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  • 08/09/17--13:41: The Human in the Loop
  • This text accompanies the presentation of Data Diaries as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology

    “People were listening to nothing but machines. And these machines weren’t playing songs, or anything even remotely narrative, but instead seemed to be playing loops. Simple loops. Loops that seemed to be stuck! Five minutes would pass, and there would hardly be any difference in the music. This was pure, cheap, plastic, battery-powered machine music.” —Cory Arcangel

    “We are drawn into the pattern and held inside it, impaled, as it were, on its bristling hooks and spines. This pattern is a mind-trap, we are hooked, and this causes us to relate in a certain way to the artifact which the pattern embellishes.” —Alfred Gell

    The background patterns on Cory Arcangel’s Data Diaries website (2003) bristle with hooks and spines. Small sets of grayscale points, repeating endlessly, create patterns that crackle with static. They’ve been gentrified by my retina screen, losing some of their rawness and crunch, but they still catch my mind, transporting me to Liverpool, 2004.

    Cory came to Liverpool that year for a residency and exhibition, toting under his arm a giant roll of black-and-white screen prints. They were the leftovers from The Infinite Fill Show, an open-submission exhibition that he and Jamie Arcangel staged at Foxy Production in New York. They invited artists to submit works using the kind of repeating, black-and-white patterns that were used to give a sense of depth on the monochromatic displays of early Macintosh computers. 

    Remember back when computers couldn’t display colors? Think 1984, 1985,...Back before computers could airbrush, show photos, write emails, or play music they were black and white. To make up for the lack of colors, computers used 16-bit monochrome patterns to fake color. These patterns are called INFINITE FILL PATTERNS! 

    Infinite, because the computer would repeat them again and again, potentially endlessly. The infinite of infinite fill was the promise of algorithmic automation, of endless repetition with no material cost, at the stroke of a key. Remediating the patterns in analog form involved the opposite: a huge amount of material and labor.

    Cory’s project in Liverpool included a residency with FACT, a media arts center where I worked as a curator. He’d been invited under the auspices of the collaboration program, which paired contemporary artists with local community groups to create new works. His plan was to create infinite fill patterns and animations with a group of young people, members of a youth group called Interchill, and to set up an open-access green screen video studio.

    The infinite fill pattern turned out to be a perfect basis for this collaboration, and not only because of their extreme simplicity. The results, with their black-and-white, low-tech aesthetic, seemed to strike some nerve for the Liverpool youth of 2004. They set up a green screen studio in the space, covered it in infinite fill patterns, designed infinite fill animations for the chromakey, made infinite fill clothes, and recorded carefully choreographed dance numbers to DJ Casper and Jamelia.

    When the exhibition opened, members of the public could use the space to create their own videos, taking the VHS tapes home with them. I walked into the center one evening to find music playing at high volume while a group of kids rapped in front of infinite fill quasars. Grime, with its pared-down beats and its raw, blown-out sound, had emerged from the pirate radio stations in London and take its place in the hardcore continuum of UK music. The 16-bit infinite fill patterns were almost a visual analog for the alternating patterns of eight-bar rhythms used in many grime tracks, not to mention their protean, low-tech sound.

    The affinity is more than coincidence. In making use of template-driven digital production, Cory follows in the footsteps of Kraftwerk by way of techno pioneer Jeff Mills, a trajectory charted by writer and artist Kodwo Eshun in his 1999 book More Brilliant Than the Sun:

    As Kraftwerk realized, sound machinery de-skills and dephysicalizes music, allowing “thinking and hearing” precedence over “gymnastics.” Practicing is no longer necessary. The musician becomes an electronic programmer, a push-button percussionist who taps ENTER with the fingertips.

    Embracing the tools of automation at the expense of traditional authorship, Cory is the push-button percussionist of the art world. But throughout his embrace of the digital, he differs with Kraftwerk by placing emphasis on materiality. In the case of the infinite fill zone, he placed focus on the form and function of infinite fill patterns in the digital realm, while also remediating them into a series of new analog substrates, from textile to VHS.

    Per Eshun, it was Jeff Mills who famously played with the materiality of techno music and its substrates.

    Pulsating lock grooves, pauses between tracks, reverse grooves, wider than normal grooves: Mills uses a series of remastering operations to alter the direction of revolution: neither forward nor reverse but cyclic.

    Working within templates, but making subtle interventions into their materiality, Arcangel mines a similarly cyclic and materialist artistic vein. However, the gesture of inhabiting the machine meant something different for Mills than it does for Arcangel. Mills is a black artist from Detroit who rose to prominence in a city where workers, many of them black, could once earn a salary on the assembly line, buy a house, and organize. By the 1980s, this was no longer the case. Mills brought a radical black politics to his techno music, particularly as part of Underground Resistance (UR), which argued for a possibility of self-reinvention through technology, through techno.

    Instead of retreating from machinic mutation back into an ethics of sound, UR is mutation-positive. The sampler is a mandate to recombinate—so it’s useless lamenting appropriation. Resisting replication is like doing without oxygen. the sampler doesn’t care who you are.

    The sampler may not care who you are, but Eshun argues elsewhere in More Brilliant than the Sun that white culture can never achieve the alien, mutant status embraced by UR. And of course the gesture of inhabiting the machine, of embodying the principles of automation and mutation and replication, could never mean the same thing for Cory, a white Buffalonian, that it meant for Mills. Likewise, the use of lo-fi technology to create deceptively simple patterns that repeat ad infinitum could never mean the same thing for Arcangel that it meant for Youngstar.

    For Eshun, white culture’s embrace of automation tends not toward mutation but toward fascination. But Arcangel finds another way. His use of automation focuses so heavily on the mundane that it can feel like a cynical take on the changing role of the artist in digital culture, a joke about the fruitlessness of cultural production in the digital age. He programs his home computer, but doesn’t bring himself into the future. Instead, he programs himself into a loop.

    Welcome to the Infinite Fill Zone began from a mundane position, but it opened up into a riot of sound and pattern–thanks to the work of the participants in Arcangel’s workshop. Data Diaries, which used infinite fill patterns as a visual motif, is more typical of the truly rote, repetitive nature of much of Arcangel’s work. In this case, he followed the same process each day, translating the contents of his hard drive (a data-trash mixture of human-readable and machine-readable information) into abstract imagery.

    It is clear from Arcangel’s work that he loves this repetition; the infinite fill patterns that decorate the Data Diaries website express this love. This love for the rote and the repetitive is what keeps him from falling into white culture’s usual trap of mere fascination with technology’s newness.

    For evidence, look beyond the infinite fill zone to what is perhaps the most Cory of all Cory projects, AUDMCRS. The project was a meticulous online catalog of a record collection sourced from underground dance DJ Joshua Ryan. In an interview accompanying the project’s launch as part of the First Look online exhibition series at New Museum in 2013, Lauren Cornell asked Arcangel why he wanted to devote himself to such an “obsessive, time-consuming project.” His response:

    I guess I wanted to treat these records with the utmost respect. You knew me in the ’90s so you know I went through a pretty hard techno/trance phase. This culture means a lot to me and I wanted to portray that. Treating them this way also plays with the discrepancy between the current cultural worth of these records (zero) and the true long-term value of them (unlimited).

    For Cory, the loop is an undervalued cultural form; the fact that dance music production is template-driven, near-automated, should not detract from its cultural value.

    The question of value is central. Several times throughout More Brilliant than the Sun, Eshun quotes Human Use of Human Beings by cybernetics pioneer Norbert Wiener, a text that foresaw a devaluation of human labor, and therefore human life, in the computer age. Writing in the years after World War II, as the American workforce was retrained to produce cars and television sets, Weiner noted that “the automatic machine is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor.” For Eshun, this helps explain both Black music’s embrace of the machine, and the critical establishment’s failure to take machine-made music seriously.

    This is why, in Arcangel’s work, it is particularly important to understand the embrace of the repetitive, the machine-made, the seemingly mundane, as a political position driven by affection and care. For the teenagers in Liverpool who worked with him, this was implicitly obvious. They didn’t have access to the world of contemporary art, but they had a certain knowledge that came from their place of birth, a defiantly working-class port city that had been a point on the triangle of the transatlantic slave trade, and later became a battleground in the struggle for labor rights and human dignity under Thatcher. They saw the potential in turning a limited palette into a riot of pattern and volume, and they did so with gusto.


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    I love Slack. It’s the perfect application of an amorphous office messaging-meets-productivity conceptit provides a break from the constant shadow of my perpetual email-anxiety, and actually creates a space for productive, customizable creative content-sharing and collaborations. Last week, a Slack team I’m a part of engaged in an exchange of slick startup interiors sourced from various Pinterest “#goals” moodboards that bordered on the cleanly sinister. I’ve also recently been part of an indulgent group investigation of the hidden lyrical content of twelve-year-old-rap-prodigy Matt Ox. The jury is still out on whether or not this sort of inspired link-sharing is conducive to my at-work productivity, but it has led me to consider the link between the respective practice of the recreational Slack team and the mid-2000s internet artist surfing club. I’ve spent a lot of time online with both surf clubs and the Slack teamsin my research and work life, respectivelyand although it’s not a connection that seems obvious at first, you can trace a direct narrative of influence through both operations. Each highlights the use of a default social platform in an interpretive, discerning fashion that’s representative of the shift in the professional, artistic, and social web.

    Slack’s primary manifestation is that of a digital watercooler, acting as the now near-essential platform for communications in the workplace, with conversations sorted into delineated, user-generated, and customized channels for the management of assorted projects and different branches of organizations. Slack’s user interface synthesizes the most successful elements of contemporary social media tools: it combines a Twitter-like use of hashtags and @ replies, the brevity and casual tone of instant messaging applications (a recent addition was a status feature, not unlike the 2000s AIM “away message”), and a tiered-thread system that recalls message-board platforms of the last decade, in the vein of Facebook comment threads or Livejournal communities. It adapts these for a casual corporate atmosphere, with the encouragement of emoji usage (🔥🔥🔥!) and a GIPHY integration that allows for off-the-cuff GIF-sharing. Slack communication is less loaded than sending off a company-wide email, and the structure allows for more organized delineation of tasks and searchable records of communication. The largest disparity between Slack and email, though, is the element of the personal: while email is restricted to a pre-established professional vernacular and a top-down power dynamic of correspondence, Slack evolves with the team using it. The vocabulary and conversation style of an organization’s Slack team becomes a microcosm of the organization’s office culture as a whole, and allows for an even playing field of communication (or the perception of one) among all team members. Slack is also completely private, restricting any sort of outside voyeurism or participation in a team’s exchange; a noted lack of public advertising for the platform brings with it an air of exclusivity that encourages further team-building on each group’s private corner of the social web.

    My personal (and aforementioned) Slack proclivity, the recreational channel, is also a common occurrence across the board; they’re created as platforms for collaborators and co-workers to share content not directly pertaining to projects at hand. These forums for link and media sharing often highlight the absurd, or carve out niche interests for a group. Teams I surveyedranging from artist’s studios, to nonprofits, fashion magazines, and media giantshave channels dedicated to #lunch, the Kardashians, a tracker of the rampant White House cabinet departures, #fyi, and net art link-sharing. These channels open up discussions and create a celebration of content found through workday web flânerie, embracing the individual members’ varying experiences of the internet through a common and unique argot established by the ongoing exchanges within Slack. On a larger scale, public Slack teams exist that anyone can join, even outside of a workplace; these topic-specific organizations function with sometimes thousands of users and are cataloged on various directories, including Slack List.

    This action of remotely sharing and building a visual and verbal environment sourced from web contentnow, perhaps a common habit of most social web usersrecalls a practice once reserved to internet artist surfing clubs, who championed the use of a pre-established default platform (such as Blogger or Wordpress) as a means of collaboration and media-sharing.Nasty Nets (2006-2012), the inaugural surf clubsituated itself within the foundation of web 2.0’s burgeoning social landscape. At the time of a new amateur web, Nasty Nets worked within the architecture of a default Wordpress blog and filtered through the proliferating amateur digital content that had yet to be appropriately organized by hierarchized search engines and filter bubbles, bringing on other artists in an act of performative media-sharing. In one outstanding act of exchange, Nasty Nets responded to a post created by Michael Bell-Smith titled “the post where we share awesome gradients.” The members in the resulting comment threadJoel Holmberg, John Michael Boling, Borna Sammak, Marisa Olson, Brian Blomerth, and Olia Lialinaresponded by sharing their favorite found-default gradients, engaging in a celebratory exchange of the essential background element of early amateur corporate web design.

    The idea of a surf “club,” though, brought criticism from an earlier era of net artists, who interpreted the invite-based groups as a departure from the openness of listserves and artist communities of web 1.0. However, this remote application of the artists’ collective developed in response to the new social web and, in itself, created a new method of organizing information found online and creating a dialogue appropriate for a new era of digital interaction. Surfing became artmaking in its own right, and a means of community-building, something shared with the practice of workplace recreational Slack channels. Surf clubs facilitated the development of the internet-aware generation of artists that participated in them, building the foundational visual and intellectual vernacular for post-internet artmaking.

    Although it’s doubtful that Slack’s design modus operandi was to build something that functioned as a surf club (Slack was actually born out of an in-office productivity system for a defunct online game run by Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield), it’s worth recognizing the web-based tradition of organizing content as a means of sharing and facilitating a common ground and demeanor in an organization, in an artistic or a professional setting. The e-meeting place roots itself in acts of sharing and collaborating, and using a pre-established platform for a means of innovation and community-building. The difference between the practices lies in the transparency of the surf and the Slack; surf clubs operated performatively due to the public nature of the blog, while Slack exchanges are exclusively restricted to team members. The closed nature of Slack does not lend itself to be historicized or archived outside of the platform’s internal records itself, further marking a trajectory of the privatized surf, and a step further removed from an artistic method. It may be bleak, but we’ve reached a point in the social web that normalizes a culture of surfing-as-habit, versus practice, and Slack (and other social platforms) don’t require or command outside criticism or viewership—performativity, then, inside the digital watercooler lies in the collaboration within the organization—not by forming the dynamics of the burgeoning social-artistic web, but by pushing the boundaries of the office in the age of the internet.


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    On February 5, 2017, German lawmakers unveiled a bill that would make fake news illegal. But before post-truth was named 2016’s word of the year and counterfeit news articles came to dominate real headlines—from teens in Macedonia publishing spurious articles about Donald Trump to Kremlin trolls spreading disinformation via social media—the New York-based digital agency 4REAL was already contriving canny confusion. The agency, founded by artists Analisa Teachworth and Slava Balasanov, developed CloneZone, an easy-to-use tool which facilitates making a clone of an existing website. Released on April Fool’s Day in 2015, the tool offered a simple way to create and share fake articles, initially letting the user imitate the design of authoritative news sites like The New York Times or The New Yorker while adapting the text and images however they wanted, making possible clones that were convincing except for the URL which gave away their falsity. Now, two years later, 4REAL is launching Relevant, an app that responds to the problem of fake news by offering a tool to vet articles through community voting.


    CloneZone, in many ways, drew attention to the ease at which fake news circulates unquestioned. In 2015, Teachworth and Balasanov kicked off their exploratory art project by posting a clone of a TechCrunch article (now offline) announcing that their start-up had been funded to the tune of $1.8 million. After sharing on Facebook and Twitter, the artists were shocked by how successful their hoax had been. “The fake article turned out to be way more believable than we were anticipated with likes and reposts rollin[g] in right away,” Balasanov wrote in a Medium post, later adding, “Whenever we go out to a social event we inevitably end up having to explain that no, we are not rolling in dough and can’t actually afford to buy a bottle of Cristal for everyone.”

    While friends and acquaintances in 4REAL’s social network quickly appropriated the tool for their own hoaxes—for example, artist Nick DeMarco wrote a fake New Yorker article about Williamsburg scientologists and filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko penned faux press about his real film A Wonderful Cloud—CloneZone soon found a diversity of users from all around the world. An early controversy stemmed from a spurious article announcing rule changes for the fantasy game Magic the Gathering. 4REAL was slapped with several cease-and-desist orders, resulting in the agency taking down offending content and adapting the tool so that certain websites (more than forty) are now off-limits for cloning, including newyorker.com, wizards.com, lemonade.fr, and thenewyorktimes.com.

    New York Times web pages are blocked from cloning because of a fake article claiming that Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Authored by comedian Steven Phillips-Horst, the article, with quotes attributed to Warren, a California Senator, and Lena Dunham (lol), is arguably one of the more influential CloneZone hoaxes to date. It was published in the afternoon on April 29, 2016 and by that evening already boasted more than 50,000 views and 15,000 shares on Facebook. The New York Timeseven posted their own article addressing the disinformation.

    With this hoax, CloneZone’s reach extended to the national political stage, where we’ve seen the extensive impact of fake news in recent months. 4REAL’s project precociously underscored the ease at which false information spreads online, disrupting stable notions of fact and fiction, at a moment when we are collectively coming to terms with how to define and regulate propaganda and free speech. CloneZone spotlighted a problem and now Relevant hopes to deliver a solution.

     


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  • 08/16/17--00:50: DIY Reparations
  • This interview accompanies the presentation ofRent-a-Negro as a part of the online exhibitionNet Art Anthology.

    Aria Dean: Can you describe what led you to create rent-a-negro.com?

    damali ayo art archive: This work was created by the artist to advance the collective cultural intelligence, dialogue, vocabulary, and to encourage questions about race relations. The country was at a third grade level of skills when it came to this topic. This work challenged evolved to get the culture to become something, anything more evolved. It was intended to broach the conversations about race that people were afraid to have. That sounds strange because now everyone wants to talk about race but in 2003 when the work was created, that was not the case. People were still whispering the names of racial groups, like “she’s black” as if it were a disease that should not be spoken aloud. People justified their willful ignorance by declaring a timidity or intimidation to discuss matters of race for fear of being accused of doing it wrong. Humor and the mirror of satire were essential to break these habits.

    AD: Can you describe the elements of the project? How did the website and imagined service work?

    daaa: The idea was to list the “services” that white people frequently request from black people and put a price tag on them. To draw attention to the feeling of “being on the clock” that so many people in deliberately underrepresented groups feel when they are forced through unsolicited questioning, social demands, educational institutions, awkward interpersonal interactions, and any number of scenarios to educate people and interact with the willful ignorance and laziness of individuals and our collective culture. It made the idea of being in this position akin to being a mechanic, lawyer, or anyone else paid by the hour or retainer for offering expert advice and counsel. It proposed the notion of compensation which raised the question of “for what?” This illuminated that there was a cost to those in the “rental” position which needed to be paid, not by those in the under-understood groups, but  by those creating, perpetuating, and enjoying a system in which people are treated as objects and servants.

    The elements were an interactive web site where a range of frequently requested services were listed with prices, testimonials from satisfied customers, and a rental request form to ask for a black person to come to your event or organization. Everything on the site was taken from actual experiences—the services were all things that black people were frequently asked to do, the testimonials from satisfied customers were all things people had actually said, and the competitive pricing was based on standard fees for professional services.

    The follow-up performance work was intended to go on actual live rentals, but once the artist received a request to be used for a gang rape in a town twenty minutes away from where she lived, that idea was sidelined.

    AD: Can you tell me about how the project was initially released? How did it disseminate online?

    daaa: It was just uploaded to an EarthLink web server. It was never marketed. There was no such thing as social media. It spread by word of mouth. There was a site called memepool.com that picked it up and spread it around. Rhizome was one of the first places to write about it and recognize it as a work of art.

    AD: How was the project received when it first came out?

    daaa: Droves of emails came in the following categories. Please note this was in 2003 before the ubiquity of social media, trolls, comment threads, the prevalence of blogs, and all the other trappings of the internet. This was in a time when the internet was new and we were just understanding how people use and abuse anonymity. These responses were sent directly to the artist via the website form or sent to her personal account.

    • The first rental request that arrived was from Israel, the artist responded affirmatively, but received no reply.
    • Rental requests continued, most from the United States. Some were 100% serious. Some were from people trying to be funny. Others threatened to gang-rape the artist, or “rent the negro for a gang rape and then be circle-jerked upon” etc. There were a lot of rental requests that involved being lynched and killed in graphic ways.
    • Emails of appreciation from people saying it described their own experience, from Black people but also from Jewish people, Deaf people, and people in wheelchairs.
    • Emails from thankful and amused fellow “rentals,” saying “I sent this to all my co-workers, it says everything I wish I could tell them!”
    • Emails of hate and anger telling the artist she is ugly, confused, and should be “the first black person lynched by other black people.”
    • Emails repeatedly calling the artist a nigger

    Other repercussions:

    • EarthLink (the webhost) threatened to sue the artist for over-using her transfer allotment
    • American Express issued a cease and desist letter to take their logo off the site
    • The site had to be re-hosted in a place where it would not be taken down, which meant a hosting service that also supported mediums that the artist was vehemently against (pornography), because they vowed they would defend her right to have the work on the internet.

    AD: Can you talk a bit about the project’s posturing and address? In some ways Rent-a-Negro seems to address a white audience. At the very least, it seems to resonate differently for white viewers and black viewers. Can you discuss how the work speaks to its audience?

    daaa: The artist has often been accused of addressing white audiences instead of a more inclusive approach, as if addressing the source of an issue is somehow neglecting those impacted by it. This is exemplary of our naive understanding of issues of oppression. The web site was designed to engage “renters” and “rentals” alike. And both groups found powerful identification in both the concept and content.

    But audience wasn’t a main factor in the creation of the work. Experience was. The work strove to communicate the experiences of people in marginalized groups by “dramatizing the issue” (one of the twelve principles of nonviolent social change) through a satirical representation of the day to day interactions between black and white people. In simple terms, it aimed simply to tell the truth.

    AD: The world now has a much more lively discourse about race than at the time rent-a-negro.com was created, can you comment on this?

    daaa: Popular culture’s new fixation on race is fascinating to watch. It’s hip, it’s enlightened, it’s the way to be now. The shallow aspect of that is annoying, but there is real progress—confronting of racism, removal of racist imagery from popular culture, the exposure of the ever-present violence of racism, etc. The ugliness is out in the open where everyone has to deal with it, finally. This is ahead of where we were a decade ago—a step along the path to the vision this work of art held for our species.

    There are great people championing this growth, some who were contemporaries of the art and some who are new and adding their own brilliance to the progress. The cultural shifts have momentum and will continue to evolve. Still, the ignorance-turned-obsession with race continues to mean that artists of color are couched primarily in a racial context, yet now this is seen as something liberating or empowering, In truth, it is reductionist, immature, choking, and dangerous. We can be more sophisticated in our understandings of individuals and of art. One day we will be.

    AD: Yet instead of engaging this new discourse the creator of rent-a-negro.com has chosen to stop making art and discussing race. Why?

    daaa: In 2007 the artist realized she was less and less interested in discussing race. Not only had it begun to bore her, but it was wearing on her mentally and emotionally.  Her art-making on the topic had ceased that year, but her career and financial stability were dependent on her continuing to be a spokesperson on the topic, a “professional black person” as she is described on the back of her 2005 book How To Rent a Negro. This is the harsh reality for artists of color who under the regime of visionary limitation (i.e. a culture who needs to see them as what rather than who) they find themselves pigeon-holed into racialized boxes rather than free in the way artists must be in order to thrive. This isn’t unique to artists of color. Our culture is limited in the way it consumes all art—wanting more of the same and being wary of evolution.  Yet the pressure to make art about oppression takes a psychological toll on artists of color far beyond that of an artist who is expected to continue to paint landscapes. Art must reflect experience. Race, is only one factor in what generates a person’s experience and although a salient one, certainly not a determinative one. In 2012, she officially took the site rent-a-negro.com offline, and began her transition out of speaking about race. She began to explore other themes far more personal and substantive.

    Art eventually became a private practice. Her public works (completed in 2015) are archived on the website damaliayo.com. She does not engage any discussion of race in any way, leaving the room when those conversations arise. True to form, she is years ahead of the culture. Now the cultural conversation, which was so lagging when she created this work, is obsessed with race—and she has moved on.

    In describing her choice to move on the artist has sometimes shared a particularly touching story about her work and her journey: Once while giving a lecture to a university audience, the student who gave the introduction said, “damali plants seeds for trees she will never get to sit under.” Afterwards he gave her a drawing of a tree with the words ‘Thanks for the tree.” The artist describes her departure through that touching metaphor, “All I ever wanted was a world where people of color wouldn’t only be seen just as what we are but for who we are. At some point I saw that the seeds I had planted were sprouting stalks and limbs and leaves. It wasn’t an old-growth evergreen yet, but it was enough to provide me a modicum of shelter. Perhaps I would not be denied the chance to benefit from my own work after all. The time has come to let go of  doing all the educating and changing the world that was needed to create the breathing room I wanted in order to simply be who I am. I decided it was time—time for me to go sit under my tree.”

    AD: Going back to the time the work was made, 2003, after the millennium. What was the relationship to discourse about the internet at the time of Rent-a-Negro’s creation? What was the conversation about the possibilities of the net as it related to identity and race? How did that influence the project?

    daaa: Yes, after the millennium but before the robust arrival of the internet as it is in our lives today. At the time there were three other seminal works of satire on the net which this work joined in creating a moment in art history around internet art, satire, and race. The first was Keith Obadike’s Blackness for Sale where he posted his blackness for sale on eBay. Tremendous. The second was blackpeopleloveus.com a humorous site created by two white comedian siblings who playfully exposed our collective ignorance that created tense and awkward racial interactions. Very funny and very popular. The third is less well known because it did not involve race, but it had a direct impact on the creation of rent-a-negro.com. It was a website called “manmeat.com” (that may or may not be the correct name). It was a satirical website selling human flesh as a culinary staple. Nothing short of genius. The site nailed the design aspect and user interface, it was extremely engaging and convincing satire.

    The possibilities of the internet were new, fresh, and seemingly unlimited. This was a nascent time of the net, where people were saying, “I’ve just heard of this thing called a ‘blog,’ it stands for web-log.” Things were really new. The site was devised as it was in part because the artist had just recently learned how to code a form in html, and wanted a place to put it into action. Embedding a form on the site where people could actually send in requests to “Rent-a-negro” was as much a result of nerdy code development as it was social change inducing, art-making and boundary-pushing.

    There was no intention to create a new art form of race-on-the-net. The art was created simply using the most appropriate medium to talk about a subject that was active and important in the experience of the artist and the world. That’s how conceptual art is made.


    AD: Rent-a-Negro is interesting for a number of reasons of course, but in particular because it toggles the relationship between the blackness as object and black people as embodied subjects. Rent-a-Negro’s logic rests on an assumption of blackness as something to be acquired and owned, but also presupposes the emotional and affective labor power of the black person to-be-rented. Can you explain this thinking when it comes to this object/subject relationship?

    daaa: “Subjective objectification” was a phrase the artist coined at the time of doing this work.  It references the practice of objectifying oneself through the art-making process to illuminate the objectification that others are doing to you. It puts the voice back in the hands of the creator, giving them slightly increased agency over how they are seen, while waking up the lack of sight in those around them. It is beyond the notion of “reclaiming” that we see with slang terms and hateful imagery because it is a direct challenge to those who are enjoying the benefits of living in a world where some are in charge of their own subjectivity and others are cast as objects and servants at the whim of those who enjoy their own agency without a second thought. It raises the question. Can we control how others see us? The answer given is “no, we can’t” but we can make you think twice about what you are really doing. The work all strove to wake people up and see things in ways they had been willfully ignoring. It left viewers no more room for their comfortable denials.

    AD: Finally, what was the artist reading around that time?

    daaa: The work was directly influenced by Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Though, I suppose this question aims to elicit a list of resources about race, but that’s exactly the thing—the artist, every artist, every person—is more than that. At the time she was making this work, the artist was most likely, with translating dictionary in hand, clumsily slogging through Samuel Becket’s play Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot) in the original French.





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  • 08/22/17--10:14: When You Can't Buy, You Rent
  • This essay accompanies the presentation of Rent-a-Negro as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology.

    “I remember years ago… when I would go to a party and I’d be the only colored brother there. And then I’d go to another party, and I’d be the only colored brother there… So now I recognized that there was a prime need to be filled here. So I started my famous Cambridge Rent-a-Negro plan.” - Godfrey Cambridge, 1964

    Having lived in Portland, Oregon since 1997 and exhausted by its white liberal smarminess, in April 2003 conceptual artist damali ayo brought comic and actor Godfrey Cambridge’s concept of ‘rent-a-negro’ to the digital sphere. Online until 2012, her satirical website rent-a-negro.com offered her services as a Black woman with decades of experience to individuals, nonprofits, and corporations who sought to prove their diversity credentials, enliven their pale gatherings, and expose themselves to another culture. The site consisted of wry advertorial web copy, testimonials, pricing for services, and a rental request web form, complete with credit card icons indicating accepted payment methods. Encompassing digital performance, print publication, and public engagement, rent-a-negro.com is a canonical piece of net art, Black art, and ‘art art,’ and deserves a reconsideration in light of today’s extensive commodification of Blackness, identity discourse, and reparations concepts.

    When you can’t buy, you rent. The relegation of slavery to the penal system forced whites of all classes to develop socially and legally feasible means of continuing to extract labor, feeling, flesh, style, and whatever else they wanted from Black people in civil society both online and offline. The foundational expectation of free labor from and total access to Black people would not change just because of the Thirteenth Amendment; as Greg Tate puts it, Black people “continue to find ourselves being sold as hunted outsiders and privileged insiders in the same breath. In a world where we're seen as both the most loathed and the most alluring of creatures we are still the most co-optable and the most erasable of beings too.” Black subjugation and Black success both operate along the principles Tate describes. The concept of “renting” serves to encompass these post-slavery tactics both macro and micro, as well as the way that “we continue to look at Black people in a service mentality,” as ayo states in a 2005 interview.

    The About page of rent-a-negro.com states: “As times have changed the need for black people in your life has changed but not diminished.” At every turn, Black folks are forced to navigate the labyrinth of whiteness, in which it is generally unsafe not to comply with expectations of service. As such, many interactions feel like and are work, and the ostensible paradigm shift of Emancipation only reveals continuity with older forms of subjugation. Black people are expected to feel appreciative of selective, tokenized inclusion in white institutions and circles, all the while knowing we are only put there to titillate them and legitimize their dependence on the continuing exploitation and destruction of Black life. rent-a-negro.com imagines a world where these encounters and expectations of service are paid, and thus recognized as the labor they are.

    Screenshot of rent-a-negro.com (2003) via Wayback Machine. Archived June 3, 2004.

    Maintaining the site itself was an intensive and invasive labor. While presumably some visitors understood the satire, many clearly did not, and ayo received many rental requests, ranging from requests to attend a bridge club to requests for lynchings. She never accepted any of the rental requests, though she responded to a number of emails. Things got out of control quickly; according to Wikipedia, the work received over 400,000 hits in its first month. Eventually ayo realized she wouldn’t be able to deal with the volume of rental request forms and emails she was receiving. Initially, the rental request form stated that the site would respond in 2-3 weeks; however, in a 2005 reading at Karibu books broadcast on CSPAN2 Book TV, ayo states that she received so many rental requests that she eventually modified the web form to respond to requests with: “I’m sorry, our records show that you still have outstanding rental debt with other Black people in your community, and your request has been denied.”

    In 2005, ayo published How to Rent a Negro with Lawrence Hill Books, which serves as a kind of DIY guide. In the same Book TV interview, ayo states that she began writing the book after receiving resumes and cover letters from many Black folks looking to work for the site. Taking on the infotainment format of many early 21st century sites-turned-books, the first half of the text addresses renters, while the latter half addresses rentals. In a writing style and tone that elaborates on the advertorial web copy of rent-a-negro.com, the book provides tips and tricks, real-world examples, sample invoices, sample rental request forms, email exchanges, and more. She also seems to draw from her own personal experiences of ‘being a rental’ in some of the narrative portions of the text, such as a story in the “Stories from the Field” section from grade school where she and a white boy received the highest scores on a quiz in class. She was subsequently punished for her success and pitted against the boy, and states: “No one told me this was a rental and that they wanted me to fail. If I was supposed to get a bad score I would have answered the questions wrong.”

    Image courtesy damali ayo and Lawrence Hill Books.

    While print publication ended the feedback loop engendered by website’s rental request forms, printing some of these forms, email exchanges, and other such material allowed ayo to show proof of the audience’s complicity in the process of anti-Black objectification. This subsumption of audience response into an aspect of the work itself is in line with ayo’s practice more generally, as performance theorist Brandi Wilkins Catanese argues. She points to ayo’s 2001 work ontology, in which a found pair of racist ‘mammy and uncle’ salt and pepper shakers discuss ayo's work. The male shaker says, "her fundamental conceptual strategy is to implicate the spectator as complicit — not only in the society manufacturing such constructs, but in the art itself as audience is unwittingly transformed into medium.” For Catanese, this transformational feedback loop is present in ayo’s site, “as the act of completing the rental form makes site visitors' subjectivity a part of rent-a-negro.com itself.” The abusive exchanges ayo suffered in maintaining the website are also part of the work, and exposing them adds to its meaning. They point to how maintaining the site itself and interacting with people was a kind of rental work.

    To repeat: renting is not new at all. It simply often goes unrecognized as such. As ayo writes in the book’s intro, “the practice of renting has been a long-standing tradition since the end of the days of purchase. Renting takes place on a daily basis, virtually at any time, in nearly any location. Unfortunately much of this renting has occurred without the consent or compensation of those being rented.” Encounters where non-Black people violate our physical and emotional boundaries, expect us to be encyclopedic or represent the entire race, and push for us to legitimize whiteness all rack up the bill; naturally, what comes at a psychic cost can also be conceptualized as warranting payment. This moment of realization may be a useful means of recalibrating one’s relationships, as well as realizing more generally that almost no aspect of human relationships exists outside of the cash nexus. Indeed, later in the book, she advises ‘newly-minted rent-a-negroes’ to “make a list of the people you’ve already worked for. Your first step may to be to issue a series of retroactive bills.”

    Excerpt of a quiz from ayo’s book How to Rent a Negro, from a section titled “How Can I Tell if I’m Being Rented?”

    The conceptual and political position in which draining interracial encounters demand a wage is redolent of Federici’s arguments in Wages Against Housework (1975). She cautions us not to see the argument for waging housework as a lump of money: “The problem with this position is that in our imagination we usually add a bit of money to the shitty lives we have now and then ask, so what?” Instead, the position of seeing this activity as worthy of pay demystifies the wage, reveals its violent relegation of women to a second class: “It is the demand by which our nature ends and our struggle begins because just to want wages for housework means to refuse that work as the expression of our nature.” There are theoretical parallels here with rent-a-negro, which could aso potentially fall victim to a reductive ‘lump of money’ reading. The problem is that anti-Blackness needs to end, and paying Black people to suffer it while letting it continue is not any kind of solution. As Brandi Wilkins Catanese asks, is such behavior really “any less offensive when the objectification that they inflict upon black subjects is coupled with remuneration?” In opposition to this reductive reading, the conceptual and political position of wages for Blackness allows for a refusal to accept the foundational American premise that constant service is an expression of the nature of Blackness.

    Indeed, to me there is a deeper level to ayo’s piece about the commodification of identity and the reductive reading of reparations as simply creating the conditions for Black folks to individually lean in to settler colonial capitalism, to reclaim the piece of the American imperial pie that is owed due to the Middle Passage. In ayo’s framework, this kind of selective, tokenizing inclusion is only more rental of Black people. The process by which some set of activities moves from being seen as natural to a class of people, to being seen as work warranting a wage, should not be confused for reparations. It is subsumption into capitalism, in this case to a particular kind of color-blind market objectivism. ayo satirizes this in the intro to her book: “Strained dynamics have plagued race relations for centuries. What better way to alleviate this tension and move into the future than with honest negotiation of fees for services rendered? Let’s talk business. It’s the American way.”

    Image courtesy damali ayo.

    We should avoid a reductive reading of the work and concept. The point is not to wage experiences of anti-Blackness and keep up business as usual, but to eradicate it entirely. As ayo states regarding her use of the anachronistic pejorative in the work’s title: “I use the word ‘Negro’ very deliberately, and that's because the kind of behaviors that we're talking about happening... should be as outdated as the word ‘Negro.’” Fourteen years later, violations of Black boundaries and expectations of Black service are still constant, both online and off. ePay developments, the rise of social media, and constant digital blackface cast ayo’s work in a new light. The site’s early rejection of utopian post-identity visions of cyberspace rings truer than ever in a contemporary digital landscape where Black women experience daily harassment mirroring the physical world. And In 2017, ayo’s concept has been somewhat normalized: many Black people post ePay links on social media, in an attempt to reclaim their digital time.

    Just as we should avoid being reductive, we should also recognize that taking the concept literally without committing to the ‘lump of money’ reading is possible, and in fact good. White people should be paying Black people for their emotional labor and realizing how much ‘rental’ they enact on them. For example, literally right now you could click any of the ePay links included in Brooklyn artist Winslow Laroche’s ongoing work list of Black people 2 donate 2 (2016). This kind of payment is not supposed to replace reparations or end anti-Blackness; it’s baby steps toward repair, a gesture of acknowledgement. In giving viewers the choice to take the concept literally or not, and in subsuming audience response into the work itself, ayo’s piece operates on multiple levels along with being a satirical mirror to society: it not only encourages a recalibration of interracial dynamics, but can also serve as a kind of introduction to a larger conversation about what the healing process looks like for a country built on the destruction of native and Black life and bent on protecting stolen resources it claims as its own. If whites start by giving away their generational wealth and access, a path can potentially open to the conceptual position — when one considers existing while Black as worthy of a wage, one can begin to reject the anti-Black expectation of service that is treated as a natural property of Blackness.


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    The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

    Aria Dean: I read in an interview that you felt that Afrofuturism had long ago reached the limit of its usefulness. I’m interested in this claim considering the visual language of your work—which, like afro-futurism, appears to highlight blackness, technology, and science fiction. Can you speak a bit about this refusal of Afrofuturism? If not Afrofuturism, what are you looking toward?

    Bogosi Sekhukhuni: Afrofuturism leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m petty, firstly I have an issue with the “afro” prefix, which quietly suggests that in futurism there is no afro to begin with?

    That there are shared goals and concerns between afro-futurism and the direction of my practice, is very much true. Such as the desire to study and interpret the past in order to understand the present and to project visions of a Afroic future. Afrofuturists aren't the only people doing this. I find that there is an Atlantean false light diasporan lense to African history and culture that I don't relate to. And this lense also seems to direct where the conversation goes.

    I do look towards the writings of people like Marimba Ani and the lengths she goes to present a clear Afroic critique of western ways of thinking and I don’t quite know how to to explain this tone/attitude/lense yet but yeah.

    People often refer to Toni Morrison’s thought experiment which sees Africans who were part of  the transatlantic slave trade as being the first moderns. The very idea of the modern man can’t be the presupposed reality.

    I’ve been harsh on Afrofuturism in the past mainly because I feel it’s a lazy way to read my work.

    2-channel video installation

    AD: Can you talk a bit about your relationship to what might be named “black aesthetics” in general? How do you view your work, particularly when it comes to articulating a black aesthetic versus—or in tandem with—an African—or even more specifically, South African—aesthetic?

    BS: The thing about an “African” aesthetic, specifically within the art world, is that the celebrated examples of this tend to exist as a response to a colonial heritage. Many of the established African artists working in Europe and the Americas present juxtapositions of western art history with the artists’s own cultural heritage which to me is a tired thing. I can’t help but be influenced by how dominant American popular culture creeps its way into a global visual language of advertising and architecture and how that’s interpreted through regional cultures, and the snowballing of references that bloom as cultures evolve.

    I feel like Black aesthetics has to do with a global appropriation and innovation of consumer technologies, which Black people are at the forefront of…

    Also what is “Black” and “African” to you even?

    AD: Your work conceptually and aesthetically draws on mysticism and African cosmology as well as net aesthetics and technology. Can you talk about the relationship between these two forces in your work?

    BS: I’m really drawn towards practices that contribute, for better or for worse, to unassociated areas of study. Like engineers who take an interest in how ancient structures are built or rappers who have something to say about architecture. I like processes that involve and reference mixed disciplines because I’m typically suspicious and concerned with how institutional thinking is traditionally set up. I think there’s a thread that runs through all the associations in my practice. To me net aesthetics is about an immediacy of communication that has something to do with the so-called untrained eye. It also exists in many of the spaces I grew up in so I’ve never really approached it as an “online thing” tbh. Its also a language that I use to experiment with new visual codes, and hopefully that gets filtered through the flatness. These codes are developed through investigating Afroic traditions of light and space, which considers both scientific and esoteric thinking.

     

    Thus Saith the Lord, 2015, Print and video 

    AD: A lot of your work exists online. Do you consider yourself an internet artist? A net artist?

    BS: Nah, I don’t understand why that is so important a distinction for people to make. I think conversations around the tools and medium can be interesting but for me it’s a consideration that is the least of my priorities with the practice.

     

    Reflective vests mounted on frame, 49 3/5 × 40 1/5 in

    AD: What is Open Time Coven?

    BS: OTC is a semi formal channel and umbrella organization for the different elements of my studio practice.  

    Questionnaire:

    Age: 26

    Location:  

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    About five years ago, I've always maintained a strong interest in tech and electronics but it was really a residency program at Google in 2014 researching chariot programming that put me on.

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

    I went to a Dominican Convent in Jobug. And studied visual arts at University of Johannesburg.

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

    I work professionally as an artist rn.

    I've interned at a designer furniture co-op for a year in 2012, wrote and edited for a online youth culture pop journal for a year in 2013.

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


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    The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

    Aria Dean: I read in an interview that you felt that Afrofuturism had long ago reached the limit of its usefulness. I’m interested in this claim considering the visual language of your work—which, like afro-futurism, appears to highlight blackness, technology, and science fiction. Can you speak a bit about this refusal of Afrofuturism? If not Afrofuturism, what are you looking toward?

    Bogosi Sekhukhuni: Afrofuturism leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m petty, firstly I have an issue with the “afro” prefix, which quietly suggests that in futurism there is no afro to begin with?

    That there are shared goals and concerns between afro-futurism and the direction of my practice, is very much true. Such as the desire to study and interpret the past in order to understand the present and to project visions of a Afroic future. Afrofuturists aren't the only people doing this. I find that there is an Atlantean false light diasporan lense to African history and culture that I don't relate to. And this lense also seems to direct where the conversation goes.

    I do look towards the writings of people like Marimba Ani and the lengths she goes to present a clear Afroic critique of western ways of thinking and I don’t quite know how to to explain this tone/attitude/lense yet but yeah.

    People often refer to Toni Morrison’s thought experiment which sees Africans who were part of  the transatlantic slave trade as being the first moderns. The very idea of the modern man can’t be the presupposed reality.

    I’ve been harsh on Afrofuturism in the past mainly because I feel it’s a lazy way to read my work.

    2-channel video installation

    AD: Can you talk a bit about your relationship to what might be named “black aesthetics” in general? How do you view your work, particularly when it comes to articulating a black aesthetic versus—or in tandem with—an African—or even more specifically, South African—aesthetic?

    BS: The thing about an “African” aesthetic, specifically within the art world, is that the celebrated examples of this tend to exist as a response to a colonial heritage. Many of the established African artists working in Europe and the Americas present juxtapositions of western art history with the artists’s own cultural heritage which to me is a tired thing. I can’t help but be influenced by how dominant American popular culture creeps its way into a global visual language of advertising and architecture and how that’s interpreted through regional cultures, and the snowballing of references that bloom as cultures evolve.

    I feel like Black aesthetics has to do with a global appropriation and innovation of consumer technologies, which Black people are at the forefront of…

    Also what is “Black” and “African” to you even?

    AD: Your work conceptually and aesthetically draws on mysticism and African cosmology as well as net aesthetics and technology. Can you talk about the relationship between these two forces in your work?

    BS: I’m really drawn towards practices that contribute, for better or for worse, to unassociated areas of study. Like engineers who take an interest in how ancient structures are built or rappers who have something to say about architecture. I like processes that involve and reference mixed disciplines because I’m typically suspicious and concerned with how institutional thinking is traditionally set up. I think there’s a thread that runs through all the associations in my practice. To me net aesthetics is about an immediacy of communication that has something to do with the so-called untrained eye. It also exists in many of the spaces I grew up in so I’ve never really approached it as an “online thing” tbh. Its also a language that I use to experiment with new visual codes, and hopefully that gets filtered through the flatness. These codes are developed through investigating Afroic traditions of light and space, which considers both scientific and esoteric thinking.

     

    Thus Saith the Lord, 2015, Print and video 

    AD: A lot of your work exists online. Do you consider yourself an internet artist? A net artist?

    BS: Nah, I don’t understand why that is so important a distinction for people to make. I think conversations around the tools and medium can be interesting but for me it’s a consideration that is the least of my priorities with the practice.

     

    Reflective vests mounted on frame, 49 3/5 × 40 1/5 in

    AD: What is Open Time Coven?

    BS: OTC is a semi formal channel and umbrella organization for the different elements of my studio practice.  

    Questionnaire:

    Age: 26

    Location:  

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    About five years ago, I've always maintained a strong interest in tech and electronics but it was really a residency program at Google in 2014 researching chariot programming that put me on.

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

    I went to a Dominican Convent in Jobug. And studied visual arts at University of Johannesburg.

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

    I work professionally as an artist rn.

    I've interned at a designer furniture co-op for a year in 2012, wrote and edited for a online youth culture pop journal for a year in 2013.

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


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  • 08/25/17--08:09: Curating by Numbers
  • Madja Edelstein-Gomez is an independent curator and activist, based in Paris and Kuala Lumpur. Edelstein-Gomez has created a new interface for an online exhibition, produced by Zinc, with support from Le Château Éphémère, Dicréam-CNC, L’Espace Multimédia Gantner, and Rhizome. The Recombinantsaligns itself with Edelstein-Gomez’s concept of recombinance, a condition of being that she assumes as identity and explores through her recent artistic and curatorial efforts. The Recombinants will show on the front page of rhizome.org from August 25–28th, 2017, alongside the Art-O-Rama fair in Marseille, FR. 

    Edelstein-Gomez’s concept of recombinance is revealed through the exhibition's manifesto, which describes a new digital mysticism; one whose text echoes ideas of transhumanism and the simulacrum, with a simultaneous claim to entirely reject these pre-established means of clarification and identification. The manifesto removes itself from the vernacular application of the term “recombinant” (one tied to genetically modified organisms). Instead, the recombinants’s materials are described to be the result a form of data-splicing that removes any disparity between the data anatomy of digital datasets and organic DNA, which are explained to be constantly rewritten, or “recombined” in a cycle of constant rebirth and in the form of an eternal return. The manifesto claims many things the Recombinants are not; there are direct rejections of being merely cyborgs, replicants, mutations, humans, or computers, and the Recombinants reject any adherence to the past or future. From an outside perspective, the manifesto is mysteriously ambiguous, as the Recombinants claim to exist as nothing and everything at the same time.

    Upon entering the online exhibition, the viewer is greeted with a slowly-moving landscape of colliding image-planes and broken and disrupted bits of sound. The viewer is encouraged to navigate through the use of a series of geometric buttons that reveal text, change the presentation style, and provide links to individual artist’s profiles. In the exhibition’s press release, it is revealed that the online presentation is an AI-generated recombination of the submitted works, being constantly processed live and presented differently for each viewer, with an audacious claim to be the “show of the future.”

    I spoke with Edelstein-Gomez to discuss her exhibition and curatorial practice in the hopes of expanding upon her understanding of the recombinant existence and its applications to this online exhibition format.

    Lauren Studebaker: Usually, we’re familiar with the term “recombinant” in its applications to genetics and biology—GMOs, gene-splicing, etc. In the Recombinant Manifesto, this application of the term is mentioned, but transcended. Could you introduce your concept of the Recombinants? 

    Madja Edelstein-Gomez: Rerecombinance, recombinance, recombinanciation, recombing... What can I say about recombinance, except that doesn’t easily lend itself to commentary... Touch it, refer to it, think about it and you get affected, contaminated, it’s an autoimmune remedy to every disease. Recombinance recombines itself by using everything around it. Oops, you just got recombined.

    LS: How did you come into the realization of recombinance?

    MEG: One day I became a Recombinant.

    No.

    I always have been a Recombinant.

    And it was not just me. I know there are many Recombinants out there.

    I realized that something had occurred that should have killed me or make disappear. It was a like a system error in an operating system, or a genetic modification in a living being. But that thing wasn’t new, it was always already there, encoded inside of me.

    It’s quite hard to explain. Instead of being afraid of it, I tried to claim it, it inspired me this manifesto.

    LS: What influenced your development of this recombinant philosophy?

    MEG: It was shattering and some twitching slightly resonated with it. And once it blasted, I encountered tiny skewed elements inside my existence.

    In biographical terms, I could have said “this” and “that” happened to me. But I’d rather not express what happened within a timeline, with a “before” and an “after.”

    I now know it was always there.

    Read more about this “moi” here.

    But don’t worry, I’m not some sort of psycho freak. When needed, there can be a regular bio and a presentation of myself as an online curator that fits the bill, like what Le Zinc in Marseille has published.

    LS: How does the recombinant philosophy tie itself into the presentation of works online and how is the exhibition format of exclusively digital means of presentation in alignment with the recombinance?

    MEG: Online, all data generates more data.
    Ad infinitum.
    View any odd webpage and your viewing data has been recorded by numerous systems along the line, the cookies on your hard disk, your internet provider, your social networks, every online activity leaves slimy, greasy, dusty fingerprints made of data, that proliferate into big datasets, and when analyzed, produce more data, etc… 

    LS: A realization in the Recombinant Manifesto surrounds the idea of collapse of the concept of past and future, a rejection “of everything post- and trans-.” As a curator, how would you say this position of recombinance informs your selection of works and philosophy of contemporaneity in the context of an exhibition?

    MEG: A non-human narrative doesn’t relate to recombinancial time or category and doesn’t relate to post-something or trans-something. Inside it, you get exposed to sequences of data that will rewrite you in such a way that doesn’t let you refer to an existing model of reference.

    And yet, what we are doing is simply sending out an open call for an online show. It is our way to set into motion the possibility of a recombinant narrative written by the machine herself. The narrative of data being mined and reminded.

    LS: So, the idea of recombinance is tightly aligned with data ontologies? Could you then talk a bit about the presence of recombinance, or the recombinant action, in digital artmaking?

    MEG: Artmaking itself is not the question really, digital or not. Art is not necessarily something you “make,” so I’m not talking about artmaking. Art is something you “name,” not something you “make.” All you need for something to be art is to be recognized as such, to be named it as such, and it becomes art.
    The question “what is art?” ran through the whole twentieth century. Until we found out that art was nothing but a question.
    Now, in the twenty-first century, we have the answer to “what is art?”: Art is a Question.

    A question is a recombined statement. For example, if you recombine “This is art,”  it becomes “Is this art?” The question mark signals that you have opened the signification to endless possibilities, and you have generated the desire for something, the inextinguishable desire for an answer, a hole inside a meaning.

    Now imagine you go further into recombinance by shuffling every single letter of this chain of characters. You have generated a multiplicity of new meanings all derived from this dataset, like “a tart wish,” “war at hits,” “it shat raw”... and many many meaningless combinations. You have created an infinity of littles holes of meaning,  a lace of meaninglessness all intertwined around that big question. These are the generative powers of Recombinance, and this is how I am curating. 

    LS: Then what hand does curating the results of the open call have in the equation? As one who identifies as recombinant, how does your curatorial practice differ from a more traditional model?

    MEG: I see curating in general, traditional or not, as “a throw of dice.”
    Chance is the main factor.
    Curatorial explanations are nothing but a layer of varnish over it.

    “Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard.”

    “A throw of dice will never abolish chance”, said the French poet Mallarmé, as he scattered the words of his poem across the page with plenty of empty space around the words. That was a founding act in poetry in 1897, and if you ask me, the very first act of Recombinance also.

    One hundred and twenty years later, commentators still wonder if what scatters the words of Mallarmé is not a hidden code, yet uncracked. Quentin Meillassoux in The Number and the Siren argues that there must be a code, but the encoding of the poem is incomplete, and that is precisely how Mallarmé wanted it: an incorrect code.

    Is Recombinance a form “curating by numbers?”

    Is there a curatorial algorithm at the heart of my practice?

    If there is a code, I myself am included in that code, I am just a piece of that DNA, and whatever I change in it, changes me, in an incomplete way.

    LS: Does the possibility of anonymity from online submissions (or the digital in general) enhance the recombinant philosophy?

    MEG: Anonymity is not an issue at all. A name is just an element of a dataset, and not the most interesting one.
    Besides, when you submit online, you do it with your own chosen name.
    What you might not know is that when you post your data, is that you get your personal exhibition on the spot, as the first display of your recombined art. This display remains available and you can share it online with everyone. This is the reward of trust.

    Look at some personal exhibitions available here from Guido Segni,Chloe Cheronnet, Garrett Lynch, and Anne Pfff.

    In our big exhibition which will premiere in Art-O-Rama in Marseille in 25 August the names will not disappear. They will be recombined together with the works.

    LS: On both your personal website, as well as in the Recombinant Manifesto, you recognize psychic energies, telepathy, spiritualism, and the paranormal as different manifestations of recombinance. As both an artist and curator working with the internet and developing technologies such as AI (in your chatbots, for example) as a means of production and exhibition, how do you view the collective and ephemeral condition of the digital in comparison to these more mystic ideas?

    MEG: Once you start questioning the premises of your own bodily existence there is no way back. I am the product of a communication energy, just as much as you are.

    Life is but an exchange of messages.

    And it’s pretty much the same as what we are doing now: exchanging messages.


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    Co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum, “First Look: The Good Life" is an online exhibition of the eponymous 2016 work by Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain.

    Machine learning is widely used in contemporary digital culture, for tasks that range from the analysis of consumer habits to suggesting auto-replies on email threads. Before systems can analyze or generate new text, they must be given an existing body of text to study. Very often, the text they are given is the Enron email corpus.

    At the beginning of the second Bush administration, the Enron Corporation was one of America’s largest companies, a darling of the stock market in the wake of the dot-com crash. Its growth was fueled by fraudulent accounting practices, and as its business ventures ran operating losses and fueled rolling blackouts in California, its opaque earnings statements began to draw scrutiny. At the start of 2001, Enron was trading for $83 a share; by the end of the year, the share price was just sixty cents, and the company was under investigation and had filed for bankruptcy. Thousands of people lost their jobs and savings.

    In March 2003, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released Enron’s emails into the public domain as a part of the evidence of the company’s crimes. It was the first time an archive of emails of its size had ever been made public, and the archive remains one of the largest freely available. As a result, this record of the online communications of the participants in a fraud of historic proportions has proven unexpectedly useful long after the court cases closed. Social scientists and linguists pore over it to draw conclusions about the use of language in the American workplace, as recently described in the New Yorker:

    Only six per cent of the e-mails she examined had any greeting at all; most began in medias res. The employees most likely to use a friendly greeting were women not in positions of authority, followed by men in subservient positions. Powerful men were the most likely just to open an e-mail window and start typing. In some cases, an e-mail would simply be addressed “Guys.”

    Alongside this interest from researchers, countless machine learning systems have been trained on the Enron emails—and then go on to reproduce the patterns and biases found in them. As artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain note, “This dataset, which was generated by a group of mostly white male corporate criminals, is therefore in our lives in ways we don’t understand and haven’t fully considered.”

    Produced with the aid of a 2016 Rhizome Net Art Microgrant, The Good Life gives users the opportunity to reflect on the specific qualities of this now-influential text by receiving the emails one at a time. In the artists’ own words:

    The Good Life invites you to experience a nightmarish simulation of living through the death throes of a corporation in the 2000s. Sign up at http://enron.email to receive 225,000 Enron emails over the course of seven years. You will receive the emails in chronological order at the frequency at which they were sent, relatively adjusted to the seven-year timeline.

    There are many ways to enjoy the Enron corpus, but by far the most pleasurable is to read all 225,000 emails in the order they were sent.

    Many of the former Enron employees whose correspondence appears in the corpus are highly privileged, possibly criminal, and generally unsympathetic, but their emails serve as a reminder that this dataset (like many others) is ultimately a record of people’s lives and labor. Discussions of oil-and-gas skullduggery are interspersed with details of meals and loves, families and pets.

    The city of Houston, where Enron was headquartered, is also a regular presence; the company employed thousands of people there. Today, as Houston residents recover from the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, our thoughts are with all those affected. We hope viewers and subscribers to “The Good Life” will consider supporting relief efforts.

     

     

    Cover Image: Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain, The Good Life, 2016 (screen capture). Website, public domain text, and mail server. Courtesy the artists

    Sponsors:

    Major support for First Look is provided by the Neeson / Edlis Artist Commissions Fund.

    This program is made possible, in part, by support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

     

     

    Additional support is provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Emerging Artists Exhibitions Fund.

    The Good Life received a 2016 Microgrant under Rhizome’s Commissions Program. Support for the 2016 Commissions Program was generously provided by the Jerome Foundation, GIPHY, American Chai Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.


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    More than 500 valid and complete proposals were submitted for this year's Rhizome Microgrants, which is more than we've ever had before. In addition to the open call for born-digital artworks, we also asked for projects related to the theme of “digital citizenship” for IdeasCity New York on September 16, and for archival narratives making use of Rhizome’s Webrecorder system.

    One of the biggest challenges in selecting the microgrant winners is the sheer diversity of proposals. From machine learning experiments to online radio stations, generative art toolkits to poetry readings, the Microgrant proposals offer glimpses into many worlds of artistic practice. The IdeasCity and Net Art categories were given careful consideration by our hard-working jury, artists and curators Eileen Skyers, Marisa Olson, and Rhizome’s assistant curator Aria Dean, while the Webrecorder team weighed in on the archival narratives.

    Their selections are below. Congratulations to the awardees, and gratitude and respect to all those who applied.

    IdeasCity Microgrant

    Patternist

    Kei Kreutler with Lina Bondarenko, Martin Byrne, Holly Childs, and Jelena Viskovic
    To be presented September 16 at IdeasCity New York

    “At first we thought it was the weather.”

    Patternist is the demo of an augmented reality, location-based platform for urban research and alternative economies. Framed through narrative gameplay, participants collect and trade elements to collaboratively reveal a virtual exoplanet hovering above our own. While the elements participants collect appear to spawn only in unique urban conditions, they can be traded with others playing in proximity.

    Special thanks to Google and Google Arts & Culture for providing devices for the IdeaCity presentation of Patternist.

    Net Art Microgrants

    Home School
    Manuel Arturo Abreu and Victoria Anne Reis

    “Home School is a free pop-up art school in Portland. We provide welcoming contexts for critical engagement with contemporary art and its issues. Our curriculum features artist talks, exhibitions, classes, poetry readings, and more. Our pedagogy honors the casual rigor of the etymology of ‘school,’ the Greek ‘shkole,’ meaning ‘spare time, leisure, idleness, rest.’” Rhizome's Microgrant will support Home School’s online program.  

    Humor and the Abject
    Sean Patrick Carney

    "This project represents my attempt to catalogue, in real time, a primarily millennial-driven shift in new approaches to art and comedy that prioritize inclusivity, social justice, and bitingly funny critiques of white supremacist patriarchy.” Rhizome's Microgrant will support continued development of the platform.

     

    Holly White

    A dislocated, non-linear story through video, text, photos, games, and hidden pages built with a network of collaborators. "The story starts with a future world returned to overgrown nature, with a minute dispersed human population. The internet and a wasteland of social media remains a cohesive tool, creating a path of communication between the stranded human inhabitants.”



    YOINK! Issue 4
    Winslow Laroche

    “Trying 2 stay afloat under antiBlack capitalism and finish the third issue of YOINK!, a magazine that will be 4 Black ppl n anti gatekeeping, a common practice within art circles. Submissions were all online through various social media accounts and a lot of the source material for the next issue comes from Black net or other crucial online databases/digital systems.”

     

    Eternal Dragonz

    This project by the LA-based collective will explore “azn pryde” as it was depicted online in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "These web-native objects created a central place for East Asians spread across the U.S., Europe and Asia to access and create a cultural aesthetic. This project would give a look into the ways East Asian minority groups understood and visualized their identity online during the early web era.”

     

     

    Black Hydra
    N-Prolenta

    “For a new installment of my critical media performance project entitled Black Hydra's Discharge Springs Forth Errantly From Her Many Mouths. So far HYDRA has yielded a reparations crowdfund and a generative EP, each engaged in dialogues of intersection between contemporary manifestations of tech neoliberalism and ontologies of the African diaspora. This new installment-- a limited-run set of print-driven multimedia works encompassing text, visual, and sculptural essay-- will also engage that same dialogue through an additional focus upon the violent dimensions of capitalism's quantitative (read: digital) legacy, as well as this legacy's relationship to virtuality. I have already been working to establish palpable connections to publishers, product fabricators, and graphic designers. I need funds to give this sub-project of HYDRA a real kick-off.”

    Webrecorder Microgrants

    Muira McCammon

    “In August 2016, when I first used Webrecorder.io to archive some of the more controversial tweets from @JTFGTMO, the Twitter feed run by the Joint Task Force of Guantanamo, the governmental body responsible for managing the detention facilities at Gitmo. Weeks later, the managers of JTFGTMO went on a deletion spree and eliminated 500 tweets. I got 'em all. But then I thought, of the bigger question: what about the other feeds?”

    McCammon, a freelance journalist and war crimes researcher, will file FOIA requests asking for records of deleted tweets from each federal agency that maintains a Twitter feed, compile a visual and open archive demonstrating that each agency has vastly different internal policies re: the crafting, drafting, and deleting of tweets, and use Webrecorder.io to preserve each federal agency’s Twitter feed.

     

    Caroline Sinders

    “For the past year as a part of an Eyebeam/BuzzFeed fellowship, Francis Tseng and I have been analyzing alt-right social media spaces from Reddit, 4chan, Twitter, etc. I will create a digital archive on the state of memes focusing on the alt-right, specifically Pepe. It’s essential in fighting fascism to study and contextualize memes as propaganda and language.” 

     

    Gabriele de Seta

    de Seta, a digital folklorist, will create a series of archival narratives titled Spiritual Pollution, exploring key themes in web vernacular in the People's Republic of China over the last decade.

    “As internet development in the People’s Republic of China moves away from web pages towards opaque mobile apps and ephemeral social media platforms, preserving the varied repertoires of linguistic and visual creativity of hundreds of millions of local users becomes a pressing task. From soy sauce bottles to remixed TV ads, from popular self-mocking offenses to nonsensical sounds, Spiritual Pollution records a partial but precious sample of what Chinese internet users call, appropriating a term from Communist Party rhetoric, jingshen wuran (literally ‘mind contamination’). Spiritual Pollution isn’t just memes, viral content or internet culture–it’s a playful and self-conscious interpretation of a rapidly evolving region of the internet sustained by the creative practices of local users, for local users.”

     

    Nadine Fattaleh

    Fattaleh, a recent Columbia grad, will work with students, activists, academics and bloggers to document the genealogies of digital images produced in Syria since 2011, and to discuss the possibilities of meaning, use and value in these images. 

    “Inspired by Syrian filmmaker Osama Mohammad’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, the project seeks to capture the anonymous and ephemeral... and to ground images from Syria in the multiple contexts in which they appear, circulate, and are recycled online. In a world where photographs taken by activists on the ground are used by international human rights activists as legal evidence and videos uploaded on YouTube pages for militant opposition groups are produced, shot, and edited by Western PR companies, digital image production and use has become transnational.” 

    The Rhizome Commissions Program is supported by Jerome Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, American Chai Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

     

     



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    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.

    to oblivion.zip by Sheida Soleimni is part of The Download, and the zip file is available here.

    The latest Download commission, by Sheida Soleimani, laments the death of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was convicted and hanged in Iran on October 25, 2014 for the alleged murder of her rapist. to oblivion.zip, a dirge-like work that eulogizes Jabbari’s untimely death, consists almost entirely of Jabbari’s own written and spoken words. Once expanded, the ZIP file presents a multi-layered work of nested folders that contain execution records, letters, photographs, and voice recordings. Soleimani has been creating photographic and sculptural works focused on human rights violations in Iran since 2015. This is the first time that she has used a digital download to publish her work.

    Deep within to oblivion.zip, Soleimani buries two high-resolution photographic works; they pay homage to both Jabbari and her mother, Sholeh Pakravan. As proxies, the photographs stand in for absent bodies — one dead, the other living but unable to escape her loss. Since Jabbari’s execution, Pakravan has devoted herself to amplifying the story leading to her daughter’s death. On YouTube, a filmed recording shows Pakravan mourning in public, addressing a framed photograph of her daughter. In another video, on the day after Jabbari’s execution, Pakravan shouts, “Happy birthday, Reyhaneh! You’re now comfortable, my child” to onlookers in the street. One year later, dressed in black, she commemorates the traumatic event with other women in the streets of Tehran, pleading for the story to be discussed. She says, “When you are in line at the bakery to get your bread, speak about torture and execution, because it must be talked about.” Because of Pakravan’s efforts, the story of Jabbari is fairly well-known, and its details can easily be found online. Executions of women in Iran receive little or no media attention; information is suppressed, and their stories simply disappear. Soleimani names and shows images of nine other women within to oblivion.zip, as well as (incomplete) execution records.

    Letters written by Jabbari, translated by Soleimani into English, express her thoughts and feelings while in prison, where she experienced solitary confinement and was tortured. The first of many files encountered in to oblivion.zip is found in the fifth folder, in a string of six folders, that spells out the opening line of the work: “I am Reyhaneh Jabbari / and am 26 years old / I confess that I / am no longer willing / to continue this / way of life.”

    In the folder “to_continue_this” is a text file containing Jabbari’s writing, simply titled “letter 13,” and a photograph showing her handcuffed at her trial, titled “Reyhaneh_Jabbari.jpg.” Another folder finishes the sentence — “way of life.” From there, the work continues. “letter 13” speaks of trauma: “It feels as if the meaning of life is only breathing and sewing the seams of day to the seams of night. Repetition and expectation has worn out my spirit — like sandpaper on my soul. At the moment both my body and my soul are bloodied and wounded.” This and other passages hit hard. Soleimani writes Jabbari’s words into the work as obstacles, disguised as treasures. The reader encounters the dossier as a thing to discover, to explore, its acts of opening and viewing feeding our voyeuristic desire to click and see everything contained. To own the work, and the story, and to know her fate. But this isn't forensic material. Soleimani describes to oblivion.zip as being like a Trojan horse, unfurling on the user’s desktop and commanding their attention. The work requires patience and commitment, following Jabbari’s own soul searching as her words persist towards the terrible conclusion.  

    How do we mourn online? Physical displays of grief, like crying, wailing, or pounding the chest, even falling to the ground, are gestures that haven’t found their digital equivalents just yet. to oblivion.zip shows how lamentation might take another form: a network-based publication that translates a public display of loss into an intensely private, albeit shareable, experience. By opening up these files and filling the local desktop with letters and images, the conditions for memorializing the dead change each time, the arrangement and layering of windows allowing for different, shifting views of the deceased’s story. Unlike social media, where we post memories or even talk directly to the dead on recently vacated Facebook pages, the circulation of an archive of material is not about having the last word, or signaling grief. By publishing to oblivion.zip as a freely available download, Soleimani suggests that a contemplative, reflective experience may also be a political one. As Jabbari’s words are shared, we activate her trauma inwardly, privately mourning the loss of life, while continuing to write her story again and again.

    The Rhizome Commissions Program is supported by Jerome Foundation, American Chai Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.


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    Tomorrow, in between presentations by the likes of Mel Chin and David Byrne, visitors to IdeasCity New York will have the opportunity to try out a demo of the augmented reality project Patternist, recipient of a 2017 Rhizome Microgrant. Exploring a three-block radius surrounding the festival hub at Sara D. Roosevelt Park in downtown Manhattan, users will use the app to collect elements in an augmented cityscape. When they've stockpiled enough, they can reveal site-specific virtual structures floating above the neighborhood–an exoplanet, in the game’s narrative.

    Patternist is a project by Lina Bondarenko, Martin Byrne, Holly Childs, Kei Kreutler, and Jelena Viskovic with designers Mark Fridvalszki, Aaron Gillett and Anna-Luise Lorenz and sound designers Sezzo Snot and Daniel Jenatsch. Byrne and Bondarenko will be on hand along with Rhizome staff to demo the app; visitors will be able to test it out on desktop computers, or borrow a handheld device with which to explore.

    The creators of Patternist, who began the project as part of the New Normal program at Moscow's Strelka Institute, see it as an urban research platform which can allow users to experience their own city in unfamiliar ways, and collaboratively imagine alternatives. Thus, it responds to the core themes of this year's IdeasCity New York—digital citizenship and the networked city—by taking a speculative approach.

     

    IdeasCity is a civic platform of the in New York that starts from the premise that art and culture are essential to the future vitality of cities. IdeasCity New York will take place September 16, 2017.

    The Rhizome Commissions Program is supported by Jerome Foundation, American Chai Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

    Special thanks to Google and Google Arts & Culture for providing devices for the IdeaCity presentation of Patternist.


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    Rhizome is pleased to announce that longtime contributing editor Nora Khan is moving into a larger role in the editorial program as acting editor. In this capacity, she will focus on developing Rhizome’s blog and its readership, and on continuing Rhizome’s tradition of cultivating promising emerging writers.  

    Khan is a writer of criticism and fiction, concentrating on digital visual culture, the philosophy of technology, electronic music, and artificial intelligence. She is a Thoma Foundation Arts Writing Fellow in Digital Art and an Eyebeam Research Resident. Her work has appeared in places like 4Columns, Art in America, Spike Art, California Sunday, The Village Voice, Rhizome, and After Us. This past summer, Primary Information published Fear Indexing the X-Files, a small book written by Nora and Steven Warwick. She has most recently spoken at Triple Canopy, Gray Area Festival, transmediale, the Whitney Museum, UCLA, New Museum, NYU, and New School. She frequently collaborates with artists, including Katja Novitskova, Yuri Pattison, and Jeremy Shaw, writing exhibition essays commissioned by Sternberg Press, Mousse Publishing, Chisenhale Gallery, and König Galerie. You can read her past writing for Rhizome here.

    Rhizome's Editorial Manager, Kaela Noel, will return in January 2018.


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    Rhizome, in collaboration with the University of California at Riverside Library (UCR), the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), and the Documenting the Now project, was awarded $100,000 by IMLS to host a national forum to address ethical issues facing the web archiving field. The forum will is hosted place March 22-24, 2018 at our longtime affiliate and host, the New Museum in New York City.

    This National Forum will convene archives professionals, artists, activists, net culture critics, journalists, and designers/developers to explore how to build social media archives that protect the rights of users and communities while chronicling contemporary cultures and social movements. An open call for participants and attendees will be announced in October.

    In 2015, Rhizome launched the Webrecorder initiative, a flagship project of its digital preservation program, to develop a new platform to easily archive and immediately reconstruct fully interactive copies of almost any modern webpage. Webrecorder is a powerful web archiving system, offered directly, for free to users of all kinds. Through Webrecorder, Rhizome aims to support decentralized, specialized born-digital archives that center the interests of the users and communities they serve.

    Archiving social media has been a key concern of the Webrecorder initiative, and the National Forum builds on a successful series of 'Digital Social Memory' events which addressed the topic. Bothiterations of DSM have brought together artists, activists, and archivists to talk about social media as cultural practice, and how it is and will be remembered. The conversations supported by this program directly inform ongoing product development.

    Our partner, Documenting the Now, is a project of University of Maryland, University of California at Riverside, and Washington University in St. Louis.They have created a tool and community supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content. Formed in response to the emergence of Twitter as a central communication channel during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., DocNow seeks to protect the rights of content creators while chronicling historically significant events.

    The National Forum is organized by Michael Connor, Rhizome's artistic director, Aria Dean, Rhizome's assistant curator for net art and digital culture, Bergis Jules, University & Political Papers Archivist at UC Riverside and Community Lead, DocNow, and Ed Summers, Lead Developer at Maryland Institute for Technology and Technical Lead of DocNow.

    The National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

     

    Major support for the Webrecorder project is provided by The Andrew W Mellon Foundation.


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  • 05/26/17--08:34: Re: skinonskinonskin
  • This essay accompanies the presentation of Entropy8Zuper!’s skinonskinonskin (1999) as part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology.

    skinonskinonskin began in 1999 the day after its creators, net artists and web designers Auriea Harvey (Entropy8) and Michaël Samyn (Zuper!) met on “a private parallel web,” hell.com.1 At the time, Harvey was based in New York City and Samyn was based in Belgium. After meeting in hell, Samyn sent Harvey a link to breath.html, a page on a locked server. Harvey explains: “as i moved my mouse, it mirrored the motion of my pointer. it breathed. i fell in love. he fell in love. i sent him a webpage back. we did this, back and forth, for several weeks…” skinonskinonskin is their first correspondences, letters, records of this long distance love affair, animated by code. These pages were purposefully secret and meant only for Harvey and Samyn. Video chat was in its infancy and speaking on the phone was exorbitant; as much as they wanted to hear one another’s voices (and they did see glimpses of each other via slow glitchy webcam), they wanted more to feel a deeper connection with one another, touching one another through the cursor, hearing the other’s heart beat, listening to the other breathe.

    In the late ’90s, the internet as a form and a space—the wires as Harvey and Samyn (now Entropy8Zuper!) call it—was still in a sort of childhood. The coding languages and technology that would become the building blocks for its next iterations, Flash and JavaScript, were just beginning to gain traction but were nowhere near reaching their ubiquitous status of the early ’00s. In skinonskinonskin, Harvey and Samyan use two languages: one the familiar language of unrequited long distance love, and the other code, a mixture of JavaScript, HTML, and Flash. Entropy8Zuper! took up the at times absurd task of trying to immortalize with their new technology sensations that are inherently fleeting: hearing your lover’s heart beat in their chest, listening to your lover breathe as they sleep. Take the foundation page for skinonskinonskin, breath.html:

    breath.html

    <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="Javascript">

    <!--

     

    whispers = new Array();

    whispers[0] = "breath me";

    whispers[1] = "i will love you forever";

    whispers[2] = "skin";

    whispers[3] = "skin on skin";

    whispers[4] = "skin on skin on skin";

    whispers[5] = "implode";

    whispers[6] = "soft";

    whispers[7] = "slow";

    whispers[8] = "can you feel me?";

    whispers[9] = "touch me";

    whispers[10] = "one more cigarette";

    whispers[11] = "i am so open";

    whispers[12] = "i want to feel you inside of me";

    whispers[13] = "smoke";

    whispers[14] = "i want to breathe you";

    whispers[15] = "we are smoke";

    whispers[16] = "yesss";

    whispers[17] = "deeper";

    whispers[18] = "i am disappearing";

    whispers[19] = "warm";

     

    Following the format of breath.html, each page of skinonskinonskin is a love letter, code, and output. Some pages are clear. “come” for example, begins on the grid of a series of images of a warehouse, when the user clicks on one of the images a body (we assume Harvey’s), moves quickly in GIF fashion towards the front of the image until their body creates a darkness, and then it goes white. Each image follows the same pattern, as if to imply “come to me,” or “I will come to you,” and upon arrival bliss, over and over. A few clear pages later, “forest” proves quite unclear. What are these red leaves, where are we, who is there, what kind of forest is this? Is this distance depicted in the net?

    screenshot from skinskinonskin as seen in Netscape 4.

    When reading someone else’s love letters it is hard to figure out what each part of the letter means. There is a twinge of embarrassment too. Should I be seeing this? Love is, in this way, filled with secrets twists and turns. Cliches. Fantasy. A show and play for two. As Vladimir Nabokov writes in a letter to his beloved Vera: “[y]ou came into my life—not as one comes to visit…but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.”

    Harvey:“[w]e felt a special magic, a ‘technoromanticism’ of the web, back then. And the web became a part of our story… We wanted people to realize that this place wasn’t about machines, but people.” You can fall in love with someone you have never seen before. Was this the ultimate virtual act?

    In their Postmasters Gallery press release statement from April 2000 they explain:

    It began as a form of secret communication DHTMLove over the ocean. A place for us to take refuge and to make real the fantasies that were rooted in our cheating hearts.2 Page by page we built the site and then released it as a pay-per-view experience to guard its personal content. Limiting viewing to just those on the net who really had a burning desire to see what had been going on behind closed doors.

    To reveal on the internet a love affair between two people was completely new in 1999. But why would Samyn and Harvey, on a private and shadowy platform, with no pressures social or cultural, share their love online? Harvey: “it seemed that the time was right to release our love to the world. and to leave our old lives behind.” To absorb yourself into another, who knows only this most current iteration of you IS leaving your old self, your old life behind; for Harvey & Samyn, life began in 1999. To fall in love is some sort of recognition of the time and place in which you live, but in its breathless, selfish banality remains timeless. Why not share this rebirth, ignoring the pain of former lovers? Was skinonskinonskin, and its sharing on hell.com, a birth announcement? It IS exhilarating to fall in love, to suddenly see the entire world with new eyes and then to name that world, to translate it to your most familiar languages.  

    The importance of skinonskinonskin is situated firmly in 1999 and the year 2000. The exit comments for skinonskinonskin further this dialogue, they position the work in its time, noting the innovation and later the speed at which technologies and their novelty become obsolete. From 146.135.27.10, on 6/16/99: “The sensual qualities are arousing. The voyeuristic nature of this work/art/passion is sinful/decadent/yummy. Slick and ragged at the same time-- ruff is good you brought knowledge to how this [the web] can be intimate.” 205.169.249.29 notes on 6/21/99: “It was a good show of artistic ability. The scenes were a little monotonous and were lacking something. I think that maybe more of a personalized touch on some of the scenes would have been an improvement. Very talented work, though. I enjoyed the visit.” 2 years later, judiG: “Loved your site forever, but still trying to figure out what I just paid for. Still love your work. You are talented. (But I”m a hard workin sista and need to see my money welllll spent, ya know?)” Can interactivity be a metaphor for touch after the web’s rapid escalation in content?

    Aureia Harvey and Michaël Samyn's wedding rings, engraved with code. 

    Further, what does it mean to make “love for sale”? Does this make the love harder to transfer, to share with the outside world, to share outside of its birth year? Is love meant to be bought and sold? Having been in love myself, I know there is a great deal of labor involved. These life-altering loves take over your life, steal your time, masquerade as obsession, pick you up, knock you down, steal your mind, time. There are the tokens to be given and received; the fits of insecurity, infidelity, failure, excitement. It’s a lot of work to be in love. To make that life-altering preoccupation available to others to witness is another added form of work, and since this is a society revolving around capitalism, it would make sense for the creators of such a love to charge to view the ephemera from it. But what to do with this sticky feeling? To pay to view implies I am a voyeur. I suppose I am, but it’s 2017 and I hear that’s more acceptable now. I do like to know what other people are up to and what they think of being alive, of falling in love, of the newest frappuccino flavor, their outward selves. Compulsively, as the now hyper-social, hyper-subjective, hyper-mobile web mandates, we share our thoughts, curate them, they’re meant to be scrolled through, not sat with, nor read over and over again.

    Because skinonskinonskin was designed for the Nestcape 4 browser format, it is no longer fully viewable in its original context.3 Yes, there are plugins but the full experience, dial-up on a non HD screen, no tabs—that experience is gone. It is this balance between the historical web and  the insular nature of the letters themselves that prove the largest triumph of skinonskinonskin. To do what they did then was extraordinary, technically and emotionally.

    Love (like the internet) grows and changes over time. After three months, Harvey moved to Belgium and their need to connect from afar was ameliorated. Their love could exist without the wires; they could focus on different ways to manipulate the digital universe to support and contour their relationship. Like the media that supported it, skinonskinonskin was finished, there were new platforms, languages, forms to fall for, new ways of constructing intimacy through the wires.

    Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn. 

    Notes:

    1. According to the genesis section of their collaborative entity entropy8zuper.org also, “the residents of HELL collaborated and explored interactive media.”

    2. In this conversation in another piece, under your desk, both Harvey and Samyn allude that they had other serious partners before they met. 

    3. For this exhibition, Netscape 4 has been restored by Rhizome's digital preservation team, allowing the work to be viewed in its original environment again.

     


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  • 09/26/17--08:32: Guys With Spikes
  • This text accompanies the online exhibition First Look: The Good Life. Join us at the New Museum for a panel discussion with artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain on October 6, 2017. 

    The content of Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne 's The Good Lifehas survived several severe systematic cullings to make its way to your inbox. The emails of 158 senior executives of the self-doomed Enron corporation composed during its final four years were released into the public domain by The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2003. The Enron Corpus, as it has become known, then numbered at over 1,600,000 emails, but, after belated motions filed by the company, the FERC allowed emails containing "personal information" to be removed via a joint effort by Enron employees, FERC staff, and private contractors. The Corpus was further pruned and edited by various academics to address "a number of integrity problems". The Good Life originally consisted of the resultant 500,000 emails sent to subscribers over the course of 30 days, 1 year, or 7 years. Due to a "high email traffic issue" which resulted in many emails caught upstream of spam folders, the artists scrubbed the dataset further, removing many duplicates, which left a mere 225,000 emails.

    Scholar and writer Finn Brunton, who introduces The Good Life in a series of mini-videos, writes in Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet that the concepts of both "community" and "spam" are "zones where we can meet and negotiate about meaning." This makes us wonder if self-requested spam of The Good Life's users is actually spam; it also makes us wonder whether the portrait the Corpus paints of Enron resembles anything like a community. Brunton compares the project's scale to that of "a Balzac novel", but, unlike the author's obsession with detailing various social strata, these missives are almost solely authored by those whom Brain and Lavigne call "mostly white male corporate criminals." The emails detailing janitorial cleaning supplies are sorely missed.

    Enron's collective ethos comes through strongly however. This is a corporate culture helmed by a man (former CEO Jeff Skilling) who declared during his college interview, “I'm fucking smart,” told a friend, “I like guys with spikes,” and organized extreme sports vacations for underlings. To those familiar with the Enron mouthfeel, an email concerning Skilling's attempts to set up a motorcycle trip with a former “US Special forces group that does specialized adventure travel” in Costa Rica seems less bizarre than indicative. A series of highly offensive joke chain-emails illustrates a pervasive misogyny confirmed by indulgent boys-will-be-boys tales of strippers in high-level executives' offices. As it became clear that the market, and the feds, were catching up with Enron’s experiments with “Gross Notional Value,” Skilling and founder and chairman Ken Lay dumped their stock while encouraging employees to keep buying. These same employees would be given half an hour to vacate the building during the inevitable mass-firing. As the wheels begin to come off, Timothy Murphy (of the El Paso Corporation) sends the following message, “I can see Ken and his boys going to jail. Bend over.”

    Brain and Lavigne do not attempt to fashion these disparate communications into a downfall narrative. Instead, they seem interested in the Corpus’ status as a dataset used, as Brunton puts it, “to train spam filters and other natural language machine learning systems.” As Jessica Leber writes in in the MIT Technology Review, “much of today's software for fraud detection, counterterrorism operations, and mining workplace behavioral patterns over email has been somehow touched by the dataset.” The Good Life seeks to draw attention to the construction of such systems via emails which are decidedly abnormal (and available to researchers solely because of their abnormality). This weirdness generates the idea of an AI, whether tasked to brew your coffee or dock craft on an orbital mining station near Tannhäuser gate, attempting to be one of Skilling’s “guys with spikes.”

    Brain and Lavigne’s half-serious challenge to read the emails in chronological order ultimately resembles not La Comédie humaine but rather one of our contemporary works of exhaustion, such as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest or Karl Ove Knausgård's interminable detailing of his struggle. As Brunton gleefully admits, much of The Good Life's content is “hypnotically boring.” Many of the emails so far slotted into my inbox are one-line nothings from “Jeff,” briefs on car rentals, or occasional “I love you”s. They offer nothing except themselves.

    Humans were not meant to read the Enron Corpus, though they were meant, it seems, to disseminate and analyze it, with algorithmic aid. Watching these emails slowly unload into your inbox becomes a memento mori for your mediated self, and any dreams that the online content you’ve generated could be used to resurrect it. Infinitely searchable as Your Corpus may be, it is destined to be merely the core curriculum for the cold, distant intelligences of the future, who will, no doubt, be just as a self-obsessed as any Enron exec.










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    The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

    Winslow Laroche is a Black artist living and working in Brooklyn. In a variety of mediums and with a conceptual rigor that continues to inspire and challenge me, Laroche attempts to reclaim the Blackness of modernist aesthetics from its colonial, whitewashed context. He also archives notable Black work at his blog, plants describing horticulture. We exchanged questions over email regarding art, race, and feelings. –Manuel Arturo Abreu



    Winslow Laroche,
    Talc, 2016-17. Digital prints on card stock, red construction tape, found object. Image courtesy the artist and Motel gallery.

    Manuel Arturo Abreu: Your recalibration of Allan Kaprow's post-art concept in service of exposing the violence of modernism is critical. Aside from having an indelible influence on me, it provides a “regular” audience with the tools to analyze the systematic treatment of black and brown bodies, aesthetics, and histories as raw materials for white art. A Larochean post-art makes it clear that the autonomous uselessness of the modernist object actually conceals the colonial, functional core of modernism. As long as modernism’s debt to Black and Brown practice is unpaid, there can be no “art.” In light of this, could you talk about what it means that you make work post-artistically? And how does the post-art concept figure into the seeming shift in your work away from photography and toward making?

    Winslow Laroche: Hey, I'm just going by what has already happened and all the work Black ppl have done before me. All of that has shown me that all yt art is Black or Brown face and the only *original* art pieces r the cave paintings. What we are all doing right now is remixes or covers and I'm totally okay with that. Not sure about everyone else =p. I also know that Black art in yt spaces doesn't really help Black ppl combat yt supremacy as whole or Black ppl without access globally. Because of that fact, my post-art work rarely sees a white box for post-art is never intended to be in the white box but rather meant 2 be used within Black n Brown exclusive spaces only.

    Yr brilliant essay "Against the Supremacy of Thought" explained the concept well 4 the rhetoric/formalist junkies, but I will try to define the concept over and over so it is as accessible as possible. Language is a limitation. I wish I never learned English: Post-art is art created 2 help Black ppl survive or perpetuate and/or archive proBlackness and Black culture through visual arts. As for the rest of my work (probably like 95% of works I have shown n will show in a white box), the goal is, like you said, 2 rip modernist aesthetics straight out of yt ppls’ hands and remind folks to stay in their lanes. Yt ppl think this is a game of capture the flag. Yt art needs 2 learn 2 leave Black art history alone. Why don't they make boring Rococo paintings like their ancestors did? Why don't they make bad yt culture inspired metal work like the Irish and Norse did? Why can't they make anything without *creating* something that a Black or Brown person hadn't already done? It is impossible for yt artists 2 do anything of value and/or make post art so they r in a pickle. For da Black artist who wants 2 make post art, they should ask themselves if their art speaks 2 the Black community or not. does their art get an invite 2 the cookout/bbq or not. would their aunties like it or learn or grow from it? does it speak to ppl outside of marketing target range of 18 to 24? would it help Black ppl if yt ppl push us into even more global chaos? will a save a nigga if they trapped in the woods? if yr work could be personified, which cast member of the movie GET OUT would yr work be?

    MAA: Reclaiming the Blackness of modernism not only changes what we mean when we say “art”; more importantly, it is a way of expressing love for how black people make things (as quoted in your Smart Objects show press release). Due to my own concerns I may be projecting, but the impetus of reclaiming the Blackness of modernist aesthetics seems to overlap with the impetus of honoring ancestors, defending the dead, and reconceptualizing futurity. If this is true for your practice, could you speak on it?

    WL: I think the best way 2 answer this question is examine how I process and create about 75% of my work recently. We are constantly surrounded by nonBlack ppl profiting off Black face so I pinpoint a particular vein of Black face and see what was stolen and look for the original Black source through a shit ton of research then build from Black sources only. When yt ppl think I am stealing from them, Im not at all. I am taking the Black parts of their Black face, adding my touch n doing it without Black face. We claiming Mozart these days, right? I feel like a lot of my work lately has been like the movie Amadeus and I’m that nigga Mozart fixing Salieri’s melodies on the spot without missing a beat. Im tired of old racist asswipes being the standard. Beverly Buchanan is my ~standard.~ Betye Saar, Clementine Hunter, Faith Ringgold, David Hammons, William Hawkins.... That is what Black art should be *measured against* within the art industry. Not Matisse. Not Van Gogh. Not Dufy. Not Michelangelo. Not ppl who were making I will not make boring art while niggas were getting hosed down in the same decade. Not some yt woman making work in the Southwest wearing white linen while niggas were getting lynched and Great Migration was happening. Canons only exist as they r now because of antiBlack capitalism and if they must persist, let's at least make them less fucking yt. Is that too much 2 ask? If ppl don't wanna actually change things soon, can we get ppl 2 know at least a few Black artists other than Basquiat and Kehinde Wiley?

    MAA: The power of canon-building can't be ignored, true. But ultimately all those projects rely on humanizing Blackness to white saviors, so I also have a lot of issues with the concept in general–especially as black people + aesthetics are always rendered outside or behind time even in the Black canon-building context. The contemporary is a continuation / concealment of the modernist treatment of Black and Brown people + aesthetics as raw material, and black canon-building often becomes a handmaiden for white cube periodization, so maybe you could speak to issues of temporality as they relate to Black (non)being. Strategies of encryption, vernacular criticality, and ephemera production weave throughout your practice to facilitate agonistic encounters, all of which speaks to a time-based aspect to your approach and the results of it. Do you ever think about the falseness of linear time in light of ancestors and peers?

    WL: I strongly believe that Black liberation cannot come from what we describe as *art* through the lens of these antiBlack art systems. I do agree that Black canon building IS just tapdancing/humanizing Blackness 2 yt saviors which isn't doing much cause there is still NO yt art person going past ally theater and it does not seem like that's gonna change anytime soon. If they aren't gonna pay reparations at all, a *smaller* goal would be 4 art niggas n NBPoC artists 2 at least try 2 change the canon 2 ease the burden 4 the Black ppl who choose 2 continue the misguided art market path 2 stay afloat under capitalism. Artists wanna wear overalls/coveralls but couldn't last three months at an actual “blue collar”/“poor working class non-art job.” Said this online b4 but I really wish there was ink that only Black ppl could read cause nonBlack interference keeps fucking with Black liberation and Black community building cause we keep being reduced to materiality by nonBlack ppl 4 profit under a system built off the blood of our ancestors. 2 all art niggas: ~U r disposable n interchangeable 2 yt n NBPoC art folk. As soon as u stop performing proBlackness in a certain way while benefiting from desirability politics and start activating their fragility towards speaking on antiBlackness n their constant Black face, u will get dropped and they got another token who will make them feel *more comfortable* waiting on the bench. Success in yt spaces is temporary unless u continue to perpetuate antiBlackness~ Fuck codeswitching 2 help only survive being in the same room as yt n only 4 furthering ones career. How about codeswitching 2 help other niggas GET OUT faster? How about more confrontational works against yt comfortability in yt spaces cause they are gonna make all Black n Brown work into a fetish object anyway? Why not hold up the mirror instead of always performing trauma in these spaces? And time being linear is Western as fuck and my practice only aligns with that cause if yt ppl gonna lurk regardless, why not work linearly 2 be petty so they can follow along while i read them 4 filth n make money off fixing their Black face with receipts =p? I make pretty things 2 help fracture/disrupt the Western canon/yt spaces n utilitarian objects/archival objects/ceremonial objects 4 Black spaces. I know my work in yt spaces isn't radical AT ALL like ALL Black art in yt spaces (one more time: ALL yt art is Black or Brown face so i see u lurkers, xoxo) so I try 2 pull an Anansi on nonBlack ppl with my work 4 the most part. Slowly embracing my work being the African elephant in the porcelain shop over the years.

     

    Installation view of Black Sabbath, 2016 solo show. Image courtesy the artist and Smart Objects gallery.


    MAA: Could you say more about the relationship between receipts and the Black-exclusive archive? The way linear time and daily reality gaslight Black folks, and the way we must “coon or die” as you often say, makes me think that there is a way you're doing archival work that differs from canon-building and uncritical commemorative space. And of course the Feed, and reactionary archives that emerge like yours, are both necessary for survival and deeply labor-intensive. So I was wondering, how do you navigate this archival production in the context of information overload and antiBlack sensory stimulus?

    WL: Damn, a big question that I don't think can be fully answered (in short) through an interview on Rhizome (what's good with y’all's white revisionism n white ally theater without statements explaining what’s really up, Rhizome?) in 2017, but honestly I think what it comes down to is “audience.” And this is not on some Black exceptionalism, cause I really do think ANY Black person can do what I’m doing, I ain’t special but what sets my archival process apart from most is that since a few years back, I’ve tried at all times to speak to Black ppl first and try to make it harder and harder for nonBlack ppl to follow what I'm saying and/or doing. Why is the FUBU minus capitalism mentality such a *rarity* amongst art, music and fashion circles when other ppl could be navigating the way my mutuals and I do? Can’t speak for my mutuals but I block non work whites n nonBlack ppl in general who turn Black ppl into intellectual mules and I don't answer nonBlack ppls’ questions about art or liberation theory under antiBlack capitalism for free. My archival process is dismissive 2 nonBlack ppl cause I still haven't met a nonBlack person who doesn't do physical or digital Black face to some degree. The process comes from prioritizing poor Black ppl n Black ppl who don't seek white validation as much. We must all coon or die (FOR NOW) but I hope archives like the ones I've been building for years now are examples of solid resource pools for Black ppl who can’t/choose not to perform proBlackness in a certain way 2 garner egotistical mobility and support under this generational genocide. Can't prevent hyper visibility of the Black body or the antiBlack image overload online but I CAN provide roots for Black ppl to see themselves without becoming a monolith of a social capitalist doing fuckboy figurative with mad violent white proximity.

    MAA: You're known, for better or worse, for publicly critiquing folks’ complicity in violent capitalist systems. Of course, of necessity black people need to engage these systems to survive, but you refuse ethical ambivalence and are perhaps harshest of all to yourself (though I'd also caution, especially to myself, that self-loathing is not self-critique). In light of this, what advice would you give to a young black artist looking to ethically express themselves and navigate the violence of existing in antiblack patriarchal capitalism? And how would you respond to someone who says “SMH Winslow is doing a Rhizome artist profile, after all their critique of engaging capitalist whitewashing.”

    WL: I only said yes to this Rhizome interview to get paid to help survive antiBlack capitalism and to clear up shit for all my nonBlack and Black social capitalistic lurkers cause my real friends and mutuals already know what is up. Also, here is a segment of an answer I gave on that app/site (most of us are gonna regret in a few months) Sarahah [https://yungarchangel.sarahah.com/] because I stand firmly behind these words with how I navigate the arts, music and fashion circles: [i call out mostly white ppl, NBPoC ppl who could not last a week without Black face and Black social capitalists/Black capitalists with mobility through antiBlackness as a Black person who doesn’t benefit from power dynamics like them so I am not ‘trolling’ when I combat shit online the way i do. *trolling* also implies gatekeeping or having power over something or some1 n all the ppl I call out have more power OVER me so I’m not *trolling* n I’m tired of me n other Black ppl getting that forced label 4 how we combat the bullshit. look @ it through an intersectionality lens instead of allowing white liberalism 2 twist identity politics so it slightly overlaps with respectability politics.]  If the scene didn't let soooo much bullshit go unchecked, I would be much less ~vocal.~ If white ppl weren’t getting away with so much Black face and co opting our liberation tactics, I would be much less ~vocal.~ If my ancestors told me to be silent during my oppression, I would be much less ~vocal.~ It isn't *fun* putting myself in danger or watching a Black mutual putting themselves in danger for calling out shit that most art/music/fashion ppl r too afraid to say aloud and only say in private. Hate seeing other Black ppl make the same mistakes so I speak up cause no one *warned* me and no one was honest and said what was really good. And I really don't want mobility, I'm trying to make it to 35, I'm trying to see my brothers make it to 35 and all my mutuals make it to 35 but in this country, we currently DO NOT have ANY networks or systems to help support Black ppl who don't seek only white validation and social capital. Gonna be kinda broad cause we got mad nonBlack lurkers out here and like i said before, they looooove rebranding our liberation tactics to help themselves…Black ppl should leave the white controlled art industry, become “Sunday artists” and focus on and building with as many Black owed spaces/networks as possible that help Black ppl with less mobility and access than themselves. I know not all Black ppl can cut off their white proximity in a clean break cause of their location and class but Black art ppl should try to cut out and combat white proximity as much as possible, as quickly as possible. If Black ppl are gonna be in the white controlled industries, at least try to make it ~cool~ to only say yes to shows with white ppl to make money by creating some completely vapid bullshit with performative proBlackness not attached or making something that disrupts whiteness directly with less Western classist jargon/wording. Always remember Black artists: nothing is based on merit in the white controlled art, music or fashion industries and even if you get vapid mobility through antiBlackness or desirability politics, YOU ARE REPLACEABLE TO ALL NONBLACK PPL. NonBlack ppl don’t fully know how to take in or crit Black art well so Black art will always be tokenized by nonBlack eyes. That's all y’all get, Rhizome and the lurkers. If a Black person without a degree is reading this or an actual friend (<3), hit me up whenever and I'll gladly elaborate on any part of this interview. Everyone else reading this is either a Black person with more mobility and access than me so they SHOULD be the ones ~schooling~ me (oh, wanna air this out even more - I challenge ANY, i repeat, ANY ivy league art professor, current art student or art alumni to an public forum debate, I’m always ready, are you?) or they are nonBlack and can kiss my Black ass and figure it out on their own. SMDH (I kept retyping this sentence and that’s all I got.) The reason why I haven’t lost faith in *Art* is because I will never lose faith in Black ppl at the end of the day and I KNOW there was *Art* before white ppl and there will be *Art* after we fuck up white supremacy and it won’t be tied to and fully controlled by antiBlack capitalism and white mediocrity like it is now. Hope I could laugh at and enjoy this interview in the future.

     

    Questionnaire

     

    Age: 28

     

    Location: New York

     

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology? [answer]

     

    Where did you go to school? What did you study? nondegree artist. mad ppl have asked me what grad school i went 2 and I’m like none, nigga. u just ain’t putting in that work =p.

     

    What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? I work as a security guard at a museum. all museums r super antiBlack n that’s all i can say legally about it. I worked freelance and at a bar before that.

     

    What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!) omg i have many photos on my desktop, you get no photos of that cause i don’t even know all the photos on it and some of them might be unreleased pieces or scraps for new work so i gotta keep it wrapped up. attached is photo of some of the names for my folders and screenshots from inside a few of them. And also a blurry desktop photo



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Top image: Winslow Laroche, Ghoul, 2014. Glass, porcelain dice, air conditioner insulation, spray paint, paint marker. Image courtesy the artist and Kimberly-Klark gallery.

     


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  • 10/04/17--12:32: Merging with the Network
  • This interview accompanies the presentation of Life Sharing as a part of the online exhibition Net Art Anthology.

    Life Sharing (2000–2003) is an epic work by Eva and Franco Mattes (0100101110101101.ORG), originally commissioned by the Walker Art Center. For three years, the artists openly shared their home computer, making its contents accessible on the internet. Private material, including email, texts, photos, and bank statements, was freely available through their website.

    As the artists worked directly on the shared computer, it functioned more like a web server, with the invited public “occupying” their home—the actual hardware was located in the artists’ bedroom. Interactions happened in real-time, and the public were invited to copy anything that they found.

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    Paul Soulellis: Network culture at the turn of the century was somewhere between the ideology of the early internet and our current corporate state reality—we were in the full throes of blogging, camming, and the first dot com boom, but social media and the iPhone were still on the horizon (as was 9/11). You launched Life Sharing on 01/01/01, and there was an immediate, voyeuristic fascination with this idea of two young artists exposing their lives online through their own computer. What were your thoughts about privacy at that time? What were you hoping to explore with the project?

    Eva and Franco Mattes (0100101110101101.ORG): In the ’90s there was this widespread idea of “merging with the network.” It may have come from the novel Neuromancer, which we were very much influenced by. So we’d sit in front of computers for our waking hours. We’d sleep during the day and live at night, to not get distracted by “the real world.” People thought we were crazy, that it was totally insane to stare at a monitor for days, weeks and months, as if you’d ever sit in front of the TV for three years. We also weren’t sure if it was a good idea; it definitely wasn’t a healthy lifestyle. But intuitively we understood that this would be the future, and we wanted to be there as early as possible. If life was going to be like this, we thought, we’d better do it now, because we were curious to see what would come next. And Life Sharing is what was next for us—a glimpse into that expected future.

    We had very conflicting feelings about privacy. On the one hand, rationally, we were aware that the internet could massively increase surveillance, and that every communication was virtually archived somewhere. Even by using credit cards, we were making it incredibly simple for companies and governments to profile users with surgical precision. We were aware of the cryptography struggle. That’s probably why the computer was filled with references to the surveillance state: the main section was called Glasnost; other sections were called Stasi, Vopos. Among the few photos stored in the computer were shots of East Berlin that we had found on the internet.

    On the other hand, we intuited that the idea of privacy itself was slowly becoming obsolete—that a computer connected to the internet was an instrument that allows for the free flow of information. That was its aim, and anything blocking the free flow was an obstacle to overcome. That’s why we had this slogan “Privacy is stupid.”

    PS: How did copyright come into play?

    E&FM: In addition to accessing everything on our computer, viewers could also copy everything that they saw. Our novelist friends Wu Ming, who were a huge influence on us, had widely published, very successful no-copyright novels, and we had just discovered Linux and this burgeoning open source movement, so we thought, if it works for software, and even novels, why not try applying it to art?

    We took the classic hacker slogan "information wants to be free," and tried to embody it, to live by it, and discover the consequences when this is actually done in practice, when it's interpreted literally: share everything, for free, every day.

    So there was also a more utopian side to it; you have to consider that social networks didn’t really exist yet. On Life Sharing you couldn't buy or sell anything, no data mining, no profiling, no information extraction … just pure sharing.

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    PS: Hito Steyerl once called Life Sharing“abstract pornography,” and Steve Dietz (former curator of new media at the Walker Art Center) compared it to Philip Johnson’s Glass House. How were intimacy and exposure part of the project?

    E&FM: A lot of people have used sexual references when discussing the work. Matthew Fuller, for example, called it “Data nudism,” and the words most often used were voyeurism and exibitionism. We didn’t have a studio, so the server was physically located in our bedroom—we were literally sleeping with the server noises and the LED lights endlessly blinking a few inches from our bed. But, like Hito so brilliantly put it, with all its “radical transparency,” it was also very abstract. It had nothing to do with other more titillating experiments happening in the same period, with people living 24-7 in front of webcams, etc. In fact, there were very few images and videos in our computer, as smartphones didn’t exist. So the focus of the work was definitely data, more than bodies.

    I think the sense of intimacy people felt may have come from the fact that the content they’d see had not been edited—we showed everything, in real time, and the content was not formatted or designed. Naked data without interface. Check the mail archive—three-fourths of it is spam—so you get a realistic view of what working with computers looks like, not the idealized or sanitized version companies want to show us, but the dirtiness and busyness of someone's life.

    Life Sharing was structured like all computers, with folders containing files (images, texts, or code), and more subfolders containing more files and more subfolders. Everything was very simple but also raw; there was no user-friendly interface with links to the content. The only modification we made to the server structure was to impose random visuals to every directory, so that a different background color and graphic was seen each time. This didn’t affect the content; it was just dynamically generated on the background.

    PS: Even though you were working with a massive amount of content, Life Sharing had an ephemeral, temporal quality to it—information coming and going, minute by minute.

    E&FM: There are more than one hundred thousand files. I myself don’t know everything in there. Still today when I open it I find things I had forgotten about. A lot of the content is not even ours. Back then, whenever we found something interesting, we’d save it in our computer; there are hundreds of articles, essays, and websites by other artists, which we copied. You never knew if the website would still be there tomorrow. Maybe it would move somewhere else, or it would disappear; maybe the whole internet would suddenly disappear? It was not clear to me how permanent this internet thing was.

    When you’d enter our website, an alert would pop up saying, “Now you’re in my computer,” to make it clear, even to a random visitor, that this was something different from other websites. It was our personal computer, and you were entering a very intimate space. From the viewer’s perspective, it’s like entering someone’s private life, as if you were stealing a stranger’s computer and reading their emails and rummaging through all their files, looking for something interesting, or as if you entered someone’s house and started looking in the drawers … there’s definitely a voyeuristic feeling to the experience, that the viewer felt while spending time on our computer.

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    PS: Benjamin Bratton has said that “if the panopticon effect is when you don’t know if you are being watched or not, and so you behave as if you are, then the inverse panopticon effect is when you know you are being watched but act as if you aren’t.” How was “knowing but not caring” part of Life Sharing? How did that evolve in your later work, like The Others (2011)?

    E&FM: I love that quote. The storage, observation, and archiving of our phone calls, photographs, emails, and online interactions is built into the very infrastructure of the resources that we use to communicate. On some rational level, we can attempt to understand these issues. But on a slightly more irrational, maybe subconscious level, we generally prefer to ignore it. I think Life Sharing was powerful on the libidinal rather than the conceptual level, in the way we “desire” our own oppression, we self-exploit ourselves, living with and through contradiction.

    The Others is some kind of reversal of Life Sharing. It’s a video slideshow of 10,000 photos that we appropriated from people's personal computers without their knowledge. Technically speaking, the act of obtaining the images did not involve hacking, but took advantage of a software glitch that made hard drives accessible. The photos that comprise the slideshow are the varied personal snapshots—from the edgy to the banal—that people take with digital devices to post on social media sites on a daily basis.

    4

    PS: Life Sharing played out in real time as a durational performance. Who was its audience? What role did the visitors play?

    E&FM: The audience was an integral part of the work—you can’t have exibitionism without voyeurs [laughs].

    Viewers had real time access to data, sometimes even before we had, like when they connected to our website and opened our unread emails while we were sleeping.

    By sending us an email, they would modify the contents of the computer; even just entering the website would imperceptibly modify it, leaving traces of all their meandering. We were obsessed with traffic logs, waking up in the middle of the night to check how many people were viewing Life Sharing—what were they looking at? For how long? Where did they come from? What files were they downloading? All this information, the access logs, were public too, so people were also watching each other watching us.

    PS: We willingly watch ourselves being watched today, on social media, but Life Sharing allowed you to experiment with self-surveillance at a moment when this still felt like a radical gesture.

    E&FM: In January 2002, to extend the idea of exposing ourselves through the internet, we started wearing a GPS transmitter, so that anyone could know exactly where we were at any given time. The aesthetic was quite brutal—just a map with a dot, updated every once in awhile—but the precision was astonishing. Google Maps didn’t exist. The system we were using had been designed to track trucks and the maps were Microsoft’s. It was incredibly expensive and, even a client, like us, was not allowed to download the maps, so we had to hack a system to store them on our website, but when the company found out they said we were stealing them … People were obsessed with controlling their own “digital property.” How could they imagine that, in a few years, these same companies would have paid for users to use their maps. Every “informed” person was aware of the existence of surveillance technologies, like security cameras, tapped phones or satellites, but with this project we wanted to show how this was increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. Like the internet, GPS technology started out in the military—only later was it allowed for civilian use. These technologies were no longer the exclusive equipment of James Bond or reserve of the Cold War: any action or tool, even the most neutral, could produce and store precious information on our habits and identities. Our understanding of it was very intuitive, and instead of addressing these issues by protesting the governments and companies responsible for reinforcing that system, we wanted to show that we were willingly submitting ourselves to it. So we started this act of self-surveillance, which lasted for one entire year.

    Following our obsession for data collection, we also started tapping our own phone, recording all of our conversations. People did not know it was tapped, so they’d talk freely about anything. We then gave one month of recorded phone conversations to experimental cut-up music band Negativland, who made a pop song out of it. It’s called “What’s this noise,” because the recording software in our space was beeping regularly, so once in awhile someone speaking to us would ask: but what’s this noise?

    5

    PS: Life Sharing is now online for the first time since the server was turned off in 2003. How should we experience it today in its resurrection? Is it a new performance? or an archive?

    Today, it looks more like an archive than a live performance, because you are no longer entering our actual computer, but instead accessing an archived version of it, frozen in 2003 like a time machine. But it certainly has some added value now that was not there at the time. Now Life Sharing serves as a crucial repository of ‘90s Net Art as it was unfolding. For example, it contains the entire archive of the seminal Net Art mailing list 7-11. We were copying a lot of Net Art pieces as soon as they were published, by the likes of JODI, Olia Lialina, and Vuk Cosic … because we were very interested in how the advent of the digital would change ideas of authorship. When we copied Hell.com, which was password protected, they were very upset; they even sent us a cease and desist letter. But today, paradoxically, our “pirate” version is the only existing copy, because the “authentic” version got lost. Only the copy survives.


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  • 10/17/17--06:33: Welcome to Banana Island!
  • When the markets open this morning, artist and musician N-Prolenta will begin composing a mixtape via twitch.tv livestream. Confined in an undisclosed location for the next six days, they will rely entirely on the online audience for sustenance during this marathon composition process, which culminates with a live performance at the New Museum on October 25.

    In a format that draws inspiration from financialized structures such as an IPO or token sale, viewers are asked to remotely interact with N-Prolenta, submitting gifts and donations, placing bids, and bearing witness to the artist’s voluntary confinement. The artist will be unable to access provisions for themself, and so the audience is implored to donate funds in order to trigger a series of “imports” to sustain the artist. Donations must be made through twitch.tv, submitted via paypal. The basic donation categories are below:

    FEED: Banana, $1

    WATER: LITER of water, $5

    MYSTERY GIFT: $500 incrementally, or unlocked when fund reaches $500 total

    DONATE: contribute any amount freely

    GIFTS: $10 each (lettuce, nuts, breath mints)

    Imports will be made every other day at 4pm. Please note the nature of your contribution when sending funds (i.e. FEED or *banana emoji* etc.)

    60% of proceeds will be directed explicitly toward 2017 climate-related disaster relief efforts.

    START DONATING

    This work was commissioned by Rhizome and the New Museum for “First Look: New Black Portraitures,” an online exhibition launching October 25 that interrogates the genre of portraiture in relationship to Blackness, exploring the complexities and violences endemic to this territory.

    Multimedia artist and producer Brandon Covington Sam-Sumana works to interrogate matters related to currency, transience, narrative structure, and system metabolism. Their investigations have spawned music projects, objects of generative design, and forays into speculative finance, video, and visual art. They were born in the mid-1990s in Fayetteville, NC.


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