probably true: if they really want to find a genuine asylum seeker, they should look for voices which show irregularities, and reflect an itinerant life. In a lot of works, I try to use the visualization of sound to expose its complexities, the ways it resists being fixed to an association with a specific physical space.
It’s very important to emphasize that it’s not a technology that is doing these accent tests; it’s actually a Swedish company which is using former refugees who have no linguistic expertise to screen applicants’ accents. It’s really anecology, using former refugees, and it’s a very unscientific way of screening anybody, for a number of reasons. What’s very important to say is that it’s politically disempowering because the attack is on speech, and speech is what makes us political animals in the kind of society we’ve constructed. Speech is the form by which we negotiate our rights. What many of the asylum seekers say is that they don’t want to speak back to the state because they don’t know how they’re being listened to. The conditions of listening have changed, and I think that is really the key moment of political disempowerment. It’s an attack on speech; the conditions of listening are what have altered the means for those people to speak and to testify about their plight. We’re increasingly seeing—in what you call "technologically advanced societies"—an accelerating shift in which listening is moving outside what we could think of as "listening to what we say", and more towards listening to "other parts" of our speech. And it’s that shift from what we say to how we say it that produces the political disempowerment of the people being listened to.
This points to another work I did about lie detectors—it is currently installed in Kunst Halle St. Gallen—seven walls, acoustic panels painted with sound deadening paint. It’s called Beneath the Surface. I realised the seven articulations of the seven verdicts that the machine gives, and showed the micro-second where the machine makes the verdict, and then I hand drew the pitch of the voice at that moment to try to expand on this tiny moment where this machine produces something that can have a great effect on somebody’s life. In reproducing them by hand, you reinsert the human behind the machine.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tape Echo (2014)
In Gardens of Death (2013), you discuss the floating sound-system culture of Cairo in which open-topped boats blast party music along the Nile, creating what you describe as "sonic islands". These represent the classic paradox of loud music vs. the sort of noise that characterizes urban life: It seems that the devotion of perceptual attention to one set of sounds over another is really the sole means of distinguishing what is noise and what is music (i.e. one boat’s music is another’s noise, and vice versa). Clearly, there are questions of power and aggression in this dynamic, which The All Hearing (2014) also touches upon. Do you feel that the question of "sonic autonomy" vs. "sonic aggression" will be an increasing topic of ethical/legal study in the future, not least that a new generation of "sound weapons" are being developed by Western governments for use as "non-lethal" crowd control technologies?
The questions that the Tape Echo project throws up with works like Gardens of Death and The All-Hearing include "what is noise?" as well as "what is hearing, in fact?" When we talk about hearing damage, hearing itself as a measurable capacity has its own history and its own discriminations, and I think it’s a very interesting area through which to talk about conflict and negotiation in mega-cities, of which Cairo is one. It’s one of the loudest cities in the world.
In The All-Hearing the question becomes more urgent because of the political conditions that surround noise pollution. When I first asked two Cairene sheikhs if they’d be interested in delivering sermons about noise pollution and hearing damage, there was no law at that moment which would forbid the sheikhs from talking about what they wanted to every Friday. So you have a city that is awash with ethical promise, telling you about how to live the life. There’s a huge cluster of amplified ethics that fills the sonic environment of Cairo every Friday; I was very interested in noise pollution being one of the discussions that enters this very intense sonic environment—that was my initial intention as a means of intervention. Of course, it became much more urgent when a law was passed to forbid sheikhs to deliver sermons. Of the three sheikhs I asked to work with me on this, two of them felt the law, passed in the name of noise pollution by the government, made it even more imperative for them to talk about noise pollution and to give their perspective on it. Noise pollution became a way to talk about the censorship they were undergoing. That meant that they didn’t directly address it, risking even more fallout. In a similar way to Taqiyya, it was both subversive and submissive at the same moment, and that also gets close to the question of sonic autonomy and sonic aggression. The question of what noise is became vital in fighting censorship as well as discussing what those kinds of relations of aggression and autonomy in the sonic space mean in a space like Cairo.
What is interesting in the original question is that word "future", because if we’re to talk about the future of listening, some things are being outlined for us already. Basically, any science that reveals a greater ability to listen is immediately being swept up into the economy of surveillance. This is something I touch on with A Convention of Tiny Movements (2015), which talks about the near future of listening. It is a work that really looks in detail into the experiments of scientists at MIT who have realized that all objects can function, basically, like microphones, particularly, those which have a plastic- or foil-like consistency—such as a potato chip packet. Speech that vibrates this surface is recoverable using high-speed cameras. To talk about it now is a kind of "near future fiction", which is what I call A Convention of Tiny Movements. It is also important not to allow these things simply to go from the lab in MIT to the workshops and backrooms of the NSA. Opening this discussion means that we can start to think about other applications, and it means we aren’t in a position where we’re subjects to the technologies that are emerging but that they are something we can participate in developing.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The All-Hearing (2014; 2 minute extract).
In your talk for "What Now? The Politics of Listening", you mentioned an episode in which Defense for Children International applied your forensic audiological expertise in an investigation of an IDF shooting. Do you feel that the blurred competencies research-heavy art work such as your own may provide a means of increased interdisciplinarity between the arts, sciences and, possibly, the political sphere as well, in that art and aesthetic practice can often conceptualize or formalize questions that the sciences and politics overlook or fail to account for? Or, is it more likely that information generated through artistic practice will be discounted by structures of authority in other disciplines?
I was asked by Forensic Architecture if I could determine whether or not the sound of gunfire was rubber bullets or live ammunition in the case of the murder of two boys in the West Bank by Israeli Defense Forces. This case, which involved Defense for Children International, threw up interesting questions in the nature of your question regarding the roles of discipline and expertise because I could, in fact, do this investigation very easily, as could pretty much anybody who has experimented with digital music. From the perspective of somebody who has worked with the aesthetics of audio and somebody who has a keen ear, this question was very simple. This was not a question of expertise. The real experts are those Palestinian boys and girls who can identify in a micro-second what a shot is. And that’s something that’s more difficult than it sounds, because the live rounds are being suppressed by a rubber bullet extender that works like a kind of silencer, so the sound of a rubber bullet and live ammunition is being conflated. The rubber bullet adapter is being used to disguise the fire of live ammunition, but these Palestinian teenagers can exactly identify a tiny distinction in the frequencies and react accordingly. Those are the real acute listeners in this case. Someone like me—an artist, a practitioner of audio aesthetics—can simply provide a visual language for understanding the differences. It's very interesting to turn the nature of expertise on its head and to reclaim the skills that we artists—or musicians, or image-makers, or graphic designers, or architects—have learned from our field of aesthetic practice and research, so that we can listen back to the state and use these tools in other ways as a mode of political intervention. I think it’s really a question of aesthetic training, and this comes from my studies under Eyal Wiezman, who is my Ph.D. supervisor, who set up a very important centre for forensic architecture which exists to do exactly this kind of thing. It’s an inspiring space in which to think through questions about the role of the artist.
How/When did you begin working creatively with technology: 1998
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Still Studying-Ph.D. candidate: Research Architecture Programme at Goldsmiths College, London.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
Private audio investigator (& visual artist).
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
William Kherbek is author of the novel Ecology of Secrets, published by Arcadia Missa (London, 2013). He has been the visual art critic for Port Magazine since 2012. His work has appeared in the essay collection Turning Inward, published by Sternberg Press, a forthcoming novel, UltraLife, will be published by Arcadia Missa in 2016.
Andrea Crespo, multi (sensorygates), (2015; detail)
In futurist Ray Kurzweil's early version of the flatbed scanner, angled mirrors feed the image of a document through a series of encoding CCDs. Similarly positioned mirrors are also used in the treatment of amputee victims; the image of an extant limb is projected onto the phantom limb, allowing the patient to engage with this limb's sensory map.
Constantly reflecting on this imagery, Andrea Crespo's recent solo show "polymorphoses" at Hester in New York evokes an environment of clinical intimacy in its aesthetic and conceptual coherence. Similar to an LED screen or scanner, the digital prints on the four poly voile curtains covering the windows are backlit by the sun. Positioned in front of these curtains, an EMDR light bar (used by cognitive therapists to treat post-traumatic stress disorder) replicates a scanner's mobile light in the sculpture polymist: echolalic transponder; its accompanying soundtrack abstracts the diegetic sound of this light's kinetics as low digital tones.
Andrea Crespo, "polymorphoses," exhibition view
A scanner's white light rhythmically appears, segmenting the film parabiosis: neurolibidinal induction complex 2.2. The film's DeviantArt-sourced images of conjoined anime characters appear in bluish-white on a dark background, recalling the emerging effect of minimal boot-up images; they regularly converge, split, and merge again. The visually spare figuration is combined with minimal diagrams of mitochondrial reproduction, suggestive of the biological processes within technology. Through this parallel between biological and technological encoding and multiplication, the film links the scanner's abstraction of materiality into a system of digital circulation and memetic engineering with the production of DNA. Conjoined figures are considered within the interfaces and hardware in which they are embedded: in the film, they are suggested in a chatroom, cycled through on a Gameboy screen, and presented on a twitchy flatscreen monitor.
Furthering this intertwinement of hardware apparatuses and the images they circulate and encode, the show's series of data security boxes, cut to protrude two inches from the wall, schematically sequences this bodily association with data. This is done to great effect in plurisim (incubator), in which a four-prong Nintendo Game Link cable is interwoven with a polymesh fabric behind a reflective glass, its surface lined with a column of conjoined stickers designed in the sprite style of early videogame graphics. Despite the comparatively shallow immediacy of –--––-––-––––-– (encrypted), a data security box with a key in its lock and a UV-print on reflective darkened glass that recalls the smears, dust, and grease that form a scanner's white noise, the piece's necessity within the series becomes apparent in the works somatospasm (disinterface) and teratosyzygy (host). The UV print in the former depicts hands in the midst of grasping or releasing this detritus over a soft-focused digital print of a linen-like fabric. In the latter, the LED lighting of a computer cooling fan only partially illuminates a mesh fabric and a minimal, white etching of a conjoined figure. Fittingly, getting close enough to observe the minutiae of these works often involves avoiding one's own reflection.
Andrea Crespo, plurisim (incubator) (2015)
Andrea Crespo, plurisim (incubator) (2015)
As well as subtly referring to the imagery's use by Autism Awareness groups, puzzle pieces, appearing in the foam tiles of the seating mat for polymist and as vinyl decals on the scanners in the works s-curves (plasticities) and mobility slopes (long-tails 2.2), echo a type of cloud-based, memetic consciousness implied in Crespo's curation of DeviantArt.
Because this type of unpaid content-production is vital to online communities such as DeviantArt and Wikipedia, these conjoined anime characters, in turn, convey a certain malleability of the self that is made necessary by the biopolitics of an information-driven economy. This curation does not simply consider DeviantArt as a theater for wish-fulfillment. Rather, it becomes indicative of how technology encodes the image of the body.
Andrea Crespo, teratosyzygy (host), (2015)
Andrea Crespo, "polymorphoses," exhibition view
Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) (2015; video game still)
Wealth is monolithic: it refutes argument, pointed criticism, direct gaze. The architecture of today's wealth is monolithic, as well: a crucial expression of modern oligarchies' centralized power. Where the estate once served as a neat symbol of riches, our edifices are more diverse and inventive. They are built heavy and tall, as rebuff. They have to symbolize abstract figures, tens of billions of dollars on paper.
Artist Lawrence Lek offers us entry into the monolith in his work Unreal Estate. In it, we, the viewers, are the new billionaire owner of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. To recreate a virtual Royal Academy out of surveyor's drawings, Lek used Maya and Unity, graphics software used in both video game environmental modeling and level design, and in architectural practice as a rendering tool for visualizing elaborate structures. Unreal Estate is the ninth level in Lek's Bonus Levels series; Lek created Bonus Levels as nine "utopian fiction" iterations of different sites in London. ("Bonus levels" are secret, productive, freeform sections in a video game in which the game's rules are suspended.)
In the film for Unreal Estate, a voiceover reads a training manual by the real daughter of a Russian oligarch named Maria Baibakova. The guide prescribes how to run a household of servants like a corporation. Her tract was widely mocked, and to hilarious effect. In Unreal Estate, Baibakova's text is reworked, here recited in Mandarin by Joni Zhu. The future is for sale to the highest bidder, and it will continue to be. The real Royal Academy is on a lease contract; London's housing crisis, like that in New York City, is largely caused by the ultra-wealthy inflating values by buying up property they barely live in.
Lawrence Lek, Unreal Estate (the Royal Academy is yours) (2015)
A commercial real estate investor's white flag greets us as I enter the main courtyard: Jones Lang LaSalle: Real Value in a Changing World. The voiceover congratulates me: my bid for Burlington House and 6 Burlington Gardens has been successful. I float on towards a Jeff Koons bunny, cradling, in its left steel arm, a painter's easel: Koons is always good for a solid grotesque reflecting us back to ourselves. All the iconic, massive art brought here is first valued for the cultural capital it represents.
This Royal Academy is, further, reconstructed on a surreal private island. Helicopters clip across the sky, and I am blinded intermittently by the hot pink flashes of a laser alarm system perimeter. Threading through is an exquisite score by Oliver Coates, with cello that swells and retreats as my gaze floats over the uncanny prints and décor of each room, the marble, the CCTV monitors. There is talk of panic rooms.
I had a long conversation with Lek about his work over Skype. He was in his studio in London, sitting before a poster of Rorschach inkblot tests. Lek trained and worked as an architect, and so he deploys its language with ease. He posits his critical game worlds as "three-dimensional essays," inspired by Chris Marker and Harun Farocki's essayistic films. This is, he argues, "simulation as institutional critique."
What is the thesis, then, of this simulation essay? Lek is attempting several highly ambitious projects at once here, among them the gamification of our world to reveal its rules, and a steady critique of art's live-in relationship with banking. He demonstrates how capitalism reproduces itself through spectacular edifices, how it squashes social critique by submitting the mind to awe. The museum enshrines the market's choices of cultural winners.
By placing his viewers, who with all statistical likelihood are mostly not billionaires, in the shoes of one, Lek also plays on the neoliberal ethic of extreme self-sufficiency. Perhaps, we think, if we work unimaginably hard, everything is attainable: land, culture, one of the most respected museums in the world. Through this fantasy of disembodied ownership, the viewer is forced to contend with whether she believes in it in real life. Interestingly, Unreal Estate was shown in the Royal Academy itself. Viewers remarked that they had a new feel for the familiar interior after having experienced the space as "owners."
I listen to instructions on how to manage my "army of servants": the drivers, nannies, maintenance workers, cooks and butlers. The score turns dark and bittersweet as we move down into the vaults. I have to wear a heavy mantle of responsibility to keep my family legacy and dominion intact. My workers will sign confidentiality agreements. I will only hire legally, and all relations must be kept above board. And I have to resist treating maids like "sweet but poor relatives," the monologue continues; it is best to not show anger, as we must only "express our strongest emotions to our equals."
My walk through Unreal Estate is a journey inward. This is the purpose of deploying a first-person, meditative, role-playing experience. I am invited to meditate on my own relationship to the space. I walk deeper into the museum, past gold-leafed borders, up columned stairs. I hear: To become master of your home, you must define its mission. What mission would I give a home this grand?
This virtual Royal Academy, as metonymy of the art world, makes me acutely aware of how successive historical articulations of power and desire can converge in one space. The building, in this context, makes the fantasy of total ownership and real prestige both accessible and understandable. And what, I think, looking up at these totalizing facades, is wrong with desiring protection? The precariat of earlier ages used his pluck, endurance, and resilience to rise up from the dusty streets into the lit, rolling gardens of the aristocracy. Today's white collar office worker, though a little less smudged and hungry than Pip, still lives in an unsure world. He dreams of security, of safety, of continuity.
Though the simulation and dislocation in Unreal Estate should allow the space to be more fluid and plastic, it is interesting that the systems and symbols of great power are replicated again on the island. The logic and language of titanic ownership inspire potent longing. Wealth is, as ever, anything but just wealth: it is controlling desire, it is channeling anxiety into taste, it is the promise of protecting and supporting future generations.
In the final minutes of the film, I watch the sunlight cut thick gold lines across a smaller, seemingly gold model of the Royal Academy, kept on a dais, in a hall lined with thick maroon carpet. Then, I am up on the roof. I skip past Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate to the helipad. I feel deeply settled as the helicopter lifts up over my property; I survey my new estate for the first time. I think of my banker friends breaking out champagne to laugh at thousands of protesters from the balcony of their investment firm. I think of a young monarch assuming her duty, frozen into the image of the Virgin Queen at the end of the film Elizabeth.
Below, the glass ceilings of the gallery rooms, about fourteen in total, glitter in their gold and stone settings. I see rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, all ensconced, like jewels set in the lid of a tomb.
Interview responses translated from Japanese by Love Kindstrand.
"Welcome to [...] the Internet's next wave," Sue Halpern wrote in 2014, "the Internet of Things"—a harbinger of our gradual transition into "one of the things connected to and through the Internet."
Yet, despite its sizeable implications for politics, capital, and consumers, the internet of things has not affected web-based art practices to the same degree. In fact, more and more contemporary internet artists are expressing interest in a somewhat opposing phenomenon, a trend that flips the logic of the Internet of Things on its head. From Paul Soulellis's Library of the Printed Web to Michael Mandiberg's Print Wikipedia, artists working on the internet and digital technologies seem less absorbed by the link between physical bodies and virtual networks than by the physical bodies of these networks—that is, by the matter of the web. As a result, what net art usually offers up is not so much the Internet of Things as the things of the internet.
The Internet Yami-Ichi is one gripping example of recent artistic experimentations with the materiality of the web. Created by the Japanese artist collectives IDPW (pronounced "i-pass") and Exonemo, the Yami-Ichi is a real-life counter-market for internet-related goods. Somewhere between "flea" and "black," the Yami-Ichi is at once both and neither: "In Japanese," Exonemo tells me, "the word 'yami' in 'yami-ichi' (black market) carries connotations not only of darkness, but also of 'sickness' and 'addiction,' in the sense of being too attached to something. More than just a market, we imagined the Yami-Ichi as a place where people consumed by the internet could come together."
The project's first installation was held in Tokyo on November 4, 2012 and attracted over 500 people interested in selling, buying, and trading truly unique internet objects. Since then, the Yami-Ichi has attracted much international attention, travelling to Berlin, Taichung, Seoul, Linz, Brussels, and Amsterdam. In the interview that follows, I ask Exonemo about the politics of their project, touching on the history of online consumer capitalism, Silk Road, the corporatization of Web 2.0, digital labor, and the meaning of liberty on the internet.
Tomoya Watanabe (aka Tomorrow Shark) in Back streets of the Internet (2013) produced by W+K 東京LAB.
LP: Right now I'm at the Rhizome office in the New Museum, less than a mile away from the federal courthouse on Pearl Street where the founder of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison on May 29, 2015. In a letter to Judge Katherine B. Forrest right before his sentencing, Ulbricht said he created Silk Road because he believed "people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren't hurting anyone else." While you explicitly prohibit the exchange of dangerous and illegal goods, you also seem to frame the Internet Yami-Ichi as a project to "liberate" the web by promoting the freedoms of internet users in the form of consumers, producers, and merchants. Were you and Ulbricht responding to a similar problem, namely the lack of liberty on the internet, but in different ways? While Ulbricht's libertarian solution focused on individual liberties as market freedoms, your answer seems to be grounded in the idea of communal liberty as human interaction.
e: With Silk Road, you see one attempt to reclaim the liberty once inherent to the internet that has since been lost, by creating an unregulated space within the internet itself. In contrast, the Internet Yami-Ichi is a proposal to withdraw from the internet "for the time being." The Yami-Ichi takes "internet addiction" as one of its themes, specifically by enacting a collectivity of selves still very much enraptured by the internet, gathering in real life to show each other the many internets we've all imagined/conjured up. Rather than creating "a space for free exchange," what we imagined is what I'd call "a flock of grotesque creatures emerging from the internet, giggling at the sight of themselves interacting in the same grotesque manner in real life"—and as such it felt like an entirely new perspective.
At the first event in Tokyo, we mostly invited people from our respective communities, so there was a strong atmosphere of people sharing the same sense of reality coming together. But when we gathered for the third time in Berlin the concept just took shape in a way that convinced us that people all over the world share a similar awareness: while no doubt people felt differently in various places, the sense of the internet as "something new" shared almost simultaneously across the world is fascinating.
LP: From its inception, the internet has been intimately connected with the development of postindustrial capitalism (and vice-versa). E-commerce websites like eBay and Amazon have been leading internet marketplaces since 1995, the same year Craig Newmark started Craigslist as an email newsletter for promoting events around the Bay Area. By 1999, the Argentinean MercadoLibre had appropriated the concept of a "free" online market as the website's brand name. More recently, Etsy and DaWanda have combined the personalized and user-generated aspects of social media websites into their corporate interfaces, allowing users to create their own online stores and sell "unique," often handmade commodities. What would you say is the place of the Yami-Ichi in the history of online market capitalism?
e: The biggest difference between eBay, Etsy and the other e-commerce sites you mention on one hand, and the Yami-Ichi on the other, is that the former seize on the convenience of the web in order to provide the most accessible service, while the Yami-Ichi does the complete opposite. The things that appear for sale at the Yami-Ichi are preliminary responses to our question of what constitutes an "internet-like" thing, but it's not as if the people selling them do so normally or try to make a livelihood out of doing so. The people who buy them, in turn, earn their own answers to the question of what an "internet-like" thing would actually mean, or perhaps they come with that in mind. In other words, the action of buying and selling in the Yami-Ichi is less an economic one, and rather entails a kind of media research that parodies the action of economic exchange. In an age where getting by without accessing the internet is becoming difficult or impossible, the nature or meaning of that thing we call "the internet" is seldom questioned. The Yami-Ichi constitutes a kind of meditation on that condition, with the actual act of exchange being more of an auxiliary thing, serving to reinforce that reality. Of course, this is nothing more than my personal thoughts on the matter, and presumably other people participate with different conceptions of what they are doing and why.
Poster for the Yami-Ichi in Amsterdam earlier this year
LP: Are market freedoms, as in the liberties afforded to consumers in a capitalist economy, an important aspect of being free in general, especially as this idea is conceived on the internet today?
e: One reason for running the Yami-Ichi in Japan—and it might not be much different from other places in this regard—was as a challenge to the commonplace notion that "one does not pay for internet things." It wasn't long ago that you could find anything for free on the net, and online commerce suffered as a result. Recently things are changing somewhat, particularly due to increasingly aggressive strategies by major corporations, but there is a certain irony to paying actual money for things derived from internet culture at the Yami-Ichi that remains interesting. Few people in Japan, for example, will give money to a homeless person—even street musicians have a hard time. In light of this tendency to "only pay for what benefits" you directly, paying money for non-beneficiary, even useless things at the Yami-Ichi starts to appear as a critical act. At the Berlin event, some participants noticed that people were reluctant to get their wallets out, and in this way there are cultural connotations to simple acts of buying and selling. I'm really curious to see what happens when we open in New York City, where tipping for services and so on suggests an entirely different culture of money exchange.
LP: Despite their dependence on the free digital labor of their users, corporate social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, brand themselves as service providers and social utility platforms. While this may very well be true, their self-understanding as service suppliers elides, quite deliberately of course, the identity of their users as producers of internet content, that is, as workers rather than customers. By allowing internet users to sell their online content as real products, by providing them the opportunity to be remunerated for their digital labor, do you think the Internet Yami-Ichi works to redress the injustices of free digital labor on the internet?
e: If you ask the participants selling things at the Yami-Ichi, they'll tell you how differently people communicate here compared to the exhibitions where they usually show their ideas and creations. Sell or no sell, the creator is immediately confronted with the question of how much their idea is worth, and the customer's response is immediate. With art, there is a certain anxiety in discussing the merits or demerits of a specific work in the conversation between artist and audience. At the Yami-Ichi, it is possible to talk about this in terms of an objective standard: is this worth five bucks or not? For the seller, it seems it's become an appreciated opportunity for casually questioning their own work.
LP: For the first Internet Yami-Ichi, you stipulated only one criteria for sellers: "to sell things that have something to do with the Internet." As a result a diverse mix of unique internet-based objects were on display, including the hand-crafted (and live recorded) ringtone, the "Real-World Re-Tweet," the "Spacer .gif," and a host of other fascinating historical and contemporary fragments of "web matter." While the majority of items on sale appeared to be born-digital goods or services morphed into a real-world format, one of the participants, Tomoya Watanabe (aka Tomorrow Shark), did the precise opposite of this. Watanabe sold real-life stones accompanied by a CD-ROM with their 3D scan data. In doing this, he took an organic object, digitized it, and sold both versions, the physical stone and its digitally-rendered image. So, in a way, the Yami-Ichi offers users not only the possibility to bring things from the web into the physical world, but also the prospect of adding real-life objects to the internet, "filling the internet with things that exist in the real world," as he put it.
e: The novelty of Tomorrow Shark's "stone" lies, as you explain, not in the idea of bringing a thing from the internet into real space, but in tying a material object to its three-dimensional data, a presence that connects net and physical realities. There is something romantic in the encounter between the novel, still unstable entity that is "the internet," and the ordinary rock, present anywhere and everywhere as a symbol of universality. The fantasy of that same rock selling out simultaneously in every corner of the world is perhaps equally romantic...
* * *
LP: How did IDPW and the Internet Yami-Ichi come about?
e: After the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan in 2011, the two of us in Exonemo left Tokyo for Fukuoka in Western Japan. Around that time, a lot of people were leaving the city for the countryside, or even going overseas. In Fukuoka, we rented a warehouse with the intent of starting something new. That's where the IDPW collective came together, as a way to gather all the fellow artists scattered across Japan in an extension of Exonemo's focus on "experiments that connect internet and reality."
The idea was to have the internet "descend" into reality around that actual space (genba), and around that concept we started, in different places and shapes, online and offline, irregularly and experimentally—and with a fair amount of stupidity—to organize the parties where the Internet Yami-Ichi first took shape.
LP: What were some of the most influential referents for the Yami-Ichi?
e: The primary referent for this kind of flea market event is Tokyo's Comic Market (or Comike). Since 1975 it has grown from a small subcultural gathering to an annual gathering of 500,000 enthusiasts. Beyond manga and anime-related works, you'll encounter countless items and ideas for sale that don't quite fit any category: a map of vending machines in Akihabara; homemade recipes; a bot that plays through pornographic computer games, and so on. It's stuff that's obviously useless for most people, and yet there is the provocation of coming face to face with that kind of pure creativity. In 2005, this inspired another community of enthusiasts called Dorkbot Tokyo, organized around "people doing strange things with electricity," who put together a flea market-style event that attracted serious attention. The combination of all these things eventually led to the Internet Yami-Ichi events.
LP: Given how the idea for the Yami-Ichi was born out of Apple's rejection of your proposed iPhone app, was your initial idea to host a web-based, as opposed to a physical, marketplace? Or, was the app meant to be a digital platform for organizing people only and then trade objects IRL?
e: Once we realized we couldn't sell on the App Store the silly idea of selling apps by connecting people's phones to our development PC came to mind—the ridiculousness of it fascinated us, I guess. So for the Yami-Ichi we didn't think about online sales at all. At the first two events we didn't even have wifi! Yet in that space entirely cut off from the internet, we were enveloped by an "internet-like" atmosphere—in turn prompting the question of whether this thing we call "the internet" has anything to do with being connected to the internet at all.
In the beginning, we knew we wanted to bring the internet into the flea market, but still couldn't imagine what kind of space would emerge from that encounter. That's when we came up with the idea of taking the app, that had already been rejected by Apple, and selling it by connecting a cable directly to people's phones. This lead to the realization that "perhaps the current internet is less free than the real world."
The early days of the internet were characterized by an understanding of its possibilities as that of a space completely separated from physical reality. More recently, the internet has become more convenient to use even as it falls under the control of global corporations, and as its use becomes more universal it has become a matter of public concern. With increasing privacy concerns we've come to feel the limits of online practice. Now, with the spread of smartphones the internet is no longer distinguishable from reality, the very distinction disappearing bit by bit as the problematics of online life encroach on reality itself. The present condition challenges us to take a step back from the internet, reappraise the way it has affected our sense of values and provided new concepts, and from there, consider the way we want technological innovation to proceed.
LP: In light of your project's success, do you think you'll submit a new proposal for an iPhone app to Apple in the future?
e: I don't know about the App Store—as an embryo of the idea that became the Internet Yami-Ichi, our rejected app has already made itself useful. We'll continue to release different apps and other works as exonemo in the future.
Fabien Mousse, Real Internet Art (2013)
LP: What is the most popular currency of exchange at the Yami-Ichi? Do people use bitcoins, instagram followers, tumblr accounts, gifs, image macros, etc. to buy/trade goods, or is mostly cash?
e: It's been mostly cash so far; people write price tags for "1 euro" or "1 bitcoin" as a joke, and it seems like participants trade their goods. In the US, there are plenty of convenient options for payment like Paypal, Square and Venmo, so that might change.
LP: What are your plans for the future of the Yami-Ichi?
e: This summer, we've held events in Taichung (Taiwan), Seoul, Linz (Austria), and will be in New York City on September 12; towards the end of the year, we're thinking of Scotland, São Paulo, and London as well as Indonesia and Mexico. Early on, IDPW was involved in organizing all events, but since the one held in Amsterdam last May we've pulled back a little bit, moving towards an open platform through which anyone can participate.
The question is how the internet, as a phenomenon unfolding in the present on a global scale, is acted upon differently in different parts of the world. There's a lot of work organizing these Yami-Ichi markets across the world, but for the moment it feels like a meaningful activity that I want to continue in the future.
The very notion of "the internet" will keep changing, now and in the future, as will the idea of what's considered "internet-like" or not. We're still at a point where drawing a line between "reality" and "the internet" allows us to understand something, but the line separating these two domains is disappearing. Soon, the Internet Yami-Ichi might look no different from an ordinary flea market! The Yami-Ichi event itself, I hope, already functions as a kind of barometer with which to gauge and comprehend our changing times.
Interview responses translated from Japanese by Love Kindstrand. Kindstrand is a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Chicago, interested in intersections of anonymity and subjectivity in internet culture.
In June, we launched our 2015 Net Art Microgrants program with an open call for entries. 262 projects were proposed, representing the diversity of net art practices today. All proposals were considered by an esteemed panel comprising curator, artist, and critic Gaby Cepeda, previous Microgrant winner M. Hipley, and Rhizome's Assistant Director, Zachary Kaplan.
Today, we're pleased to announced the five 2015 Net Art Microgrant awardees, who will each recieve $500 to create new works.
Loz Cliffe, An Open Call for Spam Bots
The textual content posted by spam bots in online contact and comment forms throughout the web is not without artistic merit. A spam bot’s use of imaginatively strung together keywords, phrases and ambiguous sentences aimed at manipulating the decision making processes of other web crawling and indexing bots can often include content which reflects current news, events and trends, which in turn generates new and unexpected narratives. An Open Call for Spam Bots would be an online depository for this content, as well as a self-perpetuating, auto-generated piece of net art based on the spam bots' submissions. Spam bots would be attracted to and encouraged to participate in this open call for their work via a specifically designed web application that would purposely ignore the basic and conventional measures normally used to discourage and prevent them, thus providing them with an open platform to express themselves.
Emilie Gervais, Fuck Privacy
I'm writing a text titled Fuck Privacy. It's mostly about human history, human behaviors, art, open source, hacker culture, internet cult & subcultures, net archeology, ideas & information. I want to make a version that is readable on a website along with some pretty ASCII art.
Adriana Minoliti, -PLAY SIGNIFICANT OTHERNESS-
PSO is a digital bio-system based on geometry and sex. From my pictorial work, PSO is the live manifestation on the web: mutant geometric figures inhabit a jungle-digitalscape. These entities live in harmony. When they find each other, they exchange figures and shapes, so when separated each is visually transformed by the encounter. It's a genetic algorithm related to feminist theory and technoscience from Donna Haraway and the biologist Lynn Margulis. It's a geometric representation of a non-Darwinian artificial life. As a painter, geometry is the best tool to represent and investigate a trans-human utopia, where the gender theories can be applied to the pictorial language and find new ways of experimenting with the visual world. #expanded_painting #queer_feminism #sexy_metaphysic #abstract_porn #pos_porn #green_cube I apply for the grant to develop the algorithm along with the programming artist Mariana Lombard.
Rafia Santana, RAFiA's WORLD
"When I grow up I want to be a artist and draw beautiful paintings because I like to draw pictures of things. I believe in me that I could do anything." - RAFiA, 1997. My mother, an artist and archivist, has always encouraged me to date and save my creations. Recently I discovered a stack of composition notebooks in our dining room closet. They contain my childhood drawings, journal entries, and classwork assignments that span from 1992 to the early 2000s (I was born in 1990). With the Rhizome microgrant I will digitize these works and publish them as an interactive archival experience called RAFiA's WORLD. Viewers will be able to click through the chronologically ordered images and explore my development as an artist and human being pre-adolescence. The archive will be hosted on its own site but will also be accessible via Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook.
Alex Taylor, .3gp
.3gp is a largely extinct file container that was most popular during the first wave of video-playing mobile phones (the days of RAZRs and Nokia N70s). A search on YouTube for the format returns an exceptionally random mixture of content from all corners of the world; candid home videos, viral softcore pornography and dubbed movie trailers all filtered through the ice cold lens of early 00s compression technology. I would like to create a site that acts as a viewing platform/'TV channel' dedicated to the format, using the Youtube API to select and play videos at random in an interactive 3D environment.
With New York's Whitney Museum of American Art officially decamped to Lower Manhattan, the encyclopedic Metropolitan Museum of Art is slowly revealing its ambitions for their 8-year lease of the Whitney's former home, the Breuer Building. The Met has labeled this satellite "The Met Breuer" — but what will it be? According to early messaging, the space will house "a new series of exhibitions, performances, artist commissions, residencies, and educational initiatives," relating to contemporary and modern art.
The museum just announced the space's first program: an affiliate version of the technology, entertainment, design lecture series, TED Talks, called TEDxMet: The In-Between. The subtitle and theme refer to the status of the institution itself; per the promotional text, "no longer the Whitney Museum, and not yet open to the public as The Met Breuer, a building in-between." In keeping, its an interdisciplinary affair, with speakers from the visual arts, theater, and literature.
Though a consistently popular platform for "creative class" topics in digital culture, TED is a frequent whipping post of Twitter media people, and the subject of real critical address by the likes of Simon Denny and Daniel Keller and Benjamin Bratton, all of whom have shed important light on TED's uneasy associations with "Silicon Valley Logic." (The TED Talk is often held as the pseudo-messianic start-up founder platform of choice.)
With TEDxMet as the inaugural event, moreover, the artist duo João Enxuto and Erica Love's Art Project 2023 is feeling particularly prescient. This is a video and a performative lecture (originally given at the Whitney on the occasion of the Shared Spaces conference the two co-organized) which foretells the fate of the Breuer Building. In its dystopian tale, due to a financial crisis, the Met can't renew its lease, so Google steps in to purchase the building for its Art Project. Not tech-friendly enough for their use, the building is then razed and a state-of-the-art facsimile is built on the site, the Breuer becoming a database and architectural shell for individuated, on-demand VR experiences of art.
We're not there yet, of course, and I'm not here to critique this program—in fact, I'd be thrilled to hear someone like Dawoud Bey speak in the context. Rather, I'm writing to highlight how TEDxMet reflects a shift that is at issue in my current editorial undertaking, The Born-Digital Art Institution, a Rhizome publication to be published next year by Sternberg Press. (I'll be speaking on the project at MuseumNext in late September in Indianapolis, and in London at the Goethe Institut in October.)
With the new space, the Met is in many ways following a well-known playbook—if an institution wants to signal its forward-looking perspective and general audience bona fides, and fill a program vacancy without the resources or the time traditionally afforded to primary museum projects, they often look to education programs, performance, residencies, and, perhaps, social practice artworks.
That the inaugural event is a TEDx event is notable, however, in that it evidences the ongoing transformation of the traditional curator-led art institution (centered on the production of exhibitions) to the more amorphous, admin- and programmer-led art institution, a shift coterminous to institutions thinking through the prism of digital distribution. (Enxuto and Love will be writing about this more in the forthcoming publication.) TEDx is an ideal format for museums looking for options beyond traditional curatorial production, really, in that its production costs can be kept minimal, in that its built for broadcast and circulation, in that it suggests cross-pollination with the sort of bold creativity thought to dwell around San Jose, a bold creativity highly valued by mass culture at the moment (as well as donors, sponsors, executives, etcetera).
The Breuer won't be razed anytime soon, but it's clear that, following the work being done institution-wide under Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan, the Met is open to a "digital-first," or perhaps really "digital-culture-first," program. We're all born-digital institutions now.
For her contribution to the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Petra Cortright presents two versions of a Photoshop composition titled all_gold_everything.psd: a GIF that cycles through all of its layers, and a video that uses wipes and dissolves to offer a slowly shifting view of the same imagery.
Click here to view a 140MB high-resolution gif.
Writing in Spike Art Quarterly, artist Paul Chan once described Petra Cortright's artistic approach as "disinterested," in the Kantian sense:
We are ruled by our interests (because who doesn't want a leg up?) and that is why there is very little freedom or play when our interests are at stake. Cortright's work, on the other hand, exudes the disinterestedness that only comes from a form of creating with nothing particular on the line, and this is what affords it a kind of freedom that becomes, in a word, delightful.
Cortright brings this same disinterestedness to her works in various media: performance videos, digital paintings, and spammy texts. Her studio is a domestic-style space with carpet and curtains in an otherwise industrial building in Los Angeles, where she surfs the web and "paints" in Adobe Photoshop using a stylus, creating files that may have hundreds of layers, accrued over time through daily activity. However, once these files are complete, they are then translated to different forms, from physical objects to various digital formats. In this case, the gif and video versions of all_gold_everything.psd tell very different stories about the same set of images.
The gif begins with an image of a golden dress worn by a catwalk model, a jpeg copied from the web. From there, the relationship between one frame and the next is unpredictable; in some cases, there is a small change, but often the changes are abrupt, with large images or fields of color covering the entire canvas, concealing what came before. There are effects, transformations, copied elements, and brushstrokes, which are sometimes delicately rendered and sometimes scribbled roughly.
The video, in contrast, has a much more deliberate staging of elements. The same dress appears onscreen at the start, although its form has been abstracted, with no clear demarcation between foreground and background. As the image comes into focus, animated elements begin to sparkle; golden sunflowers appear until a wash of magenta spreads slowly across the image. Elements seem emerge from the depths of the image, are drawn to it from above, or grow within it. Where the gif presents a kind of record of Cortright's process, the video seems to offer a self-contained narrative.
The gap between these two works reflects the importance, in Cortright's work, of everything that happens after a .psd is finished. A single Photoshop file can serve as the source for a number of finished works. In some cases, the works are exported to material form—printed onto aluminum or silk, materials which can be thought of as different analogies for the digital image. Alternatively, they may be translated to video. Whatever the format, the works can be thought of as singular views or interpretations of a fluid composition, each of which may bring a different temporality and perspective to the same digital object.
Jacob Ciocci, Jacob's Year, 9/11, Unbox Perfect Sleep (2015)
Jacob Ciocci's new exhibition at Interstate Projects could easily be mistaken for a study of banality and irony. However, as one begins to take in the myriad of symbols, text, and sound throughout the exhibition, one will find Ciocci is more interested in exploring empathy and vulnerability. Though he has been a fixture in net art, experimental animation, and art rock scenes for many years, the exhibition cements Ciocci's work at the vanguard of dealing with the weight of user generated content within contemporary image-obsessed culture.
Where others attempt to merely glean rare moments of accidental poetry from anonymous YouTubers and Clip Art aficionados, Ciocci instead considers how these gestures should be seen as very human expressions of grief and anxiety. For Ciocci, a lucid tension exists between the immediacy of sharing content online and the empty feeling that can come from no one "liking" it. The cyclical and addictive nature of pushing personal content into a void of inattentive responses stands as a central motivation, and delicate articulation, for many works here. Often, this is accomplished by instilling such tension within the objects themselves. The sculptures and printed works on view seem simultaneously accessible and foreign, creating a self-contained atmosphere of contradictory behavior. Although the imagery found in the exhibition might be familiar, the way objects are repurposed within the show exposes a layer of metaphorical or symbolic meaning that might otherwise go unnoticed.
For instance, a series of kinetic sculptures titled Sign Spinners are made from modified mannequins with small motors mounted inside their abdomens. The motors activate a sign that sways in front of the mannequin and is made to simulate mechanical sign wavers that have recently become more popular in rural and suburban strip malls. Instead of directing shoppers toward a local pizza joint, the mannequins hold signs with one-dimensional, pithy existential questions or motivational phrases like "Think Outside the Box"scripted in papyrus, comic sans, or similar "default" fonts. Additionally, the mannequins are covered in neon camouflage blankets with hand-painted cartoonish faces meant to look like the Halloween ghost models you would find at a Wal-Mart in West Virginia.
After a brief chuckle at the instant absurdity of these objects, it becomes evident that the joke is meant to invite us to empathize with the mundanity and futility of the gestures these robots perform. These gestures, however, are two-fold: one occurs from physically repeating the motion of waving a sign for as long as the machine is plugged in. The other comes from recognizing the painfully trivial soul searching that is displayed on their signs. Clearly, the questions and reflections posited on these signs are not merely meant for the mannequins themselves. Instead these messages "direct" strangers towards a place where the seemingly simplistic nature of these questions has some ground for serious consideration. In other words, the signs are waving at us to pull over and ponder something that might otherwise easily be dismissed.
Jacob Ciocci, Trust No One #hope (2015; sign help by Sing Spinners)
In doing so, these mannequins ask us to consider the feebleness of asking "deep" questions at a moment when our preconceived notion of language falls apart. This inquiry is continued in a large-scale wall painting that reads Life… is fuckin’ Hard!... But I can’t disappoint them I needa keep going no matter the Cost. Please pray for me Someone, I am so fuckin’ lost So lost. Initially pulled from an Instagram photo taken by Ciocci of a note scribbled on a bathroom stall at CUNY Staten Island (where the artist formerly taught), Life… similarly exposes a moment of heartfelt desperation under the pressure of everyday tedium. Far from a more common and juvenile sort of "bathroom humor" that would typically be found in the stalls, the text reads as an eerily sincere cry for help. The relocation of the text onto a gallery wall complicates the desires of the initial author by obfuscating the original "point of contact." In doing so, however, the text takes on a newfound significance: what initially appears as a petty appeal becomes a lasting commemoration of a moment of deep loss.
Ciocci's method of re-presenting scenarios that walk the tightrope between sincerity and irony is most aesthetically articulated in a series of UV printed images on gesso covered wood The source material for these collages is pulled from a larger series of small studies that were rescanned and blown up to 4 x 5 foot panels in a gesture that Ciocci equates to "turning small moments into big moments" (which could similarly be applied to Life…). In this series which includes works titled refuse2lost #selftalk and #connect, #findingthe, #connection –therapy –Bank of America –toilet paper, snippets of jumbled lists and cryptic phrases float on a backdrop of abstract color fields. The text occasionally reads like a to-do list that combines hashtags and chores; as if the daily activities of an unknown person have been sorted into searchable terms that no one will google.
Similar to the aforementioned mannequins, the language in these images initially reads as disposable. However, subtle recurring themes and glimmers of somber memories pierce through the humor. As viewers approach one of the final panels titled Jacob’s Year, 9/11, Unbox Perfect Sleep the language stops being funny and starts to hurt in small psychological stings. In this moment, the mannequins no longer seem silly, but feel abject. Their cloaked faces stop being part of a costume; they are instead a protective barrier against the inevitable embarrassment that comes from attempting to be something you're not.
Perhaps the lasting visual metaphor within the show can be found in a short video loop called Why are so Many Americans so Powerless on the main floor of the gallery. Similar in style to last year's The Urgency, this video quickly cuts between a number of cell-phone videos and YouTube demos of campy green-screen techniques. One cell-phone video shows the slow collapse of a parade balloon depicting Barney the Dinosaur. As the purple mass shrinks from bulbous cartoon to writhing fabric caught in the wind, a deep sense of dread sets in. Watching this transformation feels like an apropos analogy for the long-standing struggle within Ciocci's work: what once was innocent suddenly becomes malicious — swallowing exuberant celebrants of household icons in a flurry of uncontrollable deflated plastic.
Jacob Ciocci, #connect, #findingthe, #connection -therapy -Bank of America -toliet paper (2015)
Amidst all this, Ciocci's work never appears to have lost hope. Though the time for reveling in naiveté has passed, the symbols and artifacts from that time still remain and resonate. The significance of using imagery found online and repurposed graphics from user-generated content has undoubtedly shape-shifted (not unlike the Barney float) since Ciocci's solo show at Foxy Production in 2006. That being said, this newfound meaning could do with exactly the kind of sensitive scrutiny that Ciocci puts forth in this exhibition. Instead of looking past the images and objects we've come to associate with 00s sarcasm, Ciocci looks into these moments, and continues to find shards of sincerity in them.
Robert M. Ochshorn, Chewing Time (2013)
What were the initial intentions of the Flatness project, and how would you say those first iterations have reshaped your ongoing research, as well as future curatorial projects?
The project began as the theme of a film program I curated for Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen 2013 entitled "Flatness: cinema after the internet." I'd invited Oliver Laric, Anthea Hamilton and Ed Atkins to curate screenings within the program before I came up with the title, so the idea emerged through thinking about their work, and the other forty videos within the overall program. While Laric, Hamilton and Atkins each occupy very different positions—broadly, Laric's practice engages with the circulation of images throughout history and now on the web, Hamilton's sculptural and video works draw on the convergence of cultural materials within the compressed, hyper-historical space of the screen-based image and Atkins's filmmaking reflects on the thinness of high definition image surface—their work points to a shared language of the screen inherited from cinema and TV and now evolves through the dialogic space of the internet. I was conscious, too, that most of the works weren’t intended to be seen in the cinema - they were made either to be installed in the gallery or viewed on the computer (many of the works appeared in low-resolution so the image looked spectacularly flat!)—so I wanted to draw attention to the particularities of the auditorium setting and its linear format. Once the festival was over it made sense to put all the programs online, not only so a broader audience could engage with them, but also because several works I'd selected had originated there in the first place. Computer researcher Robert M. Ochshorn's commission, Chewing (2013), for instance, where all the frames of John Smiths' Girl Chewing Gum (1976) are played simultaneously in a specially programmed viewer, was only temporarily made into a video for presentation at Oberhausen, otherwise it exists as an interactive player. My intention was that the website could be a place where Ochshorn's sense of invention could be appreciated in the same space as the visual, audio-visual and written commissions. The web has become a site for artistic production and display but the tools programmers have access to, which set the protocols for this medium, mustn’t be overlooked both politically and artistically.
Currently Flatness takes the form of a website, a book and a succession of screenings. In a way, the project is activated by these live events and the discussions hosted through them. I really appreciate the physical space of the gallery and cinema, and I'm curious how the role of these spaces changes after the web has made many of their functions obsolete.
What were some of the initial ideas in producing the design of the website? I once heard you say it felt like a very subjective space—could you expand on that?
The design is a quotation from the 404 page which feels undesigned—it appears very simply, as if it was the most basic way to convey a message. In this sense the Flatness website suggests an interruption to normal services and at the same time shows you a ticking clock. I wanted to draw attention to the different temporalities of being on and offline while still being online. The font also harks back to a longer history of the net including those amateur Geocities websites which captured a diversity of interests within a very limited palette of effects.
Like Ubuweb the site is built in html. This mitigates against changes that are out of my control, such as Tumblr going offline, and gives me more options than hosting the site on Facebook both in terms of design, the imagery I can show and privacy. The site doesn't require a login, for example, and everything apart from the contributions is licensed under Creative Commons.
The design is subjective in the same way as the Geocities sites were. The curatorial statement is in the About section so the viewer could bypass it entirely, letting their curiosity for the different art forms behind each link on the homepage guide their experience, or reading of the site. As Facebook tries to become everything for everyone I really appreciate websites which are more partial and idiosyncratic. This might sound contradictory—a design that looks neutral whilst claiming not to be. But I've tried to be quite literal—to affirm the idea that I’m the guy pushing the buttons behind the curtain.
Do you think the presentation of artists work in the cinema alters the framing, conceptual or otherwise? You mention the cinema as being an obsolete space, yet also a reliance on events within a "public" forum to generate further discussion. Perhaps the cinema still has a collective address that the internet lacks as a form of distribution, or is yet to acquire?
Not necessarily. Of course work made in HD or film looks amazing in the cinema, and a lot of the works I’m interested in privilege high quality sound as well as visuals, so there’s no better format for those works. I suppose the fact that it's possible to show film on a variety of different scales says more about an expectation for the work to have that flexibility, rather than prioritizing one context over another. Having said that, there is a slight awkwardness to watching short films in the cinema, as if it's a warm up for a yet-to-come feature length movie.
Showing moving image works specifically intended for computer viewing in the cinema is a slightly different situation however on two accounts; conceptually it breaks the circulation the work is part of online (which is not to say it's a perfect, decentralized space in the first place), and secondly, the temporality or sense of "liveness" of the individuated space behind a laptop screen compared to the collective address of the cinema is affected by the switch. The two are closely related—it's apparent that the internet has stimulated interest in the cinema, from blockbusters to live feeds from performances at the Met. It's fascinating how cinema has been saved from obsolescence in spite of file-sharing and latterly Netflix which seem to accord to the gradual customization of experience through our personalized devices. Moreover, I wonder when new laws make it harder to organize together in public space in groups, how else could the live event of the cinema or gathering at a gallery be re-imagined? The will to protest as well as to like, tweet or instant message is self-evident; from Occupy, the Arab Spring, and the London uprisings in 2011, through to the demonstrations in Ukraine and HK and civil protests against police brutality in the States. Perhaps the practice of cinema going as a model has some potential to sustain this collective energy past clicktivism and spontaneous protest, which, like Occupy, can too easily be dismissed as politically ambivalent and historically content-less.
Online sociality has potential too, not just on Facebook. Special interest forums share affective encounters between members without the assumption of a physical analogue. I guess you could compare these fora to porn cinemas which are obsolete now; they seem to offer a similar type of intimacy. In my mind, screenings of artists' video could find a place between this and mainstream cinema. Curatorially, I think it’s important to acknowledge how people use screen media on a day-to-day to communicate and make, as well as to look. That's why I prefer to use a variety of existing formats outside the gallery.
Anthea Hamilton, Venice (The Kabuki Version) (2013)
The works screened as part of Flatness engage in a variety of ways with the topics you've mentioned, but the most striking similarity between many of the works is a particular mix of production values e.g. low-fi CGI, fast cutting and complex audio. Is there something in these aspects that are particularly productive when thinking through ideas about indexicality, circulation and new distribution formats?
Flatness is a materialist reading of how we relate to artifice in our lives. I'm interested in reflexive practices which address the means and conditions of production (which, as I have said, I also try to do in the curating of these works). In Flows (2013) by Jason Dungan, the movements of the camera give a sense of the artist’s physical presence both beyond the screen and nearby. As viewers we follow the patterns of what he's looking at, similar to how one can trace an artist's brush stroke on a painting.
This approach has its roots in structuralist filmmaking, a consciously amateurish (in the best sense of the word), analytical approach to filmmaking. In one sense, this artistic movement continues within YouTube, but also ends there as the photographic index of an image turns into information, a list of 1s and 0s, and thus the nature of the analysis also transforms. Flatness follows this paradigmatic transition, from the layers of materiality of artists' cinema—with bodies sitting together in the same room as the whirring film projector—to in-computer filmmaking with the potential for media to be transmitted easily and quickly to an unlimited online audience. This temporal shift is exemplified in the contrasting sense of duration of a finite recording and the constantly updated news feed, of which the latter I think creates the conditions for circular narratives and non-representational modes of expression.
In his recent book Anywhere and Not at All Peter Osborne writes about how the abstraction of exchange value from use value finds its equivalent visual form in the "infinite field" of the digital image. He suggests that this gives rise to "a simultaneous abundance of historical representations and a scarcity of forms of historical consciousness and experience." Through a materialist approach I want to recover the idea of a hand driving the machine, to expose the idea that our phones make us behave a certain way. Phones and drones aren't arbitrary or autonomous! It takes skill to program them, and reasonably, there should be a skill and a politics around using them.
This recovery of a "hand driving the machine" as you put it, is an important aesthetic problem. Some of the works in the Flatness project deal with this via a direct and "standard" filmic language, such Ein Neues Produkt (2011) by Farocki e.g. its use of shot-reverse shot in the first meeting, but this work sheds a lot of the structuralist production you mention. To expand on my previous question, could you talk more about the different strategies employed in revealing these social and political structures, and how they situate themselves in relation to a formal language?
Ein Neues Produkt is an incredible late work by Farocki, without whose films I don’t think we'd be having this conversation. For those who aren't familiar with it, the film offers a rare insight into the practice of future forecasting in commercial consultation whose aim is to optimize business processes and organizational structures, through solutions such as the open-plan office and flexible working. Farocki documents the internal meetings of the firm in such a matter-of-fact way that the situations seem absurd. The point at which one of the consultants suggests offering workers more time off as a way of saving the company money, for example, always provokes incredulous laughter from audiences but Farocki's unblinking eye persists to open out the consultants' bizarre but pervasive logic. In the place of narrative or a script, the speculative talk of his subjects is exposed as the construction within the film, detached from material reality and compassion. It reminds me of Chris Marker's Stopover in Dubai (2011), which also appears to present "just the facts" through the arbitrary viewpoints of CCTV. The two films seem to rest on incidental twists and turns in the real-time narratives without offering a conclusion, leaving interpretation open to the viewer.
I think the persistence of cinematic language is critical in order to contextualize developments in the moving image, as well as online experience in general. Or to Decontextualize them...As I mentioned previously, the sense of liveness as we engage in both is different, namely because cinema isn't navigable like live interaction online. Even in non-interactive situations such as YouTube tutorials and ASMR, the computer screen frames the viewer as the person holding the camera—there's still a sense of intention, agency or intimacy within an encounter that feels quite specific or personal. Across the multiple viewpoints of cinema however, the position of the viewer is more often abstracted from this one-on-one perspective. Significantly, it's the cinema which captures the condition of being watched which, as we know through the bravery of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, is an unwelcome but otherwise accepted part of our experience of being online. I often return to Chantal Akerman's 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in which her repetitive use of the same fixed camera positions throughout the film typify this persistent gaze. The monumental way she detonates it through what happens in the film is perhaps a lesson we can take on to combat this apathetic acceptance of being watched we've succumbed to. Or, as you've identified in Farocki, we could learn to appropriate different points of view to undermine this power relation.
Flatness seeks to distinguish between a false intimacy of the screen where agency is instrumentalized, and other forms of expression and reception fostered through digital technology.
There are other less-visual and collaborative practices on the Flatness website which use structuralist techniques, such as Manual Labors, a long term research project exploring people’s physical relationship to work. Through experiments such as walking their 9 mile tube journey to work, and slogans such as "Refuse to Adapt," the project aims to locate a more embodied understanding of the structures of work and how one must negotiate them. To me it seems that immaterial labor has very definite material consequences in the world and effects on the body which Manual Labors interrogate brilliantly. Similarly to Flatness, Manual Labors operate as a web archive and a series of live events including reading groups and symposia. One particularly memorable meeting was held at the HSBC offices in Canary Wharf, where we made close readings of texts on the "rebel body" and "managed heart" by Silvia Federici and Arlie Hochschild. When art practice serves as a proto-form of affective labor—its passions and inventions captured as self-exploitation and entrepreneurialism—it becomes vital to discuss the ethics of what we do in order to imagine a role for art in the future.
Harun Farocki, Ein Neues Produkt (2012)
Curatorially, is a task you are forced to take up producing "neutral" or algorithmically unfettered online spaces to distribute work? There is something incredibly exciting about trying to create a distribution system in this way. What do you have planned for the future?
Not forced so much as fascinated by! I see my curatorial practice as a feedback process evolving over time, akin to the way learning and social relationships develop. As I've suggested, my values align with the potential of networks of exchange shaping the fabric of communication in society (over commodification, which tends to stultify this instinct). With this in mind I turn to the work of cyberneticists such as Norbert Weiner (who coined the term "cybernetics"), Gregory Bateson and Ella Siatta who study the science of control and communication in humans and machines, drawing conceptual parallels between engineering and the nervous system as related, self-reflexive networks. So far, Flatness as a neologism has contained this kind of distributive system within itself—i.e. there is no single or correct interpretation of the concept and it becomes a challenge to limit its scope.
Systems are far from autonomous however. Weiner was concerned about the power of Cybernetics, particularly in warfare where ethical human decisions become outsourced to Machines as is happening with drone technology. Here machines can accelerate the worst Aspects of the human character. Trolling and negging are other cases where feedback can be a dead-end, contributing towards an abject conformity.
Currently, I'm working on a way to make the project more decentralized and collective. A structure like this would allow me to carry on with my own particular research in collaboration with a number of key practices and materials, while being less controlling over how the project develops. The intention would be to broaden the range of responses that come back, slowing down and adding complexity to the process of automation from A to B we've come to expect. One way is to invite other researchers to curate their own sections of the site, and for them to invite people and so on. I can then imagine my work taking place in the overlaps, or points of exchange between the different networks created, as well as in the anomalies which are so often smoothed out by algorithms engaged in positive feedback. I agree with Siatta who said recently that the current system for producing beauty is not a very beautiful thing. I like this idea of an internal logic or integrity projecting affects. In the same way, Stephen Willat's proposition is that "[a] work of art could consist of a process in time, a learning system through which the concepts of the social view forwarded in the work are accessed and internalized." Flatness can be read in feminist terms of flat hierarchies and a shared surface, where essentialist categories are discounted in the formation of critically engaged and engaging socialities. Similarly to how Bateson talks about the artist being a self-aware cybernetic system, the components of a website, event or exhibition—the works, their mapping and visitors to the exhibition—could be one too.
Curated by Shama Khanna, "Flatness: Index," a screening of 16mm films and videos by Holly Antrum, Rose Kallal, Duncan Marquiss, Lisa Oppenheim, and Nino Pezzella, will be held tonight at Microscope Gallery (1329 Willoughby Avenue, #2B Brooklyn, New York 11237), at 7:30pm.
For his contribution to the ongoing online exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Andrej Ujhazy presents a large-scale (70MB, 15120x7560 pixel) digital painting created in Adobe Photoshop, presented as a png file that can be viewed or downloaded here.
Detail of Andrej Ujhazy, congress of the sarmatian women by the black sea to dissolve the amazonian tribes and withdraw from history, aug1 333 (after Total War: Atilla™).png (2015), Photoshop painting, 15120 × 7560 pixels.
Andrej Ujhazy undertook this work while playing a video game from the Total War series that features massive armies fighting in grandiose landscapes during the late Roman Empire. Ujhazy set out to make an epic historical painting in the traditional sense, drawing inspiration from the videogame and from the underlying history it represented, but working from a contemporary cultural reference point. The tribe Ujhazy was playing in the game was the Sarmatians, a central Asian people for whom women played an important role in warfare; they were described by Herodotus as the descendants of Amazon mothers. Thus, the painting was partly an intervention into the narrative of the game and into videogame culture as a whole, emphasizing the role played by women in both.
However, the work departs markedly from the game's photorealistic style, introducing gestural digital brushwork that bridges the gap between historical epic and personal expression, between the academic style often favored by online art communities that Ujhazy participates in and the language of gestural abstraction.
Ujhazy's use of extreme scale turns the image into a kind of navigable virtual world. The image is best explored by zooming in to navigate through the many scenes and passages that unfold within it, and zooming back out again to understand how these elements relate to a pictorial whole. Thus, scale allows the painting to be experienced as a richly layered narrative. Whereas in Laura Brothers' work, a temporal dimension to the work is introduced via vertical scrolling on a serially updated blog, and in Cortright's via animated video and gif, the temporality of Ujhazy's painting is based on navigation through a still image.
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.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, snow white LQQKS by black bitch_latergram (2015)
Self-representation is a recurring theme of internet-based art, one that you approach from a specific perspective: as a queer, black, [self-described] privileged individual. In your Cam-Era work, you perform this identity within the Camgirl business. How did the power dynamics of this environment affect the work you were making at the time?
Power dynamics affected this work not because of the power of the people or the culture inside, but the power of the people and the culture outside looking in. I feel ashamed that I see these spaces as a playground where I get to construct my own fantasies and control my environment. In a lot of ways I am excited about this non-corporal freedom I gain there—like sexually excited. We all want something intangible that we can't have and there's always these fucked up political connotations that are attached to these desires. I use these people online just as much as they're using me and I’m secretly really happily ashamed of that. I use people online because I can't bring myself to do it IRL. See the connections? I think my way of somehow ritualistically absolving myself of this shame is by producing these videos. The product for me is a kind of stain, and I think the footage reflects it—it is all really dark and self-aware in this way. My piece, nothing_fucking_matters_II: cuter on the internet.mp4 (2014), is an animated second-self portrait that’s on the surface very tongue in cheek and feels familiar, aesthetically, but these clips of me are all selections of moments that gross me out a bit when I watch them. I can see a kind of blind enjoyment there that I generally don’t get offline in sexual situations, and that makes me both angry and giddy.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, nothing_fucking_matters_II cuter on the internet_mp4 (2014)
My fantasy-fetish for control and power over my representation is constantly being fulfilled by my occupation (or is it a hobby? I don't know.) When I feel like my game is strong and people are responding in the way I’ve organized them to, it’s simultaneously the most unhinged and highest feeling I am able to experience. There's also another layer though, playing this black femme domme goddess online is affirming my fears about being not enough of a black femme domme goddess in real life—and this is a real problem for me because I shouldn't have to feel like that. My feelings about being mixed race and being raised not to see color are complicated.
Literally though, it tickles me to see the control aspect extending to everything. This is where my educated New Media MFA eye begins and my masochistic, animal self that's instinctively navigating this community stops. The control thing is even exaggerated by the very UX of the job; built into all the sights are the little wysiwyg style customization capabilities of the "about me" pages, the culture of competition for finding the most creative activities you can run with your audiences, the Amazon wishlist culture, and the endless options you can choose from when deciding what type of cam site you want to work for.
Camming seems like a very straightforward system to monetize the ever-present male gaze. While being part of a market for the visualization of bodies, you stayed in control of your image by drawing boundaries when it came to nudity, and by having a critical perspective. What was your process like when translating your experiences into your video and jpeg work?
It's true, camming is a super straightforward way of monetizing the male gaze; but personally, thinking about it in this way implies a kind of revenge, and that's not what I want to communicate. Depending on how you want look at it, I'm simply monetizing my labor (both physical or emotional) and I believe this is an even more feminist motivation. Somehow I feel I'm entitled to compensation for this, so I simply go out and I take it. 100% of the footage in my early artwork has been paid for, and I think there's an interesting connection there, too. Does that say something about feeling entitled to being compensated for the time I spend making art too? Maybe.
Again, everyone talks about what's expected of the girls inside the community and how fucked the things are that they/we do for money. I get that, but for me, it is less about those questionable interactions (that do happen—I’m not denying that) when I am #LIVE than what happens immediately afterwards: when I am quiet, sitting on the couch in this intentionally location-less mess of a workspace (depressing), in my corsets or wigs or whatever (complete fakery, all for the very real purpose of feeling like an idealized self). The voices begin to creep in and tell me that what I am doing isn't ok and that I should be ashamed, either because: I'm a slut if I like what I'm doing, that I'm over-educated to be doing this kind of work (because it is work—hard work), that my family wouldn't love me anymore if they found out, etc. THIS is really effect of the slut-shame-y power dynamics of the external world that I feel most complicated about.
a_personal_project, IV: password protected thaumatrope, security measures for a caged bird.mov (2014) discusses this in detail. This is literally just a letter to myself—if I begin to become reliant on the performance of this identity—to come down and realize that I don't really need it. Exploration and experimentation is ok but when it becomes a requirement to retain my self-confidence rather than a product of my self-confidence, well—then, I really need to realize that. In that nightmare, there is something really very wrong —that I've managed to become the caged bird and all my control is lost.
Since making this work, I’ve stopped camming and I haven’t created that same kind of work again. There’s a noticeable decrease in overt sexuality with my more recent work, which has been mostly explorations of racial identities and real time sound performance [Cassion].
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, a_personal_project, IV password protected thaumatrope, security measures for a caged bird_mov (2014)
In your series Picking Skin you deal with the readjustment of your racial identity when you relocated from Chicago to Paris, and your sudden willingness to insert yourself into a specific Black Cannon/Legacy. Can you talk more about this work and the experiences that led to it?
The work of Lorraine O'Grady really helped me find my identity in Paris. Suddenly, I had to think about defining myself within a space where I not only felt invisible but, since I didn't speak a word of French, it was like I'd lost my ability to adopt a new culture or connect with hidden ones. In Chicago, I think I was hiding out in a subculture of artists where I could be queer, American, mixed race, boi, whatever—it didn't matter. At home, I didn't have to interact with people who didn't accept that. In Paris, I became forced to zoom out and interact with a public. I was totally fresh off the boat and I found quickly that my American-ness was the last thing helping me navigate, but my blackness did. I began looking for myself in others and all of a sudden I realized I belonged in this society in a different way than I did at home. I wasn't the only black person in the room or on the train; I wasn't even the only mixed person.
I was well into this process when I first saw Miscegenated Family Album by Lorraine O'Grady. I identified (and still do!) so profoundly with the one-to-one comparisons it offers. The fact that it is called a "Family Album" also seems really fitting. My images, created in her established methodology, exist as an extension or an addition to a real extended family with a #real #extended legacy: the legacy of womyn, of black womyn; while trying to uncover potential for any hidden connections in the process.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Miscegenated-Family-Album_Sisters-II (2015)
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Miscegenated-Family-Album_Progress-of-Queens (2015)
Each piece is a diptych, and in an interview O'Grady describes the diptych as being a "typical form for bicultural people." This is one obvious way of representing relationships that helped me zoom in to small details like eyes or shoulders, facial expressions and small gestures. Unlike O'Grady though, sometimes my work pushes the definition of family. 2SYSTRS.PHOTOlib is a series in which I make a direct comparison between parts of the porn star Skin Diamond and parts of myself. Here, I try to play the power dynamics out a bit: for me, comparing the self to idolized sculptures is great, so I picked the kind of "sculptures" that I idolize—porn stars. I’m always looking for union and familiarity in the seemingly unattainable—sisterhood especially. Following the exploration with O'Grady, I became adamant about starting a conversation with these women whose work I study so closely. Carrie Mae Weems is another one I align myself with. I make remakes of Mirror Mirror at least once a week. This one and this one were the first two, and they have evolved over time into abstractions like this.
It's interesting how it's a sort of digital trespassing—a very loving one—in which you use the lo-fi/widely available tools of digital production to introduce yourself in this upper echelon of black female artists. It's also very different from your previous work, but still very identity-based. How do you see these new works fitting within the whole of your practice?
This new series is not so different to me. I made the cam girl stuff when I was just figuring out what art meant to me and how I could use the tools I already had to make it. Everything I've ever created is about having or understanding a shared experience and/or having my interpretation of an experience contribute to some subcategory of collective memory. I told Kimberly Drew that "everything that I've made is one singular artwork," and I maintain that.
In my earlier work, I was talking about a feminist memory, and now I’m talking about a black memory. My aesthetic and medium choices are fluid so that doesn’t even factor into it for me; if I never made another video or image again it would be fine as long as I’m creating and responding to what’s out there. "There," for me, happens to be web right now, but tomorrow it could be IRL in the middle of a field. Regardless of the content of my work, my intention is to say "there’s more than one way to be. Here: let me add to this context because I don't see what I want to see already represented."
Most of all, I really wish I could talk to these women I've mentioned. Instead of reaching out, I staged an interview with Carrie Mae Weems based on a video I saw. Every question she asked, I answered in effort to self-evaluate and to align myself with that particular arts tradition. I also put myself next to her in works like this.
As I move forward with Picking Skin, however, I do realize I need to reach out and interact more. My super dream project is to realize one of the O'Grady reworks in a video in creative collaboration with Shine Louise Houston and in performative collaboration with Skin Diamond. I'm tired of waiting around for someone to realize that I'm black and I'm making art and I've got something to say. I'm #OutHere, you know.
Shawné Michaelain Holloway, 2SYSTRS.PHOTOlib (2015)
Location: Chicago, IL in heart / Paris, France with my body
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Shimer College where I studied under the great books curriculum with a focus on Political Science. Then, I got my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I focused on Film, Video, New Media, and Animation. Now, I'm working on a Master's degree with The New School's Design and Technology program at Parsons Paris.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
In my second year at SAIC, I knew nothing about media or technology and accidentally rolled up into a class with jonCates and Daniel Eisenberg. I thought it would be easy but it blew my brain apart and I became convinced that I needed to add to this history, so I began the next semester taking 18 credit hours full of cinema studies and glitch art themed classes.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Most notably, I was a sex educator. I taught sex technique classes and entertained ladies with blowjob secrets and flirty dating tips at bachelorette parties. Now, I'm taking a few months off to travel and focus on academics.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
Earlier this month, the artist and DullTech CEO Constant Dullaart launched a Kickstarter to crowd-source the company's first product. The DullTech media player is a product that promises to simplify the installation of single- and multi-channel video work. The device works by playing and looping the first video file found on a USB-drive on any monitor or television without concern for file format, remote controls, or syncing screens. Considering the artist's previous works, which often focused on the conditions of art viewership within online networks and galleries, the concept for this device is both humorously apt and much-needed to solve the hassles of installation.
Those who I have spoken with outside of the arts, however, have raised doubts concerning the ethics of the Kickstarter campaign and the product. Dulltech began while the artist was on a 2012 residency in Shenzhen, South China, a region known as "The Silicon Valley of Hardware." At that time, the company and product were a way for the artist to get into to an original equipment manufacturer (O.E.M.) to see the working conditions of Chinese laborers. After artists expressed excitement about the convenience of the product, Dullaart and his colleagues decided to go into actual production with the factory. Though the O.E.M. Dullaart used for this project, the Taiwanese manufacturer RealTek, does not have any reported violations, mentioning Chinese labor often elicits discomfort due to the 2010 suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory and several reports by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and other watchdog organizations concerning working conditions, employee exhaustion, and contract terminations due to work-related illness.
DullTech's Kickstarter video
By highlighting the incongruity between clean digital branding strategies and depictions of the manufacturing labor that enables them, the DullTech Kickstarter video baits this response. Produced for under $200 through the website Fiver, the video abruptly contrasts sharpie-drawn cartoons of white people assembling puzzle pieces (depicting the product's concepts) with photographs of the O.E.M.'s workers and engineers as well as e-waste and the smog-filled landscape of Shenzhen; the perky, jargon-filled narration and a ukulele and glockenspiel soundtrack only heighten one's feeling of disquiet.
The DullTech media player
On account of this response, one is left to consider the relationship between digital artists and the conditions of global labor. In McKenzie Wark's 2014 essay "Designs for a New World," the author stresses that artists, as hackers, are able to desegregate the division between their practices and other forms of labor, citing the protests of Google buses and Andrew Norman Wilson's video essay "Workers Leaving the Googleplex." For Dullaart, however, gaining access even to view the conditions of labor means operating within its stratification as a business. Similar to other migrant laborers in the region, those who Dullaart and his colleagues interviewed prior to contracting the O.E.M. came from rural areas in China to Shenzhen because of their desire to be middle class, the higher wages available compared with local agricultural labor in their hometowns and the factory's provision of room and board as well as some benefits. Despite the unsettling reaction to Chinese factories, when one criticizes the product for using the labor in Shenzhen, one also criticizes the products that form the infrastructure of the web. 90% of the world's electronics are produced in the region, and, as the Guardian put it, "the phones that fuelled the Arab spring were soldered in the back streets of Shenzhen."
Dullaart with enginer "Eagle" who developed the DullTech media player
In addition to being a convenient product that "just works," because of Dullaart's documentation of the manufacturing process in his sales pitch, the DullTech video and product bring the conditions of the modern factory into the economies of creative digital production, highlighting the dependence on this type of labor shared by artists, the white cube, and Kickstarter itself. In so doing, it points out a disconcerting double bind: the ability to observe and critique this process seems to belong solely to those who enable it.
The DullTech Kickstarter campaign ends tomorrow. To enable it, pledge here.
DullTech Kickstarter video still
Photo: Sheiva Rezvani
Rhizome is pleased to announce that Zachary Kaplan, formerly our Assistant Director, has been appointed the organization's new Executive Director.
Zach has spent the last two years at Rhizome contributing to the organization's programs, strategic planning, and development, successfully managing events like Seven on Seven, benefits and campaigns, and external affairs. He is editor of the organization's forthcoming publication The Born-Digital Art Institution, a collection of essays exploring the relationship between art institutions and digital networks. Zach came to Rhizome from the Renaissance Society in Chicago, where he worked in development, and before that from the Education Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
He takes this position at an exciting time here. The coming months will bring a 20th anniversary, the launch of a redesigned rhizome.org, new field-leading initiatives for Rhizome's award-winning digital preservation program, the 8th edition of the flagship art-meets-tech Seven on Seven series, and continued development of its artistic programs, not least via First Look, an online exhibition series copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum.
Here's a note from Zach:
In my two years here, I've seen the impact of Rhizome's work on the artists we support, on the fields of research we lead, and on the art and technology communities we bring together. I'm grateful for the support of my colleagues, and look forward to working with them to continue to evolve this organization.
Following in the footsteps of my predecessor Heather Corcoran, I'm honored to lead Rhizome as we look ahead to our 20th anniversary and beyond.
For his contribution to the ongoing online digital painting exhibition "Brushes," presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look series, artist Jacob Ciocci presents a series of gifs from his New Expressions series. The gifs are viewable on the front page of rhizome.org through Oct 4 and permanently on the online exhibition page.
The gifs are made by printing material from the internet, gluing, collaging and painting it, scanning the result back into the computer, animating it digitally, and repeating. He has applied this practice to works that are shown onscreen, such as these GIFs, while also creating objects for gallery display, some of which incorporate video projection into the work.
The gifs shown here were first published as part of an essay on the web authoring and publishing platform NewHive in which he presented them as part of a step-by-step tutorial with the title "How to Make an Expression." The title played on the incongruity between the ideal of free creative expression and the seeming rigidity of a howto; Ciocci described the NewHive project to art blog Hyperallergic as an attempt to create his own artistic rules that mirrored the (often unacknowledged) rules that are applied to creativity by, on the one hand, online platforms like NewHive, and on the other, by craft stores like Michael's or JoAnn's. Ciocci has an ambivalent relationship with such rules, at once acknowledging how much he appreciates the freedom they offer while urging himself in his own practice to "think outside the box," a personal mantra he has embraced since his days as a member of the influential Paper Rad collective in the mid-2000s.
A solo show of Ciocci's work on view in Brooklyn, New York at Interstate Projects through October 25; read Nicholas O'Brien's review for Rhizome here.
For more on Ciocci's work, see his Artist Profile. For more on his work as part of the band Extreme Animals, see Brian Droitcour's review of their 2014 DVD release. Paper Rad's work extremeanimalz, which is about "animals going nuts," can be found in the Rhizome Artbase. An archive of Paper Rad's website as of 2008 can also be found in the Artbase.