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The Rhizome Blog and Rhizome News

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  • 01/19/18--08:32: Coming to America
  • The scene outside the Colombian embassy in Havana last Friday.

    In December 2016 U.S. government workers in Cuba reported hearing strange sounds that made them sick. Employees of both the US and Canadian embassies in Havana described experiencing hearing loss, vision problems, and memory issues​. In response, the State Department pulled most of its personnel from Cuba in September 2017 and indefinitely suspended the processing of all US visas. 

    In the past few months news has emerged that: the FBI has yet to uncover any evidence of “sonic attacks” despite four operational investigations; the Castros blame the anti-Castro mafia; and that whatever is happening may in fact be perpetrated by the Russians. While this international mystery unfolds one group suffers the most. Cubans attempting to legally travel to the United States—to see family, to study, to travel, or do business—must now fly to a third party country to appear in person at a US Embassy as part of their routine visa process.

    My collaborator Nestor Siré, who I've been working with for nearly two years, and Yonlay Cabrera, who we invited to participate in our project !!!Sección ARTE [No.11+Rhizome] (2018), are scheduled to present along with myself and Lizabel Mónica at a New Museum event on February 1. Over the past several weeks we have spent countless hours and more than $2,000 from our Rhizome Commissions grant and the event budget attempting to navigate this process.

    As a first step, Nestor and Yonlay planned a trip to Bogotá to apply for a visa at the US embassy there. Before traveling, they had to first submit visa application paperwork through a US website that is blocked on all Cuban internet connections and use an international credit card to pay for non-refundable processing fees. Upon receiving confirmation of their appointment, they got in line, along with thousands of other Cubans, at the Colombian embassy in Havana. 

    They were asked to present paperwork documenting access to the equivalent of seven years of salary in a savings account, which they were unable to do, and their application was denied.

    In a last-ditch effort, Rhizome organized letters of invitation for Nestor and Yonlay from two cultural organizations in Bogotá, one of which miraculously arrived within two hours of a call put out on Twitter. But by that point, there were simply too many people in line at the Colombian embassy, and they were unable to get a visa in time to keep their US visa appointment in Bogotá.

    Now Nestor and Yonlay are in Guyana, one of the few countries in the region that doesn’t require a visa for Cuban travelers. They will remain in Guyana for the next 15 days as their nonimmigrant visa application is processed at the US Embassy in Georgetown. If their visa is approved they will have spent three times longer in Guyana than they will in New York.

    We’ll be sharing their process between now and the event via Nestor’s Instagram, and on Rhizome’s Twitter and Instagram. Nestor will post once a day with documentation of the experience and the steps that must be completed to obtain a US visa from Guyana. Please follow along, and join us for the presentation at the New Museum on February 1st


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    In the latter half of the twentieth century, artists around the world began incorporating advancements in technology into their work with an eye at addressing widespread civil unrest and encroaching neoliberalism. Glaringly absent in institutional retrospectives of this era are the unique contributions of Latin American artists to these movements. Fortunately, the ambitious Southern California-wide exhibition series Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA introduces the work of these artists to the American public, many for the first time. And while the series covers everything from Pre-Columbian luxury objects to contemporary mural-making, it places particular emphasis on how Latin American artists active from the 1960s to the 1990s used digital media to deal with hostility towards women’s rights, military repression, increased marginalization, and environmental crises.

    Within the series, the exhibition “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicana/o LA” at MOCA Pacific Design Center paid tribute to the work of US-born Pauline Oliveros, who fought for female inclusion in the world of sound art. Oliveros was a pioneer, pivotal not only for her work’s link between sound and the female body, but for the development of experimental music more broadly, helping to establish the Deep Listening Institute and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. In 1964, she completed “Bye Bye Butterfly,” a contorted recording of Puccini’s opera, intended, as Oliveros claimed, to undermine the cultural and artistic forces that contribute to female oppression. During the 1970s, she founded  the ♀ Ensemble, a non-hierarchical group of women seeking to harness the social power of sound. The group met at Oliveros’s home in Encinitas, where they practiced “Sonic Meditations,” a method of “tuning mind and body.” According to Oliveros herself, the group was “purposely all female in order to maintain a common, stable vibration within itself and to explore the potentials of concentrated female creative activity, something which has never been fully explored or realized.”

    Detail of Life Cycle: Electric Light + Water + Soil —> Flowers —> Bees—>Honey, Juan Downey, 1971. Image courtesy of Pitzer College Galleries, Claremont CA.

    The galleries at Pitzer College and LACE presented a monographic exhibition on Chilean-born Juan Downey, whose work was contemporary with some of the first artistic experiments with video feedback systems. The experimental project A Vegetal System of Communications for New York State (1972) reflects Downey’s interest in invisible communication networks and interactive art. The project proposed the use of electromagnetic energy between humans and philodendrons as a navigation tool across forests.Life Cycle: Electric Light + Water + Soil —> Flowers —> Bees—>Honey (1971)is another, which plays back live footage of bees at work atop a live bee colony within the gallery space.  

    Downey’s comprehensive career also covered extensive research on Latin America politics, Chile in particular. His later work turned to the intersection of ecological concerns and cultural imperialism. In The Laughing Alligator (1979), the artist captured moments among the Yanomami—a group indigenous to the Amazon, coveted by anthropologists for their cultural isolation—that effectively mocked the role of video documentary for anthropological studies. Downey’s practice is perhaps most remarkable for the way in which its confrontational subject matter is tempered by the encouragement of intimacy between the viewer and the work.

    Around the same time in Brazil, a military dictatorship began censoring traditional art practices, pushing artists into uncharted media. “Xerografia: Copyart in Brazil, 1970-1990” at the University of San Diego explored twenty years of Xerox art in Brazil, a movement analogous to the copy art and electrographie movements in the US and France, respectively. Among the constellation of artists that began working with Xerox as a means of subverting the increasing bureaucratization of Brazil, Anna Belle Geiger stands out for her encapsulation of how US and European artists at the time overshadowed their Latin American counterparts. In Diário de um artista brasileiro (1975), Geiger inserted cut-out photos of herself and placed them alongside renowned figures like Duchamp and Lichtenstein, highlighting her double-marginalization as a female Brazilian artist. Geiger’s student Letícia Parente would take up similar practices in works such as Women (1976), in which she uses safety pins to pierce the surface of a photocopied magazine ad portraying a young woman's face in close up. Others like Léon Ferrari, Hudinilson Jr., and Paulo Bruscky toyed with the boundaries of the Xerox medium, challenging conceptions of art as a luxury object, while exploring its potential use as a medium for communication.

    Letícia Parente, Women, 1976. Image courtesy of University of San Diego.

    All of these artists enact, in their works, a resolute sense of playful instruction that both informs their audience about Latin American issues beyond the gallery space, and further reveals the liberating capacities of new media. What’s more, the PST exhibitions focus on the merits and contributions of these artists as global influencers in their own right. Rather than restrict the works to their relation with more well-known artists working within a similar network, the shows do justice to the regional and identity-based signatures of Latin American artists as they stand on the early landscape of digital art practices.

    More PST shows are open throughout this month and well into the spring. These include: “UnDocumenta” at the Oceanside Museum, which explores the use of technology in the work of artists working along the California-Mexico border; “Hope” at ESMoA, which surveys the video work of living Cuban artists, and “Photography in Argentina, 1850–2010: Contradiction and Continuity” at the Getty which showcases the work of avant-garde Argentinian photographers.

    Header image: Detail of Life Cycle: Electric Light + Water + Soil —> Flowers —> Bees—>Honey, Juan Downey, 1971. Image courtesy of Pitzer College Galleries, Claremont CA.


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    Rindon Johnson, 'Away with You,' 2016 still from VR video

    Assistant Curator of Net Art and Digital Culture Aria Dean explores the themes of First Look: New Black Portraitures, a group exhibition co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum

    First Look: New Black Portraitures began as a series of casual conversations between friends and colleagues. Although it’s disingenuous to claim this as an origin, because we’ve just taken up a project that long predates the lifetimes of any of the participants in this show. It’s a project that spans generations and characterizes the arc of black art history. So, this version of that larger undertaking began as a series of casual conversations between friends and colleagues.

    One such conversation took place about a year and a half ago; I moderated a phone call between artists Lorraine O’Grady and Juliana Huxtable for the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ Introducing interview series. Among other things, the two women discussed their emphasis on using their own figures in their performances and image-based work. O’Grady said to Huxtable:

    There’s still so much unexplored work to be done on bodies that wanting to move from representation to abstraction really is a way of avoiding dealing with bodies, and especially a way to avoid dealing with bodies that are discomforting.

    O’Grady and Huxtable’s dedication to centering the body and the figure, particularly the black femme figure, left me conflicted - but productively so. Prior to this, I had already been exploring what could be termed the “failures of visibility” through my own writing and studio practice and had settled into a fairly staunch suspicion of “representation.” My suspicion first took form as a response to a tendency toward visibility in strategies of self-representation among white feminists; but it grew into a wider critique of such strategies in a society and economic system that is increasingly dependent on online user visibility, legibility, and data extraction. While I agree with O’Grady and Huxtable’s assessment of the use of abstraction to invalidate approaching marginalized bodies directly, I still find myself occupied with the “historical violences wrought on these same bodies at the hands of representation, and at the hands of the singular, fixed, photographic image in particular.”

    So, the tension that O’Grady identified, this push and pull between representation and abstraction or obfuscation, sets this exhibition into motion. First Look: New Black Portraitures draws this tension out, and then backpedals, asking what it means to represent in the first place, and specifically what it means to represent blackness and black people.

    In discussing our practices as black artists, writers, and curators, we often begin with or end up at the question of representation. Many of us are preoccupied with this question of how to represent ourselves, and, increasingly, whether we should at all. There are countless ways to address these questions, but this exhibition takes the tradition of portraiture as its starting point.

    There are a number of reasons to start at the portrait. First, there is the loaded history of portraiture itself; portraiture has served not only as historical record but is also inextricably tied to class, citizenship, and the construction and confirmation of the bourgeois liberal subject. When considering portraits in their historical context, we should keep in sight “the analogy between symbolic representation and political-legal representation.” How do we, as black artists, writers, and critics, approach symbolic representation when political-legal representation has always-already been foreclosed upon? What does the portrait do when that analogy’s bonds are broken?

    A second–distinct but very related–reason for framing this exhibition as an exercise in ”portraiture” is the historical and philosophical relationship between blackness and the photographic image. The photographic image–more specifically the photographic portrait–does not only repress by producing certain bodies as liberal subjects and omitting others. It also, perhaps with even more aggression and urgency, produces a black subject and blackness itself.

    Photographic and moving images are a primary mode through which normative–predominantly racist–conceptions of blackness and black life have been delivered to the public. For example, we can look to overtly anti-black Jim Crow-era memorabilia, or the wealth of racist imagery of black people circulated via cinema and television programming throughout the 20th century. Since its invention, the photographic image and its claim to truth have had a profound impact on fashioning what blackness is thought to be.

    Finally, we begin with portraiture because it is a necessary consideration in the image-saturated internet and social media culture in which we currently find ourselves. This necessity is multivalent. On one level, we should consider portraiture because posting images of ourselves and of others is the name of the game; this online activity is an informal practice of portrait-making. Seemingly harmless, these practices thinly veil a larger system that feeds off of our legibility as users and subjects. Portraiture, in part and in many forms, becomes the labor required for certain kinds of digital citizenship. And on another level, we turn to portraiture because, in this image-saturated sphere, images of black people abound. These abundant images of black people come through multiple channels, with the major ones being memes, celebrity content, and images of protest and state-sanctioned violence. The circulation of this content invigorates concerns about surveillance, appropriation, and commodification.

    First Look:New Black Portraitures asks the included artists to think about “portraiture” as an acute pressure point for tackling blackness and the image at large, and to consider this intersection–of the histories of portraiture, of blackness and photography, and of contemporary digital culture–as crucial in the process. In an essay about the work of Lorna Simpson, curator Okwui Enwezor wrote: “we would do well to linger on the nature and status of the photographic portrait: between the portrayed and depicted, the represented and the documented, the visible and invisible, the inchoate and the overdetermined.” This exhibition follows Enwezor’s suggestion and lingers on these relationships, acknowledging their muddier nature when blackness enters the picture plane.

    The works included in First Look: New Black Portraitures vary in approach and medium– although the lion’s share are video works. Along with an affinity for video, many of the artists emphasize a refusal of or the insufficiency of the image. For instance, manuel arturo abreu’s ambient portraits (2017) is a suite of “sound portraits” created from selfies of five of the artist’s friends using a technique inspired by data-bending, the manipulation of a file with a program meant to edit other file formats. ambient portraits entirely refuses the image, and instead gestures toward blackness’ hypervisuality and the link between audio and the visual in black cultural forms. Similarly, N-Prolenta presents Banana Island: Hublots, another work that moves across image and sound; the artist livestreamed their music production process for the public while also producing a series of image-based works. N-Prolenta, like abreu, refuses and evades the image, even while working within a structure that demanded constant visibility and hyperconnectedness. During the livestream, they barred the audience from consuming aspects of their process, muting the stream and disappearing for chunks of time. In the resultant image-based works, they manipulated their own image in post-production such that they become abstracted to the point of being indistinguishable from their surroundings, warping inhumanly in front of the camera.

    Other artists focus more on the insufficiency of portraiture, both conceptually and technologically. They mobilize or settle into an acceptance of portraiture’s failings. For instance, poet and artist Rindon Johnson’s Away with You (2017), a virtual reality ASMR and guided meditation, offers us a visualization of the NBA 2K16 video game’s facial recognition software’s inability to “read and output a black male face.” Johnson pairs the game’s failed attempt at outputting their image with a soothing meditative audio track. The artist sums the work up in one sentence: “NBA 2K16's facial recognition software cannot accurately read and output a black male face, now let’s try to relax.” Pastiche Lumumba’s social media performance Community Standards (a poortrait across platforms)–which will unfold throughout the course of the exhibition–also displays a certain level of resignation. Lumumba has created three separate Instagram accounts, making concrete the sort of diffraction of his personality that already occurs across social media profiles. Taking an antagonistic stance toward the unification and integrity of the subject online, Lumumba argues that “being whole on the internet is a struggle.” Community Standards (a poortrait across platforms) responds to this set of conditions by asking: in that case, why try to be anything but fractured? Lumumba’s performance explores this specifically digital fragmentation, while at the same time tapping into the longer history of fragmentation of self endemic to many black experiencesthis fragmentation that we also know by the name of “double-consciousness,” that we see enacted by practices like code-switching.

    This sort of tangled up timeline–where the fairly recent digital context is shown to merely deepen the conditions of anti-blackness, extending its long lifetime, where new and old sort of look the same depending on the angle–shows up as well in Sondra Perry’s video work It’s in the Game ‘17. In this work, Perry explores the appropriation and circulation of the identities of her brother and other college NCAA basketball players in an EA sports video game. Perry’s video draws attention to new forms of very old practices: the exploitation of black people, their images, and their labor for profits that they will never see. That these conditions are replicated in the US sports industry and its videogame franchises is thrown into sharp relief when Perry’s work–which considers black people as the unpaid labor for this image industry–is read alongside Johnson’s, which illuminates the way in which the industry explicitly constructs an imagined non-black audience. As Frank Wilderson said in conversation with fellow scholar Saidiya Hartman: “The possibility of becoming property is one of the essential elements that draws the line between blackness and whiteness.” The black body is “subject to a kind of complete appropriation.” Perry’s work puts pressure on our understanding of ownership and rights to our own body and image, suggesting that to be black is to have always already lost such rights.

    Alongside these practices that aim to complicate portraiture’s very structure, a number of artists in New Black Portraitures stillcome to portraiturewith what looks like a traditional approach. Juliana Huxtable has contributed a series of photographs–also on view at Project Native Informant (London)–that each show fragments of the subject’s body emblazoned with tongue-in-cheek tattoos with images and slogans from contemporary culture (“black lives matter” and “anti-fa” for instance). Rather than abandoning the portrait, Huxtable inhabits it, devouring its borders from within. Redeem Pettaway also presents an apparently traditional portrait in the form of a video positioned as a “conversation facilitated by” the artist via a title card at its start. However,, the video ultimately denies this format and the level of disclosure it suggests. Pettaway moves too quickly to catch and speaks too briefly to capture; the conversation is actually a series of gestures and is posed between Pettaway, the audience, and an empty seat. And finally, Somali-Australian painter Hamishi Farah has converted a painting–depicting actor and comedian Mike Myers–into an animated video that captures Myers’ reaction in the moment of Kanye West’s famous proclamation that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Farah puppeteers Myers and, by rendering him with thick, expressive brushstrokes that evoke Impressionist painting, flips the racialized power dynamic that characterizes portraiture’s history.

    Still vulnerable to appropriation, and always in pieces, all of these artists soldier onward. They all, in some way, retain an interest in the portrait. No one has surrendered the enemy territory. Instead, they recognize portraiture as a battlefield worth revisiting in order to get to the heart of the relationship between blackness and its image - returning to the place where an initial war was waged.

    First Look: New Black Portraitures might then be a misnomer; the works shown here have not been selected for their “innovation” upon the genre of portraiture or the artists’ experience of blackness. Rather, these new black portraits are new as in fresh. They act brand new when burdened with the heavy history of the portrait. New Black Portraitures is new in that it circles back and starts at square one.


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    March 22-24, 2018
    New Museum

    Apply now to participate or receive travel funding.

    The dramatic rise in the public’s use of the web and social media to document events presents tremendous opportunities to transform the practice of social memory. As new kinds of archives emerge, there is a pressing need for dialogue about the ethical risks and opportunities that they present to both those documenting and those documented. This conversation becomes particularly important as new tools, such as Rhizome's Webrecorder software, are developed to meet the changing needs of the web archiving field. 

    Ethics & Archiving the Web will address the need for a deeper understanding of the ethical implications of web archiving–on the part of professionals and web users alike. The event will bring together online communities, librarians, journalists, archivists, scholars, developers, and designers to talk about how to create richer, non-oppressive web archives—archives that will better serve their publics and the historical record.

    In particular, we welcome applications for presentations, discussions, and workshops on community-driven archiving efforts, and documentation of activism; archiving trauma, violence, and human rights issues; recognizing and dismantling digital colonialism and white supremacy in web archives; strategies for protecting users (from one another, from surveillance, or from commercial interests); design-driven approaches to building more ethical web archives; and issues arising when archives become big data or are used for machine learning.

    If you would like to propose a short presentation, workshop, discussion, or case study, or if you wish to attend but require funding to do so, apply by filling out this form. Limited funding is available for travel and accommodation, and presenters will receive an honorarium. Responses will be sent to all applicants by December 6, and additional tickets will go on sale shortly thereafter.

    The conference will be livestreamed and made available for later viewing on the event website. Proceedings and a white paper will also be published and circulated online.

    Credits

    The National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web is organized by 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 (DocNow).

    Organizers of the National Forum include 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, Ed Summers, Lead Developer at Maryland Institute for Technology and Technical Lead of DocNow, and Anna Perricci, partnerships manager and sustainability consultant for Webrecorder.

    The Advisory Board for the National Forum includes Jefferson Bailey, Director, Web Archiving at the Internet Archive, Jarrett Drake, an advisory archivist of A People's Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland and Doctoral Student at Harvard University Department of Anthropology, Pamela Graham, Director of the Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research at Columbia University Libraries, Dr. Safiya Noble, author and Assistant Professor at the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, and Stacie Williams, Team Leader, Digital Learning and Scholarship, Case Western Reserve University Library.

    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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    The Download is a series of Rhizome commissions curated by Paul Soulellis that considers posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition. !!!Sección A R T E [No. 11+Rhizome], by Julia Weist and Nestor Siré, explores the structures of Cuba’s El Paquete Semanal. 

    A presentation and discussion of this project will take place at the New Museum on Thursday, February 1 at 7pm. For tickets and info, see the New Museum event listing

    We are two artists, one living and working in Havana, Cuba, the other living and working in New York, USA, and we have been exploring Cuba’s El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package) together and separately for several years.

    El Paquete Semanal is a one-terabyte media collection that is aggregated weekly in Cuba and circulated across the country via in-person file sharing. The package usually contains between 15,000 and 18,000 files, depending on the week and your distributor, and it covers a dizzying array of content including software, sports, soap operas, web shows, animation, manga, movies and TV, video games, music, magazines, and more. El Paquete is often described as a workaround to the widespread lack of internet in Cuba (the current internet penetration rate is about 30%) but it’s more accurate to look at the phenomenon in the context of the decades of physical media circulation that came before it. Beginning in the early 1970s—about ten years after the Cuban Revolution and the nationalization of all media broadcast and publication—an illicit economy for renting media outside of government control began to flourish in Cuba. Paperback novels such as Romances, Westerns and Spanish-language titles by authors like Corín Tellado were the first materials circulated underground by entrepreneurs after the Revolution. Acquiring books was a constant challenge and these illicit businesses found that working with equivalent entrepreneurs in other cities was the best way to acquire new inventory. A national black market network for the exchange, purchase and sale of novels was established. As the format of available materials began to evolve—first to magazines, then VHS and Betacam video cassettes and eventually to CDs, VCDs, and DVDs—this network for physical media sharing between cities was the crucial link in providing access to media outside of government control. El Paquete Semanal is an outgrowth of four decades of distribution logistics across Cuba.

    In our projects we have explored El Paquete’s reach, structure, trends and ephemerality. Because of the lack of equipment and tech infrastructure in Cuba, digital storage is extremely limited and each week’s package overwrites the last. For a recent work entitled ARCA (2016–2017), presented in the exhibition 17.(SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ at the Queens Museum in New York from 2017–2018, we created a one-year (52 terabyte) archive of El Paquete in collaboration with a group of its creators: the OMEGA matriz. Our archive is the only formal record of paquetes from August 2016 to August 2017.

    Another ongoing project called !!!Sección A  R  T  E (Art Section) is an alternative and independent artistic project that coexists within El Paquete. Created by Nestor in 2015, !!!Sección A  R  T  E is a direct intervention focused on the visual arts, especially contemporary Cuban art, that is inserted each month into El Paquete. Cuban and international artists as well as writers, filmmakers, critics and others have contributed to the project over the last two years. !!!Sección A  R  T  E’s structure replicates that of El Paquete; it includes a consistent directory of folders. It also follows the rules of El Paquete: it contains no pornography and no political issues, although it explores these limits.!!!Sección A  R  T  E circulates news, exhibitions announcements, books, documentaries, open calls and artworks made especially for the C A R P E T A =galería= (F O L D E R =gallery=).

    !!!Sección A  R  T  E  has many things in common with Rhizome’s The Download, first and foremost that it’s meant to be experienced offline as a digital package. Whereas for The Download this disconnection is a symbolic construction for curatorial and artistic purposes, for !!!Sección A  R  T  E it’s a requirement borne from extensive restrictions on internet access. There are more subtle similarities as well, including an embrace of multi-window presentation and visible technical intention—everything from file naming to directory architecture. Unlike the broader Rhizome platform, !!!Sección A  R  T  E exists within a digital environment but is circulated through physical contact. Material cannot rely on links or streaming and there is no access to previous months’ content. No tools exist for determining scope or audience numbers in quantitative terms. Audience interaction is difficult but !!!Sección A  R  T  E does have an email account which can be contacted with request for topics and materials to be included in future editions.

    This month we’ve developed a special !!!Sección A  R  T  E that takes into account these intersections and deviations of El Paquete and The Download. This bilingual edition was produced as part of our ongoing collaboration and as with our other works merges the contexts of our artistic lives in New York and Havana. Julia gathered projects, publications, and announcements by international artists who are familiar to Rhizome regulars—Tyler Coburn, Caroline Woolard, and David Horvitz, to name a few. Nestor gathered material as usual for the section from the Cuban context and beyond, including a special work developed by the brilliant Yonlay Cabrera, whose project !Descargas de todo un poco (2014-2017) is included in the la C A R P E T A =galería= this month. In his project, Cabrera explores the strategies he’s developed since gaining limited access to the internet for the first time five years ago. He shares a largely complete chronological collection of the web material he’s chosen to download amidst constraints on connectivity as a “record of the evolution of my thinking and intellectual development seen through the information I have referenced.”

    We hope you enjoy this material, wherever you are when you find it. !!!Sección A R T E [No. 11+Rhizome], available at the bottom of this post, will also be available in the OMEGA Paquete Semanal on the week of January 29, 2018. It will be included in El Paquete for seven days, and then it will be overwritten again.

     

    --

     

    Nosotros somos dos artistas, uno viviendo y trabajando en La Habana, Cuba; el otro en Nueva York, EE.UU. Hemos investigado el Paquete Semanal juntos y por separado durante varios años.

    El Paquete Semanal es una colección de medios de un terabyte que se acopian semanalmente en Cuba y se distribuyen en todo el país, mediante el intercambio de archivos mano a mano. Generalmente contiene entre 15,000 y 18,000 archivos, dependiendo de la semana y de su distribuidor, y cubre una amplia variedad de contenidos que incluyen softwares, deportes, telenovelas, web shows, animados, mangas, películas, programas televisivos, videojuegos, música, revistas y más.

    A menudo se describe el Paquete como una solución ante la falta generalizada deInternet en Cuba (la tasa actual de su penetración es de alrededor del 30%), pero es más preciso observar el fenómeno dentro de un proceso histórico que comenzó varias décadas atrás. A principios de la década de los setenta del pasado siglo, unos diez años después de la Revolución Cubana y de la nacionalización de todos los medios de difusión masivos, comenzó a florecer en la Isla una economía ilícita sustentada en el alquiler de materiales de entretenimiento que escapó de las regulaciones del Estado. Mini novelas románticas o del oeste, de autores como Corín Tellado, fueron los primeros materiales que circularon clandestinamente por los empresarios. La adquisición de los libros era un desafío constante y estos negocios descubrieron que trabajar con empresarios equivalentes en otras ciudades era la mejor alternativa de obtener nuevos ejemplares. Este fue el inicio de una red nacional de mercado negro para el intercambio y compraventa de materiales de entretenimiento. A medida que el formato de los medios disponibles evolucionó: primero a revistas, luego a VHS y videocintas de Betacam y, finalmente, a CDs, VCDs y DVDs, esta red proporcionó el acceso a los medios de circulación que se encontraban al margen del control gubernamental. De esta suerte, el Paquete Semanal es resultado del paulatino desarrollo de dichas redes y del comercio ilícito, ya naturalizado, de materiales de entrenamiento durante más de cuatro décadas.

    En nuestros proyectos hemos explorado el alcance, la estructura, las tendencias y lo efímero de este fenómeno. Debido a la falta de equipos e infraestructura tecnológica en Cuba, el almacenamiento digital es extremadamente limitado y el Paquete de cada semana sobrescribe el último. Para un trabajo reciente titulado ARCA (2016-2017), presentado en la exhibición 17. (SEPT) [By WeistSiréPC]™ (2017-2018), en el Queens Museum de Nueva York, creamos un archivo de 52 terabytes de un año del Paquete en colaboración con uno de sus grupos gestores: la matriz OMEGA. Nuestro archivo es el único registro formal entre agosto de 2016 y agosto de 2017.

    Otro trabajo en marcha relacionado con el Paquete Semanal es !!!Sección A R T E, un proyecto artístico independiente que existe dentro de él. Creado por Nestor Siré en 2015, !!!Sección A R T E es una intervención enfocada en las artes visuales, especialmente en el arte cubano contemporáneo, que se inserta cada mes en el Paquete. Artistas cubanos e internacionales, así como escritores, cineastas, críticos y otros han participado en el proyecto en los últimos dos años. Su estructura replica la del Paquete; ambas están basadas en un directorio de carpetas. También sigue sus reglas: no contiene pornografía ni temas políticos, aunque explora sus límites. Dentro de ella circulan noticias, promociones de exposiciones, libros, documentales, convocatorias y obras de arte realizadas especialmente para la C A R P E T A =galería=.

    !!!Sección A R T E tiene puntos en común con The Download,de Rhizome. En primer lugar, ambos están destinados a ser experimentados fuera de línea, como un paquete de información digital. Sin embargo, la desconexión de The Download es intencional y se fundamenta en criterios curatoriales y artísticos, mientras que la de !!!Sección A R T E se deriva de condiciones específicas del contexto cubano. Entre ellas también se detectan similitudes más sutiles, como el uso de múltiples ventanas y la estética digital, que van desde la denominación de los archivos hasta la arquitectura de directorios. A diferencia de Rhizome, cuya plataforma es más abarcadora, !!!Sección A R T E solo existe dentro de un entorno digital, pero circula a través del contacto físico, mediante la copia de archivos mano a mano. No se puede activar enlaces o hipervínculos con otros contenidos y tampoco es posible acceder a informaciones de meses anteriores.A su vez, no cuenta con herramientas para determinar, en términos cuantitativos, su impacto y el número de personas al que llega. No obstante, la interacción con su audiencia no es completamente unilateral, pues tiene una dirección de correo electrónico a través de la cual su público solicita temas y materiales que son incluidos en futuras ediciones.

    Este mes hemos desarrollado una sección especial que toma en consideración las semejanzas y disyunciones apuntadas. Esta edición bilingüe fue producida como parte de nuestra colaboración continua y, al igual que nuestras obras anteriores, fusiona los contextos de nuestras vidas artísticas: Nueva York y La Habana. Julia reunió proyectos, publicaciones y anuncios de artistas internacionales que son habituales de Rhizome: Tyler Coburn, Caroline Woolard y David Horvitz, por solo señalar algunos. Como siempre, Nestor acopió materiales de interés para creadores, diletantes, críticos y personas totalmente ajenas al mundo del arte e invitó al artista cubano Yonlay Cabrera a incluir su obra !Descargas de todo un poco(2014-2017) en laCARPETA = galería =. Cabrera evidencia la estrategia que ha implementado desde que tuvo acceso por primera vez a Internet, hace ya cinco años, y con la cual ha hecho frente a las limitaciones de la conectividad en Cuba. Comparte una recopilación cronológica casi completa del material web que decidió revisar y descargar, como un registro de la evolución de [su] pensamiento y desarrollo intelectual, visto a través de la información que [presenta].

    Esperamos que disfrute de este material, esté donde esté cuando lo encuentre. !!!Sección A R T E [No. 11 + Rhizome], disponible aquí, también lo estará en toda Cuba, en la semana de 29 de enero. Esta sección, como es habitual, circulará dentro del Paquete Semanal de OMEGA durante los próximos siete días, y luego se sobrescribirá nuevamente.


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  • 01/31/18--07:27: The Life Aquatic
  • On May 15th through 18th of last year, the Seasteading Institute (SI), a nonprofit devoted to creating aquatic utopic micronations outside of any and all tax codes, held a conference in French Polynesia. Its purpose was to introduce seasteaders to the citizens of the country which would, potentially, soon be hosting the SI’s “Floating Island Project.” Also in attendance were filmmakers Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller, who were shooting what would become the short documentary “The Seasteaders,” which was released Sunday on DIS. Part of Hurwitz-Goodman and Keller’s agreement with the SI was that the institute would have access to all of their footage, with the ability to recontextualize. The Institute had its inception in the fevered libertarian dreams of Silicon Valley and was backed financially by the infamously litigious Peter Thiel; these are people who obviously know their way around a contract. Eight days before the film’s release date, the SI released its own short documentary, also entitled “The Seasteaders.” The SI’s trailer mimics DIS’s trailer to a startling degree.

    Still from “The Seasteaders” by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller (2018)

    Despite the similarities of the trailers and the use of the same footage as source material, the two films are radically different. The DIS cut focuses on formal and informal interviews, while the SI cut upfronts the conference itself. The DIS film opens with the SI gang, represented in this cut as mostly meme-worthy “old white dudes,” hanging out at a seaside resort, eating conference food, and getting bussed around as on any package tour. The attendees and official SI representatives stay on-brand, producing a mélange of corporate-speak and libertarian political ideology (both perhaps best represented in the phrase “special economic sea zone”). Taxation is treated with the obsessive hatred usually reserved for original sin. At one point, Joe Quirk, the SI’s president and head “seavangelist,” relaxes by a picturesque pond in a polo shirt, speaking about how people from “the developing world” are “excited” to work with the project. (Note: French Polynesia is listed as a high income nation by the World Bank.) While Quirk speaks, Hurwitz-Goodman and Keller show footage of a resort worker operating a leaf-blower. We are meant to assume she represents a general idea of a long-suffering labor force, whether in developing or developed nations, that the SI will soon be exploiting.  

    Still from “The Seasteaders” by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller (2018)

    The seasteading ideology really starts to get feral during an extended interview with Caleb Sturges, of the SI’s Economic Impact Team. He declares democracy ineffective and speaks of his interest in transhumanism and the neoreactionary movement (NRx), a radical right-wing separatist-monarchist crusade. (Patri Friedman, co-founder of the SI, has shown his familiarity with the work of NRx essayist and cheerleader Nick Land, and Thiel has ties to NRx frontman Mencius Moldbug.) Sturges suggests that his own personal plot of sea-land (“Caleb’s World”) will be an oligarchy with limited voting rights. None of the attendees at any point speak about their love of the ocean, or even water.

    The SI’s cut of the footage emphasizes French Polynesian attendance and enthusiasm, as well as female attendees. (At one point during the DIS film, Randy Hencken, the SI’s managing director, attempts to convince his [female] partner that seasteaders are not primarily male. This leads to the unfortunate phrase “she-steaders.”) Despite a lingering air of dread throughout, cast by repeated mentions of Tahiti’s vulnerability to climate change, this film is ultimately inoffensive, blanked-out corporate propaganda. Certainly no one suggests ending democracy or destroying the nation-state with a new political technology. Sturges is seen once, briefly, and utters not a word.

    Hurwitz-Goodman wrote to me. He said that he was fascinated by the SI’s cut of the footage, calling it an “exercise in editing and representation,” and a nod towards the inherent subjectivity of any documentary. However, the filmmakers and DIS are extremely concerned by the SI’s move to hijack the film’s SEO, down to imitating its trailer and duplicating its title. While reactionary groups routinely decry the destruction of freedom of speech by progressives, they will often seek to suppress any critical perspective rather than engage with it. The official position of the SI may be post-political, a vision of  a “Cambrian explosion” of new forms of government through implementation of its proposals, but its tactics demonstrate that its ideology is a weird admixture of various libertarian sub-styles, anarcho-libertarian, dark transhumanist, bland corporatist, Moldbug’ian, and that it is committed to covering the darkness of this ideology through corporate branding-speak.

    The SI has not yet responded to inquiries for comment. Friedman claimed he has not yet had time to watch the DIS film.

    Header image: still from “The Seasteaders” by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller (2018)


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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.

    Eleanor Ford: You opened your first solo exhibition, Exotic Trade,at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in May of 2017, and it seems, from afar, that it is a major expansion of your artistic and healing cosmology. This is my first exposure, through your work, to the idea of the “cosmos database”; an enormous idea that positions digital interfaces for ancestral and spiritual information. Can you talk about how you approach redefining and reimagining familiar terms and ideas (like downloading, optic cables, computing, etc) within the cosmos of decolonial technologies you present in your work? What kind of histories and spiritual practices do you draw from?

    Tabita Rezaire: The cosmos is the ordered universe, as in, a whole and organized system, and it may contain many universes—previous, future, and parallel. Anyhow I believe the cosmos to be an immense storage of information. A mega hard drive of all that has been, is, and will ever be. All events, intentions, thoughts, feelings, sounds, words are stored in the cosmos’ database. It is a field of encoded energy we constantly upload to, some call it universal consciousness, Akashic records, Karma, collective unconscious, or astral light. It is basically a metaphysical archive on the scale of the universe that we can access and from which we can retrieve information. Direct downloads from the cosmos database were very common in some time-space, now it’s kind of niche as most of us are not tuned into the astral plane. Spiritual channeling, telepathy, visions and even intuition make use of that cosmic repository. Tapping into this is like connecting to the divine internet.

    A lot of my work has focused on the internet as a colonized space and neocolonial technology, which had me yearning for other ways to connect. At the same time I found myself in spiritual communities in which I discovered spiritual technologies. My spiritual practice revealed decolonial technologies as a set of networked practices that were essentially ICTs—Information and Communication Technologies.

    The definition of technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purpose. Here the tension lies within “scientific knowledge,” as the hierarchy between systems of knowledge inherited from the colonial era only considers Western rationalist/logic/“proven” knowledge as scientific. When you detach from these racist biases and allow other cultures of science to exist then the meaning of technology expands.  

    So ICTs are scientific knowledge applied for the purpose of information and communication. Outside of coloniality, then ancestor communication, as in receiving information from an ancestor, is a technology, a network for data transmission. Very much like the internet but instead of using optic fiber cables, it runs through energetic routes. Same goes for the use of teacher plants—like ubulawu or ayahuasca—which grant visions and messages when ingested, as well as yogic sciences, which allows you to open other information centers in your body so as to receive and share information as energy. These practices demand guidance, training or initiation as all traditions developed their own spiritual technologies, but there are so many interfaces available to connect and receive from the spiritual world: water, dreams, womb, and intuition...we just need to learn how to listen.

     Tabita Rezaire, installation shot from Deep Down Tidal, 2017

    I draw from very diverse sources and transmissions. My research and influences span worldwide and extraterrestrial histories, mythologies, cosmologies, lineages, and sciences. The channeling is theoretical, intuitive, or experiential; it can be individual or collective and guided by a spiritual teacher/healer or ancestors. It involves the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies separately or together; some information translates into knowledge, others into wisdom. Here are some practices I resonated with in my life (but surely many lives before): dance, water, Judaism, daydreaming, drug culture, classical philosophy, psychoanalysis, European/eastern mysticism, oracles, Kemetic Yoga & Ancient Egyptian cosmology, Kundalini Yoga & Vedic sciences, Sufism, African and diasporic spiritual systems, South African traditional healing, Ifa, Amazonian teachings, herbalism, Tantra, Buddhism, conspiracy theory, alien/spirit channeling, New Age, animal life, astrology, numerology, physics, wombwork, dreams, sound, nature… They all inform each other and reflect my eclectic path, but the nature of my engagement with different teachings differs greatly, some I only read about, others I practice daily.

    The traditions that lead my soul-heart now are my yogic practices of Kemetic and Kundalini Yoga and ancestor work through a Sangoma (South African traditional healer). Both are essential to my understandings of energy and spirit. My Kundalini teacher and Sangoma are my spiritual mothers; their teachings have been transformational forces of alignment in my life. I’m so grateful to you. Thank you.

    Our soul bodies contain the whole universe, the whole of space-time. We are literally made of space-time. When we truly access ourselves, we access that cosmos database.

    Tabita Rezaire, Premium Connect, 2017

    EF: You’ve made numerous works that explore and celebrate Black femme technologies—Matrix and Sugar Walls Teardomboth honor the forgotten histories of Black womxn whose lives and wombs contributed to gynecology and the bio-medical economy, while SENEB’s collaborative offering Hoetep Blessings (including your video of the same name, as well as works by Elizabeth Mputu and Fannie Sosa) preaches empowerment of Black femmeness to liberatory and healing ends. Your solo show was also oriented in the shape of a womb, which is such a beautiful detail.

    In the contemporary era in which digital/technological colonialism converges with the continuing legacy of colonial history, how do you see the digital and spiritual spaces coming together in the process of healing, honoring and empowering the technologies of the cunt, the womb, and the natural energies of all Black femmeness? Does one serve the other?

    TR: I believe spiritual spaces can be found anywhere and in anything, all spaces (thoughts and actions) are spiritual in potential, as spirit can be infused into everything. Only our intention and attention can turn a space-time into a work of spirit. You can be dancing in a ceremony or in the club, if you are consciously moving energy through your body-temple as a praise of the divine; you are in an act of spiritual communion. Same goes for cooking, walking, talking… it doesn’t matter what and where you do but how you do it.

    I understand spirituality as the path that brings us to our soul and from there to source. There are an infinite numbers of paths, more than there are people. So I don’t see an inherent opposition between the digital and the spiritual. If your use of the digital assists you in meeting your soul, to become and realize the spirit that you are, then the digital can be a powerful spiritual tool. Any interface is fertile for spirit cause spirit is everywhere, just waiting to be revealed to itself.

    The path of the womb has been and still is fundamental in my political and spiritual growth. The womb is a safe guarding treasures; it is our site of creation and with it comes immense power and responsibility. People with wombs hold the blueprint of creation, as they have the potential to birth life. They are in direct conversation with the cosmic womb that birthed our multiverse. Like an umbilical cord tying us back to source. Yet wherever you fall on the gender spectrum this area is your potent creative center, an energetic womb that can birth, if not a human life but spiritual manifestation like ideas, dreams, visions...its knowing and ways are so abundant. 

    This access point has been shattered by thousands of year of patriarchy and religious interpretations that shame the feminine, condemn sexual pleasure, and disgrace menstruations and birth. Everything relating to the womb and cunt has been vilified, and we unfortunately have all internalized this. Our wombs are traumatized and that blocks the flow of creation. Broken wombs birth broken beings/dreams. The collective state of our sites of creation reflects the collective state of the world. I’m certain that to serve our world we need to serve our wombs.

    Creating a relationship with my womb, to its rhythms and flows taught me so much. It is a gateway to the divine within yourself, the teachings of the womb are lessons of spiritual embodiment. This connection allowed me to access repressed wounding—both my own and ancestral ones I was carrying—and attend to them.

    This is what the works you mentioned are about, searching through womb lineages of hurt to start a healing process. Online, in VR, in our minds, 3D world, and other dimensions but always guided by the spiritual.

    Tabita Rezaire, still from Sugar Walls Teardom, 2016

    EF: While The House of SENEB emerged in 2016 as the central channel of your digital healing practice, you were already exploring the concepts of “decolonial self-care” and spiritual healing in your video Peaceful Warrior(2015)—a tutorial-esque guide for transitioning from being an “angry warrior” to being a “peaceful warrior.” The soundscape of Peaceful Warrior acts like a narrator of the spiritual transformation happening on screen—developing from meditative strides into discordant howls as you transform yourself through kemetic yoga, decolonial diet, and yonic twerking. The House of SENEB embraces sound and vibration as a major healing force. As you’ve spoken about previously, “SENEB comes from the ancient Kemetic word/symbol meaning health, but it also means sound or rather ‘to be sound’ or ‘to have soundness.’ The power of sound to heal is deep.”What is your relationship to sound as an artist who works with video, a spiritual practitioner? Do you make the music in your work?

    TR: We are sound. We are sonic being. The world is sound. It’s also a very powerful technology. My relation to it keeps expanding and deepening as I explore diverse access points to it, from music, physics, spirituality, or mathematics all give different insights into the mysteries of sound. I’m so blessed to count as soul-friends very gifted musicians, so all music in my videos are the healing frequencies of beloved ones, Hlasko, FAKA, and CHI. I’m so grateful that their sounds bless my works. I’m in the process of slowly getting in that world but I’m still working on clearing my throat chakra. The voice is a healing instrument but it sometimes needs healing itself. I’m excited about what sounds and rhythms will come out through me.

    In physics, sound is vibration that alters the pressure of air (or other medium sound goes through) propagating energy. Basically sound is vehicle for energy. We can use sound waves to carry the energy of our intentions. That is base of sound healing.

    That’s why sound is so powerful. All spiritual traditions use sound in some form or another, chanting, praying, singing, mantra repetition, playing instruments to honor and communicate with the divine. These are methods of tuning ourselves to the whole, to the rhythm of the cosmos. The universe has a sound current, the primeval sounds of creation, which are still resonating.

    Everything has its own vibrational frequency, also feelings and thoughts. Each frequency has a specific effect that can establish or disturb harmonic balance in a system. Sound shapes your state of consciousness. “Modern” science has now caught up and is calling this brain entrainment, where brain waves are able to synchronize to external sound wave. That’s why sound can be so healing if precise frequencies are used but also deadly. Sonic warfare is being used by many governments as a weapon.

    The science of cymatic also shows a relationship between sound and the formation of geometric shapes in matter, with specific frequencies corresponding to specific forms. So sacred geometry in nature is the results of vibrational frequencies. Ancient Egyptians referred to geometry as “frozen music.”

    I love the idea that sound shapes our world, that manifested creation is a result of the sound of creation itself. Actually many cosmological beginnings attributes the birth of the world to sound or a word. The words we use are actually so important; when we speak we spread (outward and inward) the frequency of that word on matter around us as energy propagate. The power of the word is so real.

    The applications of sound healing are infinite. I play the gong and it has transformed my life. It feeds my soul. I trained this year in gong therapy and the science is so profound. The healing of the gong is powerful. It’s a soul alignment technology.

    EF: I first saw your video essay Afro Cyber Resistance (2014) as a part of a class taught by manuel arturo abreu. In it you outline the colonialist patterns of information flow thatrecreate a Western hegemony online, and how South African internet artists are resisting the structures of a digital north/south divide. These ideas also hold space in your most recent work Deep Down Tidalthrough the language of “electronic colonialism,” which links the informatic and material forms of the internet to histories of Black death. Without asking you to reiterate the subjects of Afro Cyber Resistance (which everyone should go watch), as a Black femme artist and spiritual healer, how does your engagement with digital materialities and information economies shift in response to these colonialist realities?

    Tabita Rezaire, Deep Down Tidal, 2017

    TR: Already back in 1995 Ziauddin Sardar wrote: “The west urgently needs new spaces to conquer...and where they don’t actually exist, they must be created. Enter, cyberspace.” Electronic colonialism is that shift of former colonized countries into electronic colonies, of colonial subjects into global Westernized subjects and cyber slave. Electronic colonialism is so insidious, and because we are gladly hooked to our devices it’s even more dangerous. Even when we know how awful it is we still love it. It has been designed this way to build this attachment closer to addiction than love. How to put criticism into practice? How to take responsibility and implement a response? I’m still figuring it out, I guess the work I do is some kind of response.

    While researching for the video Deep Down Tidalabout transoceanic communication networks, I found out that our fiber optic cables are laid out onto former colonial shipping routes as most still follow the path of 19th-century copper telegraph cables. The internet is literally built on racist social engineering. I was petrified by this symbolism, yet this work brought a deep sense of calm, as water spirits also inhabit our deep seas. I was studying fractal at that time and suddenly my outlook shifted as I thought of fractal resilience. A fractal can be defined as infinity in a finite space, for some fractal arrangements it can also be multiple infinities in one finite space. If you transpose that mathematical definition to political struggles of emancipation, you have the finite space of our oppressive racist-rapey-colonialist-capitalist-industrial-legal complex, yet within it lies the potential for infinity. Infinity of experiences, of worlds, of ways of being and living no matter how small, or suffocating the finite structure is.

    EF: The act of “disseminating light through screen based interfaces and energy streams” holds a central place in your praxis of digital healing activism. What is the importance of light to you, as a new media artist, a tech-politics researcher and a practitioner of spiritual/digital healing?

    TR: Disseminating light is a call/practice/service of love, defiance and trust. To embody love as opposed to seeking something/someone to hold the loving. In defiance of all that which keeps spreading the hurts. In trust of better days and ways—where trust is no longer hope.

    That deep knowing is light.

    Light is energy. Light is a path. Yet it means very different things in different traditions of physics, religions, metaphysics, and mysticisms. In all those fields the meanings and disputes over meanings attributed to light are fascinating to me. I recently set up a brief school about “time” in Austria and we studied quantum physics, and went into past life regression, it revealed some of light’s complexities to me.

    Why light is so central is that it defines one’s comprehension of the world (both in the world of physics and spirituality). Our 3D world is what it is for us humans because of how we interpret the light (electromagnetic radiations-EMR) that is reflected back from our surroundings. The thing is that out of the whole electromagnetic spectrum, we are only able to “see” a tiny fraction. That’s why we see/experience the world differently from other species as they might be sensitive to different EMR, infrared or ultraviolet for example. 

    The fascinating thing for me is the relational position of light and darkness. What we call darkness is only the absence of visible light for human. As we only see a limited part of the light spectrum, what we experience as darkness might be reflecting bright light/EM at a frequency we can’t perceive.

    Darkness can be full of light.  

    That in the world of spirit means everything for me. The relationship between darkness and light in Western culture is very much one of opposition, light being associated with positive elements: life, goodness, heaven, while darkness carries negative attributes: death, danger, evil. This narrative is also carried as a common trope within racial hierarchies. Darkness also comes to mean the unknown and as the West is so uncomfortable with not knowing, that it vilifies everything outside of its premises of understanding. There is no space for coexisting worlds.

    The unknown is the path of the mystic.

    I believe healing starts with being in conversation with darkness, as in what is not exposed, outside of our knowing. Facing our fears, going where it hurts, revealing the wounds. Then slowly scarring, not physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Healing is birthing a different state of being and birthing is always painful. This is also true of spiritual growth.

    Some spiritual traditions speak of this transformation as a transition from darkness to light. I do associate spiritual light with a certain consciousness, with the illumination of our inner spirit. We are light beings and when we decide to walk the path of our soul, our light shines, but darkness is within light. Like my soul-friend Bogosi likes to say, we are light workers. In Kemetic cosmology, and many others, light was born out of the primeval darkness, the creative force of the universe being darkness. In astrophysics, stars turn into black holes and according to the big bounce theory, the cosmos is potentially a cyclical pattern of alternating big bang and big crunch (mega black holes that suck up the whole contracting universe). So universes are just being born, dissolved, and reborn.

    I deeply resonate with a complementary approach, where light and darkness are two expressions of one entity. Like beloved in an embrace birthing one another like day and night, sunrise after sunset, big crunch after big bang, without one being more noble than the other, both as important, necessary and powerful in their own ways.   

    Tabita Rezaire, still from Sugar Walls Teardom, 2016

    Questionnaire

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    I joined a photo club in 2009, and started to take analogue photos and developing them in the club’s darkroom. I left for London as an aspiring fashion designer and unexpectedly went into art. During all my studies I was very into analogue technology, only shooting in film with super 8 cameras. I was attached to the film as material and the process of developing. I remember a friend once told me: “The role of the artist is to comment on their time,” that struck me and I realized my use of film was a nostalgic fetish. I was writing my thesis on the politics of ecstasy and cruelty in film performance, only once I finished my MA, I really started a practice. I went in with the digital and got caught in the politics of digital technologies.

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

    I studied economics for my BA, at University Dauphine in Paris, and did my last year at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. Then I did an art foundation year at Central saint Martins in London and followed there with a research Master in Artist Moving Image.

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

    I currently work full time as an artist.

    Since my teens I’ve worked as vegetable merchant on markets, retail assistant, math and physics tutor, babysitter, call center agent, French tutor, hostess, dissertations editor, club door girl, waitress.

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




    Header image: still from Sugar Walls Teardom, 2017


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    Since its founding in 2012 by IDPW and Exonemo, Internet Yami-Ichi has generated fervent crowds to sample cottage-made, tangible WWW goods and services in cities across the world: Basel, Berlin, ​New York City, Sapporo​, ​Tokyo, and beyond.

    Writing for Rhizome in 2015, Lucas Pinheiro called the platform “a gripping example of recent artistic experimentations with the materiality of the web.” The following year, a Rhizome Commission supported an edition of the event at the Knockdown Center in Queens.

    Net art objects and ephemera have a long history: Mouchette advertised her first public appearance via flyers on Amsterdam streets in 1996 and Rhizome founder Mark Tribe curated an exhibition of net art ephemera at Moving Image Gallery in 2002. Printed or zazzled, watermarked or hand-stitched, this edition of Internet Yami-Ichi is for net art that continues in this vein, circulating through physical networks of exchange.

    Today, we’re pleased to announce that Rhizome will host a micro-edition of Internet Yami-Ichi at NADA New York 2018, at Skylight Clarkson Square, from March 8–11. Our market will stock myriad internet-related objects at accessible prices, all available in limited quantities first-come, first serve, with proceeds directed back to the creators. 

    As we develop our inventory, we’re putting out an open call for product. If you have something to sell, please propose inclusion via this simple form. (See form for fine print.) Submit by February 14. 

    We look forward to learning about your wares.

    Fabien Mousse, Real Internet Art (2013)

     


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    Photo by Matt Dell

     

    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.

    bod [包家巷] - 'Emergence [紧急情况]' (2018) Courtesy of ZOOM LENS

     

    Lauren Studebaker: You work in a variety of mediums, most recently releasing a digital EP, Soliloquy of the Distant Home, under the pseudonym bod [包家巷]. Could you begin by introducing the multiple manifestations of your work, and why lately you’ve felt drawn to producing sound?  

    Nick Zhu: I moved to Los Angeles and I didn’t have the ability to really make anything while I also tried not to die from poverty. I was kind of making images, I just couldn’t really do very much at all in terms of making.

    I think I went back to music because it’s always been in my life. My mom noticed I could play, and then made me play piano (stereotypically) when I was four. I took lessons from a family friend. I got a scholarship into a choir. I played jazz in middle and high school. In college I made music that I don’t want anyone to hear, except for the one track on my SoundCloud.

    It only took over as a dominant practice when I came to LA.

    Now that I think about it, making anything kind of sucks. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it, I don’t know. At least with music I get to perform, which feels good. Making never feels good. Sometimes problem solving is fun, but it’s not definitively “fun” to make art or music. It’s work.

    So I guess it’s a “at least I get this one small thing” type decision. Story of my life, hahahahaha.

    LS: Your music, especially your newest EP, is haunting, heavy, and uniquely expansive in source material. Your compositions are based on samples “of construction machinery, horror movies, Chinese dramas, choir music, abuse/violence, DJ spinbacks, and, of course, piano music”—why these specific sounds?

    NZ: Oooooh, shit.

    Construction machinery: I was working at MOCA as AV/Exhibitions Tech at the time, and even when I became director of photography there, I was still around a ton of construction. Lifts going beep beep and saws cutting shit and hammers; it was really like this kind of fetish/torture that people went through for the sake of art and helping rich people launder their money, and it was a part of my life, and it was interesting, in, like, a car crash kind of way.

    Horror movies: I loooove horror movie sound design. Not necessarily from “good” movies, or even “good” “bad” movies. I’m just going into YouTube and looking at the trailers and jump scares and stuff. There’s so much good craft spent on just spooking someone, and much of it is so beautiful, all the gorgeous, wet, disgusting sounds. Also, I like watching them. “Like,” as in a “I’m bored and stoned” kind of like.

    Chinese dramas: My mom’s Chinese, and literally all she watched (and probably still watches) is Chinese TV, with favoritism towards war dramas demonizing Japanese people, or regular ol’ families falling apart type shit. Stuff she relates to. And I was there...or, I guess I would pass through the room as quickly as possible after getting home. But all the sounds stuck.

    Choir music: The choir I was in is run by this very disciplined Catholic guy, who is all about good craft and God. This shit fucked me up the most. Singing Baroque music acapella in a centuries-old mission is fucked up. Singing in a Czech cathedral is fucked up. It’s stronger than any drug I’ve ever taken. I’ve never felt tears come so easily. This is when I started to believe in God.

    Abuse/violence: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really embedded in the cycles of trauma and abuse. Fucked up shit has happened to me, and I’ve done fucked up shit. I think it’s important to know this about myself, or as my therapist says, to be aware of the desolation that I carry inside me.

    DJ spinbacks: I didn’t even know what a DJ does until I moved to LA. Then I moved here and my paragon of healing, change, and growth, Matt Dell  (M.D. James), took me to all these warehouse parties, introduced me to the music that gave rise to what I make and listen to. I heard a lot of spinbacks in this initial time period, and they sounded great.

    Piano music: I play piano. I make all my music with just a MIDI keyboard and mic. I will never disguise this fact. In my opinion, piano (or I guess harpsichord) was the first DAW.

    Also at the end of the day I have a relationship to sound that, even if it is a fad to have, is my personal experience of it and nobody else’s. It’s my little world where C major is rounded and warm colored, where Chino Amobi’s music looks like steel wool burning on a clean sheet of glass, or malibu’s music looks like milk spilling over a pale wooden table in morning light. First rule is that it both sounds and looks pretty.

    LS: Would you say that your synaesthetic relationship to the sound you produce is represented in the visual work you make?

    NZ: At least on my Instagram there have been multiple instances in which music I was listening to became similar to stuff I posted, but I’ve never sat down, made a track, and then made a visual thing to go with it. It’s also unidirectional, and unfortunately I don’t get to hear sights. The most useful relationship I have between sound and sight is that I can use the materials perceived for perfect pitch, but there’s still around a 20-hertz error margin.

    Cover for Soliloquy of the Distant Home [远家独白], released December 2017

     

    LS: I was first introduced to your work via the early 2010s “weird Facebook” groups we were a part of—how do you feel like the online social element of digitally-produced artwork has informed your work over time? Do you feel like these sorts of online communities are helpful or harmful in the dissemination and historicization of your work?

    NZ: Omg so much time we’ve “known” each other, hahahahahahaha. Facebook was where I really felt safe and able to actually talk to people. I felt like I could say exactly what I was feeling at that moment, and not be afraid of whether or not it was contextualized by the prison of my body. I fell in love over Facebook. I fell into vile, dark pits on Facebook. I lose and make new friends regularly.

    This is where I wanna state that this shit is the reason I believe the idea of medium to be outdated, as well as the ideas of space, sociality, and performance.

    These communities taught me how to see the world, and changed who I was, in a way that isn’t archived institutionally, and isn’t really thought of personally. Some artists treat the internet as a little shop of horrors in which they can find intriguing things. I try to have respect for what saved my life.

    The way I see it, every single mishap or failure that I’ve encountered in this augmented world is a direct reflection of how overconfident previous generations of human beings were to create histories, produce movements, construct realities really. Nothing is accurate. Everything has more backstories than anyone else can comprehend. All ideas have already been had, been done, but some people got lucky and got to take credit at the right time and place.

    Talent, beauty, innovation, these are just social interpretations of labor, and what’s shitty to me is that this kind of labor isn’t deemed necessary or important enough to pay everyone who does it.

    I made some really nice friends though, and they paid for all my shit and taught me how to feel like I was loved. I learned a lot about myself and others.

    Actually yeah, shoutout to the “weird Facebook” community for literally crowdfunding my artistic career and introducing me to Tea Strazicic (flufflord), who is amazing.

    Shoutout to the “experimental” Soundcloud community for showing me that there was more to music than what I learned from western music theory.

    And—duh, for real—shoutout to the whole slew of people who have helped me to even exist.

    I owe everything to them, and nothing to institutions of art and learning. Except like $26,000 of debt. By the way, shoutout to Reed College for giving me a “full ride” that contained a lend portion, which doubled in proportion every year. Nice move. 

    N. Zhu: Press Intent, Released August 2017

     

    LS: You mention here—and I’ve seen you mention before—these investigations and critiques of urban-creative labor and precarity, as well as the influence of Orientalism on the reception of these efforts. Could you expand on these topics and explain how they inform your working process, or your understanding of the current landscape of contemporary digital art?

    NZ: I can talk about this all day because I have this narrative of struggle and it’s somehow even more self-centered than my current method of answering your questions, hahahahahahaha, ugh.

    Instead, I’ll do the first two like this:

    • Socioeconomic precarity is foundational to my existence
    • Urban-creative labor thrives on the socioeconomic precarity of myself and those like me

    And then the fun one:

    The persistent existence of Orientalism has made it impossible for me look at a lot of this labor with a friendly face. It is predicated on an invisibility of the ignorance that it creates in its subjects, clouding the eyes of each artist, curator, creative director, musician, forcing them to only see criticism of Orientalism as an isolated population of semantic hairsplitting. Orientalism has no bearing on the hearts of its givers.

    Orientalism offers a vision of how different I am, will always be. It has no respite in the loving arms of a family that I rarely talk to or a historical home that I am completely unfamiliar with. I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t get to lay into a nest of authenticity with a strong sense of family or home and it starts to feel like the Orientalist view is all I have, to feel and to offer.

    I used to be (still am) bitter about seeing the triggering artifacts around, the decontextualized usage of prayer candles in a music video released on a respected experimental music label, the constant depiction of Asian urban environments as technological utopia/dystopia in digital/post-internet art, etc. Now I realize it’s equally stupid to ask a child not to be selfish, or a grown child to be considerate. I don’t call out artists anymore. I just talk a lot of shit to my friends, hahaha

    On the other hand, shoutout to all the Asians who are using socially conscious political rhetoric to justify their continued appropriation of other cultures in order to give themselves substance. Seeing rich first-gen Asians performing what is essentially a costume of an underground club DJ or a rapper makes me feel a little cringey. Watching rhetoric evolve around them on topics of racial representation for doing such things is nauseating. Why would Asian representation in practices and communities formed under the glorification of our identity in order to subjugate other minorities be necessary? I know there’s always room for good intent, but I also know that politics is an effective branding tool.

    Also, my criticism is a very American, consumer-perspective one. I don’t know what else exists but maybe I’ll have a more nuanced understanding later in my life.

    Image #3 from N. Zhu for FELT ZINE, released March 2017

    LS: Have you found that working outside of a traditional gallery model of reception, financing, and community provides more freedom for artists working with mostly digital means, or do you think it’s inhibitory to your practice?  

    NZ: If I work within the model, then I have to stand around people who think they’re doing something good for society in a corrupt and abusive system.  

    If I really cared about being around art and supporting art, then I’ll help my friends. I’ll help my friends help their friends. I’ll help my friends throw shows to donate money to whatever it is that will help other people I think would be good friends. I can already satisfy my development of a better life and practice by not being in the model. Also, I don’t feel like it’s necessary have to market this aspect of my life to others in order to attain social capital out of my own political positions. I try to have all of my “good ethics/morals” ideals maintain themselves at the level of friendship, not large abstract models like “identity” or intricate, delicate systems like “community.” Also, fuck everyone who thinks that they’re a good person. Sorry.

    I’m not going to go into any art situation that is about making someone else money, unless that person

    1. Actually needs this money

    2. Is someone I know and like, or,

    3. Will give me a fat cut

    My therapist’s position is that everyone has to work in one way or another, to be more empathetic towards people in general. Mine would be “Yeah, but working continuously without support is also continuously harmful to the body and mind, and people really don’t respect the resulting accumulation of trauma. They won’t understand that I was willing to be a bad person in order to survive. They don’t care that I am working to change that now.”

    So I’m really thankful to have so many friends in my life. I’m really thankful for the ones that stay with me, believe in me, and smile as they watch me heal. Everyone I hurt, I’m sorry. Everyone who left, I’m not mad; I’m just sorry I couldn’t do it for you.

    LS: In your text written for FELT zine, you describe Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism as “an incomplete project that doesn’t have a practical application,” and then go on to use the term, Sinofuturism, to describe your own work. Could you explain your conception of the term and how it applies to your practice?

    NZ: Just so everyone knows, I’m not as shady as I used to be! Especially now that I realize how much it can hurt people. Like, there’s artists I want to fight, but I’m not going to talk about that online anymore.

    I can criticize someone’s work and still want to be their friend, but for the most part, I’m trying to lay off of talking shit before I actually really know someone. It’s really hard though. I love talking shit.

    Even if that video has a number of insightful perspectives, it’s actually a prescriptive breach into old ideas, presented as unexplored ideas, which is like, just another blip in the entirety of the history of innovation: speculation and confirmation bias-based justification.

    I know it’s like, *really postmodern* of me to say nothing can begin or end, that all things create relative positions, that there is no absolute truth, that knowledge is isolated from everything but social construction, blah blah blah. But there isn’t an elimination of Orientalism, just a dilution of it into something more intellectually and politically palpable. This isn’t Lawrence Lek’s fault. The symbiotic gap between comprehensive effectiveness and dilution of discourse is an eternal problem in political, social, and technological criticism.

    Also, why does every single technological work end up feeling fascist? Why is it that if you spend enough time giving technology the respect of medium-specific forms, it starts to act like a shitty dictator of ideas instead of people? We can do better than cold, heartless words on the topic at hand. We can do better than simply depicting the dystopic.

    I’m over theory, and I’m over art that does not acknowledge its own hypocrisy. Actually, yeah, I want to say it: I’m a hypocrite, ask me anything.

    The most useful thing I’ve ever had in my life is emotional intelligence and only recently have I learned how to use that in a way that doesn’t harm other people. Why should my art be held to any other standard? Why should anyone’s?

    There is no physical manifestation of “accepting responsibility,” which makes things like social practice seem really stupid and bleak. There are only perceived theoretical entities that serve solely to furnish the phenomena of the world and its inhabitants. There is no defined line between “work” and “play,” “guilt” and “innocence,” “Orientalism” and “Objectivity.” Semantic ambiguities crush people in the forever present, the ineffable gap between all human beings, whose only window to each other is a complexifying system of tools that we are intent on giving more power. I’ve failed, and everyone has failed me.

    That being said, any uncertainty used as a theoretical concept is the post-structural regurgitation of the inherent inability of Western philosophy and logic to confront and resolve the possibility of a universal solipsism….so maybe I should get my marbles straight, and commit to one of the many sides that exist in a world under its own siege.


    Questionnaire

    Age:  

    Just turned 24

    Location:

    Los Angeles but not for long ;) Berlin ppl hmu

    How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?

    I started making digital photographs to document a graffiti practice and take pictures of my friends because I wanted to be Nan Goldin as a teenager, and then moved to video shortly thereafter. Other digital mediums came into my life via Akihiko Miyoshi in college, but I learned 3D modeling and sound design on my own.

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

    I went to Reed (don’t judge me pls). I wanted to fulfill my destiny and be a doctor so I went in for biology, but then I spent two weeks on 2C-I and realized that I wanted to study art instead.

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

    I worked at a salad bar when I first moved here. I was at MOCA for the last year (which was simultaneously a joke and torturous) while freelancing for anything I can do, which is really anything. I worked AV at the Hammer. I made album art. I begged for money from my rich friends. I still freelance so, help me.

    Right now, I’m trying to keep my job as a graphic designer and sound designer at Headspace, which is great, because I love startup culture and all the free food and stuff, but as I have been trying to say, everything is at least a little fucked up.


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


    That’s flufflord’s Gosha scarf, not mine.


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    Though some might insist on virtual reality, or VR, as a passing fad or technological gimmick, the field has a prodigious and often inspirational agenda, full of possibility and potential upheaval. In fact, VR might have the ability to displace one’s perspective into an unfathomable mixture of altered states and tightened sensorial elasticity. Although most conferences that cover VR tend to exist on the corporate, high-budget, and ostentatious spectrums of production value, the second annual Open Fields conference focusing on “Virtualities and Realities” and held in Riga, Latvia, took a more critical approach over merely celebrating the field. The two day event featured six keynote speakers, eighty presentations by artists, activists, researchers, students, and biohackers, three exhibitions, and a wide array of live and immersive performances. Participants representing dozens of countries spoke on their vision for the future of hybrid spaces with the ability to remix material and immaterial landscapes. The talks were varied, covering everything from interactive art and VR to experimental sound and performance art. The aim of the event was to not only celebrate possibilities within the fields of virtual and hyperreality, but to also question and critically engage with their content in order to redefine what the field could become.

    A central theme of Open Fields was the interdependency between our social habits and prejudices and how this relates to the production of computer software. Programmers’ algorithms are increasingly designed for premeditated social profiling rather than fostering an expansion of social exchanges. In her 2016 New York Timesarticle, Kate Crawford wrote, “Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many ‘intelligent’ systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.” This problem stems back to the technological origins of these algorithms, namely, the Internet and GPS, both projects first funded by and developed through U.S. military and defense research.

    Mark Zuckerberg at Samsung's press conference at Mobile World Congress, 2016

    In her opening keynote, Monika Fleischmann, co-founder of the interactive experience design company art+com, spoke about “shades of virtuality,” or “the transition from being to becoming,” arguing that we can anticipate the evolution of VR as a mixed reality system that allows users to maintain an awareness of reality while infusing them with a new appreciation for cognitive overhead. In order to illustrate how VR (as opposed to AR) provides endless alternatives to physical spaces while simultaneously blocking out the real world, she showed a popular meme photo of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg steering us into his company’s version of reality. Although everyone in the audience was wearing a headset, Zuckerberg refrained from donning the device, an image that coyly suggested his control over his many users. Ultimately, she finished her talk by showing a clip from “The Void,” a hyperreal, whole-body interactive experience owned by Disney that transports the public into a real-time immersive environment that aims to combine VR and AR worlds.

    Traversing from the world of synthetic realities into the natural or physical world, David Rothenberg gave the next keynote, in which he described compositions he designed to interact with whales and dolphins. Rothenberg is an anthropologist and author researching how the natural world can connect to the technological one through sound, as well as a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In working with nonverbal mammals, to design sonic rhythms that permeate underwater climates, he found how machines can become a translating mechanism for performance and communication. Though the concept of ubiquitous technology is nothing new, Rothenberg asserted that technology should evolve to the point that machines become an extension of ourselves, so that we forget they are present. He noted that we are progressively advancing towards this state, as computation becomes cheaper and easier to embed into our daily lives.

    Video of Time-Body Study, Daniel Landau, 2016.

    Also examining the connection between physical materiality and virtual spaces, Daniel Landau’s “Time-Body Study” explored how VR could allow us to have experiences beyond existing human limitations. On everyone’s minds were the obvious solutions of flying and breathing underwater, but Landau’s focus was on how the tactile aspects of the VR experience could altered to influence our sense of perception. He selected a volunteer from the audience and asked them to wear a VR headset, through which they could see an outstretched arm. He asked the volunteer to stretch out their own arm and place it on a table. Another volunteer was asked to touch the arm of the first, while a VR hand inside the viewing space did the same. This effect attempted to reveal how our brains respond to virtual, phantom stimuli inside of an artificial environment.  

    Looking to the future of interpersonal relationships in this context, a number of speakers described ongoing projects that augment possible connections between strangers. Karen Lancel focused on her work on kissing experiences, translating a kiss into bio-feedback while asking the public to describe why people kiss and what it feels like to kiss. In her EEG Kiss Cloud, participants kiss in a public space in front of onlookers; EEG data analyzes their kisses, and this data is projected in a circle on the floor around the participants, suggesting a public form of reclaiming intimacy through technological intervention.

    Video of EEG Kiss Cloud, Karen Lancel, 2017

    Brooklyn-based artist and neuroscientist Sean Montgomery put forward the premise that interactive art is a driver of scientific research and progress, and that we should look to artists to help us imagine the future of technology. His project Livestream exemplified this synergy. In a playground in Kentucky, he installed a series of yellow pipes which measured data such as pH levels, conductivity, temperature, and turbidity, from fresh water streams in the neighboring area. Montgomery worked with a local composer to translate this data into sound. The project attempted to sonify an existing but obscured ecosystem to make it more relatable to people occupying these spaces. Montgomery also debuted his collaborative performance piece with LoVid, “Hive Mind,” in which two performers engage the audience in a nonverbal discussion on stage, such that the “brain rhythms of each performer directly generate pulses of light and sound that synchronize the brain oscillations of viewers and create an immersive environment that transports the audience to altered states of consciousness.” Although I missed watching the performance live, I saw how its potential could be scaled to events with thousands of participants, in order to influence the collective mindset of the audience.

    Produce Consume Robot, LoVid, and Diego Rioja, Hive Mind, 2017. WARNING: THIS WORK PRESENTS A SEIZURE RISK IF YOU HAVE PHOTO-SENSITIVE EPILEPSY.

    Several speakers examined the larger concept of how interactive art has permeated our lives, becoming ever more commonplace and relevant. Varvara Guljaveva spoke on the field’s “unsolved question”: how, since interactive art has reached a stabilization point that allows critical and conceptual discourse to occur, could artists build beyond basic technological descriptions? The audience could indulge in the idea that new media art, however pervasive, can help parse and critique the transition from the older sharing culture of Web 2.0 into current states of the web – as a surveillance vehicle for data mining and the extrapolation of culture.  

    Two keynote presentations by Ellen Perlman and Chris Salter reiterated a guiding belief echoed throughout talks at Open Fields: that virtual systems are becoming so innate to our daily lives that reality itself now shapes and controls these purely digital experiences. Perlman spoke about big data, biometrics, and machine learning. In one performance project she referenced, sound and videos were controlled by the performer’s brainwaves, which acted as another form of surveillance, asking, "Is there a place in human consciousness where surveillance cannot go?" In contrast, Salter asked, "Immersion, what for?" He argued that most technologies project their own social and political ideologies onto their users. The human sensorium has always been a mediated one. Our sense of time is elastic; we are constantly being uprooted, and constantly transformed, stuck in an infinite regress from reality. The rift between Salter and Perlman’s stances was evident in how subjective alternate realities can be for each individual’s experience, making their description next to impossible to generalize or quantify for a mass audience.

    Day three of the conference moved away from VR experience and and instead examined natural interfaces and technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) including games like Pokémon Go that have made AR a more mainstream phenomenon. Kristen Bergaust’s talk focused on her Oslofjord Ecologies, in which the relationship between the environment, sociology, and human subjectivity creates a more holistic definition of ecology. We need new social and aesthetic practices of the self in relation to the other in order to discover where new technological practices could lead.

    Raphael Kim presented Reviving Drachma, a bio-digital form of gamification in which Kim harvested bacteria living on the top of the obsolete currency of Greece, the Drachma, then  converted current stock prices to electrical impulses stimulating the bacteria, which reflected the current economic state based through their activity.

    Also interested in the defranchization of humans from a technology driven future, PhD student Carlotta Aoun directed the audience to consider the evolution of humanity where Web 2.0 could mutate into a hive mind or collective reality. Even as algorithms replace humans, humans are replacing algorithms, too. As we evolve, we will reach either a breaking point in this tenuous relationship, or reach equilibrium. The thought might have provided some comfort to attendees.

    “Reviving Drachma,” Raphael Kim, 2017

    Reviving Drachma, Raphael Kim, 2017

    The exhibition portion of the conference held at the Contemporary Art Centre in Riga, curated by Raitis Smits, featured a wide array of projects that focused mainly on VR and its relationship to physical spaces and the human body. Brooklyn-based artist Brenna Murphy exhibited her LatticeDomain_Visualize piece, a meditation labyrinth featuring a VR landscape of abstract shapes that one could move through with a corresponding physical floor that mimicked the virtual environment. The aesthetically complex VR piece HanaHana by French artist Mélodie Mousset asked the audience what would happen if "Minecraft & Tilt brush met in a Salvador Dalí painting." The project is a psychogeographic expression of women’s experienes of disembodiment and dissociation; it consisted of an artificial environment within which a floating hand simultaneously reaches for the user but also moves away from them on a parallel plane.

    HanaHana Teaser, Melodie Mousset, 2017

    Exhibited projects in physical space included wr_t_ng m_ch_n_ by Austrian artist Hanns Holger Rutz. The piece is a writing machine, made from a circular tableau of petri dishes, containing small amounts of dirt piled on top of piezoelectric transducers. The project enlists the help of an algorithm, designed by the artist, that performs a continuous symphony of sound fragments. The fragments are rewritten based on specific movements of a similarity search in a real-time sound database. Also employing sound was Mind Message by Gunta Dombrovska from Latvia; it attached a Neurosky MindWave brainwave sensor to a simple player piano-like instrument, on which the user could create sound by flexing their literal mental capacities. The higher the incoming beta signal from the brain, the higher the tone played on the machine. While this type of interaction was immediate and satisfying, it did little to critically question the output of the MindWave, or suggest why such a device could be beneficial as an input stream.  

    “wr_t_ng m_ch_n_,” Hanns Holger Rutz, 2017

    wr_t_ng m_ch_n_, Hanns Holger Rutz, 2017

    As the conference ended, there was a general sense that all of the media that we encounter daily could exist in virtual spaces, and that connections between physical and connected worlds have only become stronger and more interactive. As we continually reinvent interactivity, the term post- is eagerly used to suggest new waves of displacement through experience and media. This term might be a fallacy, as Finland-based artist and conference speaker Hanna Haaslahti eloquently asked, "Why is everything ‘post-’? This should be turned around into something new."

    Both utopian and dystopian visions of virtual reality will eventually become rooted in the real world through artificial reality and other forms of engagement, so much so that there will be little distinction between the real, non-fiction simulations, and fictitious exploration. Luckily, there are events like Open Fields help us explore these emerging abstract territories, and lead us towards a more imaginative understanding of the future.

    References:

    1. Kate Crawford "Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem," The New York Times, June 25, 2016, found at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/artificial-intelligences-white-guy-problem.html
    2. Open Fields 2017 Conference Website: http://festival2017.rixc.org

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    If you’ve had any dealings with Rhizome over the past two and a half years, chances are you’ve interacted with our editorial manager, Kaela Noel. As Rhizomers are wont to do, she held a dizzying portfolio of responsibilities, from conscientious editor to catering-disaster-troubleshooter, and she handled it all with warmth and kindness. Today is Kaela’s last day with the organization, and she will be greatly missed, but we all wish her the very best in her new life as a freelance editor and parent to a tiny human.

    Meanwhile, Lauren Studebaker joins the organization this week in the role of community manager, a slightly revised version of Kaela’s position with a renewed emphasis on Rhizome’s publics. Lauren, who comes to us from Arcangel Studio and worked part time at Rhizome to help cover Kaela's maternity leave, joins just in time for a busy conference season as we look ahead to our micro-Internet Yami-Ichi, Ethics & Archiving the Web, and the tenth edition of Seven on Seven. Join us in welcoming Lauren!

     

    Image: Mouchette.org


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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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  • 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.

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    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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    March 22-24, 2018
    New Museum

    Apply now to participate or receive travel funding.

    The dramatic rise in the public’s use of the web and social media to document events presents tremendous opportunities to transform the practice of social memory. As new kinds of archives emerge, there is a pressing need for dialogue about the ethical risks and opportunities that they present to both those documenting and those documented. This conversation becomes particularly important as new tools, such as Rhizome's Webrecorder software, are developed to meet the changing needs of the web archiving field. 

    Ethics & Archiving the Web will address the need for a deeper understanding of the ethical implications of web archiving–on the part of professionals and web users alike. The event will bring together online communities, librarians, journalists, archivists, scholars, developers, and designers to talk about how to create richer, non-oppressive web archives—archives that will better serve their publics and the historical record.

    In particular, we welcome applications for presentations, discussions, and workshops on community-driven archiving efforts, and documentation of activism; archiving trauma, violence, and human rights issues; recognizing and dismantling digital colonialism and white supremacy in web archives; strategies for protecting users (from one another, from surveillance, or from commercial interests); design-driven approaches to building more ethical web archives; and issues arising when archives become big data or are used for machine learning.

    If you would like to propose a short presentation, workshop, discussion, or case study, or if you wish to attend but require funding to do so, apply by filling out this form. Limited funding is available for travel and accommodation, and presenters will receive an honorarium. Responses will be sent to all applicants by December 6, and additional tickets will go on sale shortly thereafter.

    The conference will be livestreamed and made available for later viewing on the event website. Proceedings and a white paper will also be published and circulated online.

    Credits

    The National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web is organized by 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 (DocNow).

    Organizers of the National Forum include 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, Ed Summers, Lead Developer at Maryland Institute for Technology and Technical Lead of DocNow, and Anna Perricci, partnerships manager and sustainability consultant for Webrecorder.

    The Advisory Board for the National Forum includes Jefferson Bailey, Director, Web Archiving at the Internet Archive, Jarrett Drake, an advisory archivist of A People's Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland and Doctoral Student at Harvard University Department of Anthropology, Pamela Graham, Director of the Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research at Columbia University Libraries, Dr. Safiya Noble, author and Assistant Professor at the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, and Stacie Williams, Team Leader, Digital Learning and Scholarship, Case Western Reserve University Library.

    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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    Rindon Johnson, 'Away with You,' 2016 still from VR video

    Assistant Curator of Net Art and Digital Culture Aria Dean explores the themes of First Look: New Black Portraitures, a group exhibition co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum

    First Look: New Black Portraitures began as a series of casual conversations between friends and colleagues. Although it’s disingenuous to claim this as an origin, because we’ve just taken up a project that long predates the lifetimes of any of the participants in this show. It’s a project that spans generations and characterizes the arc of black art history. So, this version of that larger undertaking began as a series of casual conversations between friends and colleagues.

    One such conversation took place about a year and a half ago; I moderated a phone call between artists Lorraine O’Grady and Juliana Huxtable for the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’ Introducing interview series. Among other things, the two women discussed their emphasis on using their own figures in their performances and image-based work. O’Grady said to Huxtable:

    There’s still so much unexplored work to be done on bodies that wanting to move from representation to abstraction really is a way of avoiding dealing with bodies, and especially a way to avoid dealing with bodies that are discomforting.

    O’Grady and Huxtable’s dedication to centering the body and the figure, particularly the black femme figure, left me conflicted - but productively so. Prior to this, I had already been exploring what could be termed the “failures of visibility” through my own writing and studio practice and had settled into a fairly staunch suspicion of “representation.” My suspicion first took form as a response to a tendency toward visibility in strategies of self-representation among white feminists; but it grew into a wider critique of such strategies in a society and economic system that is increasingly dependent on online user visibility, legibility, and data extraction. While I agree with O’Grady and Huxtable’s assessment of the use of abstraction to invalidate approaching marginalized bodies directly, I still find myself occupied with the “historical violences wrought on these same bodies at the hands of representation, and at the hands of the singular, fixed, photographic image in particular.”

    So, the tension that O’Grady identified, this push and pull between representation and abstraction or obfuscation, sets this exhibition into motion. First Look: New Black Portraitures draws this tension out, and then backpedals, asking what it means to represent in the first place, and specifically what it means to represent blackness and black people.

    In discussing our practices as black artists, writers, and curators, we often begin with or end up at the question of representation. Many of us are preoccupied with this question of how to represent ourselves, and, increasingly, whether we should at all. There are countless ways to address these questions, but this exhibition takes the tradition of portraiture as its starting point.

    There are a number of reasons to start at the portrait. First, there is the loaded history of portraiture itself; portraiture has served not only as historical record but is also inextricably tied to class, citizenship, and the construction and confirmation of the bourgeois liberal subject. When considering portraits in their historical context, we should keep in sight “the analogy between symbolic representation and political-legal representation.” How do we, as black artists, writers, and critics, approach symbolic representation when political-legal representation has always-already been foreclosed upon? What does the portrait do when that analogy’s bonds are broken?

    A second–distinct but very related–reason for framing this exhibition as an exercise in ”portraiture” is the historical and philosophical relationship between blackness and the photographic image. The photographic image–more specifically the photographic portrait–does not only repress by producing certain bodies as liberal subjects and omitting others. It also, perhaps with even more aggression and urgency, produces a black subject and blackness itself.

    Photographic and moving images are a primary mode through which normative–predominantly racist–conceptions of blackness and black life have been delivered to the public. For example, we can look to overtly anti-black Jim Crow-era memorabilia, or the wealth of racist imagery of black people circulated via cinema and television programming throughout the 20th century. Since its invention, the photographic image and its claim to truth have had a profound impact on fashioning what blackness is thought to be.

    Finally, we begin with portraiture because it is a necessary consideration in the image-saturated internet and social media culture in which we currently find ourselves. This necessity is multivalent. On one level, we should consider portraiture because posting images of ourselves and of others is the name of the game; this online activity is an informal practice of portrait-making. Seemingly harmless, these practices thinly veil a larger system that feeds off of our legibility as users and subjects. Portraiture, in part and in many forms, becomes the labor required for certain kinds of digital citizenship. And on another level, we turn to portraiture because, in this image-saturated sphere, images of black people abound. These abundant images of black people come through multiple channels, with the major ones being memes, celebrity content, and images of protest and state-sanctioned violence. The circulation of this content invigorates concerns about surveillance, appropriation, and commodification.

    First Look:New Black Portraitures asks the included artists to think about “portraiture” as an acute pressure point for tackling blackness and the image at large, and to consider this intersection–of the histories of portraiture, of blackness and photography, and of contemporary digital culture–as crucial in the process. In an essay about the work of Lorna Simpson, curator Okwui Enwezor wrote: “we would do well to linger on the nature and status of the photographic portrait: between the portrayed and depicted, the represented and the documented, the visible and invisible, the inchoate and the overdetermined.” This exhibition follows Enwezor’s suggestion and lingers on these relationships, acknowledging their muddier nature when blackness enters the picture plane.

    The works included in First Look: New Black Portraitures vary in approach and medium– although the lion’s share are video works. Along with an affinity for video, many of the artists emphasize a refusal of or the insufficiency of the image. For instance, manuel arturo abreu’s ambient portraits (2017) is a suite of “sound portraits” created from selfies of five of the artist’s friends using a technique inspired by data-bending, the manipulation of a file with a program meant to edit other file formats. ambient portraits entirely refuses the image, and instead gestures toward blackness’ hypervisuality and the link between audio and the visual in black cultural forms. Similarly, N-Prolenta presents Banana Island: Hublots, another work that moves across image and sound; the artist livestreamed their music production process for the public while also producing a series of image-based works. N-Prolenta, like abreu, refuses and evades the image, even while working within a structure that demanded constant visibility and hyperconnectedness. During the livestream, they barred the audience from consuming aspects of their process, muting the stream and disappearing for chunks of time. In the resultant image-based works, they manipulated their own image in post-production such that they become abstracted to the point of being indistinguishable from their surroundings, warping inhumanly in front of the camera.

    Other artists focus more on the insufficiency of portraiture, both conceptually and technologically. They mobilize or settle into an acceptance of portraiture’s failings. For instance, poet and artist Rindon Johnson’s Away with You (2017), a virtual reality ASMR and guided meditation, offers us a visualization of the NBA 2K16 video game’s facial recognition software’s inability to “read and output a black male face.” Johnson pairs the game’s failed attempt at outputting their image with a soothing meditative audio track. The artist sums the work up in one sentence: “NBA 2K16's facial recognition software cannot accurately read and output a black male face, now let’s try to relax.” Pastiche Lumumba’s social media performance Community Standards (a poortrait across platforms)–which will unfold throughout the course of the exhibition–also displays a certain level of resignation. Lumumba has created three separate Instagram accounts, making concrete the sort of diffraction of his personality that already occurs across social media profiles. Taking an antagonistic stance toward the unification and integrity of the subject online, Lumumba argues that “being whole on the internet is a struggle.” Community Standards (a poortrait across platforms) responds to this set of conditions by asking: in that case, why try to be anything but fractured? Lumumba’s performance explores this specifically digital fragmentation, while at the same time tapping into the longer history of fragmentation of self endemic to many black experiencesthis fragmentation that we also know by the name of “double-consciousness,” that we see enacted by practices like code-switching.

    This sort of tangled up timeline–where the fairly recent digital context is shown to merely deepen the conditions of anti-blackness, extending its long lifetime, where new and old sort of look the same depending on the angle–shows up as well in Sondra Perry’s video work It’s in the Game ‘17. In this work, Perry explores the appropriation and circulation of the identities of her brother and other college NCAA basketball players in an EA sports video game. Perry’s video draws attention to new forms of very old practices: the exploitation of black people, their images, and their labor for profits that they will never see. That these conditions are replicated in the US sports industry and its videogame franchises is thrown into sharp relief when Perry’s work–which considers black people as the unpaid labor for this image industry–is read alongside Johnson’s, which illuminates the way in which the industry explicitly constructs an imagined non-black audience. As Frank Wilderson said in conversation with fellow scholar Saidiya Hartman: “The possibility of becoming property is one of the essential elements that draws the line between blackness and whiteness.” The black body is “subject to a kind of complete appropriation.” Perry’s work puts pressure on our understanding of ownership and rights to our own body and image, suggesting that to be black is to have always already lost such rights.

    Alongside these practices that aim to complicate portraiture’s very structure, a number of artists in New Black Portraitures stillcome to portraiturewith what looks like a traditional approach. Juliana Huxtable has contributed a series of photographs–also on view at Project Native Informant (London)–that each show fragments of the subject’s body emblazoned with tongue-in-cheek tattoos with images and slogans from contemporary culture (“black lives matter” and “anti-fa” for instance). Rather than abandoning the portrait, Huxtable inhabits it, devouring its borders from within. Redeem Pettaway also presents an apparently traditional portrait in the form of a video positioned as a “conversation facilitated by” the artist via a title card at its start. However,, the video ultimately denies this format and the level of disclosure it suggests. Pettaway moves too quickly to catch and speaks too briefly to capture; the conversation is actually a series of gestures and is posed between Pettaway, the audience, and an empty seat. And finally, Somali-Australian painter Hamishi Farah has converted a painting–depicting actor and comedian Mike Myers–into an animated video that captures Myers’ reaction in the moment of Kanye West’s famous proclamation that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Farah puppeteers Myers and, by rendering him with thick, expressive brushstrokes that evoke Impressionist painting, flips the racialized power dynamic that characterizes portraiture’s history.

    Still vulnerable to appropriation, and always in pieces, all of these artists soldier onward. They all, in some way, retain an interest in the portrait. No one has surrendered the enemy territory. Instead, they recognize portraiture as a battlefield worth revisiting in order to get to the heart of the relationship between blackness and its image - returning to the place where an initial war was waged.

    First Look: New Black Portraitures might then be a misnomer; the works shown here have not been selected for their “innovation” upon the genre of portraiture or the artists’ experience of blackness. Rather, these new black portraits are new as in fresh. They act brand new when burdened with the heavy history of the portrait. New Black Portraitures is new in that it circles back and starts at square one.


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    Reminder: Apply now for travel funding for our next web preservation conference, Ethics & Archiving the Web, taking place in March 2018.

    In February, Rhizome convened a diverse range of experts in digital social memory at the New Museum to discuss the ethical and technological implications of digital archiving.

    This important and wide-ranging conversation is now available as an interactive narrative, thanks to Lozana Rossenova, a PhD researcher at London's South Bank University who is working on research with Rhizome and the Center for Study of the Networked Image. Rossenova used Webrecorder, Rhizome's online tool that creates high-fidelity archives of the dynamic web, to capture online resources that contextualize her summary of the day-long series of conversations.

    Throughout the day, panelists discussed problems of neutrality and surveillance. They raised questions about the intended audience of such archiving, as well as potential adverse effects on freedom of speech and privacy. User agency was a central theme; how much control should individuals have over how their data is collected? How will this new layer of surveillance affect interactions on social media? Should certain voices be privileged over others? They also analyzed the digital archive’s interpretation of political realities and, in turn, the archive’s influence on those lived realities.

    A particular highlight was the conference's keynote panel, titled “Failures of Care.” Doreen St. Felix, a contributing writer at The New Yorker, and as well as artist and writer Kameelah Janan Rasheed, discussed the prospect of using social media archiving to contextualize and make visible black creative culture in the face of historical erasure, while also foregrounding the ongoing violence wrought by archives on black artists and communities. 

    To continue this conversation, Rhizome, University of California at Riverside Library (UCR), the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), and the Documenting the Now project (DocNow) will host a National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web from March 22 to 24, 2018. If you would like to propose a short presentation, workshop, discussion, or case study, or if you wish to attend but require funding to do so, apply by filling out this form.

    Rossenova will discuss the challenges facing her research in digital archiving and future narration of digital social memory on December 6th at the MacDevitts Studio in London.


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