Articles on this Page
- 01/28/16--08:16: _Artist Profile: BLU...
- 02/03/16--13:16: _Scalable Workflow
- 02/04/16--09:06: _Binge Watching 3GTV
- 02/05/16--07:36: _Artist Profile: Jac...
- 02/10/16--12:09: _Artist Profile: Har...
- 02/12/16--09:00: _'This is What Happe...
- 02/16/16--09:00: _The Distributed Mon...
- 02/18/16--11:03: _What is Digital Soc...
- 02/23/16--11:35: _Artist Profile: Ad ...
- 02/24/16--09:58: _This is a dark pool...
- 02/25/16--09:00: _Bitmojis: The avata...
- 02/29/16--12:15: _First Look: 'PSYCHO...
- 03/07/16--10:07: _Do you believe in u...
- 03/09/16--09:07: _Review: Who Run the...
- 03/10/16--10:53: _Would you like to h...
- 03/17/16--08:32: _The Circulatory Dyn...
- 03/22/16--08:06: _An Online Fiction i...
- 03/29/16--10:51: _A Studio Visit with...
- 03/30/16--07:15: _Catalog of Internet...
- 04/06/16--07:39: _Symbolic Action and...
- 01/28/16--08:16: Artist Profile: BLUNTxSKENSVED
- 02/03/16--13:16: Scalable Workflow
- 02/04/16--09:06: Binge Watching 3GTV
- 02/05/16--07:36: Artist Profile: Jacky Connolly
- 02/10/16--12:09: Artist Profile: Harm van den Dorpel
- 02/12/16--09:00: 'This is What Happens When Art Meets Rappers'
- 02/16/16--09:00: The Distributed Monument
- 02/18/16--11:03: What is Digital Social Memory?
- 02/23/16--11:35: Artist Profile: Ad Minoliti
- 02/24/16--09:58: This is a dark pool party
- 02/25/16--09:00: Bitmojis: The avatars of conversation
- 02/29/16--12:15: First Look: 'PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE'
- 03/07/16--10:07: Do you believe in user 711391?
- 03/09/16--09:07: Review: Who Run the World?
- 03/10/16--10:53: Would you like to have a private encounter with Mouchette?
- 03/17/16--08:32: The Circulatory Dynamics of Pirate Cinema
- 03/22/16--08:06: An Online Fiction in the Form of a Missing Persons Database
- 03/29/16--10:51: A Studio Visit with Cheryl Donegan
- 03/30/16--07:15: Catalog of Internet Artist Clubs
- An implicit critique of the internet as a neoliberal agent and conduit for labour exploitation, financial violence, and precarity.
- An intersectional analysis that highlights the internet’s intimate connections to the propagation of ableism, classism, homophobia, sexism, racism, and transphobia.
- A refusal of the brute quantification and standardization that digital technologies enforce as an interpretative lens for evaluating and understanding life.
- A radicalization of technics, which is at once the acknowledgement of the impossibility of a totalized technical objectivity and also the generation of different logics and possibilities for technological functionality.
- A transformation of network-centric subjectivity beyond and against the internet as a rapidly developing zone of work-leisure indistinction, social media monoculture, and the addiction to staying connected.
- Constituting alternatives to the internet, which is nothing short of utopian.
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.
AH: Your recent exhibition "eStamina" at Import Projects looked at smart drugs and "nootropics" as potential human enhancement technologies (HETs). You used the visual language of advertising and stock photography to mirror a kind of over-the-top commercial placidity, while the gallery space was infused with fog that contained nicotine—like a giant e-cigarette. Can you expand on your interest in these health technologies, which seem to sanitize otherwise unhealthy pastimes (smoking, partying, etc.)?
BxS: Health is a tricky topic. Its definitions are laden with subjectivity and often rely on some really dodgy ideas of normalcy. A lot of the time it seems as if the term gets used comparatively—like the way vaping is marketed as "healthy," as in, healthier than smoking tobacco. The position overlooks the most rational solution—to quit, or never start in the first place.
BLUNTxSKENSVED, TeraTear (2016)
Our interest in HETs came from looking at the questionable ways that perceived problems are supposedly "solved" through technological means. There were, for example, several chapters in "eStamina" that focused on cognitive enhancers—from caffeine and nicotine to transcranial direct-current stimulators. Although these products can be effective short-term remedies for curing sluggishness and increasing concentration, the impetus to take a drug rather than a nap may evidence unhealthy or destructive perceptions of productivity and a tendency to treat the symptoms rather than the disease.
"eStamina" had a certain aesthetic texture that referenced the glossy 3D-rendered images of tech advertising. The piece had a lot to do with sincerity—with perceptions of who one should or shouldn’t trust. We wanted the visuals to provoke a feeling of unease—like the forced smile of a salesperson. We used this polished visual language to unify the chapters, but the narrations themselves—coming from 26 different contributors—held varied, nuanced, and sometimes conflicting projections of the future. One common thread, however, was the probing of a certain fatalistic or defeatist mentality that suggests individuals are incapable of real change—a position that often results in responsibility being deferred to abstract external forces like science or technology. The implications of how this deferral can shape the future is massive—from vague promises of bioprinted meat to outlandish carbon-capture schemes; this a prevailing mentality of "why care today when technology will save us tomorrow."
BLUNTxSKENSVED, "eStamina," exhibition view at Import Projects (2015)
AH: You also do curatorial work. The latest—"Swimminal Poolitics"—was conceived in Greece and took place online. The aesthetic of the swimming pool, transposed online and with this quintessential commercial vibe, again creates a placid, almost heavenly angle on branding and technology. What is your aim in further pacifying these insidious marketing tactics?
BxS: We decided to put together this underwater show while doing a curatorial residency on a Greek island near the Turkish coast. The idea came to us after noticing the juxtaposition of the locale’s luxurious pleasure-driven tourism industry with the nation's dire economic situation and the unfolding refugee crisis. Picture, for example, wealthy northern European tourists sunbathing on a beach littered with freshly discarded refugee life jackets; it made for a very jarring sight. Working with the pool provided a way of referencing the aesthetic syntax of holiday tourism. We wanted the show to feel like the kind of ads designed to lure people to luxurious island locales bathed in sunlight. The intention was in part to investigate how our ideas of place are actually shaped by these images. The end result did indeed reflect this commercial language—a series of sleek and unnaturally blue-hued documentation photos on a slick interactive website. The images also had a somewhat analogous quality due in large part to the visual intensity of the underwater environment. The individual works, though, touched on a wide range of subjects—from less thematic positions to overt economic and political metaphors.
BLUNTxSKENSVED, Humiliation Tactics (2015)
AH: Where does your fascination with skin—"Second Skin," "Deep Skin," DermaPads—come from?
BxS: Perhaps our initial fixation with skin began with a series of UV-reactive collages we made based on contemporary "tribal" tattoos. We were fascinated by the generic pan-cultural exotisicm that these tattoos embody and what tendencies their quasi "back-to-nature" appeal reflects. Also, these works were produced by layering acrylic on a removable plastic surface in order to create a thick "skin" of paint from which the motifs were cut out and then collaged onto a support.
"Deep Skin" took place in a very specific environment—a class 2000 clean lab, which had very strict cleanliness protocols. We asked the artists involved to consider this extreme location in relation to the idea of the human body as a carrier of dirt, pathogens, microorganisms, DNA, etc. The show was also 2.1 km underground, so on some level the "skin" in question partly referred to the Earth’s crust.
BLUNTxSKENSVED, Deep Skin (2015)
DermaPads (perhaps the most literal incarnation of the theme) was a series of soft silicone mouse pads we made that resemble puddles of human skin. With these, we had Cronenberg's 1999 film eXistenZ in mind, where tools for gaming are integrated into the human body or vice versa. We found that the tactile sensation of sliding the mouse over something that looks and feels like human flesh felt nice, weird, and strangely sensual. It simulates body to body contact whilst the user is engaged in the disembodied environment of the digital realm.
AH: How does language or poetry factor into your work? In particular, pieces like Carnal Craving Crude in the "Anger Management" show at Komplot Brussels.
BxS: Carnal Craving Crude is part of a series of lava-like "3D poems" whereby digitally animated words morph from one into the next. In this particular piece, the words were rendered to look like fire, which lends the piece a hypnotic quality akin to watching a yule-log video. As the flames take on the form of words, a series of crude sexual innuendoes emerge, making links between meat and perceptions of masculinity: "salami saliva slap," "sausage sizzle squirt," and so on.
Text is a common element throughout much of our work. There’s something we find attractive about the ability of written language to conjure up vivid imagery and a host of connotations in the viewer’s mind. With our 3D poems, the symbolic potential of the words is affected by an interplay between text and image, as they are ornamented with color, font, texture, and so on. As they flow from one configuration into the next, a juxtaposition is also created between the relentless stream of information and the minimal, static visual composition, comprised of a single word isolated on a flat background. On some level, this reflects our experience of the internet—an endless scroll of data presented within a constant navigable structure.
BLUNTxSKENSVED, Carnal Craving Crude (2015)
AH: As collaborators, what is your process like? How do you best envision your work being shown, online or off?
BxS: We spend a lot of time talking about art and tossing ideas back and forth—a conversation that’s been on-going since we were seventeen. When we finally agree on what to make, we then go into a kind of "production mode," which usually entails zoning out in front of our screens for extended periods of time until we get the work done.
About the on/offline divide, we don’t really make a distinction. There are some different protocols for dealing with physical versus virtual space—some ideas translate and others don’t—but those are just nuances or technicalities. Also, since physical objects usually get documented and disseminated online, even "offline" events often occur simultaneously online. Overall though, it seems like we tend to present "virtual" work (like video) in physical spaces, whereas our purely online exhibitions have consisted mainly of photographic documentation of physical objects.
BLUNTxSKENSVED,◑‿◐ or ◉‿◉ (2015)
We’ve been living mostly in Berlin for the last 8 years, but we’re always travelling around—especially to our former home of Toronto or to escape winter in Southern Florida. As of late, we’ve been seriously considering a more permanent move to Athens.
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
Technology is ubiquitous. It shapes our bodies and minds, and without it, we probably wouldn’t be here. But that aside, we got acquainted with html coding and 3D animation circa 2005.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
We met in high school and bonded by making matching latex rave outfits together. We then studied Drawing and Painting in Toronto and Renaissance Art History in Florence at OCAD University. From there we went directly into an MFA program at the University of Waterloo, which included internships in New York and in Berlin, where we decided to stay.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
Floral designer, pharmacy cashier, selling flowers at Mövenpick, teaching ESL, construction, and artist assistant jobs. But all this work felt exploitive and underpaid, so now we try to avoid working for other people altogether.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
Culling its name from the 1999 satirical film directed by Mike Judge, the group show "Office Space" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco focuses on the soft power and absurdity inherent in the alienating strategies and the sometimes-productive ambiguity of the modern workspace.
Entering the exhibition, the two computers in Cory Arcangel's Permanent Vacation (2007) emit across the first room the pinging of incoming and, possibly, permanently recurring "out of the office" emails that bounce back and forth from one computer to another. This room also features the paintings of Joel Holmberg, which structure their compositions according to a content management system's template designs. As these templates are often employed for the landing pages of Web 2.0 businesses, in these works, an evocative image serves to only support a company's primarily textual message. This is best demonstrated in the painting We Can't Know Precisely What we Mean Until we are Forced to Symbolize It, (2015) in which the work's title is emblazoned over a replica of the painting The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846) by George Caleb Bingham, gesturing towards the nature of the freelance laborers depicted in the painting as well as a meta-commentary of the future uses and networked existence of Holmberg's own paintings.
Joel Holmberg, We Can't Know Precisely What we Mean Until we are Forced to Symbolize It (2015, courtesy the artist)
A work somewhat antithetical to the routine malaise often associated with office spaces, The Mouse Mandala (2006–2015) by Joseph Delappe brings together computer mice (that the artist found in second-hand stores across Silicon Valley) in a large mandala in tribute to the weavers whose work was displaced by the first Industrial Revolution. The use of the imagery of the mandala is at once indicative of the new-age ideology that often underpins strategies for personal and organizational optimization, and at the same time appears like a pile of well-curated e-waste, until one becomes aware of the intricacy of the work’s weaving. Though mandalas are meant to be representative of the universe as centered around the dwelling place of Buddha, the work instead brings this cosmological diagram into the history of Western technological development. The use of Eastern iconography alongside second-hand technology thus becomes more reminiscent of the various invocations of tidying guru Marie Kondo who, as of late, is seemingly on everyone’s lips in Silicon Valley: specifically of the mysterious voice that told her, after a tidying-induced nervous breakdown, to look at the things that she threw away more closely.
On either side of the mandala are two paintings by Alex Dordoy, The Man in the White Suit I & II and The Man in the White Suit V &VI (both 2014), which utilize the gallery walls to make each painting appear as if they were images being scrolled through on a phone. Taken in mind with the circular mandala, the juxtaposition produces an anxiety-induced dizziness; the flattening effect of the works’ color palette furthers the banality of their depiction of generic office environments. In one piece’s boardroom with an American flag and in the other’s similar boardroom with a declining stock market graph, there is the phantom presence of the titular man in a white suit within the white walls of the space that foregrounds the absence of a distinct focal point in both works, implying a viewership that is immersed rather than contemplative, but just as easily disconnected.
Joseph DeLappe, TheMouse Mandala (2006–15
, courtesy the artist and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts)
Alex Dordoy, The Man in the White Suit I & II (2014, courtesy the artist and Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam)
The inclusion of Soul and Feelings of a Worker, Whitechapel version (1978) by KP Brehmer, an artist often associated with Capitalist Realism, makes explicit the role of mood regulation in the workplace. Magnifying the graphed data from a 1932 study of the emotions of workers to an almost human scale, the two canvases that comprise the work stretch across the exhibition wall, both nailed directly onto the plaster to be held in place and painted in a way that resembles Fortran punch cards. In front of this work, Julien Prévieux's What Shall We Do Next? (Sequence #1) (2006–2011) displays a set of cartoon hands cycling through a series of patented gestures used on touch screens. The work is displayed using an overhead projector in lieu of a digital one, exemplifying the pattern by which new technologies are integrated into the work place, and often forced into the hierarchies of a preexisting bureaucracy. Comparing the former work’s enlargement and the latter’s animated cartoon depiction, both pieces work with the scalability of users and employees, and in each piece's representation, the tactics become absurd in their reduction or privatization. Considering the divorce of emotions and of gesture from their subjects, these two works are suggestive of a management based on complete hyper-individuation, on one end to track and evaluate, and on the other, to replicate.
KP Brehmer, Soul and Feelings of a Worker, Whitechapel version (1978)
Julien Prévieux, What Shall We Do Next? (Séquence #1), (2006-2011)
In Pilvi Takala’s The Trainee (2008), the artist performs a refusal of labor while working as a marketing intern for the international company Deloitte. First at a desk, then in a hall, and lastly in an elevator, Takala’s character Joanna is always at work on her thesis while gradually moving to the periphery of her environment. Though, for some, a neutral and detached subjectivity can be seen as an ideal of both cognitive labor and conceptual art, Takala/Joanna's performance of "brain work" is so far detached from her coworkers' expectations that for them it does not constitute work. What bothers her coworkers is that she is not performing her work the way they are; in one instance, this results in a staff member bringing her a laptop computer. In a way, Joanna performs both physical and cognitive labor—she performs the office habits of any other employee to an extreme while performing cognitive labor for her character’s thesis; arguably, the piece can function as a way to further market Deloitte, as many of Takala’s superiors were in favor of her performance. But because this work is not immediately identifiable or accessible by her coworkers, it becomes suspect.
Pilvi Takala, The Trainee (2008, courtesy the artist and Carlos/Ishikawa, London)
This aspect of refusal is done to great effect in Wages for Facebook(2013) by Laurel Ptak, a remixing of Silvia Federici’s famous manifesto demanding wages for housework and Office Voodoo (2010) by Haegue Yang in their presentation of modern labor's domestic aspects. Rather than representing a collapse of the distinction between leisure and work, Office Voodoo illustrates that for many, leisure time is never spent in a leisurely manner. In the work, two drying racks attached by plastic ties are interwoven with an obsolete headset, cloth-covered powering cords for five dangling light bulbs, a security camera, iridescent CD-Rs, and a thin golden chain; navigating this piece at first felt like a chore due to the crossing wires and the intersecting grids of the drying rack. However, what remains clear in the piece is that objects for private and practical uses dangle on a dependent structural level as objects for surveillance and labor within an object reflective of one’s noncompulsory weekly routine. The title Office Voodoo makes the assemblage resemble the silhouette of an enlarged Voodoo doll, and the sculpture is indeed the framework of a figure, formed and informed by the histories and uses its viewers bring to its constituent parts. Instead of a harbinger of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, the office space detritus appears as another part of a routine of personal maintenance. Despite its complexity, the sculpture neither exorcises nor completely represents the conditions and power structures of the modern work place, but instead presents these parts as something one reflectively and privately pinpricks.
To believe that there is an omnipresent workplace hierarchy to critique or within which to succumb often gives more credit to management strategies than they might deserve, as these strategies can have comparatively shorter life spans than pre-existing structures of affective labor. Ptak and Yang show how the soft power of the workplace is constantly inculcated by exterior power structures, as much as these power structures are—and already have been, in turn—informed by the dispersal of capital. But honestly, who is really still capable of leaving their work at work?
Exhibition view, “Office Space.” Foreground: Haegue Yang, Office Voodoo (2010).
Top image: Bea Fremderman, Kafka Office (2013, courtesy the artist)
Alex Taylor's 3GTV is on the front page of rhizome.org through Monday, February 8.
In a modern-day world dominated by iPhones and Androids, images of Paris Hilton flaunting a pink RAZR flip phone have long been filed in the digital pop culture archives. Despite Anna Wintour and Rihanna’s outlier attempts to bring back in style the outdated flip phone for a few paparazzi snaps in 2014, the cellular landscape has since shifted.
During the 3G era, camera phones allowed users to record and play back short videos in a file format called 3GP. With Apple’s introduction of ios9 software, iPhones lost the ability to play back this format, making these videos as obsolete as the phones they were recorded on.
For his new project 3GTV, awarded a 2015 Rhizome micro-commission, Alex Taylor culls 3GP videos from YouTube, re-presenting them in a CGI interface that simulates the experience of a 3D smartphone. Users are able to view an endless loop of randomized 3GP video clips that were harvested from YouTube. If you’re lucky, you may run into a video of a boy dancing to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean or Jersey Shore’s DJ Pauly D introducing Pitbull during an MTV Spring Break special from 2011. 3GTV harnesses the present day cultural phenomenon of binge watching, but in a format that reminds us of what used to be, allowing us to see the content and aesthetics these videos have in common.
The project isn't only about a nostalgic aesthetic, though. The prevalence of what seem to be recent international videos suggests that while many users in the US have to set down their 4G smartphones and transition to our computers in order to visit this digital exhibition, less privileged users in West Africa, Southeast Asia, and even the United States are still using 3G mobile devices years after a style became outdated. Our digital past is still here, it's just unevenly distributed.
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.
You’re working on Hudson Valley Ruins (2016), your forthcoming machinima film produced in the life simulation game, The Sims. What prompted you to start using The Sims as a tool to make your work?
I started using The Sims out of a desire to work in 3D before I had learned any modeling. After a decade-long hiatus from the game, I had a serendipitous experience as I unearthed a forgotten toolkit of customizable assets and building tools.
I played the first iteration of The Sims obsessively between 2000-2003, aged ten to thirteen. The Sims was my window onto an inaccessible realm, a fantasy theater for enacting my imagined late teen years and early adulthood–a world without school where you could drive, sleep at a man’s house, or try out his heart-shaped hot tub. I would frequently role play as older women that I wanted to emulate, an amalgamation of various movie and book characters and cool teens that I would see at high school. I envisioned adulthood as a world of intrigue and possibility, a release from the ensnarement of a middle school nightmare. Real life could only disappoint these optimistic projections.
Jacky Connolly, Hudson Valley Ruins Teaser: Afterschool (2016)
I am no longer enacting an imagined future, but reenacting the traumas of earlier life stages. In my scenes, the nightmares of childhood and the traumas of adolescence serve as an anteroom to hell. Anxious and foreboding nights spent in a suburban bedroom have shifted from the context in which I was playing (as a preteen) to the subject of my film scenes. As an adult, I can now use this world for my own private film production. This is how the intrigue and possibility of the game lives on, in the sandbox world's potential for mastery through reenactment.
We spoke about The Sims1’s oppressively tedious structure—without cheats your Sims age, commute to work every single day, and have to perform routine tasks such as sleeping, eating, and cleaning. You are working in The Sims 3, where there is more freedom to input your own designs and reconfigure the game so that the season is permanently autumn or that your Sims don’t have to go to school or use the bathroom during a take. Even though The Sims 3 offers more flexibility, the enclosed suburban environment of the game seems to be central to your work. I was wondering if you could discuss how the environmental and structural limitations of The Sims are important for you, as opposed to the reality of an open virtual world such as Second Life?
The game franchise demands that its participants to simulate the "rat race," earning Simoleons, remodeling their homes, and buying properties. More expensive items improve the Sims’ moods. There are hardly enough hours in the day for Sims to do anything in a leisurely way; they are perpetually struggling and dissatisfied. The intended game-play is worlds away from the utopic playground of Second Life. The Sims is closed off and hermetic, the player is a master of puppets in a virtual world local to their desktop. Sims neighborhoods are not uncanny landscapes with impossible architecture. Rooms have four walls and houses are built on a foundation, the setting is plastic and suburban. The familiar, imprisoning domestic interiors of this game engine are pertinent to the quiet terrors and awkward social encounters of my suburban-horror film scenes.
The Sims 3 allows for cheat codes that override most of the game's built-in nuisances. One thing that cannot be "cheated" is the time of day. If I am shooting a scene during the golden hour and the sun goes down, I have to wait for another game day to pass to continue filming. I enjoy this constraint, as it heightens my own temporal disorientation. I spend thousands of hours sitting at my desktop, virtual hours melting into real hours of my life passing by.
Jacky Connolly, The Rosh Hashanah Room/The October Anteroom (from Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms) (2014)
The Sims is designed to include instances of unreality within its stereotypical suburban narrative; A genie can be summoned by cleaning the antique lamp and the Grim Reaper appears to take Sims on the edge of death. Your films seem to relate to this, interspersing the mundane with macabre and fantasy. In Hudson Valley Ruins, some of the architecture is based on abandoned resorts in the Hudson Valley Borscht Belt. You also mentioned, towards the end of the film, that he characters access another reality connected to your earlier vignettes from Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms(2014) through a portal. I am interested in how you work with real historical and geographical elements and instances of the surreal, absurd, or supernatural, and how these different realms intersect within the world of The Sims.
In the original version of The Sims, the supernatural and macabre elements were an afterthought, only introduced in later expansion packs for the game. The Sims: Makin’ Magic introduced a hole-in-the-ground portal to Magic Town, an autumnal neighborhood with circus folk, witches, faeries and magicians. Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms and the Fawn’s Leap, NY videos definitely connect to this afterthought, the intrusion or re-insertion of fantasy and the supernatural into a more coherent environment. I am interested in portals in the psychoanalytic sense, moving to "another scene" or a virtual theater where fantasies are played out.
The main reason I use the third Sims iteration is the way that the landscape is rendered in this release. The toxic purple sunsets, rhythmically swaying branches and falling orange leaves introduce a more haunting, evanescent ambiance. Hudson Valley Ruins’ title is taken from a website of the same name, a catalog of the region’s forgotten architectural landmarks. I am drawn to the past lives of the Hudson Valley and its ruined remnants, which are now being demolished one by one. Instead of ruined buildings, this film contains ruined people who seek refuge in imaginary/disappearing places.
Jacky Connolly, Forever Alone Calzone (excerpt) (2015)
Without dialog between characters, sounds, such as the wind, pizza dough crackling in an oven or a toy choo-choo train, set the tone and pace in your films. For your exhibition, Fawn’s Leap, NYwith Flannery Silva, the surround sound on Hudson Valley Rock Chick (2015) and Forever Alone Calzone (2015) permeated the gallery space. Working outside of a cinematic linear plot, how do you consider sound and its connection to narration?
The algorithmic weather patterns, animal noises, and wind intensity sounds are omnipresent while playing the game, and are exaggerated by the absence of Simlish voices. The repetition and variation of sound creates a sensory experience, when a storm comes the rain and thunder is overpowering. This was especially effective with the surround speakers in Fawn’s Leap, NY. So far, I am only using in-game sounds, music and Foley/sound effects included. I sometimes use cheats to control the weather while I am filming, so that a storm is brewing in climactic moments. I edit my scenes to the pace of the diegetic sound. Hudson Valley Rock Chick / Forever Alone Calzone are my most successful use of sound to date. The repetition of certain noises (the train) and the in-game guitar playing become recurrent musical themes that highlight significant moments of action.
Along with your art masters, you are getting a dual degree in library science, which essentially deals with the science and methods of collecting and organizing information. When watching your vignettesBasement Puzzles/Rune Rooms(2014), there is a feeling of walking through someone's memory palace—artifacts put in unfamiliar places in order to derive new meaning as elusive or personal signifiers. Would you say there is any correlation between organizing information and the idiosyncratic logic to some scenes, such as a a grey-haired girl floating in an indoor carpeted pool or the same character inhabiting a windowless room adorned with blue velvet and Chagall paintings?
Creating an elaborate collection of virtual homes and rooms, I have definitely been informed by my LIS education. For Basement Puzzles/Rune Rooms, I initially created a database diagram of rooms and the virtual objects contained therein. My dual-degrees have often connected in this way, I was learning about database models while studying Lev Manovich’s database cinema. If you envision virtual places and sites of action as a cinematic database, a film moves away from a traditional, linear narrative structure: relational databases contain a large list of items with no imposed order.
Cabinets of curiosities/memory theaters have also served as an inspiration. The basement rooms were envisioned as microcosms of the surrounding Hudson Valley, containing plants and ornaments from the surrounding landscape. These relics are enigmatic copies of real world phenomena, simple meshes and textures assembled by the game to evoke memory. The placement of apparently unrelated Sims ephemera in a room stimulates curiosity by hinting at unseen interconnections and associations.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
When I was 6 or 7, I would use Kid Pix Studio to create gif mise-en-scènes. A few years later, I used American Girls Premiere, a game for creating animated stage plays using American Girl cutout dolls.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an early college in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where I studied Photography and Art History. I am currently finishing my MFA in Digital Art and MS in Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
I am studying to work in the library and information field. I have been a babysitter for the past three years, which keeps me up to date on video game trends and actively engaged in the realm of childhood.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
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.
A number of your works focus on how "relevance" as a cognitive concept is generated or understood; your non-linear social media site, deli near info, for example, reflects on how temporality affects relevance in the stacked perceptual field of social media streams. Could you talk about how you understand relevance, and the ways in which you feel digital culture reveals how our minds work and/or creates new modalities of relevance?
We talk about the internet as if it’s this revolutionary thing, but it’s primarily based on written language. And everything that you can find is done by using words. Say you have Image A and Image B and you want to find some kind of connection, first, you will have to come to some sort of conclusion about what that image is about and then you describe it with keywords, and a match is made based on those interpretations which is very likely to be a connection on the most common denominators like color, or media, or age, but not about other intrinsic, more difficult things to articulate like a particular uncanniness or a particular aesthetic, but that kind of information would disappear because the relation has to be translated into words. So what I tried to do with the deli near info was to take away the written language proxy and have the images directly connected. Often people say that if you can’t articulate it in language, it doesn’t count, it’s nonexistent; but, still, I think it is possible to make these inarticulable connections. Systems help you to structure your brain so that over the longer term, things are emerging, that’s why it’s important that older things are as valued equally to new things. It's a bit like psychoanalysis, in a sense. Also with older ideas if you think about, say, printed matter in that case you have to think an idea through completely and give it a form and then publish it, and it is unchangeable. So you’d better figure it all out properly before you have it printed. But that’s not the case anymore; now, it’s a continuous process. Before, if you printed a book and you read it and then a few weeks later said "Oh, shit, I was wrong"—like you’ve made a mistake either conceptually or you have typos—then you have failed in a way; but if you make an app, then these events are not seen as a failure, they’re an "improvement." If an app is not receiving updates then it’s actually a dead product. Nobody is going to complain if they update Facebook and say, "Hey Facebook, I thought you had it right the previous time"—this is essential. The internet is an ecosystem of live objects that interact.
Harm van den Dorpel,deli near info(screenshot, 2016)
You have spoken about how your work often seeks to approach information processing from a sidelong angle—not seeking out the most obvious, efficient connection but a connection that is relevant in another way, or which eventually becomes relevant in a surprising way. Given your own background in artificial intelligence (AI) development, has this approach to working with technology given you any perspective on the ways in which the "smartness" of smart devices mirrors or diverges from human intelligence? In many of your works, you seem to be making the case that smartness and intelligence must be understood as distinct concepts, and that the "randomness"—or apparent randomness—of certain associations is perhaps critical in delineating this distinction: smartness works to filter out randomness, but intelligence assimilates or contextualizes it. Is that an interpretation that resonates with your own understanding of your practice?
There is one approach to art making, or thinking, where you have a bigger plan and you work toward a particular goal; you kind of already know where you’re heading in advance, and what you’re going to say. This is a legitimate way of working, but I find, in creating, that if I work that way, then the outcome is not going to be desirable because a lot of what I do relates to the emergence of things. I’m not esoteric, but I feel that there are things going on in your brain—there’s a lot of noise there, but there are also a lot of ideas and interests already percolating which you haven’t been able to formulate fully yet. When you have an information system in which you put all those raw fragments and you give it a lot of small feedback on each fragment, the system might generate random connections and you can make judgements based on those so that, gradually, the randomness aligns into something that maybe has more substance. This conclusion is not something I could write down, but it’s the whole point. Consequently, it is getting away from the dominating force of written language—which I love as well, but it’s also possible to think visually or associatively or intuitively.
Harm van den Dorpel, deli near info (screenshot, 2016)
Your recent exhibition at Neumeister Bar-Am, "Ambiguity points to the mystery of all revealing," featured a number of works that reference the biological world, not least the large work, Chrysalis. As digital aesthetics are encroaching into all areas of life, do you see them as influencing the expectations for biological outcomes? One could draw a parallel with dog breeding which itself could be thought of as an application of the same logic as contemporary versions of bioengineering: information manipulation in the service of specific biological outcomes, often outcomes seeking an aesthetic result. Do you feel that there are unique ways that digital culture and aesthetics are influencing this process, or is it merely the continuation of the pursuit of aesthetic pleasure/cuteness by other means?
It’s a difficult question. I can start by saying a few words about that show which touched on the idea of incompleteness and change over time, also of things that are essentially dead and which lack the capacity to transform. The cocoons were made with heat-shrink foil, which is one of the cheapest materials there is, and it doesn’t last. The inside of the cocoons is bubble wrap, so it’s really like packaging foil that’s usually discarded, but the chrysalis is this big metaphor for transition; at the same time, however, the ones in the show are never going to pop; they’re never going to "happen," so the objects are dead in that sense. Then the other works in the show were white boards which were also incomplete but which were asking for interaction—but it was unclear what people should actually contribute to them. Both works were about this change and incompleteness and were sort of opposites of each other. The show was, in part, about dissatisfaction with the staticness of art production— but not just art production, also any particular theory or religious idea, any kind of dogma. Any kind of thing we fix is immediately dead. Every kind of conclusion for me is a problem.
Harm van den Dorpel, "Just-in-Time," installation view at American Medium (2015)
In other interviews you have frequently been asked about your statement that "net art is dead." Though perhaps too much is made of a single aphorism, one of the things that those conversations addressed is the approach you took earlier in your career in which you sought to build the platforms, sites and other digital objects you created more or less from scratch. You speak of the ease of accessibility in changing the dynamics and expectations of digital creation. While, no doubt, no end of second-tier net art is now being produced, do you feel that there is, in this process, a dialogue with the conceptual turn in non-digital visual art over the last half century wherein the "object" that results is secondary to either the idea from which the work derived or the artistic process by which the work evolved into its present state? If that is the case, is that turn necessarily a negative, or does it merely shift what "net art" is about?
I recently found out that I am still extremely inspired by the actual technical possibilities of networks and making works for computers—basic computers. There was always the promise that this was going to happen, but if you look at the art online, art that is often branded as "digital art" or "internet art, it’s actually old media. It’s video, or collage, or text, or music—which are all amazing and good, but I still believe that you can make art by taking advantage of medium specific properties of technology. That’s why I have Left Gallery now. The whole idea of post-internet art is you go back to the media we already had and say "now we’re going to make art about the things you can do on the internet," which is fine, but the problem, I feel, is that if you’re going back to sculpture making or collage making, I don’t have much to contribute anymore. I feel that in the field of internet art, pure internet art, there’s still so much to discover there, from a pragmatic point of view, my aesthetic language is stronger when I do online stuff. I tried to deny this, but I just have to admit it. In terms of craftsmanship, I’m genuinely strong there. I also studied it, and I hate buying materials.
Harm van den Dorpel, Scrum Kanban whiteboards (2015; courtesy of Neumeister Bar-am and American Medium)
You have spoken about your recent work as addressing the mechanics of curation. The term "curation" is ubiquitous these days—people curate playlists, desktops, "evenings," menus—but perhaps the most useful interpretation of the term in relation to your work is again to be found in the notion of the management of information flows. Could you speak about the ways you understand and apply the term "curation" in your work, and how you seek to explore it via digital and IRL methodologies? Is it perhaps connected to the way you seek connections in supposedly unrelated objects? Is the mind itself, and the programs designed by the mind, something you understand as a framing device?
The word "curating" in Dutch means when a company goes bankrupt and the stakeholders want their money back then someone must execute the "curation" and determine what kind of value is in the remaining stuff and then sell it. The proceeds then go to the people who have lost out on the investment. That is the intuitive connection I’ve always had with curating. I used to have Club Internet in 2008, and I think curating for me means I see things that are good, or interesting, or maybe are better than I could ever do, but they’re not getting attention, or they’re not understood because they’re not surrounded by other objects that make it clear what they’re about. That’s why I want to curate, and not just work by other people, but things I encounter in the world, or things I upload onto deli near info where I think, “these two things are interesting, but I don’t really know why, but maybe let’s just put them there and wait for a bit, then maybe add something later and see what happens.”
Initially my curatorial perspective starts out very open, but there is no interest in just leaving things open and never reaching any kind of conclusion, so there is an ideal, or a hope, or a desire, that gradually, if I add more and get more information, that something will come out of it, and not just the number 42 [laughs], but something which I would really love. Let’s take Facebook; Facebook knows a lot about me, and it could, maybe, actually tell me things about myself which I haven’t figured out yet, but they’re not in the business of doing that. There’s also a political dimension to my understanding of curation. I don’t agree with the ways information is treated. deli near info is tiny, and its user interface awkward, but still I really hope that there will be some kind of change that will result from it to begin to create a situation where information control is given back to the people. Maybe it sounds a bit hippy, but actually I really want that.
Harm van den Dorpel, Left Gallery (screenshot, 2016)
How/When did you begin working creatively with technology:
That question could mean so many things.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Studied AI at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Time Based Arts at the Rietveld Academy, also in Amsterdam.
What do you do for a living, or what jobs have you held previously?
I'm an artist, software developer and have worked in art education. In that order.
What does your desktop or workspace look like (screenshots or pics please!):
I often wonder what people expect to find in my studio.
Harm van den Dorpel, Transplant (deli near PAN franchise) (2015)
Top image: Harm van den Dorpel, deli near info (screenshot, 2016)
Museum Mixtape (Dirty South Edition) is a 2014 video album in which rap artists perform live critiques of museums in the southeast United States. Created by Juan Obando, it was produced as a Rhizome commission, and will show at the Reverse Art Space in Brooklyn on Friday, February 12 and concurrently on the front page of rhizome.org.
MC: When you finished this process, you told me you were having dinner with some of the musicians involved, and talking about the experience of rapping in art museums. What kinds of experiences did you have? Was it completely awkward? Were there also moments of interesting cultural cross-pollination?
JO: I became very close with some of the rap artists involved and we had great moments dissecting our experience, from our respective positions: me behind the cameras and dealing with museum officials and them in front, facing the work and the spaces. The experiences were diverse and all very positive in their own way.
One of the museums, for example, seemed to not have read my request letter in full, assuming this project was about making a cool ad for the institution. For that particular site I was working with this awesome lyricist who was really witty and satirical. When we arrived, we were greeted by one of the museum officials and started shooting. He nailed the first take, which was this very critical and funny song, and then we realized that this was not what the museum official was expecting at all and we were shown our way out in a very awkward moment of dry confusion. The museum had already signed a release form so I was able to use that take in the final piece.
Absalute performing at the Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC.
With another institution I had a 25-email conversation and every request from them was really hard to oblige. They wanted to approve and edit the lyrics in advance, which was something I wasn’t willing to do, so we called off the shoot. I have to say that, in general, there was always some degree of discomfort from the three sides: the performers, myself, and the institutions; but in most cases the collision of worlds transformed the situation into a really friendly, critical, collaborative exchange. The Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee, started having independent conversations with Easy Steve (the local performer) and incorporating him into their educational programs. The same with the Virginia MOCA and the local rap crew that I worked with there, and I just recently heard about the Nasher Museum in Durham, NC, looking into hosting or being involved with the annual Hip-Hop Summit that takes place in the city.
I also have now a really extensive collection of southern hip-hop now.
MC: After connecting with the artists online, how did you go about working with them?
JO: I would meet them at the location for a first view of the space and exhibition and a discussion about my ideas and their input/angle for the project. I left all the writing up to the artists, and the only restriction was that I did not want them to be influenced by any of the official institutional information. I asked them to write based on just the experience of visiting the exhibitions first hand.
The performers were always very excited about the opportunity. There was even some slight signs of sweet revenge, a certain beef with the museum and high culture in general. Almost every performer, at some point of the visits, asked “WTF? Is THIS Art?” to which I was almost always unable to respond. It really made me think about how coded and exclusive the language of institutionalized art is and how detached young culturally active people can be from that language, especially in these cities.
Miss Angelina performs at the Bass Art Museum in Miami.
MC: What artwork produced the best lyrical response, and what was it?
JO: There is a particular Baroque and Renaissance collection at the Bass Museum in Miami within the main ramp that connects the two floors. Most of the museum programming is contemporary, but this collection is central to the space. MC Jumanji, the local Miami rapper I worked with, was super interested in this collection.
He was committed to setting the bar high regarding lyrical and intellectual content, as an indirect diss to the other rappers in the project, who kind of dismissed most art at first sight. His lyrics were incredibly complex and lengthy. Since the idea of the project was to use one unedited take of each song, it was inevitable that we would be doing multiple takes to get this one right. Indeed, it took us probably three hours to get it done, but it’s one of my favorite songs in the album.
MC Jumanji performs at the Bass Art Museum, Miami.
It uses these classic paintings to talk about the distance between young people and classic art, and connects the painted scenes with today’s struggle for cultural integration. Ease’s (Durham, NC) and Absalute (Chapel Hill, NC) are also big favorites of mine. Super funny and smart. Seeing them live with their group The Kush Administration in downtown Chapel Hill (a couple of blocks away from the Ackland Museum) was a big inspiration for this project in its beginnings.
MC: In your proposal for this project, you asked, "Is the museum space obsolete? Can its architecture host different uses and inspire alternative narratives? Are cultural institutions completely out of tune with culturally active local demographics? What kind of new forms can this apparent disconnection create?" So, is it? Can it? Are they? And where do we go from here?
JO: I think I’m still (or even more so now) unable to answer those questions. Seems like if I was able to do what I set out to do, and have museums signing up to it, then these spaces are still full of possibilities. Most directors, curators and educators I encountered in the institutions involved in the project had a real intention to reclaim the museum as an active project space or classroom, rather than a mere exhibition space.
They just seemed to struggle to keep up with the traditional museum mechanics and at the same time trying to disrupt or subvert the space without risking too much. It’s tricky. Practices in many of these institutions are still tied to a very traditional way of doing things and there is not a clear sensitivity for contemporary flexibility and experimentation.
Museum architecture is generally so voluptuous and imposing, the appeal of these spaces is undeniable. Most of the performers I worked with were so inspired by the space and had the best ideas about how to activate it. I think there is much to learn from subcultural forms and mechanics. We’re at a time where it is impossible to ignore the speed in which cultural information moves, and how it expands beyond the circuits that used to dominate its dissemination. The decentralized nature of current cultural circuits will definitely shape the way people appreciate, value, and disrupt the institutions.
Top image: Ease performs at the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University.
The Download is a series of Rhizome commissions that considers posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition.
Material Speculation: ISIS/Download Series (King Uthal) by Morehshin Allahyari is the second Download. The 570MB downloadable ZIP file is below. Work from the series also appears on the Rhizome front page through Feb 21.
Can the internet resurrect the dead? The lost art object—be it speculative, missing, or destroyed like a statue smashed by ISIS—now circulates as JPGs, PDFs, and YouTube videos. Untethered from physical matter, these files work to extend life.
Screenshot of ISIS video showing destruction of King Uthal statue at Mosul Museum (courtesy Morehshin Allahyari)
It’s an illusion of sorts; things seem to continue on once they’re multiplied, dispersed and made visible on the network. In the absence of an original, copies of texts and images swarm around and form the missing thing as an imaginary concept in itself. These digital representations might conjure the lost object in archaeological terms, acquiring location, weight, and presence, but they resist fixity. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, which stood northwest of Kabul, Afghanistan for 1,500 years until they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, are simultaneously gone and forever present. Images of the monumental statues before (and after) their destruction were copied endlessly into art history’s collective memory, first in print, and now as bits moving in and out of search engines and digital archives as the real thing.
Buddhas of Bamiyan, Google Image search
Somewhere between there and not-there, the freely circulating multiple opens up an immensely satisfying space: a metaphysical free-trade zone where an infrathin existence goes unchecked. Dead might not be gone. Aura, less relevant in the digital copy’s persistence, is exchanged for immortality, guaranteed as long as the reproductions multiply and move.
Morehshin Allahyari is an artist and activist who harnesses this illusive condition of the persistent copy; she responds to the violence of cultural terrorism by resurrecting lost objects with stereolithography CAD files for 3D printing. In her ongoing project "Material Speculation," currently on view at Trinity Square Video in Toronto, Allahyari reanimates ancient artworks destroyed by terrorists with a hybrid counterforce of research, digital reconstruction, and 3D printing.
For her Rhizome Download commission, Allahyari releases a dossier of digital artifacts related to one of these lost artworks—a single Roman-period figure from the Mosul Museum, smashed by ISIS militants in June 2014. It portrayed King Uthal of Hatra, his right hand raised in greeting.
Statue of King Uthal (Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, 208)
The .stl and .obj files contained within the ZIP folder are the first 3D models of a lost artwork openly published by Allahyari, who plans to disperse many more. Accompanying the models are ancillary materials and data related to the original statue, other objects destroyed at the Mosul Museum, and her digital reconstructions. Just as King Uthal’s unfortunate destruction in northern Iraq is part of the work’s story, so, too, is its reanimation on the network. Allahyari’s act is an expansive one—with each download to a hard drive, the narrative rewrites itself.
In Allahyari’s project, and more broadly in her and Daniel Rourke’s 3D Additivist Manifesto, we see a call for artists and activists to imagine 3D printing as a radical, political tool for reshaping matter and its digital destiny. Allahyari’s dispersion of the King Uthal files extends this invitation, a poignant act that rewrites material violence with a collective force on the network. To download, share, and print these files is to participate in this additivist act of resistance.
Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke, "The 3D Additivist Manifesto," (screenshot, 2015)
Created from dozens of still photographs, Allahyari’s models are "same, same but different," evoking the original in a scaleless, placeless version without material conditions. These variables, once reserved for artistic intent, are now given over to the collective. The dispersion of the statue guarantees the persistence of its many divergent versions, stored on hard drives and printed out anywhere, at any time. How might we characterize these copies? Will the sculpture of King Uthal be brought back to life? Perhaps, in the same way that a meme is alive. As the files are posted, downloaded, and printed, different each time, the nature of the thing remains unsettled. In its hybrid state of being and non-being, the CAD model bridges an ontological gap between presence and disappearance—a multiverse of digital cenotaphs. King Uthal’s simulacrum is a mixed-up phantom of itself, actively repairing cultural memory while denying us a conclusion.
Tonight, Rhizome will host an event called "Who Owns Digital Social Memory?" at 7pm in the New Museum auditorium and on livestream. The event is inspired by Rhizome's Webrecorder project, which aims to give users and organizations the tools they need to create stable, high-fidelity archives of the dynamic web.
In preparation for tonight's event, Rhizome's Digital Conservation team has created an archive of the Instagram account @veteranas_and_rucas, which documents the SoCal Chicano party crew scene in the ‘90s. The project is supported mostly by users who submit their own photos of their lives from the ‘90s or earlier.
In a description of the project, Rhizome's intern Chloe O'Neill notes:
The fact that the Chicano scene was tight-knit has made the Instagram project a growing archive of family histories and a site for the activation of memory and culture. In fact, many users have renewed ties with family and friends in the comments surrounding each post.
If "social memory" can be defined as "how and what social groups remember," then digital culture, as Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito point out, changes both the how and the what of social memory. What is remembered must now include a wide range of new kinds of web-specific cultural practices (link curation, vlogging, web searches); how it is remembered is often mediated by social media platforms, and increasingly in informal settings outside of traditional memory institutions. Social memory happens partly inside us, but also outside of us–in other people, and in a broader milieu, which now includes social media platforms.
@veteranas_and_rucas is the ideal illustration of the stakes of this shift. It recirculates photographs that would otherwise be forgotten–these photographs were not found in any institutional archive–and it provides a context for the elaboration of memory around these images.
This archive is maintained by artist Guadalupe Rosales, but it depends entirely on services currently provided for free by Instagram. In its archived version, viewable here, the material aspects of this project have been preserved independently of Instagram's servers, but the larger process of social memory that the project fosters cannot be captured by Webrecorder.
@veteranas_and_rucas will be included in the forthcoming Artbase Collection, "Artist-Made Web Archives."
GC: As a trained painter with strong roots in the Argentinian geometric abstraction tradition, how did you begin to dabble in digital media? Are the ideas/processes initiated in painting and then translated into digital production, or the other way around—how does it work for you?
AM: I started studying painting at 15 with Diana Aisenberg, and even then I assumed painting not as a mere material practice, but as a set of ideas and visual languages that are useful to approach all kinds of media. In my last year of college I made miniature recreations of metaphysical Italian painting using trash and toys, and I also worked at a design studio where I made my first animated .gif, based on one of my oil paintings.
My relationship with geometry and abstraction grew from the metaphysical paintings of the Argentinian groups Madí and Arte Concreto Invención, but even before I ever read about feminism or queer theory, I found the whole western canon highly misogynistic; not only because it is a history of male artists but also because it rejects themes and issues normatively read as "feminine": the sensible, the sweet, the pretty—everything existing outside of the European rational male; the body as an intelligent organ, sexualities, humor, vulgarity, crafts, and decorativeness. In the same way that the Bauhaus considered textile art as somehow below other artistic expressions, that sort of gesture is prevalent in art history. I could never find anything about female metaphysical painters.
Ad Minoliti, NINFAS (2015)
When I was a teenager, I would make photonovels with metaphysical and geometrical characters; it was a sort of critique of the repressive and conservative themes most commonly used by metaphysical painters to discuss essentialist truths. I would have legs and modern chairs involved in heterosexual tragedies, or scenes involving buildings and plants to represent, respectively, masculinity/rationality and femininity/the organic, until I finally understood that to really expand those relationships I had to try to extract the human from the equation: modernist thought handed down to us a binary logic of the world. Masculine/feminine, culture/nature, order/chaos, evil/good, are mere discursive constructions to disguise, perpetuate and legitimize domination. And so, if this discourse was behind the metaphysical paintings I was studying, what was left out of their reductive avant garde? Infinite possibilities.
I found in digital media the best tool to go forward, and I started to make collages that could mix together everything that had previously been separated into categories and opposite relationships. I think that’s the reason our time is one of remixing and covers.
There is no dichotomy; my paintings and digital production are not separated, they are bodies and bridges growing between different themes and concepts—they feed off of each other. There’s not really an evolution from one to the other; instead, the mixing of different media in an installation creates a new hypothesis where "style" as capitalistic branding has no place, and geometry, bodies, and femininity mix together to create new meanings.
I’m super grateful for queer and feminist theory because they are essential to the exploration of new perspectives in every field, including painting. I have always been interested in art as criticism: abstraction and geometry are tools to represent a utopian reality outside human categories. What’s the purpose and function of a painting? How would an aphrodisiac painting look? Could a triangle be arousing? How to create desire without the predispositions of the human body or the sexual ideals of the pornographic industry? How could kinetic geometry work as post-porn?
Ad Minoliti, QDECO1 (2011-)
GC: In your series of digital collages, PLAY_G and Queer Decó you intervene in, and essentially create geometrical inhabitants for, the images in '60s/'70s Playboy and interior decoration magazines. Can you talk further about the relationship between interior decoration and your works’ core themes of sexuality and queerness? What kind of connections unfold in these works?
AM: Queer Decó was the first series of interventions where I combined various aesthetics from different decades. The whole point was unleashing geometry in a domestic setting, and seeing how these geometrical creatures worked to reconfigure that space—one usually regarded through heteronormativity as feminine.
In my paintings I put these same figures in nature as re-imaginings of Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass or other famous scenes of nymphs in the outdoors. I found that domestic interiors and nature are both thought of as feminine or soft entities as opposed to depictions of modern architecture.
When it came to intervening in porn, or Playboy magazines—an industry run by men—it was necessary for me to transform the subjects in the images into post-humans, potential cyborgs, for them to become bridges to new and exciting (arousing) geometrical forms. The transition from decoration to porn magazines was informed by Pornotopia, the book by Paul B. Preciado in which he wonderfully explains the golden age of Playboy in relation to its context: architecture, design, mass media, drugs and technology. Further reading of Preciado helped me understand the forms in PLAY_G as pictorial prosthesis: possible futuristic devices decolonizing the contemporary sex/reproductive-organs default system. I like the definition of them made by the group Micropolíticas de la Desobediencia Sexual en el Arte [Micropolitics of Sexual Disobedience in Art]: "Desire driven porno-geometric machines."
Ad Minoliti, PLAY_G-3gracias (2014)
GC: Your next collage series Museo Queer and CSH #14_Utopia uses your own pictures of the Louvre Museum and the "Case Study Houses" project commissioned by the Arts & Architecture magazine to architects of the '40s-'60s. Can you explain what these cultural references—modernist architecture, European museums—have in common with the previous ones—porn, interior decoration—and how you select them?
AM: Museo Queer was a specific project for Museo La Ene in Buenos Aires, worked around the fact that it’s an institutional critique-kind of museum. My project involved intervening in images that I took of the rooms at the Louvre Museum, and the way in which certain spaces would be modified if their users were no longer human bodies. Would it change the regular format of an exhibition? What would happen if the walls were pink instead of white? The show at La Ene featured white walls covered with spray painted green wiggly lines—a sort of humorous yet critical gesture.
CSH #14_Utopia is a continuation of Queer Deco, centered on this specific architectural project. The magazine chose only to invite male architects, and for some unknown reason, skipped the production of the 14th home. I was interested in claiming this empty space, one that looks like a domestic fantasy (to a foreigner it looked like a home for the Jetsons).
Both series try to tackle the question of "usership:" how classic museum design and modernist architecture that we take for granted is just another leftover prejudice originating in the idea of the white male as the universal ideal. So-called "universal" museums were created by men for men, just like porn. We can think of these spaces as spaces of the patriarchy.
Ad Minoliti, CSH_21 (2015)
GC: In most of your painting shows you subvert white cube simplicity, going instead for pastel wall colors, paintings hung in corners, abstract furniture-like objects, and TV screens that add both content and context. Intervention into space, architecture and exhibition technologies are at the core of your physical practice. Does your digital work complement this?
AM: I’m always trying to reconfigure art spaces, changing the ambience in rooms and galleries. I believe the white cube is charged with a history that might be prejudicial to paintings. It’s presented as a vacuum, as actual emptiness that’s supposed to elevate the artworks; but in reality it just re-enacts the logic behind museums, denying the importance of context in the construction of images. Artworks are not autonomous or absolute truths; they’re devices or platforms for different ideas and concepts.
All my shows are pre-planned on Photoshop so that I can have a spatial idea and design a specific story for the gallery. In that way, my digital work complements my painting and powers my installations—it’s an integral part of it.
My show "PlayPen" was at a cultural center in Buenos Aires that used to be a convent and a nursing home, so I wasn’t allowed to alter the walls. I used cat stickers in the same humorous/critical feminist gesture I’ve made before through pink paint, and I created a sort of metaphorical installation by turning my show into a 3-person room: colorful platforms worked as beds lined up next to the 3 windows in the room, along with 3 different digital collages working as bed covers and 3 screens in front of each bed displaying different videos and animated .gifs. I like that idea of a functional image—images that keep you warm. I was also thinking about the collective living described by Silvia Federicci as offering alternatives to the typical cellular heteronormative concept of family.
Ad Minoliti, "PlayPen," exhibition view at Centro Cultural Recoleta (2015)
GC: You have been working with Argentinian artist and programmer Mariana Lombard on the browser-based project -PLAY SIGNIFICANT OTHERNESS-, described as "[...] a genetic algorithm related to feminist theory and technoscience from Donna Haraway and the biologist Lynn Margulis [...] a geometric representation of a non-Darwinian artificial life". Can you expand on the motivations behind this project? Is it a game, a landscape? How does it look and work?
AM: Mariana and I were thinking about possible life-forms that were not harmful to each other or to their environment. We were talking about Donna Haraway’s work and Lynn Margulis’ symbiogenetic evolution. Her theory is not accepted by many in the scientific community who are not willing to remove or rethink competition’s role in evolution.
We don’t believe in competitive evolution. Capitalism took Darwin’s theory as a slogan: Survival of the Fittest, and used it to naturalize domination and violence. In most common digital life emulators subjects end up dying, eating each other up, or starving to death. I wanted to create a system where life worked on exchange and cooperation: subjects aren’t born, they don’t reproduce or die. Like Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, there’s no genesis, just like the "time out of time" of metaphysical paintings.
Our beings find each other, exchange information (shapes and colors), and go their separate ways to run into other subjects and continue their mutation. Their bodies/shapes start to change, lose their boundaries and become temporary bodies. That’s essentially my fantasy universe where geometrical beings also coexist within the digital and the paintings.
Ad Minoliti, -PLAY SIGNIFICANT OTHERNESS- (2015)
Location: Buenos Aires
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
2003, digital photonovels: I would make mock-ups, photograph them and project the sequence.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón for painting.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously?
I work as an artist, and previously as I was a designer and professor.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
Top image: Ad Minoliti, MUSEOQ2 (2013-14)
Fate is always stupid, both real and not. When the antibiotics stop working we will all die more often of love. Technological leaps in medicine are meant for the evil rich, in Europe and its far-flung acts of violence. Let the genome rattle off its wrong letters: the feeling of not being able to read yourself is a dark pool and this is a dark pool party.
In a video showing this week on the front page, Hannah Black reads "Long-Term Effects" from Dark Pool Party, a new book of six texts recently co-published by Dominica & Arcadia Missa. Black will also read at Lisa Cooley in New York on Wednesday, February 24 at 7pm.
Hannah Black reading from Dark Pool Party (Arcadia Missa/Dominica, 2016). Video shot by Hanna Bergfors.
In the final hours of 2015, as a new year drew near, I sent a text message to my mother, who happened to be in the same room. Instead of typing words or selecting a standard emoji, I opted for the latest nonverbal communication craze: the Bitmoji. I chose an in-the-moment photo: a personalized caricature of myself, adorned in a black Steve Madden leather jacket and black combat boots, joyously holding a bubbling bottle of champagne. Surrounded by confetti, my character graced his presence with a banner that visualized my reaction to the doorbell ringing: "Party Time." As a response, my mother sent her own caricature, spoofing Kim Kardashian’s breaking the internet photo. My mother and I both laughed as she got up to answer the door for our guests.
Photo: Grace Plihal
Bitmoji seems to be one of the few forms of tolerable communication between my mother and I. She abhors consistent texting, electing to type "can you call me?" instead. One reason for her annoyance with texting is the lack of human contact. She’s not alone, as texting continues to carry this stigma in its ongoing list of cons.
When developing the app for iPhone and Android, Bitmoji CEO Jacob "Ba" Blackstock stated that, "texting [has made] conversation more convenient [but has] also stripped away a lot of things that make communication human." With this notion in mind, Blackstock extended his previously successful app Bitstrips, in which users generate an avatar to insert into comic strips.
Users of the Bitmoji app can personalize their avatars for a closer likeness. This includes selecting the appropriate facial features, hairstyle, body build, clothing, and other accessories. In order for their representation to be accurate, it means that individuals must be willing to closely examine themselves and accept some imperfections while also embracing their uniqueness. The Bitmoji is a reflection of the user's self-perception—physically, emotionally, and socially.
After the character is rendered and the phone keyboard settings allow for the Bitmoji extension, users are given a bevy of emoji options featuring their avatars. Keyboard categories range from "Funny" to "Waaah" and "Food" to "Travel." The app also embraces pop culture with generated content from the films The Night Before, Inside Out, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as the HBO comedy Silicon Valley and drama Game of Thrones. Katy Perry tweeted her approval of her Bitmoji in the infamous Left Shark costume from last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, and Seth Rogen instagrammed his Bitmoji skyrocketing in the air mid-flatulence.
Photo: Grace Plihal
Bitmojis are starting to stand out because they bring a sense of identity to texting. With the character resembling the user’s likeness, it’s easier to understand the messenger's tone and reactions. Bitmoji offers the nuance of face-to-face interaction to the contextually misunderstood and provides a safe space for foes of autocorrect.
When describing the app, I was asked why I kept referring to my avatar as "he" instead of "I." After all, the Bitmoji is supposed to be a digitized version of me and the way I feel in a given moment; Except he lives in an idealized, fantasy world that I wish mine were like: just as simple and easily accessible.
I live vicariously through my character, who mirrors my personality but also lives his own life. He’s inserted into scenes where he wakes up, goes to school, eats food, and works a job where he even stops for a texting break. Sometimes he finds out exciting news to announce. Sometimes he has the time to scavenge the world or express his opinions on what’s currently trending in the news. And as always, my avatar is forced to deal with the daily mishaps of life. He’s inserted in imagery that most humans associate with a generalized feeling.
Still, my avatar tends to remove himself from my reality. He’s drinking champagne adorned in the most in-season Steve Madden clothing, none of which I would be able to afford as a college student. In fact, my character has skipped the college stage in most of my texting conversations and has advanced to images of stardom. In his world, he’s involved in scenes where he’s greeted by flashing lights while pompously strutting on a red carpet. Time named him "Person of the Year" and People, "Sexiest Bitmoji Alive."
Photo: Grace Plihal
Bitmoji not only serves as a new form of nonverbal communication, but also as a game of images, identities, and human emotions. There are also times when the avatar can be used as a scapegoat or a passive aggressive tool. His constructed smiles and softer demeanor bring a sense of warmth to whoever he is sent to. And when I need to send an angry, annoyed, or somewhat snarky response, the caricature aspect of the Bitmoji helps soften the blow in a moment that’s not intended to cause drama. Essentially, it’s hard for someone to get mad at an adorable, charismatic cartoon surrounded by florescent fonts.
Using the Bitmoji app parallels playing The Sims: it comes complete with a sense of responsibility. Like a text message, a Bitmoji stays out in the cyber universe much longer than a careless remark or facial expression would. It’s up to the user to decide what they choose to send out and how they want their character to be represented. Bitmoji eliminates the inner social conflicts of texting and broadens the scope of daily conversation. Handlers of the app try to replicate their thoughts and life for the cyber world, but ultimately end up ridiculing their own existence.
Top photo: Photo: Grace Plihal
In PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE by artists Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Neotenomie, and Sloane, PTSD is a color-coded energy source that props up the universe; people vacation in dying parallel dimensions; and state IDs are tarot decks emanating from their psyches. The user pieces this world together with fragments that are distributed across various mediums, including an online hypertext work, a booklet, and stickers.
The project depicts the experience of PTSD as a visceral physical substance, not an invisible, abstract force. According to Heartscape, whose previous work has often used hypertext to reimagine social reality, the work proposes a “trauma revolution to follow the sexual revolution,” in which a massive repressed energy field might be unleashed.
Rhizome’s 2015–16 commissions are made possible by the Jerome Foundation and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.
Major support for First Look is provided by the Neeson / Edlis Artist Commissions Fund. Additional support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Top image: Porpentine Charity Heartscape, Neotenomie, and Sloane, PSYCHONYMPH EXILE, (2016, detail)
http://cannotsleepwithsnoringhusband.online is a web-based narrative that recreates an AOL search engine interface and re-plays the queries performed by one user over a three-month period. To experience the full narrative, visit daily via the same browser for the duration of the performance. The work begins today on the front page of Rhizome.org.
Simon Baer, a former student of mine, finished his studies with a work that contributes to several contemporary fields of concern—big data, surveillance, the right to be forgotten, as well as user culture, digital heritage, and personal archiving. http://cannotsleepwithsnoringhusband.online is a true online story; it speaks the language of the web. I talked to him about the work via email, Libre Office, etherpad, WhatsApp, and IRL between February 3 and 7, 2016.
OL: Simon, what happened in AOL kingdom on August 4, 2006?
SB: On that day, AOL released ten compressed text files to the public. The files contained around twenty million search queries captured over a three-month period from over 650,000 US users. The basic problem was that a lot of users—although IP addresses were replaced by a numeric user ID—could quickly be identified based only on their search terms.
The whole thing caused quite a debate: the employees responsible had to leave the firm and AOL deleted the text files three days later.
Two days after the release, the day before AOL removed the files, a TechChrunch journalist wrote:
The most serious problem is the fact that many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with “buy ecstasy” and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless.
OL: But it wasn't really deleted, right? How many clicks did it take to find it? And what were your next steps, technically speaking?
SB: Right. Although AOL immediately deleted the files from their website, they were mirrored and distributed hundreds of times by several people. Now, ten years later, the hardest part was not finding the download links in general, but to find a mirror with all the files still being online. After downloading the whole package (which took ages!) I created a MySQL-Database, containing every single query, to get full flexibility with using the data.
OL: And then you built or rebuilt the AOL searchengine as of 2006 to search for whatever was in itand find similar search requests from 10 years ago, as well as the search result according to AOL's algorithm of that time. As you mention, it became a scandal because it was an act of exposure. How did you feel accessing the files?
SB: When you start searching for some keywords it's funny or hilarious at first, and it may take a while before you become aware of the dangerous dimensions of this event.
Users were exposed in terrible ways. But I had the feeling that there's nothing I can change about that anymore, and neither did I want to. Rather than dragging the data into another environment, by keeping it inside the (rebuilt) AOL search engine, I constructed a memorial to this case and everyone involved.
OL: I know it’s not an easy question. As someone who for several years has been restoring, quoting, and exhibiting Geocities pages—without getting permissions from those who made and abandoned them—I am asked about this a lot. I don't have an answer, apart from explaining that my goal is to preserve the history and monumentalize the figure of the user in it.
So what about AOL users? Can you tell me more about 711391? How did her (is it her?) story become the central part of http://cannotsleepwithsnoringhusband.online?
SB: When scrolling through all the search logs of a certain user, you find that most of them are highly narrative, which is fascinating. What makes user 711391 so special, in my opinion, is the way she uses the search engine in general: in most cases, she doesn't even seem to seek answers, she's just typing down the things troubling her, like writing in a journal or talking to a good friend or even God. She frequently reassures herself about the things she's doing, about to do, or the things she dreams of, which makes the insight into her life and mind even deeper. Take her first search, for example: "can not sleep with snoring husband," entered at 1:24am. At that time most of us would have moved to the couch rather than turn on the computer and begin typing our hearts out.
The three months in which the data was captured are enough to turn the life of user 711391 upside down: we can basically follow her meeting someone online, having an affair, having a “bad experience meeting cyber lover," "cutting ties with person you had an affair with," and falling into a period of inner confusion and depression afterward.
OL: And this whole story can be recreated solely from her search requests?
SB: Yes, but the entered search term doesn't always speak for itself; additional information like the link user 711391 clicked on or the time the search query was sent often complete the picture.
OL: There is a lot of assuming and interpreting involved. I think your work brings to a new level the point made by Dragan Espenschied in his article "Big Data, Little Narration" that "I strongly believe that archives of digital culture need lots of context and interpretation to fulfill their most basic function." It is so intense.
I am only on day 3 of her (your? my?) story and can feel all the drama, and I can hardly wait till tomorrow. And why—or WHY???!!!—did you limit the amount of search queries user 711391 shows us per day to one of her days? Why do I have to wait until tomorrow to see what she was searching for the next day?
SB: You've already put yourself emotionally in the place of user 711391: meeting someone online who excites you, letting each other in one another's lives, chatting now and then, sometimes desperately waiting till the next day for an answer. I guess everyone knows these feelings. By limiting access, I'm trying to transfer her feelings to the visitors to my project—this way, there's some time to think about what's going to happen the next day. Otherwise, it would just be another "dead" archive, wouldn't it?
OL: I agree, high speed, vast memory, and rapid retrieval can kill a project like this. To calculate "escape velocity" is not a trivial task for online performance. When we started the One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age Tumblr we were initially irritated by the fact that we could post only seventy-two screenshots a day. We wanted to flood the internet with our 400,000 dead pages immediately! Now, three years later I see this limitation as blessing. But another part of me wishes to read the full story in one gulp.
SB: I think that—especially in an environment like the internet, where we are used to the intriguing possibility of seeing everything at once and whatever else we'd like—it's interesting to use a limiting factor, which can, in my opinion, make such a project even more alive.
OL: You publicly presented the project for the first time very recently. Icould see the reactionof the audience: from laugher, to silence, to...the next round of laugher that was more gracious or reassuring. I think that first we recognize ourselves in user 711391—even those of us who have not experienced an online affair or snoring husbands know what is it to turn to the search engine. Then we desperately look for the differences, for what we do better or smarter than she did. Once you find that difference, your world is fine again.
SB: It was definitely fascinating to see how the reactions changed during the presentation. In my observation it began with amusement, followed by amazement at how deep the insight into the life and mind of user 711391 really is. Interestingly, I've found that the discussions I've had following the presentation differed: while one group of people wanted to know a lot about the circumstances of the search data release and the legal consequences for AOL, the other group really did question their own search behavior and tried to think of search queries that would make them identifiable. In the end, everyone felt caught, in a way, but dealt quite differently with this displeasing feeling.
OL: How do you see the AOL search data breach in the light of recent global surveillance scandals and big data?
SB: I hope that looking back widens our current field of consideration: it’s not only about big companies or the NSA secretly stealing data from us, it's also about the data we no longer care about. Nowadays, online search seems so banal and has become so implicit that the majority of users simply forget that even a handful of search queries offer deep insight into the life and mind of an individual. Google, for example, makes no secret of the fact that all entered search queries are saved and used for creating an individualized user profile that you can even view and edit online. So in the end, even the user that has "nothing to hide" still has a lot to tell.
OL: Your work reminds me of a project by Tobias Leingruber, a student of mine a few years back. In 2008 he released Pirates of the Amazon; there was much ado for a week or two, but it had to be shut down quickly. It was a browser add-on for Amazon: when you searched for something on Amazon, the work provided a link to the same product on Pirate Bay. Leingruber didn't provide pirated material, he didn't pirate anything. He provided a one-click interface. You didn't collect or leak the data, but you made an interface that provided access. This brings me again (and again) to the idea that the role of the interface designer intoday's world is enormous. Do you feel your power?
SB: Definitely! I'm kind of grateful I worked with the released AOL search data for my final project, because to me, it clearly underlines the point you've just made: in most cases, it's not about providing a pleasing visual or "entertaining" interface; it's about the power of the interface to enable users to do the things they need to do to gain knowledge, whatever that might be. In my case, I could have transferred the data into a completely different context with some fancy data visualization, but that wasn't the best way to prove the point.
OL: While you worked on your thesis "BIG DATA, small me" we talked about exposure, the ways to avoid it, and the fact that at the end of the day there is no way to avoid it. The harder you try, the more epic your fail will be. I'd say that in the 1990s, to enter or embrace the digital, you had to understand that there is no spoon. Today, the lesson to learn about The Matrix is: there is no incognito tab. Do you think sharing sleepless nights with user 711391 can help?
SB: It may help to understand the matter itself, raise awareness and start a process of personal identification and reconsideration, but often in a very displeasing way. User 711391 has accompanied me for the last few months and there have been many moments in which I felt I was watching a TV series: it's like seeing the main character—who you may sympathize with or even feel sorry for—being sucked into a downward spiral of problems and misery that's spinning faster and faster.
In the end, it's this kind of personal bond that makes one's observations in the company of user 711391 so strong.
A Tumblr page is usually viewed from top to bottom, while an exhibition is usually viewed from beginning to end. I wondered where to start on my first visit to Girls of the ~internet museum (GIM), a Tumblr established by the Lima-based curator Gaby Cepeda, while researching for this review of "Intersections," an exhibition at the online gallery Tensquared organized in collaboration with GIM. I decided to scroll to the bottom. My dinosaur of a laptop—a seven-year-old Macbook—glitched and hiccupped as hundreds of posts flashed by.
GIM’s header bears the tagline "we’re into ~sincerity" and is bookended by two posts on the topic of emotional earnestness. The first entry, dating back to November 17, 2012, mentions the work of Olia Lialina as sincere net art. The final post, from November 16, 2015, is a screenshot of a tweet from earlier that year by artist and writer Hannah Black: "Trying not to hurt ppl has been rlly intellectually expansive actually." GIM is richly considered and deserves multiple visits, reflecting an expansion of feminist consciousness over time. Throughout the site, femininity and radical subjectivity remain in the foreground as aesthetic markers that have been undervalued in contemporary art. The visuals on the Tumblr site skew unapologetically girly, from its bubblegum-pink border superimposed with a rainbow molecular pattern to many of the works showcased in the posts. Qualities that might otherwise be considered embarrassing in art—the openly sexy, the amateurish, the sentimental and the youthful—are displayed with insouciance, even defiance. In this way, the project is a continuation of the concerns of third-wave feminist concerns addressed in movements such as riot grrrl.
Some of the earliest GIM posts feature Blingee-inspired .gifs by Helen Adamidou and an effects-laden video by Petra Cortright dancing to Kraftwerk’s "Das Model." Artists who have a more ambivalent or confrontational attitude toward aggressive trolling and sexual objectification on the internet, like Jennifer Chan, Ann Hirsch, and Faith Holland, are represented throughout with multiple videos. Artworks are interspersed with pull quotes from artists, writers, and philosophers from Jesse Darling and Shia LaBeouf to Rosi Braidotti and Rob Horning.
In its three-year run, GIM reflected the expanding critical dialogue concerning feminist intersectionality. Cepeda, speaking to her experience as a Latin America–based artist and curator, discussed the lack of diversity and absence of internet art production outside first world art capitals in an interview with Art21 last May. GIM’s posts from 2015 sought to redress the imbalance by including more artists of color and non-binary identification. The final entries feature artworks that pointedly address identity and marginalization by artists such as Marilyn Rondón (Latina Seeks Thug, 2014), Hannah Black (My Bodies, 2014), Juliana Huxtable (UNTITLED[FOR STEWART], 2012), Sondra Perry (imakelandartnow.com, 2015), and Martine Syms (Notes on Gesture, 2015). Although these women take various approaches, they all consider how both race and gender are subject to reduction and commodification. Some champion the internet as a safe space for identity exploration, as trans artist Huxtable asserts in her text-based work about identifying with female avatars as a young gamer. Perry’s video, on the other hand, confronts the evident discrimination in movements like Minimalism and Conceptualism. Against a desert background, a screenshot of one of Perry’s Facebook posts floats in midair: "I MAKE LAND ART NOW. PUT ME IN YOUR ALL WHITE MALE + NANCY HOLT LAND ART SHOW NEXT SPRING."
"Intersections," an exhibition of black women artists co-curated by GIM on Tensquared Gallery, is positioned as an extension of Cepeda’s project about representation and diversity.
Screenshot of Tensquared Gallery, organized in collaboration with Girls of the ~internet museum (GIM)
Looking through GIM forced me to examine the blind spots in my own knowledge, to consider prejudices I’ve worked to overcome about certain strands of feminist art. As a white cis woman who came to an understanding of feminism as a late ’90s teenager, I have understood the value of transgressive historical art practices that put the means of sexualized representation in women artists’ hands. I admired artists who, in the 1960s and '70s, were denigrated by second-wave feminists for using their bodies in art in provocative ways—Carolee Schneemann, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Hannah Wilke, among many others. But when it came to my generational peers, I frankly felt removed for years from the discussion about objectification on the internet.
I’ve never admitted this publicly—until now—but I took sex positivity for granted as part of the cultural conversation. I support reproductive choice, the rights of sex workers, and all forms of gender presentation. And yet, I felt a twinge of second-wave Marxist feminist skepticism toward contemporary art that seemed to bank on conventional beauty standards of thinness, whiteness, and youth. I had difficulty identifying with what I assumed was a genre of art made by beautiful women on the internet about the male gaze, because I didn’t see myself as a conventional beauty subjected to the same sort of gaze. In fact, I ignored my own privilege, as well as the growing power of the internet to colonize identity.
For most of my teens and twenties, I cultivated a punkish ugly-cool look designed to please myself, not (the majority of) men: short, stylish hair, bare face, quasi-disheveled ironic wardrobe. My life, I assured myself, passed the Bechdel test. I had great friends, mostly women, with whom I primarily discussed art, culture, and the state of the world, not just beauty and relationships. My version of feminism was one where I could ignore my appearance in pursuit of my ideas. (In truth, my cute, quirky style reflected the advantages of youth, whiteness, an elite college education, and my Brooklyn address.)
As I entered my late twenties, the ground started to shift beneath me and within the culture. I moved to Texas, grew my hair out (less maintenance cuts to schedule), and shed a few pounds in the withering heat. I became more conventionally attractive and people started to notice, both online and off. At the same time, social media moved from an adolescent preoccupation to a widespread culture in which everyone participated, from grandparents to corporations. It became widely understood as a data-scraping tool used to surveil and impose self-surveillance. It brought with it a language that was as effusive as it was barbed about appearance. In time, even people like me, who perceived themselves as anything but remarkable in terms of their image, were uncomfortably aware of the power of personal branding, as well as the ease and availability of tools to manipulate one’s image. The nastiest factions of the far right, during the same era, were gaining power and threatening reproductive rights and sexual, gender, and racial equality. The presentation, marketing, and consumption of identities online and off moved from a subcultural conversation to a mainstream cultural debate. I came to realize that the work I once regarded as a fringe practice about the internet was now at the center—if not in terms of its marketability in the commercial art world, then at least in its relatability.
Like the feminists of the '60s and '70s, many artists used their beautiful appearances as a tool to create subversive work from inside existing power structures. The internet has a voracious appetite to absorb and package difference. When considering these dynamics from a critical feminist perspective, it is essential to discuss the dialectics of race and class. People of color have long been subject to both a lack of visibility and hypersexualization in patriarchal culture. Feminism, perhaps more than any other discourse, has undergone a series of internal debates and self-revisions to create a critical framework for analyzing the experiences of non-white individuals confronting patriarchal capitalism. As the comments section of any feminist platform can attest, the conversation is still evolving.
GIM is a critical archive that shows how the girls of the internet have adapted their strategies and grown in diversity in response to shifts in technology and the culture surrounding it. It’s an instructive primer, even in its weaknesses—it occasionally embeds dead links, because the internet is an imperfect archive, and exists within a social media site that necessarily determines certain aspects of its presentation. Moreover, its place within Tumblr, which skews toward a subcultural youth user base, lends the self-branded "feminine" project an air of self-reflexivity.
Screenshot of Tensquared Gallery, organized in collaboration with Girls of the ~internet museum (GIM)
"Intersections," an exhibition of painting, photography, video, and digital media works by young black women artists co-organized by GIM and Tensquared, is something of an experiment for both platforms. Tensquared (formerly 100% Net Gallery) was founded in 2013 by artist Terrell Davis. Until this show, the online space has only featured digital artwork. While the organizers should be applauded for stepping out of their comfort zones, as well as for the political specificity of the exhibition, the show has deep curatorial flaws that contradict the mission of the gallery to make diversity paramount, as well as "new and exciting work easily accessible."
From a technical standpoint, the exhibition is anything but easy to access. Visitors must go to the website and download a 308MB application developed on the game design platform Unity. The day the show opened, I downloaded the app and tried to play it with no luck. I frantically messaged my boyfriend (who happens to work in IT) who informed me that my ancient Macbook would never play the file—the glamour of being an art writer! He downloaded it and streamed it via Twitch for me that night, while I directed his movements over the phone. (I almost always go alone to galleries I’m reviewing, so this viewing set-up was a challenge.) The controller mechanism, it turns out, wasn’t very responsive, and the stream was on a delay to boot. Adding to the tech problems, an accompanying mix by artist Mhysa was only available on Soundcloud, throwing yet another site (and bandwidth load) into the mix.
Tensquared’s gallery is set on a tropical deserted island drenched in magic hour light. The tour begins on the tip of the island, where you can turn around to look out onto the surf, or see the show. How romantic for a virtual art date! The gallery architecture is a three-floor post-postmodern Miami fantasy replete with golden marble floors, functionless Grecian-inspired columns, and winding staircases seemingly suspended in midair. The entryway contains a full circle of close-set columns among which no artwork is installed. Through the prison bar–like structures one can glimpse the artworks, installed on virtual scaffolding systems and lit by virtual spotlights, scattered throughout the first floor.
Once inside the gallery proper, the difficulties of seeing the work do not abate. Most of the pieces are installed on the first floor, and, due to their positioning and the clunkiness of the controls, cannot easily be viewed from a direct forward-facing angle. The gallery doesn’t provide a checklist the way physical venues would, so it’s difficult to determine who made what. Artists’ names, indicated by white text superimposed on the art’s surface, only appear on a handful of works. Even if wall labels are too old school for a virtual gallery, the solution of overlaying text on an artwork is inelegant at best.
Upon entering the space, one can view two unattributed works on the left—one a collage of nubile female bodies of various races in states of undress, the other a collaged surface with "C U Angel" imposed on the surface in Gothic script. The sole video on view, by the Congolese Malmö-based artist Sandra Mujinga, is displayed on the right. Mujinga’s Face Time/Facetime - Real Time/Realtime (2013) features a young man of African descent against colorful animated backdrops. As a moving-image work, Mujinga’s video gets visually lost in a sea of static images—it’s a much more pleasant experience to view a clip (with original sound) on her Vimeo page. The most striking work on this level, which once again can’t be viewed straight on, is a collage by recent Yale MFA grad Tschabalala Self that has its roots in Dada via the practices of Romare Bearden and Wangechi Mutu. Two heads with cutouts of outsize lips and eyes rest above bodies that are marked with gradient effects and elements of digital affichage.
Some artists, like Rafia Santana and Nandi Loaf, use the opportunity as a branding exercise, pointing outward to their practices that primarily live online. Loaf, for instance, has included an image that directs viewers to "keep hating and follow @nandi_loaf," alongside a collaged image of a black-and-white photo of Jean-Michel Basquiat and vibrant New York sports team logos. One of Santana’s contributions is an image on a pink background with her logo—a black cartoon in the style of a Powerpuff Girl.
The rest of the exhibition comprises largely painting-inspired practices, from French artist Moesha Ciel’s pastel girlish compositions of digitally enhanced brushstrokes and seashell imagery to Alake Shilling’s Lisa Frank-meets-kawaii works. Caitlin Cherry, a young New York–based artist who received her first solo show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2013, shows the four-paneled cantilevered painting Diamond Tears, 2014, on the top floor of the gallery. Cherry’s Cubist shattering of space combined with color melt swirls and cartoonish figures (two resembling disco balls come to life) illustrate that she is on par with the generation of young figurative painters who are featured in exhibitions like "Flatlands" at the Whitney Museum.
"Intersections" represents a cross-section of stylistic concerns, from hip-hop aesthetics to appropriation and innovations in figurative and abstract painting, by a variety of artists of color early in their careers. Such a broad reach feels necessary in an era where artists marked as other (racially or otherwise) are still expected to toe the line by taking an explicit, representational approach to the subject of identity. The artists in "Intersections" show that these conversations about identity can unfold contingently to the work, as well, through digital platforms such as GIM.
The exhibition’s staging, however, overwhelms the strength of the works. The opulence of the gallery architecture mimics a music video circa the early aughts, all rose gold light and George W. Bush–era flash and bombast. If the site is intended to critique the influence of Miami’s bloated fair circuit—a lifestyle branding opportunity that art events in other cities increasingly try to emulate—it misses the mark. Rather than celebrating the diversity of the artists’ output and material choices, it instrumentalizes them in favor of a luxury experience, or an ironic approximation thereof. Rather than extending GIM’s affective project of ~sincerity, "Intersections" threatens to override it.
Top image: Screenshot of Tensquared Gallery, organized in collaboration with Girls of the ~internet museum (GIM)
Mouchette's Private Encounter is featured in a front page exhibition on Rhizome.org.
Artist Martine Neddam has been impersonating a lonely 12-year old girl on the internet for two decades.
In 1996, Neddam created a personal home page for a fictional character named Mouchette, a girl living in Amsterdam. For the next thirteen years, the true identity of Mouchette was a closely guarded secret, much debated in the net art community. It was understood as an artwork, but as Heather Warren-Crow points out in Girlhood and the Plastic Image, "some users of the site may not consider it to be art at all, but the real fantasies, fears, and confessions of an adolescent girl on the verge."
Using this new interface, visitors to Rhizome.org can can sign up to receive several emails and personalized online artworks from Mouchette herself in advance of Neddam's appearance at the New Museum on March 17.
The first one that I received (of three) begins, "I want to let you know how special you are for me and I made a web page for you, a page for which you will be the one and only viewer." The enclosed link brought me to a page featuring a close-up photograph of the small of someone's back; the enclosed links no longer work.
In light of contemporary discussions about identity and performance on the internet, Neddam's long development of the character of Mouchette seems remarkably prescient. In 2004, writing as Mouchette, she told an interviewer,
For me, identity is something that exists between the "I" and the "you", it's not just a personal investigation. Mouchette is constructed by her public. When they love her, when they insult her, they make her who she is. And I design everything like this: words as questions, identity as an empty space where people project their desire. That is why it is still growing since the beginning, and that is why I never get bored with it because I'm not just looking at my own (artificial) navel; and evolve with the public, with the development of the internet itself. I'm just another drop of water on the Internet ocean, changing with it.
As Warren-Crow describes, this fluidity manifested itself most explicitly in Mouchette's fan site, Mouchette.net,
an "identity-sharing interface" that permits registered viewers to become her by creating their own Mouchette web pages. Additionally, images provided by users occasionally replace the picture of Mouchette that appears on Mouchette.org's home page (recently she was transformed into a middle-aged Asian woman, a wrinkled monster, and another little girl wearing a space helmet).
The act of restoration through rehabilitation is experienced through tactile engagement with the film copy. By using a notion of grain and noise to help map a historical continuity that transcends the media of moving image transfer, this essay will discuss the materiality of mass reproduction and dissemination, and the cultural spaces, dynamics, and trajectories that they generate.
Media piracy is now the world’s biggest film distribution network, an infrastructure characterized by technological breakdown and degraded film copies. Looking at the ways in which informal practices regrade images through continuous reproduction reveals the way hierarchies of image quality reflect social hierarchies.
Informal practices can be defined in opposition to “formal” or legitimate structures such as housing, utility distribution, or paid subscriptions. The term “informality” first came into discursive use through studies of housing informality and the gray legality of land markets, in a field of study that allowed political science, anthropology, and sociology to intersect. The emergence of urban informality as a way of life operates through process rather than product, resulting in a transactional approach to value that hacks public space and subverts existing infrastructures, including infrastructures of media distribution. Though they appear remote, detached, even obscure, infrastructures are deeply personal. Infrastructural informality is a fundamentally bodily experience, perceived through an awareness of the mutability of social formations.
Pragmatically, informality can be an affordable option that provides access to pervasive media forms such as Hollywood or Bollywood cinema. It can also be the only option. In his pioneering study on the subject Ramon Laboto argues that media informality is as much a space for subcultures or anti-authoritarianism as it is a cultural space for mediocrity or “unpopular culture.”
Video CDs and movie posters on Broadway in Southall, London
Media informality smoothly permeates the existing framework of urbanity as a result of the arrival of audio and videocassettes, allowing an emancipatory method of home copying, production, and distribution. By the early 21st century, the world’s great megacities had an established parallel infrastructure for the circulation and dissemination of national (and international) moving-image culture. In Pakistan in 2003, for example, while an embargo on Indian cinema remained in force, video copies of Bollywood films arrived in Karachi before they were even released in India. Despite having had a rich and vibrant film tradition that flourished from the 1960s to the early ’80s, today Pakistan is unique for the ways in which a climate of what Ali Nobil Ahmad describes as cinephobia limits and defines the circulation of films. Amid religious opposition, governmental inertia, and lack of funding, the precariousness of film culture in the country is often exacerbated by public instances of anti-film iconoclasm.
One such example of public cinephobia was the countrywide destruction of cinemas that took place in response to the YouTube mini-film The Innocence of Muslims in 2012. Made by a lone American Christian zealot, the film sparked global outrage due to its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. Countrywide riots saw at least six cinemas in Karachi destroyed on one day alone; YouTube was swiftly banned from Pakistani servers, as it remains today.
Today, the Pakistani diaspora, in its varied linguistic and ethnic groupings, is largely delivered the remnants of its national moving-image culture by way of YouTube transfers from gray-market VCDs (video compact discs). In the absence of a state film archive, the copyright and provenance of almost any existing carrier of a Pakistani film is a complex terrain. People of a certain age may not even recall the days when EMI Pakistan released products that would, in accordance with present-day polarities, be described as “formal.” In 2014, my partner brought 500 seven-inch records from Islamabad back to London; they were all soundtracks released in the heyday of Pakistani film production in the 1960s and ’70s. Having never had any lived experience of legitimate audio or video media, a young customs officer suspected my partner of being a VCD smuggler.
Informal networks of film distribution do not use structured obsolescence or hierarchical formats, they instead prefer to provide access for users as quickly as possible following what Hito Steyerl called the mantra of “velocity, intensity, spread.” Throughout the recent canon of writings on the hierarchy of images the concepts of signal, noise, interference, and static come to bear on the idea that “[informal] texts move through space and time with a lower level of interference from copyright law, taxes, tariff and state censorship”—and thus, conversely, accrue the visible traces of transcoding, lossy-to-lossy transfer, and poor levels of data compression.
Media anthropologist Brian Larkin highlighted the interruption of the transmission that media technologies broker in their address to their spectators. Looking at the circulatory dynamics of contemporary Nollywood film, Larkin argued that in the colonial era in Nigeria the prerequisite of infrastructural projects from railways to radios was the ability to inspire awe, giving shape to what he calls the “colonial sublime.” The sublime and technology are subject to relational ordering, with the consequence that education and training domesticate the ability to replicate the technological sublime, thus effectively destroying it. In my own reception of the static surfaces of gray-market films, this process is cyclical. While Larkin argues that breakdown and failure usurp the power of the sublime, there is an argument to be made for a sense of re-sublime: technological breakdown becoming the serendipitous sublime when pristine visuality is the banal norm of everyday experience.
Cinephobia is also a symptom of cinema’s exile from the built space of the theater. In Pakistan the exodus of film from the cinema theater began with the arrival of VCR technology in the 1970s, which also saw the most recent authorized attempts at media migration, transferring the country’s cinematic heritage from extant 35mm reels onto VHS. Under the authoritarian rule of Zia-al-Huq, the national cultural agenda was reset to ensure that public entertainment was suppressed at all cost. Short of changing the very nature of its citizens’ desires, personal VCR players became a good way of ensuring public pleasures became private ones. As such, the film holdings of the National Archive of Pakistan appear to be almost entirely composed of low-resolution VCDs transferred from the last generation of legitimate VHS transfers.
Vast media bazaars such as Darbar Market Urdu Bazar in Lahore, the Rainbow Center in Karachi, and Nishtarabad in Peshawar, are revelatory of a complex post-colonial urbanism. Elaborate, intricate, and informal, these organic infrastructures are reflective of an attitude of ambivalence characterized by a labyrinthine organizational structure or what media academic Ravi Sundaram called a “pirate modernity.” More recently, the tactics that have contributed to this informal technoscape have been described as an expression of Jugaad tactics, a Hindi word for a practice (Urdu: juggaar) closely approximated to hacking or innovative recycling, whereby extant hardware is retailored or renovated to suit idiosyncratic needs.
In communities in London with a large South Asian population, the story was somewhat different. In the South London district of Tooting and in Southall in West London, as well as throughout communities across the UK, cinemas that were lost to the widespread closure of theaters in the 1960s and ’70s were given a second life as institutions showing Bollywood or Asian films. The great Granada Cinema in Tooting, designed by the renowned architect Cecil Masey, and commonly agreed to have been the most beautiful picture-house in the country, was closed in 1983 and turned into a bingo hall. An Indian company who used it for Sunday repertory screenings briefly kept it in business, before the popularity of home video rental led to its closure. Across Tooting, the names of grocery stores such as Chandni Pan Video and Tooting Video Centre are testament to that once-booming trade in video rental. Today, a multipurpose store fills one of the vacant video-rental stores, selling telephone cards, Bollywood DVDs, CDs, and Pakistani VCDs. Among others, I buy a copy of the 1957 film Saat Lakh (“700,000”), directed by Jafar Malik.
Granada Cinema in Tooting, London
As is a common feature, scrolling and static watermarks jostle for position on Saat Lakh, visible evidence of successive generations of gray-market claimants. Early on in the global battle against copyright theft and film piracy, various attempts were made to hide codes or indicators that could help investigators track down the cinema wherein a bootleg was recorded. Today, watermarking is integrated, with increased sophistication, in the fields of security, copyright, and video game design. The image surface of Saat Lakh appears degraded throughout, having suffered generation loss through the digital transfer from the earliest carrier, which, as the horizontal hum of both competing watermarks attest, must have been VHS. Uniform and unchanging throughout the film is the pithy brand name SADAF, a media distribution company.
Competing watermarks on the film Saat Lakh.
In the Pakistani megacity of Karachi, the trading company SADAF was able to set up vast production facilities to manufacture smuggled, pirated Indian films for sale across the world. In bootlegging cinema-based releases, pirate distributors such as SADAF video would work through a piracy thekedar (contract holder), a runner who delivered bootlegged recordings of new releases from Mumbai or New Delhi to Lahore or Karachi where they would be put into mass production onto VHS and later, by the turn of the century, VCD.
Habitually, many informal infrastructures consolidate themselves on the shoulders of much older, more established systems. A report from the US thinktank RAND states that Daewood Ibrahim’s D-Company, which frequently shifted its powerbase between Mumbai, Karachi, and Dubai, built on its connective distribution network to secure control of SADAF. Ibrahim, the leader of the labyrinthine Indian crime syndicate D-Company, cemented his early reputation through his monopoly of the already-existing informal Hawala money transfer system. Like Ibrahim, many find points of entry into porous parallel infrastructures through the existing gray areas of urban modernity.
Could it be that the original carrier from which this copy was made originated at a time before SADAF was acquired by D-Company associates? The SADAF watermark hovers on a surface of the image that does not even out with the topography of the video transfer. The presence of the company’s name appears to be a humble reappropriation of the image over the earlier scrolling watermark for Khalid Enterprise Presentation, which is evidently contemporaneous with the first video transfer. SADAF Entertainment, as it is now known, is still registered in Karachi’s Rainbow Centre; Khalid Enterprises is not, without premises registered at any of the main media markets in Pakistan. The closest possible registered company is Arslan Khalid Enterprises, one of the largest plastic scrap recyclers and exporters in Pakistan, based in Lahore. Specializing in PC, CD, and DVD scrap and with a production capacity of 300 tons, Arslan Khalid Enterprises are large-scale raddiwalas, a scrap or junk dealer or peddler, often a local tradesperson, who collects scrap materials—old newspapers and usable household waste—from homes and paying by the kilogram.
While scrap is one way for informal media artifacts to exit the channels of commerce—the other being destruction ceremonies—consumer culture provides cultural space for the fetishization of scrap. One such example is “Guddu’s Film Archive,” a memorabilia collection consisting of objects primarily mass-produced during the 1960s and ’70s, but also other items related to the industry and infrastructure that undergirds the consumption of Pakistani film. Equal parts heritage archive and memorabilia hoard, Guddu Khan’s collection is representative of an era many sections of Pakistani society have actively chosen to forget. In the cinephobic context in which Guddu operates, film objects are rarely recognized as collectibles but rather as scrap—as raddi (rendered in English as waste); they are scavenged from decaying buildings, bought out wholesale from foreclosed shops, or rescued from the indifference of heirs. With his collection crammed into his small Karachi apartment, Guddu plays his own small part in this labyrinthine distribution network, occasionally sourcing and providing accompanying cover images for media retailers who copy and distribute such films.
In Pakistan, the consumption of cinema attaches itself to conceptions of citizenry and creates cultural spaces for minorities in Pakistan, primarily Pashto, Balochi, and Sindhi-speakers, whose filmic traces have been historically confined to the margins by hegemonic Urdu-language film. Yet in the diaspora these same films attest to the density and cohesiveness of interconnected ethnic and linguistic communities. Southall in London plays host to the largest Afghan-origin community in the United Kingdom. On Southall Broadway, bustling mini-malls with modular retail shops are named in honor of their larger, South-Asian counterparts: Palika Bazaar and Sher-E-Punjab Market. Another, the Himalaya Shopping Centre, is named after a former local stalwart of the longstanding South Asian community: the Himalaya Palace Cinema is an architectural oddity in the United Kingdom, a cinema palace in the style of a Chinese temple or pagoda. More akin to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in LA or La Pagode in Paris than the high–Art Deco of Britain’s great Cecil Masey–inspired cinema theatres, the Himalaya Palace followed in the common history of many other cinemas when an independent exhibitor acquired it in 1971 and used it to screen Bollywood films. With the arrival and popularity of rental video, the building was turned into a market in 1982. Despite a brief restoration and revival as a South Asian cinema, the Himalaya Palace Cinema closed again in 2010 and once again plays host to varied market and snack stalls.
The now-defunct Himalaya Palace Cinema, Southall, London
At the Himalaya Shopping Centre there is a small store dedicated to Afghan music, religious objects, clothing, and film. There I buy two Pashto-language films produced and distributed in Pakistan: Jang aw Amn (1974, directed by Farooq Khan) and Zama Badal (1972, directed by Sana Ullah Khan Gandapur). While Zama Badal is almost painterly for its accumulated layers of media surfaces, is dissonant, ridden with glitches from lossy data transferal. It features a single-frame glitch that endures for more than ten minutes. The frozen image—in this case, a tableau of reconciliation between two previously feuding rivals—appears to hint at an unconscious, buried meaning. Much like the “cineseizure” of experimental filmmakers such as Martin Arnold or Peter Tscherkassky, whose found footage works extend mere seconds of Hollywood films into much longer narratives, the glitch creates a serendipitous, radical rethinking of context.
Still from Zama Badal
Hallmarks and milestones that demarcate the periods in an object’s lifecycle are revelatory of the infrastructure and local conditions from which it passed its most recent stage in the chain of distribution, as was the case with Pashto-language films bought in Southall and Pakistani films acquired in Tooting. There are a number of ways through which it might be possible to track and trace the circulatory dynamics of cinema. Any such methodology should ask similar questions about the material carriers and incarnations of a moving-image artifact as the ones anthropologists ask about social groupings. These would include questioning what societal possibilities does a moving-image carrier possess and to what extent can it be seen, on a case-by-case basis, to have realized these potentialities.
Media piracy’s capacity to archive popular culture can be shown through a focus on the migration of media and an examination of the processes of transferring and transcoding to more modern carriers and the fate of older carriers as they are relegated by processes of creative destruction. The practices of transfer and reproduction change the film, creating new kinds of objects, which include degradation, enhancements, cuts, and re-edits. The focus on surfaces and material aesthetics highlights the visible marks of data transfer, revealing the circulatory dynamics of migratory media, how these things move, what drives them, and how they are changing along the way.
 Ramon Lobato, Shadow economies of cinema: Mapping informal film distribution. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 43.
 Brian Larkin, Signal and noise: media, infrastructure, and urban culture in Nigeria (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 1.
 Gregory F Treverton, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2009), 95.
The ice sculpture featured on the meltingperson.com home page resembles a gingerbread figure, except for the two sharp points of its outstretched hands. It's a familiar shape; a web search for “church logo clip art person” or “family logo clip art person” illustrates the widespread use of such figures to convey generic togetherness and joy. Pointy arms also appear regularly on the signage at athletics events, paired with long leaping legs and a slender torso.
The Melting Person is the central visual motif of a body of work by Jasper Spicero that exemplifies his narrative-driven artistic practice. He creates sculptural objects and installations to serve as props and sets for photographs, which are then published as part of expansive web-based fictions.
The latest of these online fictions, meltingperson.com, is loosely modeled after a missing persons database. The site is designed in what feels like a custom WordPress theme, with a metal gray background color and industrial design flourishes that evoke the early 2000s. As in a common blog format, entries are listed on the right-hand side and organized by date, though some appear to be missing.
These entries contain documents that, in Spicero’s words, “piece together a narrative about a missing family member, automotive production, health care, Japanese private detectives and video game development.” They include letters, articles, a screenplay, and a chronology of the first ten years of the Kansas Association of Private Investigators (KAPI). The posts weave together in satisfying ways, but the overall picture feels always just slightly out of reach.
A woman is missing; her car is discovered, submerged. A private investigator becomes convinced that she was murdered by her abusive parents. Later, a letter from the woman emerges, suggesting that she is actually alive and well. Did she fake her own death? Can the date and signature of the letter be trusted?
The woman’s name is Ashlin; her letter is addressed to someone named “Reven AC 52,” and it recounts the story of her brother Sam, explaining his difficulties with alcoholism, his tendency to exaggerate their father’s abusiveness, and his death. Sam died after being run over by twenty-one cars, an almost unbelievably grisly scenario. His body could not be viewed: Was it possible he, too, was still alive?
Along with these documents, meltingperson.com features a full-length original soundtrack by Kota Hoshino, a composer known for his work on videogames such as Armored Core, Evergrace, Echo Night, and Lost Kingdoms. Hoshino is credited on the site; clicking on his name gives a full list of his game composing credits and a Wikipedia-sourced headshot. All of this makes Hoshino seem less like a collaborator than a character within the narrative.
So what does any of this have to do with the Melting Person? The most concrete clue comes in a post dated December 2000: a fragment of screenplay credited to Foy Sledge, founder of the Kansas Association of Private Investigators, bearing the title "Melting Person." The screenplay is set some years in the future, and as a kind of fiction within a fiction, it somehow seems like the most trustworthy account of the events outlined in meltingperson.com. When an unnamed woman throws her dog tags into a river in Sledge's fictional script, this reads as the most authoritative explanation for Ashlin's disappearance.
Another possible explanation: melting. People made of ice have no essence of their own; they are formed by a mold, and held fast in that predetermined shape. As they melt, they take on the shape of their surroundings, and gain the ability to pass through previously impermeable boundaries like fences and grates. The ice sculptures in the “Melting Person” series are often photographed on top of these types of barriers, captured in a moment before they pass through to the other side.
The missing person has already passed through, leaving a gap that engenders an awareness of uncertainty. One of the documents on meltingperson.com includes a grid of indeterminate images of people, their features rendered in a kind of nondescript blur. They function like the child's faces on milk cartons, the AMBER alerts that hit every smartphone in the office at the same time. Are they alive or dead? What happened to them? Might it also happen to us?
Conjuring this uncertainty, the missing person holds narrative completion at bay. The missing person, like the melting person, also resists enclosure.
In Lev Manovich's now-famous formulation, the database and the narrative are competing imaginary forms that structure our world. Database-driven representations are more open-ended and less ordered than narrative ones: "Web sites never have to be complete;" he wrote, "and they rarely are." meltingperson.com can be said to resist narrative ordering in both its form—the database, and its subject matter—missing persons.
Databases are generally associated less with open-endedness than with the muted horrors of bureaucracy, in which the fear and pain and misery of human experience is reduced to data and evidence. In the case of the missing persons database, the incompleteness of the data it contains—the whereabouts and fates of its subjects—is precisely the source of these dark feelings.
But meltingperson.com fills this horror-tinged form with an unsettling sense of longing. In this narrative world, presence may open one up to conflict and abuse, while absence comes across a state of open-ended possibility, a form of escape. Like the AMBER alert and the milk carton photograph, meltingperson.com offers a sense of fascination as well as dread.
Might it also happen to us? Indeed it might.
Rhizome's 2015-2016 commissions are made possible by the Jerome Foundation, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and New York State Council on the Arts.
Cheryl Donegan's residency and exhibition "Scenes + Commercials" is ongoing at the New Museum, Rhizome's institutional affiliate, through April 10. Alongside the exhibition, Rhizome is presenting Donegan's 1997 online work Studio Visit, which was commissioned as part of the Dia's still-ongoing series of Artist Web Projects and included in the ArtBase, Rhizome's archive of net art and new media.
Many of Cheryl Donegan's works could be characterized as the continuation of painting by other means. As curator Lynne Cooke noted in an introductory text for the work in 1997,
her preferred media are video, performance, and installation, and her recurrent points of reference film, MTV video, modern decor, and the mass media. By such means, she addresses canonical subjects in modern painting: the traditional relation between artist and model, the purported autonomy and nonreferentiality of abstract art, the topos of the heroic, gestural painter.
With Studio Visit, these themes are explored through the "codified ritual" of the studio visit, which is represented as a multilinear narrative using the basic elements of the web--HTML, frames, gifs, a wav file.
I spoke with Donegan about the work via email.
MC: Was this your first artwork for browser-based viewing? How did you approach it?
CD: Yes. I remember at the time feeling confused about “interactive,” which was a buzzword on the early web, ‘cause all the “interactivity” seemed to be just clicking….so I decided not try for a fancier concept of interaction, and that is when the idea of Studio Visit came up-- I wanted the viewer to wander through my images without explanation, with gifs providing surprises…like one of those old-fashioned advent calendars.
MC: The landing page of Studio Visit greets visitors with icons which represent important recurring motifs in your practice: a thumbprint, a plastic jug, and a cigarette pack, alongside a strip of film that seems to signal the mediated nature of the encounter one is about to have.
CD: I was using those icons in painting and video at the time, and the environment of the computer screen (photoshop, illustrator) was a nice place to play with the images and not have to worry about the formal qualities of either medium... The lack of an “object” was freeing, as I was struggling with that in the studio. There was the temptation to use photo to “capitalize” on the video imagery, but that never held anything for me, so exploring new media seemed- why not?
MC: In the New Museum publication distributed at your current show, you use the word "Compression" to describe the process of translating from three-dimensional objects and surfaces to the thinness of the digital image. Are these four icons an example of compression?
CD: I don’t know if I would have articulated it as “compression” then, but I think I had the idea, from a painting project with video that I showed in Soho at Basilico Fine Arts in 1997, of the “retrospective development”, meaning that you could look to the past and see the future forming…like in a studio visit. So compressing the past and future….
MC: In one sequence, there are forty webcam-style thumbnails in which you're painting, chatting on the phone, etc., all shown at a skewed angle with an icon representing a video camera (or possibly a plastic jug) trained on it. This was the era of Jennicam, when there was a fascination with lifecasting even when the web was very slow and lo-fi. In the webcam sequence on Studio Visit, the still images cycle through on their own, as if they are being broadcast live from a real low-bandwidth webcam, but the visitor can also click through them at a faster pace, which reveals that they are in fact pre-recorded. Was Studio Visit intended to feel like an experience that unfolded in real time, or in a particular real time of the web?
CD: Time was funny here, as artists seemed to be very excited about the promise of the web (virtual reality and all that…). But most of the web projects I remember seeing were disappointing, because people tried to be really ambitious with the technology and it just wasn’t there yet. I deliberately tried to do 'less than' the web was capable of at the time so that it would work! So it sort of unfolded in lame time….
MC: I'm also very interested in the sequence in which the user advances through several frames, causing paint to drip. It seems to connect with your interest in gesture and surface.
CD: I remember thinking about “interactivity” as I said above, it was such a buzz word then, so I was apt to question it. I just I wanted the viewer to feel that the interaction could be a MARK, but one they did/didn’t make as it was a preprogrammed command. A lot of early web design was mouse over and stuff, where you had to search the page for hotlinks and other arty stuff!!!!
MC: You made this project at a time when it was a bit more possible for artists to have a studio in New York City, and your site feels in some ways like a translation of that experience to the web. Many people now say that the internet replaces the studio for many artists, often out of necessity. Were you commenting in some way on this relationship?
CD: Well that relation didn’t exist then ( the instagram market etc…) I made those works in a small, windowless cheap studio in TRIBECA….as if any young artist goes studio hunting there now! HA@! But it IS funny…I didn’t even have personal web site until the 2010’s and I remember when most galleries were like _ why do we need a website….? They still used faxes! It’s all changed….but don’t forget the my husband Kenneth Goldsmith started ubuweb.com at around the same time- it’ll be 20 this year! He really was an early adopter and his influence on me has been enormous.
RAUM 115, a small seminar space on the first floor of the Universität der Kunste (UdK), Berlin, is mostly used to show student films and presentations. Two wooden desks are placed to the right of the room in front of a large blank wall, with sofas, chairs, and a 3D projector facing opposite.
In this nondescript classroom, every month or so an eclectic crowd gather for discussions hosted by the Research Centre for Proxy Politics (RCPP), a long-running program organized by Boaz Levin, Vera Tollmann, and Maximilian Schmoetzer in association with Hito Steyerl and her class at UdK. RCPP’s workshops and lectures usually run for several hours, shifting with ease from tech tutorials, aesthetic philosophy, and political activism to Neolithic anthropology, e-waste, and astrology.
The program has been running since January 2015, and I have attended all but a few of the meetings. Guests have so far have included artists, writers, academics, activists, and technicians (often overlapping at least two) such as Zach Blas, Louis Henderson, Tiziana Terranova, Paul Feigelfeld, Manuela Winbeck, Charles Stankievech, and Wendy Chun. Slated for 2016 are Oleksiy Radynski, Francis Hunger, Philipp Borgers, Harry Sanderson, Ben Vickers, and Brian Holmes. Most meetings revolve around four recurring questions: How could resistance be created in the context of network technologies like data and algorithms? Could such processes be hacked? What technical processes must be understood in order to produce political action? What is the role of art in times of emergency?
The first workshop is filled mostly with Steyerl’s students, or the tourist equivalent thereof, in Berlin to attend Transmediale and CTM. It is led by artist and writer Zach Blas who starts by discussing his text “Contra-Internet Aesthetics” (inspired by Paul B. Preciado's Contrasexual Manifesto). It is appropriate for Blas to begin the program, as the essay ends with a series of bullet points summarizing a polemic often referred to:
What generates the most discussion, however, is Blas’s project Facial Weaponization Suite, a workshop that aims to develop forms of collective and artistic protest against facial recognition technologies. Blas explains that the masks create anonymity by confusing visual patterns, the kind a camera uses when travelling through airport terminals, for example. Questions focus on the warped, often colorful, shapes that are produced, and what functional value they actually hold as a protest (or opposition) to surveillance, or in other words, their utility.
This approach of artistic research continued with a screening and Q&A from filmmaker Louis Henderson, showing his work All that is solid (2014), a documentary essay that links e-recycling and neocolonialism in the waste ground of Accra and illegal gold mines in other parts of Ghana. The film cuts between screenshots of Google searches, ethnographic footage reminiscent of Jean Rouch, and 3D renderings of the mines to link together the globalized production of digital equipment and its material resource (along with the waste and mass exploitation involved).
An excerpt from the film’s synopsis outlines this attempt at proximity concisely:
This is a film that takes place. In between a hard place, a hard drive, and an imaginary, a soft space – the cloud that holds my data. And in the soft grey matter, Contained within the head.
A possible link between Blas and Henderson is their attempt to describe specific technological processes—or in Blas’s case, how these could be imaginatively countered—contextualizing their effects within broader contexts and histories, such as colonialism and surveillance. While the works enable a framework through which to understand the implications of new technical processes, representations of data and networks via CGI (or screen recordings) avoids exploring in detail the visual representation or link, of an algorithm to its effect on political agency.
Unfortunately, this often breaks down the precise and comparative scope of the project (in contrast to later meetings), and offers a limited discussion of problems that arise from efforts to represent algorithmic logic: data, networks, and the power structures that govern them, a task that artists seem well-equipped to tackle.
There is a question from Hito Steyerl, it isn’t fully answered here or anywhere else, but seems important to remember: As an artist, does Henderson find it increasingly necessary to provide answers to overt political questions while discussing his own work during screenings and artist talks (or perhaps the reverse, does he find himself trying to provide one)?
Screenshot of video by Sheryl Gilbert, YouTube.
A month later in February, the theorist/activist Tiziana Terranova presented her current research into “social” networks and Foucault, with an essay aptly titled “Securing the Social.” The workshop began with the infamous quote from Margaret Thatcher, “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”
Discussing the topos of networks and data visualizations, alongside outlining her essay, Terranova impressively argued that neoliberalism has found in social media the techniques of which the “social” can finally be known (something it has denied for so long), or in other words:
“Sentiment analysis” and various types of “social analytics” […] make networks, relationships, communities and patterns visible, working with the logic of individual expression. These techniques can operate in real-time, revealing constant fluctuations in social activity, just as prices reveal constant fluctuations in economic activity.
I am reminded of another Thatcher quote in response, though a less known one: “Economics are the method, but the object is to change the heart and soul.”
Terranova concluded her workshop by introducing the Robin Hood Minor Asset Management Group, a cooperative that works as a form of financial investment similar to a hedge fund—analyzing big data, writing algorithms, deploying web-based technologies, and engineering financial instruments to create and distribute profit to members (their tagline is “hacking finance”).
The cooperative is registered in Finland, and operates under EU regulations and Finnish law—it has a board of directors (which Terranova is on) that monitors operations and members sign up by purchasing a single share (more can be bought). Along with profit being distributed to members, a portion is invested in projects via an open call once a year. I go into detail because it seems important to note this structure: similar to hedge funds in its organization, yet somewhat symbolic (like a provocation). What is interesting with this type of activism (if it can be called that) is its redefinition of the term. Their website reads, “Robin Hood is another way to Occupy Wall Street,” but unlike the “local” action of Occupy, it begins to confront the abstract forces of capital that make such action impotent (or at least partially so).
Compared with others in the program, the intention of working within areas like the financial sector rearranges the question of alternative or subversive action for both artists and activists: What would agitprop look like now with these new criteria? Is “making visible” structures of oppression or control still useful? What role does art have in both criticizing such structures, and building new ones?
At the end of Terranova’s talk, someone in the back of the room timidly asked, “So...what can we do now, how can we act, and what would action look like?” Though no model would be perfect, Terranova said, shrugging and looking back at her laptop jokingly, ideas must be tried and tested in practice if we are to find workable alternatives for the future.
It isn’t until later in the year that I am able to get to another meeting, unfortunately missing Paul Feigelfeld (of the vital Refugee Phrasebook), Manuela Winbeck, Tatiana Bazzichelli, and Eben Chu. It’s November, and the afternoon is led by Charles Stankievech, a curator, writer, and artist who replies to every question with an enthusiastic “That’s a great question!”
Focusing on strategies to access military ecologies and infrastructure, the “visible invisible” or “security through obscurity,” as described it in the outline, Stankievech introduces “Counterintelligence,” an exhibition he curated in 2013, and “The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond,” a series of photographs and videos produced during a residency as “War Artist” at the Canadian Forces Station Alert on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.
Double agents and whistleblowing: the FBI exhibited alongside Donald Judd. Can this kind of work go beyond the symbolic territory of cultural production and into the political? Is this the desired effect?
Much like Blas and Henderson, Stankievech begins with the empirical—images or documents from a site, process, or object—and develops a framework to contextualize these in wider terms. The exhibition “Counterintelligence” in particular brought up a discussion about the use of narrative in making planetary scale military technology perceptible (or at least comprehensible), perhaps as a counter to the NSA’s so-called “Treasure Map.”
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker using Dreamscopeapp. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.
The last lecture held in 2015, delivered by Wendy Chun and titled “New Media is Wonderfully Creepy,” took place in a much larger room at the back of the university. Trained in systems design, and with extensive experience in hardware research, Chun, explaining the title, said, “New media technologies provoke both anxiety and hope: anxiety over surveillance and hope for empowerment. These two reactions complement rather than oppose each other, by emphasizing how exposure is necessary in order for networks to function.”
Through specific examples, she elucidated the intersection of surveillance, control, and consumer tendencies in computing processes, and the material conditions within which these exist. One example was Amazon’s use of consumer data—the company-recommended books, DVDs, and other products based on highlighted sentences from Kindle users. As Chun puts it, “reading is writing for somebody else.” (This also accounts for surveillance systems that follow a similar logic.)
What Chun points to is that new technological infrastructures require a rethinking of individual and collective agency, as privacy is privatized, and individual deviation is swallowed by pattern recognition and predictive governmentality.
In a passage from her book Programming Vision, this analysis of soft/hardware and its concomitants such as naturalizing economic hierarchies or predicting consumer tendencies, expands on sentiments expressed earlier by Terranova:
In our so-called post-ideological society, software sustains and depoliticizes notions of ideology and ideology critique. People may deny ideology, but they don’t deny software—and they attribute to software, metaphorically, greater powers that have been attributed to ideology. Our interactions with software have disciplined us, created certain expectations about cause and effect, offered us pleasure and power—a way to navigate our neoliberal world—that we believe should be transferrable elsewhere. It has also fostered our belief in the world as neoliberal; as an economic game that follows certain rules.
In the following sentence, Chun goes on to outline the important aesthetic problem involved in this analysis (possibly explaining the current interest shared by both artists and theorists) that could describe RCPP as a whole:
The notion of software has crept into our critical vocabulary in mostly uninterrogated ways. By interrogating software and the visual knowledge it perpetuates, we can move beyond the so-called crisis in indexicality toward understanding the new ways in which visual knowledge—seeing/visible reading as knowing—is being transformed and perpetuated, not simply rendered obsolete or displaced.
Directly after Chun, Steyerl gave an impromptu presentation of a text she was working on at the time about big data and pattern recognition. Drawing a line of thought via Google algorithms, the George Michael song “Outside,” and Putin’s face appearing in a Starling cloud, the discussion landed on an appropriate topic.
Today, when mining includes data as well as coltan, and protests turn into holograms, new knowledge and visual imagery must be produced to negotiate these landscapes. Yet, Steyerl continued, at present this resembles a kind of apophenia (a human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random information), a political act used to produce credit ratings and implicate citizens in illegal activities.
A visual analogy for this process is inceptionism, the resulting images of which can be found online, where creatures and shapes emerge from pixelated imagery. These alien-like results are due to algorithms failing to recognize a variety of objects and signs, instead projecting a coherency onto the picture so it can be understood.
Paraphrasing György Lukács, Steyerl concludes, “The typical characters (or protagonists) of realism embody the objective social forces of their time. It is these images that embody the ‘objective’ technological force of ours. In this sense, they are a deeply realist representation.”
At the end of this last meeting, a question was asked that neatly tied together the academic nature of the conversations, the audience (mostly art students) and a possible outcome: “What are the tools we could use to produce images of algorithms, networks, and data—of both complex soft/hardware and the resulting hope and anxiety (as Wendy Chun puts it)—and how could we make or find them?”
Hito ironically responded, “Go outside!”
To go from there will require collaborative thinking and practice, from aesthetic analysis, legal and economic know-how, to coding and direct action alike. It means building a vocabulary that can be mobilized; a task that RCPP and their participants are working hard to produce.
Top Image: Screenshot of ALL THAT IS SOLID, 2014 by Louis Henderson.
 Omar Kholeif (ed.), You Are Here: Art After the Internet (Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications, 2014), 90.
 William Davies, quoted in Tiziana Terranova, “Securing the Social: Foucault and Social Networks,” see https://www.academia.edu/11258389/Securing_the_social_Foucault_and_Social_Networks
 Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Vision (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 92.