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The Rhizome Blog and Rhizome News

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    Screenshot courtsey of Garrett Lockhart

    In July of this year, the video artist Mark Leckey gave an informal lecture at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London on an ephemeral concept he titled 'Touchy-Feely' — a sort of sensory nerve at the tip-end of his cumulative project on distribution and demand, The Long Tail (2009), (which he previously spoke to Rhizome about.) During the talk, he presented an excerpt from Pearl Vision (2012), a short film and 'self-portrait', that premiered at 'Ghosts in the Machine' at the New Museum and was broadcast on BBC4 last month. The sensuous object of the snare drum (physically absent yet present in high definition audio and video) in this latest work addresses contemporary effects of desire and displacement, caused in part by the everyday technological prostheses at the body's disposal. Recently I spoke with Leckey over email. His perspectives on the intricacy of feeling, ever-changing aesthetic hierarchies, the space beyond the screen and the power of rhythm follow:

    Do you think the shift from pointing toward the camera, perceiving it as a means of broadcast to using the camera to point – as a prosthesis for our own hands – is a recent phenomenon? It seems that for young artists especially, the cinematic image has suffered; instead of the establishing shot, the long take and other aspects of framing 'the image', video attempts to enter a world, or a flow, of imagery that is bigger than what can possibly fit into a single frame. The tension between on-screen and off-screen feels more fluid today, a sort of David Cronenburg-circa-Videodrome (1983) effect...

    It seems to me that Vito Acconci’s Centers (1971), for example, embodies the concerns of single-channel video at that time: one person broadcasting out from the television and attempting to address the masses on the other side. Whereas now it’s a single person, or their hands, in isolation and trying to address the mass that’s on the other side of the screen, that is, inside it. I’ve collected lots of images and examples of hands manipulating objects and stuff sort of ‘inside’ the image. They’ve got their hands in there the same way you’ve described those glove boxes scientists use to carry out radioactive experiments.

    We touch things in order to know them, to see them properly. Like when we say: ‘can I look at that?’ but actually we mean: can I hold it, can I manipulate it. And I make pictures or images of things in the same way, so that I can know them better, grasp them, fully apprehend them, ‘grok’ them. Grok is a good word – it was coined by a science fiction writer, and it means to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy. So it’s all about grokking; trying to know something intimately. 

And once you’ve got this image of an evocative object on the screen, and it’s in your hands, then you can start to squeeze it, squish it; it’s totally plasmatic. And once you’re done with that you can point to these manipulations; to emphasize the object’s thingness, its objecthood.

    Like the numinous TV screen in Videodrome– it takes us back to older ideas when animals, trees and rocks contained a spirit and we were all connected through the ‘Great Spirit’. It’s the animistic world-view.

    I just watched The Haunted Toaster (1984) on YouTube. Now all of our appliances are haunted; they all speak to us in some way. We wouldn’t find anything extraordinary, or anything supernatural, about a talking toaster. I think modern society went through this at the end of the 19th century with the gramophone – the ‘Talking Machine’ – the telegram and the radio. Suddenly there were all these ghostly voices being produced in the ether. You have a similar effect now with the paradoxical presence of disembodied things at your fingertips. Its spooky stuff.

    Are we becoming more alienated from touching something directly? With a smart device at my fingertips I can enter directly into the digital realm: whether zooming in to pixel-level detail with a swift stroke of my e-tip index finger or instantly publishing a snapshot of my surroundings to instagram. Yet this also implies a distancing; a need to mediate ‘reality’ in order to properly perceive it.

    You are sitting at your desktop or laptop and you have an array of tools at hand: hardware and software, camera, scanner, printer, final cut, logic, fruityloops as well as access to a huge archive of material through Google, Getty images etc. And all these tools, like other tools, externalize your human organs and limbs and senses. Like the hammer extends the length and power of the arm and the telescope one-ups the eyeball. They augment the body, extend it outwards: my voluptuous body (sitting at the desk) with all its carnal need for sensual knowledge. And it’s sitting there making and watching this stuff, producing and consuming it: prosuming.

    Say I’ve filmed or made an object and then I’ve put it smack in the middle of the screen. Its really compelling, this object, its got real allure – real presence. Because the object compels me; it’s not me (as a maker), it’s the agency of the object drawing me to it. It causes a physical sensation in my body; this image, this picture, this mere representation, seems to be directly stimulating the material elements in me: all my nerves and fibre. Like I’m responding to a physical encounter. At this point I’m not just contemplating an image, I’ve embraced it and absorbed it into my body. There’s a great British phrase to describe this: ‘clapped eyes on it’ – your eyes are like hands that smack an object.

    At the same time, I keep telling this story of when I last tried to sculpt a figure out of clay. I made one half of the head and then it was as if my body, the instinctual part of it, couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t just copy, paste and flip the other half. It’s as if I’ve un-learned how to behave in the physical world, or that this engagement with the immaterial realm has superseded the need to. That’s a scary thought but also an exciting one.

    So what happens to human interaction when we lose touch with our bodies, with expression and the world-out-there?

    GreenScreenRefrigerator (still) 2010, Digital video TRT: 17:10

    I was thinking of Green Screen Refrigerator (2010), and how these terribly smart objects are seducing us into their own brand universes. How do we resist objectification as consumers, or see the world in ways that it doesn't necessarily want to be seen? The audio track to Green Screen maybe speaks to this too:
    'we exist'
    'address, they ask each one an answer'
    'i liken myself to other things'
    'my goal is to keep whole’
    Are we to imagine these sung statements as the thoughts of the refrigerator?

    Today we are surrounded by brands. They are our environment, part of our ecology, so we absorb them and we also act them out. So I don’t see them as something to be resisted in themselves; they are as natural as icebergs or pollen. As the Borg say: Resistance is Futile.

    What the title Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999) still means to me is that to invest all your energies into something as ultimately banal and fleeting as a jeans label – Fiorucci was big in the 1970s and 1980s – creates this intensity that is transcendent, that is beyond the brand and beyond the mundane everyday. It takes you somewhere else, and that’s still where I want to go.

    The fridge sings like a frog, a rock, or a tree might in a folk tale. It’s a bit like the haunted toaster. A lot of what it says at the beginning is chopped up from the ancient Popul Vuh creation myth, as I felt there was something analogous in the way these devices are coming to populate the world. The second bit, when the fridge enters into its own interior, is a chopped-up version of Calvin Tomkins’s A Guided Tour through the Strange World of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’ (1966). And the final part is the fridge talking about its brand family, of which it’s a totem. It is in constant communication with all its kin, including the image sensors that take the pictures of Saturn and all its moons.

    The UK home secretary recently blocked the extradition of Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States (for allegedly hacking the Pentagon and NASA computer systems ten years ago), in large part because of his diagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. It's commonly accepted that a lot of programmers are afflicted with various forms of autism – characterized by limited empathy, physical clumsiness, difficulties in social interaction and a penchant for seeking out repetitive patterns. Does this have an implication for our own relationship to images, technological objects, and mediated communication in general?

    I am a bit obsessed with Gary McKinnon so its brilliant you brought him up. I’m fascinated by his face. I collect all the images I can of him. He has this very old fashioned sense about him, a kind of very familiar British schoolboy innocence, a kind of man-boy, and yet at the same time he is like this alien being from the future who communicates via highly complex code. He also writes music and makes videos; he is the 21st-century man David Bowie promised us.
    And I think that his Asperger’s is what gives him that, he’s already cybernetic.

    Autistics are the midwives of technology. Asperger’s is known as the ‘Engineer’s Disorder’.

    There seem to be possibilities for union between different kinds of realities online – a way to incorporate all aspects of how we experience the world.

    How do you think the changing experience of images, especially in internet space, will affect contemporary art at large? What purchase does the artist have (or should she have) on representation or manipulation that an average 'user’ might not?

    I was thinking about this in relation to teaching at art school. We teach students to become more professional, to professionalize their practice, but they are actually entering into a world where amateurs make and show work that is as good as anything they might produce. The levelling effect of technology means that anyone can make and distribute an image. That brings up all sorts of problems for me; artists taking images found on tumblr and merely transposing them to a gallery wall or borrowing online aesthetics (datamosh, seapunk, etc.). The methods and vocabularies of art-making that students are being taught just aren’t robust enough for the coming dissolution of the professional art world. The zombie figure of ‘appropriation’ still walks the corridors of Goldsmiths, where I teach, for example. But I don’t know what application that term has anymore.

    George Bernard Shaw said that ‘all professions are conspiracies against the laity’, and I think we will end up with the really big-name artists up in the ‘head’, the 1%, becoming more ever more exclusive and self-reflective; and all other artists, at whatever level, spread out along the Long Tail. It’s not an ‘end of art’ situation, but I think art will go through a revolution as great as the one at the turn of the 20th Century.

    Can you describe some of the phenomena that fit the touchy-feely paradigm?

    I saw this video by Amanda Baggs called In My Language and the fact that it was on YouTube seemed perfect; the internet has given people with autism the ability to communicate effectively. Someone even called the internet ‘braille for Autists’. Autistic language is visual and tactile and video, I think, satisfies both of those senses. Amanda is doing this kind of keening and humming, singing along with what is around her and repeating the same movement over and over again. This is called ‘stimming’, or self-stimulating, which can be twiddling your fingers, or spinning an object round and round, or repeating a phrase you have heard, like an echo.

    This repetitive behavior is properly called preserverating; but you can see it kind of getting her in a state where she can communicate with all the things around her. She is picking up on the constant droning of things, the vibrations from objects in the world. All things are alive to her, all dumb things are universally addressable.

    One of the supposed defining characteristics of an autistic is that they lack a ‘theory of mind’, meaning they cannot put themselves in another’s shoes. But what I think you see in the video is an ability to empathize with everything, with all the non-human things in the world. To see everything as being ‘minded’ in some way.

    I feel like my own perception has been physiologically altered. I can only understand objects once I have them as an image on screen, but that image has to have depth and presence. I don’t want a flat image. To me, digital objects are as good and true a sensation as if there was a real object there. Only the object happens not to be there – that’s the difference.

    We experience things on screen through the ‘eyes of our skin’ or by means of Walter Benjamin ‘s 'optical unconscious'; that is, when the camera reveals hidden aspects of the world that normally register below-conscious awareness. Eadward Muybridge’s 19th century locomotion studies, for example. But its also seems to me like the way sub-bass expresses a tangible ‘mood’ – fear, terror – that is felt rather then heard.

    Pearl Vision (still) 2012 Video, headphones, desk and drum shield, TRT: 3 minutes 10

    There's definitely an absorption into the image in your latest work, Pearl Vision (2012), which one could speak about in comparison to the desired effects of Modernist painting; a self-conscious awareness of the 'immateriality' (and indeed, flatness) of the projected image yet a desire to give it depth and sensation all the same. The seamless graphics that give shape to the subject of the work – the snare drum – also confuses the viewer's relation to it. Its surface reminds me of the 17th-century pronk still-life, with an upturned silver chalice reflecting the surrounding objects and the space of the room according to the optical effects of varying light sources represented within the space of the painting. Yet there's hardly a sense of architectural space to the work at all. I'm also thinking about – let's call it the image of the artist – mirrored in the drum, which seems to say something about performing. (I'm not quite sure whether for the viewer or for the object.) The act of drumming can also be read as radical, an injunction to dance...

    I chose a chrome snare because I knew how well chrome works in CGI. I wanted it to be very illusionistic, I wanted to make a picture with great verisimilitude. I also had John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) somewhere in the back of my mind. He talks of ‘the gibbous mirrored eye of an insect’ and ‘the cold, syrupy flow’ I wanted these effects.

    And also it is a self-portrait: I’m sitting at the drum as if it’s a computer. But the drum is using me for its own purposes – by gratifying my desires it gets to be used; played. And I wanted the drum to become confused with myself. I possess it, it possesses me in a type of mutual absorption. It’s an approach to some kind of mysticism – an apprehension of knowledge that is inaccessible to the intellect, attained through contemplation and self-surrender.

    In terms of a lack of architectural space, I recently left my flat that I lived and worked in for years and years and which appeared in a lot of the things I’ve made. It often ended up being my surrogate because I didn’t want to appear directly. So I opted for a void with Pearl Vision because I don’t have a place now that I particularly want to see reflected back, like in Made in ‘Eaven when I had Jeff Koon’s rabbit in the flat. (Although I think of the drum video as me getting to actually play the rabbit.)

    Drumming is an old language and it speaks directly to your body, and to the communal body. A strong rhythm or a powerful beat can take you out of your mind. I think once you’re in that state, there is potential for something radical to happen.

    Cybernetics is ultimately reductive. It seeks to ‘sequence’ life, but somehow in music the most mechanical and reductive sounds create something funky and resolutely human. It creates a rhythm, and that same rhythm is what you use to edit video.

    I try to emulate the production values in R&B and black electronic dance music (I don’t really know what to call it now, a continuum that reaches from early Acid House to Chicago Juke). This marriage of very cold mechanical sounds and techniques aimed at your body, at sex and dancing. This is truly cybernetic in its synthesis of organic and artificial parts. And at the moment it seems to be getting very druggy again, very Purple Drank, whatever that is…

    I like that separation of sounds and space you get; the top ends all very high and crisp and synthetic, then the mid range is very woozy and contains all the memories and desires and then you have the bass which is very physical and visceral. That’s how I wanted the drum film to feel, you have this very lucid image that then goes all soft and mushy and the sound hopefully enhances that sensation.

    Was it a conscious decision to formulate the touchy-feely concept in a lecture? There is something about the linguistic address of objects, too, which can be best articulated outside the digital realm, enacted through live performance (a talking cure), let’s say. 

    I don’t know if the lecture format is semi-confessional – anyway it feels like a way to bundle up all the stuff that’s accumulated on my desktop. All the jpegs, mpegs, YouTube rips, Wikipedia quotes, and bits from blogs etc that keep gathering together over time until in the end you realize it’s a theme, or a pattern and you’ve been almost unconsciously saving this stuff, because its you.

    You’ve been assembling yourself out of all this waste – the spoils that are out there on the net.

    Accompanying images from the browsing collection of Mark Leckey.

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    In this submission, we take a look at how a holiday season was expressed through the Commodore 64.

    Released in 1982, the Commodore 64 was, at one point, the biggest selling computer ever, selling up to 17 million units in it's time. As a retail-focused product (as opposed to an electrical one), Christmas was an important time to attract this highly desirable present. As well as this, groups and communities around the machine emerged, creating shareable demos of images, animations and music for themselves, a highly humanizing response to a digital technology. It's happened with other machines as well (the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad, various Atari machines, the Amiga etc ...), not just in it's time but also currently where communities exist around these older technologies. It also happens around file formats, for example, with the GIF net art community and the GIF Wrapping project where artists randomly selected together to produce something for each other.

    Commodore 64 Christmas Demo (1982)

    This charming demo was created by Commodore themselves, shipped to retailers to demonstrate the graphical and sound capabilities - via csixty4:

    Commodore wrote their famous Christmas Demo in 1982 to demonstrate the capabilities of their new Commodore 64 computer and the upcoming Executive 64 (SX-64) portable. It was included with the test/demo disk that shipped with every SX-64 so dealers could introduce customers to the machines' advanced (for the time) sound and graphics. Though its character graphics and SID sound seem quaint by today's standards, the Christmas Demo reminds many Commodore fans of the morning they woke to find a computer under their tree.

    Should you wish to get a copy of this demo and try it in an emulator, csixty4 have links to everything you need here

    A Twisted Christmas (1987)

    GIF via noname64

    A production by an independent team known as the 'Underground SID Network', a humorous take on the Christmas season, featuring a choir of angels with sunglasses, gremlins dancing around a Christmas tree, moonwalking elves, and a row of dancing cooked turkeys. There where two more brand new productions in 88 and 89.

    Jingle Disk (1985)

    A release by a commercial company called Hi Tech Expressions, an animated Christmas story. Judging by some of the YouTube uploads of this, it brings many nostalgic memories of the time, such as this from cymongames:

    Every year we owned a Commodore 64 my family would gather around the TV and load up this: Jingle Disk. It's a silly little story and animation with chiptups renditions of some holiday classics.

    So sit back, gather your family around, and
    LOAD "*",8,1

    Merry Christmas (1989)

    An important part of early computer culture was the medium of the magazine (both physical and on disk) Here is an animation released by German disk magazine Magic Disk.

    Should you want to check out any of these demos or some others online from the same period, there is a web-based Java emulator over at the Commodore 64 preservation project here

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    Throughout this guide I’ve tried to isolate the patterns of how we think about the Future-Present, as symbolized by particular evocative technology. By engaging five, extraordinarily knowledgeable informants, I’ve traced their thoughts into directional arcs that don’t necessarily nail down this swirling cloud of future-forward ideas, but at least give us sense of the difficulty of the terrain.

    The archetypes are stories, each one about us, our ideas, and our material world. The excitement of the future is represented by the LED. Neodymium magnets tell a story about the the allure of technological magic interacting with our everyday life. The fable of the cyborg explains a bit about our interface with our own history. The theology of our technologically advanced commodities are explained to us through drones. And our maps tendency to glitch is a cautionary tale about our minds’ inherent difficulties in navigating all of these different idea structures at the same time.

    I like to think of these archetypes as stories, because there is something harmless in allegory. A meaning is intended, but if it doesn’t particular stick, or if as storyteller I trip in my delivery, the stakes are low. These are not actually designs for massive structures, harnessing dangerous physical forces to be constrained within conduits wrapped around us while we sleep at night. If these narratives become unpleasant, we can simply wake up, dispelling them like a dream, returning to the safe world of consistent reality that is not fraught with loops of meaning and pitfalls of symbolism. We can clear the slate easily, claiming the fallibility of narratives, and returning to the kernel of “simple” material things, ignoring the implications of our ideas. And then the next night, we have a chance to dream again.

    But what I have come to realize is that stories are not a low impact art. True, any particular essay about the future might be ignored, deemed to be of little use or effect, and sent to join the vast quantities of cultural product that collect upon the roadsides of the networks, like so many bottles and cans without even as much value as a token deposit. But the effect that a narrative can have is extraordinarily real. Those roadsides are not only avenues of amusement, but also the pathways of history. What is the worth of a narrative when the climate of the world is at stake? What is its value when could a commonly told story result in the use of a catastrophic weapon, as opposed to only its development? What is its currency, when an implicitly understood fable forms the boundaries of a person’s lifelong torment, or pleasure?

    We have a limited time to shape these potentially-valuable/potentially-worthless stories because our technological history is unfolding, not in the future, but immediately. And we have very few means for judging history’s effectiveness. As much as we think about the strengths and functions of any particular narrative, there is no way to be aware of every vulnerability. There is no such thing as surety, when it comes to narratives. There is only ever our best guess, and our endless capacity for second-guessing it.

    The narrative of criticism of the Future-Present, in all its difficulties and cultural diffuseness, is the story of the last archetype: the “zero-day”. The zero-day is a particular sort of software or other system vulnerability, named sometime in the mid 1990s as the sharing of knowledge between technicians sought to focus on vulnerabilities previously unknown, and therefore more important. Hunted by developers and hackers alike, the zero-day is not just a weakness of a designed system, but a weakness held and stockpiled, a “secret weapon” of sorts for exploiting that system in the right or wrong hands. Unlike the known vulnerabilities that are patched over with security updates, there are “zero-days” of warning about these particularly strategic exploits, and defense against them is difficult to impossible. When used in an attack on a system, those who would defend that system are caught unaware of the weakness. Depending on the severity of the exploit and the system it invades, the value of a zero-day can run into the millions of dollars, as in the hands of either the attacker or the defender, it could represent the difference between maintained security, or complete compromise.

    While it is obvious that the vulnerabilities of any sort of system, technological or otherwise, will always be hunted down, that this particularly strategic exploit would be classified, commodified, and cultivated is perhaps a little surprising. That there would be an industry devoted to not just taking advantage of systems, but of finding the best way to utterly destroy their trustworthiness, is not just a cynical fact of the human species, but speaks volumes about the way our society has come to exist.

    But that is also what this series’ theorizing of the Future-Present is intended to do. Whether we think of ourselves as wearing white hats, black, or some shade of grey, we are trying to not only figure out where things are going, but looking for the holes in the system that will inevitably result. We call this criticism, and we may do it for fun, for a cause, for pay, or all three. It is a bug and a feature of our society that while some may be enamored by narratives of progress, success, triumph, and heroism, others will cultivate narratives of dystopia, cataclysmic failure, slow degradation, and outright villainy. Humans will experiment with vulnerabilities--not only as a minority report, but to be part of the system. The holes in the optimistic narratives are not empty, but filled with a certain thriving rot. This decay is the undercurrent, the living strata of the reverse of the system, the microflora and humus necessary for growth. A strong culture of criticism is vital.

    How do we use these theory exploits? Do we stockpile them, like zero-days, waiting to take our enemies unaware? Or do we sound the alert? Depending on the system, an argument could be made that either behavior is ethical. In the theory business, we tend to think that open discussion of ideas is best--but given the stakes of the Future-Present, we also might be tempted to keep our cards close to our vest. Is it unethical to sell theory exploits? Maybe, if they would better help more people if they were free. But what if their value could support further theory development and discover more exploits?  All of these ethical issues are underscored by the question of value. If we cannot tell the value of our theory narratives, it is difficult to understand whether there is an ethical implication at all. The lasting effect of using or not using something with an unknown value or lack of value is almost impossible to measure. Unlike zero-days, the market for criticism is not measured in quantitative value. The critical narratives of Future-Present system failure are uncertain, un-valueable, indistinct, and outside of a quantitative metric of efficacy.

    The problem with the humanities is that it is good at criticism, but bad at effects. It isn’t good at doing things in the world. You could argue that someone leaving comments on an Amazon camera review has more impact that Fredric Jameson. Someone writes a review, and supply chains kick into gear, engineers work overtime, quarries are taxed to produce minerals--these are global geologic effects. I mention this because this is opposed to what we think of as “criticism” in the humanities. I have mixed emotions about academia and working within it. Opposite to that, we get people like Mike Daisey’s Apple dialog, which had issues with fact-checking. And yet it cataloged an intense scrutiny on Apple and engendered a review of their hiring practices. Tim Cook actually went to Foxconn. It’s hard to say that he went there because of Daisey, but Daisey’s performance had real life effects, in the way that a blogger might not have had.


    I think there’s a potential to have criticism that has an effect on the way things are made. I think that’s why a lot of people are experimenting with fiction, because it allows things to reach people in a way that it wouldn’t if you wrote for a Marxist criticism magazine or the University of Chicago. It’s a nice way to reach a larger audience. I think there will be things like Mike Daisey’s plays that hits at the right time, and affects the supply chain. I’m inclined to think that it will happen through the humanities, but not in academy. Jason Kottke can probably affect Apple’s development more than the academy can. I generally believe more people in academia should embracing things like blogging to find a wider audience for criticism. I’m still slightly amazed when people cite Kottke as an academic source. If you could take the populist appeal of Gizmodo and apply it to criticism, I think that would be an exciting use of social media. We could intensify the social media discourse by adding really exciting ideas to things considered speculative or frivolous.

    Geoff Manaugh


    There is certainly a degree of obligation for society to monitor and regulate technology. Technology is not solely an independent sphere of immanent becoming that leaches into our reality. We intuitively understand this knowledge and have curated and shepherded technologies since the dawn of time. We suffer collateral damage, but the general trend has been to contain the existential threats offered by our tools. For example, we have not yet destroyed ourselves in nuclear conflagration.


    Our security, however, is surely not a given. It is only our vigilance and the insistence on a degree of political representation for the shared values of culture & community that mitigates the threat of our creations enough to ensure progress. At present, we do not fear governors so much as potential world destroyers. It is now rogues we worry about--those who have removed themselves from culture and placed themselves above politics. So while it is our obligation to ensure that technologies do not destroy us, it is also our responsibility to innovate technologies that will equalize the balance of power across civilization.


     — Chris Arkenberg

    New methods of criticism are always coming online, says Geoff. As the system evolves, so does its holes, and so does the methods of finding them. It does seem that there is a certain vigilance in society for keeping watch over our mechanisms, and for correcting mistakes before they have far-reaching effects. This tendency’s successes are proof of its own efficacy. However, as Chris notes, there are trends to this instinct that may leave the search for vulnerabilities vulnerable. Working on instinct is not a theory, but a baseline reflex.

    We have this cycle between society and technology--they affect each other. Groups, corporations, or communities, are the actors here. They inflict technology upon everyone else, and this changes the shape of the world for everyone else. This should probably be disturbing to us, as this is the dynamic that we’re stuck with. Those emergent actors aren’t any more rational than individuals are. We see corps lashing out for their own survival, and creating things like the DRM system. They are scared, and creating a thing in response. Those actors might be more rational than individuals, but certainly aren’t necessarily so.


    People do have some agency over technology, but it is constrained by other forces. The agency of technologists only goes as far as creating the technology. Society decides what they do with it. Technologists can’t take technology out of culture, once it is inserted.


    I’d like companies to be more conscious of this. I think it would be a better world if technologists paid attention to the harm they are doing to the world. But there is no incentive to do this. It is practically a losing battle to get people writing software expressly for non-profit or activists causes to properly consider the impact of their technology. Oil companies? Forget it.


    —Eleanor Saitta

    It would be nice to think of criticism as a contrary force to the less positive aspects of the capitalist system and its valuations. We’d like to think of criticism as objective, above instincts such as self-defensiveness and greet, impartial to all concerns except ethical. But while criticism can identify positives and negatives objective from capital, these create new feedback cycles that are not economic, and yet keep theory trapped in subjective, biased instinct. The motivations of profits and loss are only one valuation system that competes with ethics for constructing the narratives of technology.

    The normative structures and goals of culture define the terms within which power relations are expected to operate. Politics is inevitably an expression of culture, even if representation may drift towards elite sub-classes.


    As an expression of mind, technology contains all the same desires and fears and psychic baggage as anything we do. Some technologies may be aspirational while others are intentionally destructive. Some technologies may indeed be effectively neutral but all are colored by the goals of their creators. If a technology shifts the power dynamic, then the technology becomes political, whether by intent or serendipity.


    — Chris Arkenberg


    Are their schema-less technologies? Probably not. I’m a firm believer in the statement, “technology is neither good or bad, nor is it neutral.” Tech isn’t about social structures, but of course it also is. Our “normal” society is western, male-dominated, etc. So this is also what technology “is”. The assumption is that straight white men use technology in the “right way”. If you aren’t using tech in the same way as the dominant culture, you’re doing it wrong. See, for example, the endless news articles about how much teenage girls use SMS, or how teenagers are postponing getting their drivers’ licenses. Not to sound all feminist theory 101, but to assume that there are technologies that are schema-free, you are deluding yourself. To say that technology is available to everyone, you’re deluding yourself. The faces of “The Singularity” are all older white men. That’s not a coincidence. Bruce Sterling said this better than I can, in his SXSW 2012 talk– that life extension is going to mean a cohort of Sarkozys and Berlusconis, hitting on twenty-year-olds a century their junior. If you are brown, or female, or queer, you know something about how your body (and how other people respond to your body) affects your psyche and identity. Only straight, white, able-bodied males think that their body doesn’t affect their brain. So if you talk about uploading your brain, you are talking about an unmarked body. That’s an example of a tech that is presented as not about society, not about schemas, but that isn’t true.


    I think its even more true now than it’s ever been, that people are starting to think about why we do things. Why do we have the government that we have, why do we have the capitalist system in the form we do... all these cultural assumptions are being questioned. This is the culture we’ve lived in, that we’ve accepted, but now people are not sure they’re happy with that anymore. Do we want our culture to only be what is sold to us?

    — Deb Chachra

    The stories that we tell as a means of technological criticism are ultimately, about ourselves. We are a technological species with a sprawling culture of signifiers both right and wrong, helpful and harmful. We are critically minded individuals, that despite all that we have done to the earth and its pre-existing systems, still cling to a notion that we are ethical creatures, deep down. And also, these are narratives about our self--our sense that we are material beings, that interact with the world in a curious, inventive, and creative way. We want to do the right thing--whatever ideal that might be; and we want to build things--whatever material object those might be. We are both the strength of the system, and the vulnerability of its holes. Between these two, in the process of navigating the difference, is what it means to be human: what has meant in the past, what it means today, and how we think the endless cycles of more “todays” will affect it all. Both Chris and Bruce come back to drones to describe this composite humanity. Drones are the Future-Present archetype for the commodified technological symbol: the singular abstracted entity for vast cosmologies of systems, meanings, and materials. Perhaps what is most uncanny about them, is that these are incredibly non-human objects, that could not have been made by anything other than humans.


    I have a deep curiosity about how the self is constructed, how we define our own agency within a web of interdependencies, and how our technologies modify and extend our sense of self. So in this context, drones are fascinating as disintermediators of presence enabling both remote viewing and remote aggression. The drone is symbolic of our ability to extend our senses beyond our corporeal containers, made most compelling as an object of flight. Thus, we become the bird of prey, conferred with a sort of shamanistic projection through this technology.


    Culture will attempt to contain powerful technologies in ways that align with its goals and defend its progress into civility. Thus, biology presents the core argument for or against technology: does it help me or hurt me? Culture contextualizes the technology within the social, moral, and ethical spheres: is this good or bad for society? And politics evaluates the role of technology within management structures, resource requirements, and inter-tribal dynamics: Does it help the stakeholders committed to the goals of the majority power bloc?


    There are no politicians who are not a part of culture. And there are no earthly technologies that are not expressions of humanity.


    — Chris Arkenberg


    There's tremendous energy in the DIY drone scene. They're just cellphones with wings, they're not as remote and forbidding as the Manhattan Project. Weird cheap atelier drones are proliferating fast. There is a ton of action in the drone space. The editor of WIRED US does practically nothing else.


    Actually, drones are a cheap globalization hack. They're a way to put a virtual military presence on the spot without formally invading a nation-state and crossing its land-boundary casus-belli tripwire. If you start politically construing drones as an unalloyed political badness that inherently lacks any toy-balloon factor, that's a weak political analysis and untrue to historical experience with similar military technologies. Better to confront drones as what these devices really are, component-wise, capacity-wise, and don't construe them as Super Mario.


    I'm all for political analysis, sort of, but if I were you, I'd hearken back to the historical reaction about mainframe computers: "they're for IBM, they'll spindle and mutilate all the good people". Or the ARPAnet: “it's from defense spooks, it'll spindle and mutilate all the good people." Drones are getting a free ride because the population's convinced that the people being spindled and mutilated are the terrorist-bad-people. We've been round that tech-proliferation carousel before.


    I don't believe there's such an entity as an absolutely beneficial SF concept. "To the unclean mind nothing can be clean." It’s not an either-or issue. Drones aren't particularly efficient human slaughtering machines in any sense. Even the people most into the development arc of lethal drones are trying to make them efficient assassination machines, not efficient weapons of mass genocide. We already have efficient weapons of mass genocide.


    I don't much care for the dictum that speculation needs a purpose in action. This kind of non-whimsical use-value argument is like the school of East German design. No toys allowed in your discourse? No thought-provoking curios? No surprises, no sense of wonder? Take a hike!


    There's more at stake than the fates of "our" intriguing little projects and "our" little technological dalliances. We don't live in a world alternatively divided between Luddism and Cold War Skunk Works. Both those things have been dead for decades now.


    Every cult's impetus to tinker is always being co-opted by some X. You need some intellectual generosity here. You can't virtuously do nothing with your lifespan because your every effort might be repurposed as a bayonet or a deodorant ad.


    Also, if you "pledge allegiance" to something, what's the big scary downside that seems to be bothering you there? Are you afraid someone will laugh, somehow? That's rather a paralytic burden of dignity, isn't it?


    — Bruce Sterling

    The vastness of speculation, of criticism, and of narrative, is the overarching stimulus that snaps me out of the paralytic burden. Whether we identify central critical questions to define a technology’s ethicality or not, there is no escape from the interdependent network of shifting narratives. Every Future-Present Archetype I have identified could be pushing the wrong argument. This guide, as a topology of narrative arcs, could be outdated and insufficient in a matter of months, if it ever was useful. But what keeps the blood pumping through my writer’s veins is that critical archetypes will continue to emerge. Every day that passes, every stunning idea and technology that we hear about, every horrifying outcome of the human species, and ever point at which we pause, uncertain and unsettled, will be the underlying terrain of these stories. And this will be the space through which we’ll either understand our lives, fail to do so, or more likely a bit of both--now, and going forward.


    Guide to Future-Present Archetypes Part 5: Schematic Maps

    UCSD robot mouse.

    When attempting to map out the Future-Present, there is not just one map to consider; there are three. These three categorical types of map—our mental maps, symbolic maps, and broken maps--are each a schematic layer in our effort to perceive the world, and it is in their dissonance that the world actually exists. We must identify not only what these maps are, but what they are when they fail. In the fractures, one sees the spidering web of weaknesses, the many possible scenarios of rupture that select without warning. Reality is unpredictable, bursting from its constraining archetypes. And yet it is uncannily similar to all the breaks we’ve seen before, like a river delta resembling a tree.

    The first category of map resides somewhere in the brain, perhaps in the hippocampus. It is through these networks that our neurology gives us a sense of space that we might try to express, record, and share with others. In studies performed on mice, “place fields” have been identified in their hippocampal neurons. Everytime the mouse passes through a particular known place in its terrain, a burst of action potential fires through the same neurons. We know less about the human brain, but it is clear that our hippocampus is important to forming memories, and that larger hippocampi correlate with people who have more detailed place knowledge, London cab drivers, for example. Somewhere, lurking inside the chemical differences between the inside and outside of neurons, in the minor voltages and in the ever-changing and evolving cell pattern of our neuroanatomy, is a material record of what we mean when we sense our geography. We cannot read this map— we can only think it. We express this map’s imperfections via our senses. When this map fails, we feel lost.

    The second map is spoken aloud, in the possibility of uttering a symbolic map. Humans are never content at forming schema and just keeping them to themselves. Our schemas are meant to be shared, explained, inscribed, and signified. But the topology of these symbolic maps are as complicated and multifaceted as our neurology. It was Alfred Korzybski who constructed the phrase so relevant to our contemporary times, as the second part of a statement first spoken in 1931:

    A) A map may have a structure similar or dissimilar to the structure of the territory...

    B) A map is not the territory.

    One of the primary tenets of Korzybski’s theory of general semantics is that we give too much credence to our abstractions. We shorten the distance between our judgment of a thing and what that thing “is” until they are one of the same. What the world “is”, is comprised of our accepting a map as easily as we hear an uttered judgement, in the time of its hanging in the air, only as long as it takes to be spoken. The structure of a map may or may not be like the land, but a structure of a map is something that we know. We read it, and we know that it symbolizes space that is habitable. When this maps fails, we are not lost— we just don’t know where we are.

    The third map, manifested famously in a particular instance by technology, was actually two maps— or the difference between two maps. When iPhone users updated their devices to a new version of the operating system in September 2012, they discovered that not only had Apple replaced the Google Maps program with a new Apple Maps program, but there were serious usability discrepancies between the two. Turn-by-turn driving directions had been added, but public transit directions had been removed. Search functions were lacking in the brand-new Apple Maps, as the hard work done by Google Maps to verify place data was no longer accessible. And the Street View data, meticulously collected by Google employees with 360-degree cameras on the ground for years, was replaced by an aerial “3D” view feature, that left odd glitches in the data: for example, portraying underpasses as solid walls, and making bridges over water appear melted.

    The switch of map platforms, a decision made on the corporate level, betrayed what each of these platforms really were— a complicated stitching together of massive amounts of descriptive data, GPS information, and aerial photographs. Each of these two maps was actually millions, if not billions of maps. What allowed the map to be perceived as singular, and to make it useful as a means for orienting oneself in real space using a mobile device, was the seamlessness of the platform’s presentation of very similar data. The data— the maps themselves— were not dissimilar from each other. But the skip between one program’s presentation of the map data and the other’s, as it was presented for human reading, made all the difference.

    The Apple Map “problem” is hardwired into our human capacity for navigation. Even if Apple had the time and resources to replace Google Maps with a program that was seamless and indistinguishable, this problem would have resulted at some point. It has before, and it will again. It could be a crash in the server, a forced downgrade to a phone without GPS maps, or any other real world issue that would separate us from seamlessly absorbing that useful abstraction of the map. We know that our sense of time-space is internal to our brains, and we know that the map is not the territory. But we don’t realize that our ability to use a map is because of the seamless integration of thousands of previously observed maps, of preconscious data visualizations in our perception and mind, of mental schema, and of their historical entanglement. Until, the occurrence of the glitch. Then we see the scaffolding of schema that underlies our perceptions. When this map fails, we are not necessarily lost, and not necessarily unaware of our location. At this point of failure we are conscious of how much of the world we know is only a map.

    The Future-Present archetype we are encountering is not GPS, not our neurology, nor the ability of us to understand and make maps. It is the map that necessarily comes apart in our hands. It is the somewhat disconcerting revelation that the schema we use to understand history and our place in it, are it. To feel lost is a crisis of our person, and to have one’s recorded position displaced is a crisis of data. But to have the concept of a map devolve, is not so much a crisis of history, but its most visible presence. We have folded the Future-Present so deeply into our perceptions of the world, that sometimes we see it best when we fail to see it, when the overlapping schema we have stitched into our conception of everything becomes unthreaded, and we can look into the seams. In between the frames? Only more seams behind it. Seams, as it is said, all the way down.

    Augmented reality presents opportunities to both extend and collapse the sense of self across spacetime. There is a deep revelation in this technology that promises to show us the hidden attributes of the world around us. It can be confronted as an occult technology in that it simultaneously reveals the hidden and offers a hidden view. What we see through AR can reinforce our personal experience of the world - what I see may become radically different from what you see - while simultaneously allowing us to share access to a common dataset underlying physicality - what I see contains the same rich detail as what you see. In this there is a path of algorithmic containment just as we see in all current algorithmic content streams, reinforcing what you like and filtering out what you don't. This is something that celebrates our individuality while robbing us of the agency to grow and see differently. If our adaptation requires seeing problems in new ways, will algorithms dull or enhance this ability?

    - Chris Arkenberg

    If we invented a technology that broke our mental schema for good, would we realize it in time? We map the levees around our cities, to be prepared for their inevitable ruin and failure. But what of the failure of the levees on the maps themselves? What of the failure of the levees in our conscious thoughts? These berms may not erode nearly as quickly, but that is not to say their are impermeable. Consciousness has always been too big to fail, but that is no guarantee.

    The fans of [Future-Present] tech are indeed cross-disciplinary in their vocations. It may be more useful to look at the personality traits that incline a person towards such interests. They are hardware folks fascinated by the mechanics of functionality, the specs & schematics, the operational capabilities and engineering tolerances. They are military buffs into the tools of power & survival, the nuances of geopolitics, and the flow of milspec into civilian space. They are tech geeks looking for signs of their scifi fantasies coming to life; activists guarding civil liberties and revealing corruption; cybernetic psychologists tracking the ingression of the algorithm into the body; coolhunters & trendwatchers, analysts & futurists fed by the Edge, always propelled towards the precipitous drop into tomorrow. These types of orientations often emerge in childhood, reinforced by formative experiences and natural abilities. But as expressions of imagination, objects of novelty, and tools of functionality, technologies - especially the radical ones - always captivate our attention.

    There may also be deep evolutionary structures compelling us to pay attention. Maybe something within our psyche is projecting into our technologies and demanding that we keep pushing forward, to the West, out to space, into the inner unknown. We are planners, after all, always watching the horizon to be prepared for tomorrow.

    - Chris Arkenberg

    It is good that we have so many people paying attention. The deep evolutionary structures that Chris suggests might be our only hope for survival. Our schema may be doomed to shatter, but saving grace is that we seem innately driven to construct replacements. The schematic opportunities in the Future-Present may be few or many, but considering these things from a variety of relative perspectives should hopefully keep us from fatally surprising ourselves.

    [Identifying the Future-Present is] a framing thing. We have subconscious biases about who should be doing what. I’ve had male friends watching their kids on the playground— and people come up and ask “where’s the mom?” because no one assumes that the father would be with the kids on the playground. These are subconscious schemas about who should be doing what. It’s rarely malicious, it’s just part of our culture. It’s like taking the red pill in the Matrix. Once you learn about gender schemas, you totally see it everywhere. Sadly, there’s no going back. It’s not an unqualified win. 

    It’s not a totally design-based thing; it’s about the way we learn. If you have a schema or a mental model of what a used car salesman looks like and how they behave, it’s useful. If you think the person you’re buying the car from has your best interests in heart, that’s not good. The idea of framing, that once things are pointed out to you it’s possible to see them as part of a larger whole, is part of a broader psychology. “Culture is all the things you do that you don’t know why you do them”... I don’t know who said that originally. I didn’t realize I was Canadian until I moved to the US. I apologize to people when I bump into them, even if it is totally their fault. That was a thing I did without thinking until I was in a place where that did not happen, and then I became aware of it. That’s the nature of culture.

    - Deb Chachra

    It is a chicken-and-egg question to ask if we develop schema-altering technologies by accident and then react to them, or whether we create technologies that purposefully incite new schemas as a way to seek new perspectives. It’s been suggested, in the conversation surrounding Venkat Rao’s “Manufactured Normalcy Field”, that our development of technology is done in such a way as to seek novelty, or alternatively, seek as little novelty as possible. Perhaps neither is truly the case. Technology doesn’t want anything that approaches the meta-schematic level of “novelty”, nor do human beings. Our desires don’t function on the semantic level of mapped culture theory. We don’t seek novelty, it is with the schema of “novelty” that we are able to describe what we have produced. Like Deb suggests, it is not whether or not the human schematic response to an instruction or a piece of technology is perfectly correct, or of a particular discourse. The framing we give a thing is the ultimate significance of that thing, for better or worse. But it is not that thing. Our experience of consciousness is a cataloging of shadows.

    I feel optimistically that there is a sort of archive impulse. There are people who like going to libraries and taking out books. But people also make photo albums, collect cookbooks, etc. People like to form multimedia databases. There’s a connection to memory through objects and other media artifacts. This wouldn’t get you into an Ivy League school or even get you an A in a class. But there is an archive fever. People like setting up a system and fitting things into it. Even through Facebook, people are engaged through this sort of activity. With the internet--just like the release of the Kinsey report--suddenly we realize, “my God, everyone’s doing it.” It’s allowing more people to engage in these conversations, and it’s revealed that all along people were into this. They just didn’t live next to an academic library.

    I don’t know if this means that this is making more people like that, or just revealing them. But it is definitely allowing people to do things that they had been wanting to do all along. There are people with incredibly detailed photo albums. It’s the same impulse, to organize info, brought into the mainstream.

    - Geoff Manaugh

    Art may serve as a strategic reserve of schematization. Rather than simply mapping the quickest route from point A to B, we have people who hide data in brick walls, or embed codes in the ambient surface patterns of nearly any object. The shortest distance is a line that can be cut, but the wider net of meaning in a space can survive a blockage in the flow. Schematically, art complicates rather than simplifies. Not everyone is economizing and minimizing. Others are obscuring, obfuscating, and accentuating until the basic becomes the baroque. The same impulse that drives us to aesthetically tile the world’s into 3D maps also causes us to add apopheniac tags to the world, making some sort of pattern— or better yet, making so many opportunities for new patterns that the patterns begin to fade into noise.

    There's no danger that people are actually and literally going to make everything they can dream up. There's been something of a lowering of the barriers to aping Thomas Edison and tinkering in an industrial lab, but there are still plenty of genuine barriers, and they'll weed out the people who are delusional about their maker chops. It's quite hard to make effective things, especially without some hard-won understanding of the tools and the grain of the material.

    The Makers scene is like what happened in publishing, in music, and in video, but it's for objects. There's a lot of semi-effortless music and video around nowadays, too, but if you think you're gonna compose like Wagner and film like Fellini, well, you won't.

    —Bruce Sterling

    The truth of society’s open schematization of the world is that there are no standards, no rules, and no moderating authority. There is no grand design, and no underlying pattern to be discovered, other than the patterns themselves. Schematization can bring amazing things to light, bury important things deep, and dissolve away into its component pieces in seconds. We are left standing in the middle of this map, watching one edge crumble away while we draft and paste additions onto the other, wondering what will happen to the area seemingly supporting our weight.




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    When you make a contribution to Rhizome's Community Fundraiser this holiday season, you'll receive a fantastic limited edition art work as our way of saying thanks - think about it as an investment in a post-holiday pick me up. We are midway through the annual Community Fundraiser and with your support Rhizome can continue to bring great programming in 2013.

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    "Chatting to Integral Danton (aka Warren Ellis) in The Wastelands about his newly acquired Dune Project stillsuit"

    "I'm not sure I felt this at the time, but in retrospect, I think my trip to Knudepunkt could be termed an elaborate larp built for one, a larp conducted in public without the knowledge of those around me, a pervasive game... " Stark, Leaving Mundania, p234


    I'm left with the same feeling as Stark, without having yet so much as played a Nordic game or attended a conference: once you know what a larp can be, then everything starts to look like one.

    Furthermore, there's a realisation that the psychological phenomena which larp explores and manipulates might just be the missing link between a whole bunch of artforms, technologies and philosophies. Perhaps it is the ubiquity of the toolset in use, namely the human imagination, that lends it this interstitial quality: conceived in reductionist terms, Nordic larp is simply imagination-as-play.

    Where does experimental theatre end, and consensual indoctrination into a covert ideology begin? Can a temporary intentional community, in and of itself, be a form of performance art? Can a performance art piece become a political movement instead of just a statement? These questions pivot on the fluid dualities of fiction and reality, of reader and subject, which can be upended with a flick of the wrist or a twist of the frame; if we assume altermodernism to have accepted and integrated (if not fully approved of) the ubiquitous ontological hollowness of the postmodern condition, then might Nordic larp be one of the first truly altermodernist forms, an experimental laboratory for the breeding of new metanarratives?

    Maybe, maybe not. But Nordic larp's brisk defrocking of essentialist identity politics, and its repeated demonstrations that convincing and compelling constructs of allegiance and collective identity can be assembled with surprisingly minimal effort, mark it out as a meta form. If a larp is a group of people playing certain roles in a certain imagined context toward some sort of goal, then larp itself — Nordic larp, the school, the movement — is a larp of larps, a metalarp; a game of games.

    Larp has more obvious and more commercial cousins, of course. Alternate reality games use the same immersive world-overlaid-upon-world techniques, but the narrative is hierarchical, goal-orientated, and — ideally, at least for their creators — bounded by clear arcs of story which are defined before the game even begins; cosplay is busily turning dressing up and acting out as fictional characters into an acceptable (and in some cases praiseworthy) pastime for those over the age of eight; MMOs like World Of Warcraft have made the essence of the boffer larp experience less exhausting, weather-proof and post-geographical — play when you like, for as long as you like, with fellow players from anywhere in the world.

    And then there's Second Life, the notoriously not-a-game synthetic world, which is the closest thing to Nordic larp online: Second Life gives you the space to build your imagined world, and the power to reimagine yourself as anyone or anything, but what you do with that potential is entirely up to you.

    (It is perhaps telling that Second Life— wallowing deep in the Trough Of Disillusionment now that the corporate Fortyniners have moved on — suffered terribly from would-be users not knowing what they were meant to do with it. If so, it may be equally telling that the communities that have survived and thrived there — the Wastelands, for instance, which is essentially an ongoing and pervasive post-apocalyptic larp community that meets exclusively in SL— are the ones that used the framework to build their own worlds, games and narratives within it.)

    I've already compared genres — or rather the communities of discourse and canon-generation that take place within and around a generic label — to larp; genres are identities, after all, groupings of people as much as (if not more than) they are groupings of works or ideas. No contemporary discussion of identity and allegiance would be complete without a mention of Anonymous; as such, I'd offer that Anonymous is nigh indistinguishable from a persistent larp set in a territory that maps almost seamlessly to the world in which it is suspended. There's only one character you can play, and there's no GM to tell you how to play it. For Anonymoids, as for Second Lifers, code is law, as Lawrence Lessig put it: if it can be done, then you may do it.

    But the counterculture has no monopoly on larpish behaviour. I'd also contend that the nigh-viral Six Sigma framework of manufacturing quality assurance took on very larp-like characteristics, especially as it trickled down — poorly understood and richly overhyped — to the very same small businesses that its progenitors were busily eviscerating in the mid- to late-Nineties. Imagine a larp designed to explore perfection and efficiency in the workplace, being played earnestly by a handful of converts among a workforce of disinterested and disenfranchised NPCs who haven't had so much as a sip of the kool-aid... Well, perhaps I'm being unfair, here, but Six Sigma looked to me like an RPG for middle management long before I knew what Nordic larp even was.

    Last but not least, larp bears more than a passing resemblance to a post-geographical evolution of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone: polders and pockets scooped briefly out of consensus reality, wherein the normal rules of behaviour are suspended or rewritten. The European soundsystem-rave circuit of the 1990s, the Burning Man festival in the States, squats and communes and refusenik pseudocommunities like Slab City... they all play with(in) the world in a larpish way, which is to say they find a place in which to make of it a stage, sweep it clean of association, and improvise their roles upon it, unbound by any rules other than those agreed to among the players.

    Herein, then, lies the terrible beauty of larp's promise: you can play whatever rules you like, whenever you like, wherever you like.

    All you have to do is define them.

    Game theory: the ethics and mechanics of play

    It turns out that the Nordic larp scene is more aware and engaged with its own intrinsic risks than I expected — not only the psychic-backlash potential of the immersion in otherness, but the subject matter too. Unsurprisingly, the Stamford Prison Experiment is a touchstone for both.

    In his paper "The Golden Rule Of Larp" [States Of Play, p20], Simo Järvelä declares the eponymous ethic to be "things informed adults do consensually amongst themselves are acceptable" [emphasis in original], and the Knutepunkt books, which function as a rough'n'tumble annual academic journal, burgeon with ethical navelgazing — some serious, some playful — alongside deconstructions and rakings-over of old games, successful or otherwise; the scene is always looking to improve, enhance, expand the boundaries of what larp can do. Taking care of the players — taking care of each other — is a big motivator, an elevated sense of communal responsibility and mutual support that, again, reminds me very strongly of the the raves and warehouse-party scene of the Nineties here in the UK: the shared acknowledgement of risk, the shared thrill of an adventure outside of mainstream reality, are powerful bonding agents.

    To an onlooker, the "amongst themselves" bit is the most interesting component of Järvelä's formulation, because within it can be found the seed of that ostracism, the very necessary outsiderdom of larp. Either a larp is played away from all other non-players or, as in the geographically or temporally larger 'persistent' games, among mundanes who are oblivious to the game's context. The scene is lucky in the former respect, as the Nordic countries retain their ancient 'right to roam' statutes, which frees up vast expanses of countryside for play without permission (and may well explain why all sorts of larp are so much more commonplace there by comparison to the States or the UK).

    But when playing amongst non-players, the possibilities for problematic leakages between realities become clear. It's easy enough to restrict players from interacting with mundanes, but in a highly-charged and public scene — a chase through a shopping precinct, say, or a kidnapping — there's always the possibility of a bystander breaking through the fifth wall by accident, which could lead to all sorts of grief for all concerned. Järvelä candidly admits that this risk has yet to be fully quantified, let alone planned against — but his framing of the question (and its implicit plea for further discussion) is more like an earnest fanzine letter than a chin-stroking ethical polemic.

    One suspects such developments will always be forced by events; in its newness, its enthusiastic experimentation and its occasionally narcissistic self-regard, Nordic larp looks destined to encounter any number of Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns. The only way to test the rules is to play the game.

    This test-to-destruction approach, combined with Nordic larp's fascination with the deeper emotions, have led to the development of some fascinating game mechanics. Tabletop play still tends toward dicerolling, and there are a variety of approaches to boffer combat (including, in some cases, the requirement that an injured player method-act the effects of their imaginary injury as fully as possible); mainstream games less focussed on combat might use a combination of memorised statistics, cards drawn by chance or stone-paper-scissors hybrids to model interactions like an attempted theft or bluffing past a guard. But the Nordic scene adores abstraction, especially when modelling the affairs of the heart: Stark's account of playing In Fair Verona, for instance, a love-larp that required its players to interact via the medium of tango, is as strange as it is charming.

    Emma Wieslander, author of the aforementioned Mellan himmel och hav and one of the scene's more prolific academics and theorists, is also the inventor of Ars Armandi, a larp game mechanic or system for the safe simulation of love and sex which underpinned her groundbreaking game. Ars Armandi essentially maps the entire body onto a limited area thereof — arms, shoulders, sternum, upper back, neck below the ears — where touching is permitted. It sounds like an actor's workshop exercise (which is exactly where Wieslander got the idea from), but it's still powerful stuff, and Ars Armandi's impact can be seen rippling through the last decade of Nordic larp, with articles and papers and workshops spreading the idea, challenging and refining and reapplying it.

    The fame of Mellan himmel och hav is well-earned; not only does it still stand as a flagship experiment in political larp design and the deconstruction of gender, but it combined larp with other 'higher' arts - theatre, light art, music by contemporary composers. Most fascinating to me, however, is what happened after the game had finished.

    The Way Out Is Through

    "... none of these things seemed to have any meaning. Maybe these ideas I had about who I was weren't as important as I thought they were, and maybe I didn't need to be any of these things. But if so, how could I still be me? More than that, if these identities were something I could put on or take off at will, if all identity was fluid, how could anyone have an identity at all? [...] I was definitely in the middle of some sort of existential quandry." Stark, Leaving Mundania, p237


    Mellan himmel och Hav left lingering marks on its players, and on its creator. After the game ended, a number of players were unwilling to return to the social structures of consensus reality, with its institutionalised loneliness, its crude gender binaries, its doctrines of consumption for consumption's own sake.

    So they didn't return — or rather, they only returned halfway, carrying over the communalism of the game into reality. A handful of them crammed themselves into an apartment meant for a single occupant; the need for personal space had been exposed as a myth, a narrative seemingly designed to drain money (and, by extension, time and passion) from the individual in thralls to it. Living together meant they needed less income, which meant everyone could work less — much less. This left time to spare for the true work: the exploration of a new mode of living.

    "I guess that, in regards to the lifestyle, it was the other way around for me," Wieslander tells me by email. "I have never felt comfortable with the heteronormative nuclear family, I guess; I find it a nuisance. Not only is the idea of autonomous individuals grouped together in too-small-to-be-functional groups scientifically unnatural to the human species, it also seems to me to be morally indefensible: it's a guilt-trap where most people are set up to automatically fail, but it also seems to be one of the cornerstones of gender-based discrimination

    "So for me, making Mellan... was about taking that big 'what if?' and really trying it out. If gender roles are human constructs, we should be able to deconstruct and reconstruct at will — and as it turned out, we could! But as it's virtually impossible to deconstruct the gender binary without having a go at twosome partnering; that had to be part of the package, too.

    "It turned out to be a greater epiphany to many of the participants than they'd thought. I guess there wasn't a conscious decision on anyone's part to take the game out of the box so much as the experiment having a great impact on people, on both participants and others.

    "A few months later there was another game set in the Swedish green-wave seventies, playing a communal lifestyle with very much the same set of players. I think it was a reaction to the alienation many of the players felt in the 'normal' world, and a longing to go back to the community that we constructed in order to establish the high level of trust that was needed for the experiment to work."

    It was a passing allusion to this very story that first piqued my interest in Nordic larp. What would it take, I wondered, what sort of depth of experience would you need to have in order to come back to reality and decide you were going to rewrite the role of your own life?

    With hindsight, the connection is obvious, though it might not be so to someone who never rode the UK raves'n'festivals circuit of the Nineties. It's the Temporary Autonomous Zone effect, the euphoric sensation of having escaped without moving: having seceded, somehow, stepped sidewise out of a mainstream culture that marginalises or demonises you. I can recall any number of times when I was sat among a bug-eyed circle, with junkyard tablas tapping Morse over the top of industrial-strength techno just past the hedge or over the next hill, every breath held tight like a nervous dove at a peace rally as dawn starts to stain the edge of the sky, then loosed all at once in wordless triumph as the sun rises on a world that looks at once smaller and far bigger than it ever has before, and thinking it would be wonderful, wouldn't it, if we could live like this forever?

    Wonderful might not be quite the word, of course — indeed, the outgoing Tory government of the time had set in motion the fait accompli annihilation of the travelling lifestyle, and was busy luring rave culture out of the black economy and into expensive (and, more mportantly, legal) nightclubs. But it's worth remembering that people still do this: they drop out, they join cults or movements (or bands), they live in squats or on the road or in nameless permaculture ghost-villages far from civilisation.

    And what else have they done, then, if not swapped the societal software suite with which they'd been inculcated for one they've modified to their preferences? That the new software is based on a historical social paradigm or an entirely imagined one is irrelevant; the hardware will run any software that's coded well enough to compile. Design yourself a different life: draw a door in the air, and step through.

    Of course, you'll run into friction whenever your new set of rules puts you in conflict with others — especially those who aren't playing the game, and who may well view your game as dangerous, treacherous, blasphemous or insane. And so you modify and tweak and hack, adjust the game so it fits into the cracks where the rules of the non-players don't penetrate so thoroughly. You go interstitial.

    And you realise, in the process, that the non-players aren't non-players at all.

    They're just playing a different game.


    Larp, the Universe and Everything

    The response of John Major's Tories to the flourishing of rave culture was one of horror and disgust, akin to finding one's serene ornamental arboretum infested with tribes of manic squirrels with boomboxes; much as a part of me would quite like to see secessionary sub-cultures gestated in larp and birthed into consensus reality, I suspect I've already seen the sort of reaction they will provoke from the players of the more popular game. (Nietzsche might have recognised it, too.)

    But the world is fecund, full of interstices. Entropy sneaks into our software as well as our hardware, and the The Biggest Game is too big and complex for the gamesmasters to patch every bug right away. Gradual iteration would be the key, I guess: start with the small things, change slowly enough that the neighbours won't notice you any more than they notice the plane trees at the edge of the pavement adding sneaky inches of xylem and phloem. Think of it as an inversion of the boiled frog metaphor, where everyone else is the frog, warming up all unknowing on the outside of your jar... and before you know it, you've got the seed of something like the anarchic 'unlicensed sectors' of Delany's Triton.

    You'll have to be careful, of course, to boil the frog very slowly indeed, lest the licentiousness and liberty of your polder be accused of succouring our epochal bugbear, terrorism. Second Life suffered a similar fate during its time atop the Peak of Heightened Expectations, back in late 2007; its unregulated sprawl of freeform simulation space looked — to those who look for such things, and who tend to find them wherever they look— like an infinite digital agar plate awaiting a sneeze of seditious sputum.

    (The irony being, of course, that Second Lifewas a hotbed of terrorism, albeit a memetic and pop-cultural terrorism. Indeed, recalling the rampaging mobs of phallus-spawning faux-furry trickster avatars controlled by 4Chan and the SomethingAwful goonswarms — a few unprotected fucks further up the family tree from Anonymous — you might even argue that Second Life really was a training ground for one of the most successful international terrorist (dis)organisations of recent history.)

    The fear of the refusenik Other validates the notion of culture-as-larp: to conceive of the threat presented to mainstream cultural stability by the potential of people to reprogram themselves or each other, one must make the tacit admission that 'stable mainstream culture' is not a natural state — nor a stable, nor even a mainstream one — but is itself an ideological construct, a pervasive larp into which most people in a given region have been indoctrinated by default.

    Where authority sees horror, I see some little hope, like Holmas: might larp let us literally play our way to more equitable social structures? It might, at the very least, let us test out adjustments to the one we've got.


    "[Knutepunkt] evoked in me the yearning to return to that terrifying and fascinating place where there were no boundaries or rules, where there was no self, where identity itself seemed impossible. I felt as though I had peeked over the precipice of human existence, and in that one moment I was terrifyingly, truly alive." Stark, Leaving Mundania, p241


    It occurred to me at a very late stage in the drafting of this essay that I've been blind to the most obvious comparison for the larp experience, namely the experience of being a child: the period in your life when starting an open-ended larplike game is as simple as saying to a friend "I'm Metatron, you're Starscream," and running away. (The trigger for this particular epiphany was novelist Tim Pratt, whose tweets about his toddler son are a wonderful window into a mindstate I barely remember.)

    So I've perhaps put the cart before the horse, here: Nordic larp isn't building a new toolkit for mindhacking so much as it is exploring an old forgotten mindstate we all once shared, rediscovering the completely immersive and freeform nature of play as experienced in childhood, and retooling it for an adult context. Childhood is when we assimilate the protocols of society; it's the pre-game workshop for the larp that is our lives.

    So how about larp as a sort of software transhumanism? An ongoing project to transcend the limitations of the human, but not by hacking the body, nor even the brain, but the mind? Exploiting the recently-revealed plasticity of our thought patterns and social engrams; rooting and rebooting yourself into the imagination-theatre of childhood, then holding down F8 so you can fiddle around with the BIOS, install a different OS, tweak the power management settings...

    It's a sweeping metaphor, I'll grant you, and only time will tell whether Nordic larp will make any measurable difference to human civilisation as a whole, even as it makes a huge difference to the individual lives it touches. But I maintain that larp's implicit lesson is true: canonical consensus reality is, in effect, a roleplaying game that we're all playing, and so involved in that we've forgotten that the rules are all our own creation.

    So: who do you want to be today?



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  • 12/20/12--08:30: The Cost to Connect
  • A like of my photo on Instagram, a post to Twitter when an email was languishing unanswered, a view on Spotify of what music he was listening to that day became torture, after a boy I loved broke my heart and moved out of town. We'd promised to “stay friends” but in practice that just meant that our social networks, so closely entwined, served as tiny little stabs in the heart each day. The social web is just that—a web of connections, woven through multiple sites and apps but spun out of real human relationships, sometimes stretched thin or sometimes already so but made accidentally closer through the technology. I could hide him on Facebook without having to “unfriend,” and I deliberately left him on Foursquare so I'd know if he came into town unannounced. These are the ways we connect and communicate today, the ways we maintain relationships and the ways it remains hard to end them.

    An article this spring in the Atlantic by Stephen Marche wondered “Is Facebook making us lonely?” Marche theorized that hyperconnectivity, epitomized by Mark Zuckerberg's human stamp collection of a website, is actually making us less connected than ever—and he discussed it with researchers who found his thesis, ultimately, inconclusive. It turns out, of course, that the loneliness or lack thereof that one derives from the Internet is much related to how one uses it.

    The metaphor for the speed of connection that Marche picks up, then leaves dangling, a giant waste of a great symbol, is a connection between stock traders on Wall Street and Chicago. He shifts topics to Facebook almost as quickly as the stocks zip between trading floors, but he misses the entire point he just subtly made—what we've actually done is get better, or at least faster, at selling things, not really connecting or communicating at all.

    It's capitalism, late capitalism practiced at hyperspeed, with financial transactions done by computers “far faster than humans can intervene,” that is pushing the $300 million fiber-optic lines Marche references, not our desire for ever-more connection. And it's capitalism that has inspired companies like Facebook to commodify our relationships and attempt to sell them back to us. It's capitalism that leaves us lonely in the wake of so much connection, not merely the existence of the Internet.

    The internet, which came to us via government funding, arrived in everyday households as Communism died and what Mark Fisher calls Capitalist Realism—the idea that there simply is no alternative way we might organize society—came upon us. And as this massive communication machine went from being a thing you had to pay a big company by the hour to use to being a thing you could access for free from any coffee shop (or your smartphone), business had to find new ways to charge us for the privilege of talking to one another. From America Online's chatrooms, which you were paying AOL to use, we have gone to Facebook, where you are not the consumer, but the product.

    The consumer that Zuckerberg wants to attract is the company willing to pay for access to the data you give Facebook to microtarget ads at you, the small business that used to be able to message its “friends” for free but is now being charged for the privilege. As writer Melissa Gira Grant (a small irony of this piece being that she's a real-life friend of mine, and thus I am quoting her on something before you've gotten to read it) says, Facebook is “a machine for creating wealth for nerds,” built on the unpaid labor of millions (and the special appeal of personal access to women), posting photos, updating their status, providing more and more information. 

    The strangeness that Facebook inserts into each interaction, then, is not distance or disconnection, but that ad you barely notice on the side of your screen, that inaudible sound of money, somewhere, changing hands.

    One of my dearest friends lives in England; we see each other perhaps three or four times a year. Yet we talk many times a week, almost always on G-chat or through email. I met him online--we met in person not long after, but it's the constant contact of the internet that really created and cemented our friendship. When he's away from the 'net for a week's vacation, I miss his presence even though he is in fact no further away than he ever is. I am lonelier when he is not there; I am less so for knowing him.

    The measurable increase in loneliness that Marche notes springs from about the same time period as the internet, but also the same time period as the decline of unions, the increase in income inequality, the end of an economic system that paid even lip service to solidarity and community, and the rise of the freelance worker, “flexibility,” the home office, and the telecommute. The “societal breakdown” Marche laments sprang from the conservative lips (and policies) of England's Margaret Thatcher, who famously told us there was no such thing as society, and on our side of the ocean, from Ronald Reagan. The decline of unions and the isolation of working people was a deliberate strategy for cutting costs and increasing control by a well-heeled elite that saw its income spike dramatically over the last 30 or so years. Oh, and the rise of that hyperspeed finance capital, too.

    “In the face of this social disintegration,” Marche writes, “we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers.” But while Marche seems to want personal analysis, the claiming of responsibility for our own loneliness, Mark Fisher looks at the rise of mental health problems (and the physical ailments that come along with them) and calls for a re-politicization of our struggles.

    “Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress,” Fisher writes, “instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?” If loneliness is increasing across the board, if we are forced to turn to professionals (who of course charge for their services, turning yet another interpersonal relationship into something we must pay for) to maintain our mental well-being, what is this if not a social problem?

    When we see our relationships as “social capital” rather than as community-building, as tools for improving ourselves rather than as contributions to a larger society, when the basic argument for having better friends and deeper connections is that they'll improve one's own health and happiness, it's hard not to think Thatcher was right.


    Solidarity, a term so often misunderstood these days, is the value of standing together in community. The best demonstration that I've seen recently was Walmart workers, out on strike, telling an executive in one voice, as he offered “to meet with you individually to address any individual concerns you may have,”  “We are not here individually. We are here as a group.” As unions have declined and strike frequency fell off  (though recent big oneshave captured some public attention), we have seen fewer and fewer public demonstrations of solidarity; it's not accidental that the Occupy Wall Street movement and its predecessors used social networks to organize but seized control of the narrative when they gathered large groups together in public spaces.

    There's been a tendency since at least Iran's Green uprisings in 2009 to credit Facebook and Twitter as being the spark of the mass protest movements, just as there was a tendency to dub first Howard Dean and then Barack Obama the “internet candidates.” The power of what Clay Shirky calls “ridiculously easy group formation” online is that it lowers the cost of collective organizing; the downside to this is the rise of “clicktivism,” where everyone has a petition you can sign. The extreme image called up by critics is of a solitary person sitting behind a screen, passively clicking petition links and then going back to downloading porn or watching cat videos or tending their Farmville, never getting out from behind the screen.

    One of the more interesting, though hardly surprising, revelations in Marche's piece comes from Moira Burke, a grad student whose study of Facebook users found that those who use the site to communicate with one another derive more happiness from it, while those who primarily use it to peruse others' pages wind up feeling more lonely. He also cites another study, by a grad student whose name he does not bother to give us, “that showed how believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression.”

    Surveillance, then, coupled with envy, or perhaps competition is the better word, is what really leads us to loneliness. Watching others interact on Facebook silently, wishing for friendships you don't have, perhaps obsessing over one particular one. It was the surveillance that drove me wild when that boy left town, the occasional “like” reminding me of his existence, the photos and updates but no real contact.

    (By contrast, that same information, as Deanna Zandt has noted, can allow your friendships to remain closer—a passing tweet from a friend about her sinus infection led me to send a text and make plans to see her when she's next in town.)

    Surveillance is a crucial component of our age; we are always being watched. Our data is collected with or without our permission by Facebook and other companies in order to better sell to us but also to determine our voting preferences, our messages mined for keywords that might spell out a future crime to law enforcement. There's a camera at the end of my Brooklyn block.  Is it surprising that we've replaced meaningful communication, all too often, with the collection of information?


    The newest outrage, at press time, from Facebook is the birth of new “relationship” pages, created by the site for people who've decided to check off the “in a relationship” box and inform Facebook and the world who the lucky other party is.

    It's precisely the attempt to boil your “relationship” down to a string of events and photos and mutual friends and interests that is so wrong about Facebook's Relationship pages; by doing so, it highlights exactly what the Internet can never hope to capture, that spark between two people that no dating site algorithm (or indeed, in-person matchmaker) has yet to figure out how to quantify.

    Because of course Facebook isn't the first site to try to commodify your relationship. It's just that most of them are trying to sell you the possibility of a relationship, offering access to other humans chosen for you by a formula or screened by photo and list of likes and dislikes or perhaps in one case, by what you'd like to do on a date. They're trying to sell you convenience as much as love, to sell you the idea that you don't need the mess, the complication, the weird human reality of feelings and interaction, of course.

    Slavoj Zizek, in The New Left Review, notes this contradiction: “By definition...comparing qualities of respective candidates, deciding with whom to fall in love, cannot be love. This is the reason why dating agencies are an anti-love device par excellence.” Or to twist a phrase of Fisher's, describing the way his students want Nietzsche without the difficulty, the struggle of learning it—the difficulty is love. It is what you don't see on Facebook.

    The most strangely intimate social media contacts, I find, are Spotify and Instagram: the one shares with your friends the music you're listening to, the other your photographs of your daily life. Knowing that my friend is listening to a certain sad song on repeat brings me a more direct awareness of his mood than any status update. And I limit Instagram follows to close friends, and am constantly surprised when strangers want to see my endless photos of my dog, my messy bedroom, my new glasses. They're the ones that get the closest to that ineffable something between words, that spark that it's hard to describe in words.

    They are also the far ends of the commodification problem, at once the easiest and the hardest to package and sell. While Spotify is a paid music service that aims to lead me to buying albums, Instagram seemed for a while to be impossible to monetize. This week, however, the internet exploded with the revelation that Instagram had changed its terms of service, perhaps making it easier for your private photos to be used in ads—without permission or compensation.

    In explaining what the changes actually mean (and how they are and are not an expansion of the rights the company already claimed to have to sell your life), Nilay Patel at The Verge wrote:

    “...[T]he company will be using our personal emotional moments in a limited commercial way, even if they have no connection to the product being sold. And make no mistake: Instagram screwed up royally by publishing these new terms of service and not explaining them in any way.” Patel continued, “Instagram has our photos — the company has a responsibility to tell us exactly how it plans to make money with them, even if the plans are fairly benign.”


    And yet, those photos are harder to quantify and to sell than a Facebook post about the new hot Hollywood blockbuster. Personal relationships are deep and meaningful only to a handful of people; they don't really increase the selling power to a broader audience very much.


    This perhaps epitomizes Web 2.0, the social Internet: it both is and is not a venue for capitalism, a way to sell and be sold and also a way to connect and create and by doing so confound those who want to boil everything down to the bottom line.


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  • 12/20/12--08:46: The Fundamental Units
  • How did this collaboration with National Physical Laboratory come about for your project The Fundamental Units?

    For six months I was having tests run all around the UK on different types of microscopes such as scanning electron microscopes, at different institutions, universities and testing laboratories. The Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum suggested an idea which eventually lead me to the National Physical Laboratory.

    I ended up at the Advanced Engineered Materials Group which is part of the National Physical Laboratory, using an Alicona infinite focus 3D optical microscope.

    They were really into experimenting and pushing the equipment. It took about a month of tests to get the results we see. The process involved Petra the scientist in charge of the machine writing programs to capture the data as a whole, as the machine is designed for looking in detail at one tiny part of an object. We crashed it several times working out the right solution. Each coin, which are generally around 18-20mm in diameter, take a whole night to capture. Then computers run for three days assembling the data into extremely high resolution photographic images. We are talking files too big for normal image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. Each photographic print is from files with around 400 million pixels.

    What did some of the earlier tests look like?

    Many microscopes are not optical, they don't use light, and therefore produce results that are removed from what we generally expect to see. A scanning electron microscope, for example (attached), produces images in greyscale and the electric charge greatly emphasises dust and dirt. Clean images could be obtained though sonic cleaning and plating the coins in gold, but this started to become very removed from examining these low value tokens of exchange.

    Could you explain the choice to scan these particular coins? How did you get a hold of them?

    There are currently 166 active currencies using coins. Using online market places and by contacting national banks I have found the lowest donimation coin for each of these currencies. At the moment, at the beginning, we have imaged one from each continent. All 166 will be imaged.

    What are you working on currently?

    Well, the UCL European Institute have just (five minuets ago) awarded the research project funding to image the currencies of: Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania Sweden, and the UK.

    As well as this I'm working on several larger works including archive the hugh photograph archive for Grounds


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  • 12/21/12--09:39: Best of Rhizome 2012
  • Hidden Information: An Interview with Jim Sanborn


     Remote Control


    Interface Aesthetics: An Introduction


    Artist Profiles:

    Five Videos


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    On December 18th, an Instagram account in Gothenburg, Sweden ignited a media-identified riot resulting in the detention of 27 individuals. A more intensive explanation, via Free Art & Technology:

    What happened this time around was that a person (a 17 yo girl attending Plusgymnasiet (The Plus High School, a privately owned and managed school) was suspected and got police protection) started an Instagram account called “gbgorroz” (“gbg” is short for Gothenburg, “orroz” is a swedishification of a turkish word meaning whore) asking people to name and shame the sluts of Gothenburg and what slutty things they have done. The account gained about 6000 followers and posted about a hundred pictures and description about “sluts” of Gothenburg (mostly female but also male, often for being “gays”. Age 12-18) and their alleged sex acts before it was shut down. In an unexpected turn of events, the last pictures posted was screenshots of the inbox of the account where you could see who had submitted what “slut” – shaming the shamers.

    Somehow it was revealed who was behind the account – or at least someone was accused – and people decided to “take revenge”. A rumour started spreading that there would be “chaos” at this high school the morning after. And there was even a facebook event called “World War 3 at Plusgymnasiet”. About 500 people showed up the day after (18/12) and tried to enter the school. I guess most to just watch THE CHAOS unfold. Some were there to beat up the girl that started it (among them people who had submitted to the account and had been exposed in the screenshots). Others to beat up the people who had submitted to the account. Some even might have been there to beat up someone for what they allegedly had done. And yet more just there to take the opportunity to start some fights.

    F.A.T. also provides a useful analysis of the event, suggesting that

    What’s good is that most people have afterwards focused on violence, gender issues, culture around sexuality and bullying, and preventing this kind of behaviour, rather than condemning “the internet” for what happened. So I think the debate about teenagers and internet use have matured a bit. People are also very fast to report accounts (new ones have popped up), take screenshots as evidence and report them to the police. So we’re starting to learn how to react to these things without panic (except the 500 ppl strong mob, that is…).

    One of the mainstream narratives concerning social media since the Arab Spring has been its revolutionary, or at least radically organizational, potential. Two years after protests began in Tunisia, social media precipitated another, perhaps more unexpected eruption of incendiary energy more in the vein of Mean Girls than May '68. Media outlets like the Daily Mail and the BBC have focused on Instagram and Facebook's formal role in the protest as opposed to the sexual politics at its center. Whether this will indicate a change of perspective remains to be seen. 

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    Happy New Year from all at Rhizome. The new year starts with a new push encouraging you to donate to our annual fundraising campaign, and you'll be seeing things ramp up around here during its final two weeks. The amount we're raising is crucial to our programs in 2013, and will further Rhizome's mission to examine technology culture and its social, political and aesthetic implications, from the perspective of contemporary art. If you value Rhizome's work  if you read the site, share links to our articles, use it to find out about new artists, come to our exhibitions and events, or interact with the organization in any number of ways since 1996 donate today.

    Arts organizations like ours survive on the support of the publics they serve, and Rhizome has a particularly strong community around it. With under two weeks left, now is the time to express your support.

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    de paso, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, 2011

    The saying "Free like the wind, not like free beer" is a version of the legal distinction known as gratis versus libre. It's an attempt to add some definition to one particularly slippery region of language. Free got complicated in the sixteenth century when it became attached to the monetary system, where it began to be used to denote transactions that took place outside of this system (free as in gratis; without cost).

    In mid 1600s England, a small group emerged who began to undermine – literally – the institution of private property. Partly in response to rising food costs and a collapsing social order, the Diggers, led by Gerrard Winstanley, set themselves up to cultivate the common land, and live off what they produced. Winstanley set out his vision for a new society in a pamphlet called The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652), a radical and eminently practical solution to the crises of his day.

    As Christopher Hill writes, "Winstanley’s conclusion, that communal cultivation of the commons was the crucial question, the starting point from which common people all over England could build up an equal community, was absolutely right…. Winstanley had arrived at the one possible democratic solution that was not merely backward-looking, as all other radical proposals during the revolutionary decades – an agrarian law, partible inheritance, stable copy-holds – tended to be." The group was small and short-lived, and their community was constantly threatened by landowners and violent mobs, but they left a legacy of ideas which continues to fascinate and inspire. 

    The Diggers are undoubtedly the heroes of The World Turned Upside Down, Hill’s history of forgotten radical groups during the English revolution. He speculates about the "revolution that never happened" ("although from time to time it threatened") which would have produced a society based on communal property and a far wider democracy in political and legal institutions. And the Diggers’ undermining was as much about language as land. Without the institution of private property, the monetary notion of free (as in beer) collapses; the concept stops making sense.

    Air and water – as in wind and beer – were also the focal points of a recent work by artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian, titled de paso (2012), seen at her recent quasi-retrospective at Carroll/Fletcher, London. The space was filled with the sound of crumpling plastic, a noise that persists impossibly (apparently via a small motor and algorithm) through a microphone dangling over an empty plastic bottle being slowly compressed by the handle of a plain hand-luggage flight case.

    Here too, geography is key: in the next room Haghighian mapped the expansion of budget airline flight paths alongside documentation of Nestlé’s acquisition of the rights to bottle and sell water from St. Anne’s Well, Buxton (not to be confused with the water from the St. Anne’s Well in Malvern, which is bottled and sold by Coca Cola Enterprises as 'Malvern Water'). A solicitor's letter was pinned alongside, detailing the creeping corporate enclosure of this doubly free water; the letter itself, a freedom of information request, declined.

    The freedom of information request suggests the weirdness of language in another popular technological slogan – "Information Wants to be Free." Does information want anything, and, if so, what kind of free is this? The phrase apparently originated in something Whole Earth icon Stewart Brand said at a hackers' conference in 1984, where he played on the double meaning: "On the one hand, information wants to be expensive because it's so valuable. … On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is lower and lower all the time."

    Haghighian's art looks at the ways in which representational structures – language, for example – produce knowledge and behaviour. In a conversation with the artist, American physicist Evelyn Fox Keller notes a related equivocation of language: "Look at the word evidence, evidential. This already has a double meaning. It is made available explicit, available, visually available, but for the sake of something else." And words can carry a lot more than multiple meanings; Keller points out the heavy historical baggage of words, like the Enlightenment’s legacy in all our many sayings that connect sight and understanding ("Oh, I see" etc.).

    Talking about words in this way is a little like Keller’s description of American scientist Barbara McClintock, "The scientist who looks through the microscope in order to understand how the mind’s eye shapes what we think we see with the retina." McClintock at her microscope, using one technology of representation to scrutinise another, analysing the way that these observations produce reality and how this reality becomes embedded in culture. In this tangled situation – the situation all creatures find themselves in – observer andobserved blur together, an infinite regress, or a pivot around which a system of knowledge, thought or organisation might be destabilised.


    I first encountered the wind/beer slogan in the context of free – like the wind – music, but it is more synonymous with the open source programming movement, used to distinguish freeware ("no charge") from freesoftware (free for public sharing and modification, without restriction). The connection between the ideals of the Diggers and digital politics is not a new one. During a covertly filmed conversation with Natascha Haghighian in a New York Whole Foods in 2008, Avery Gordon read A Declaration from the poor oppressed People of England directed to all that call themselves, or are called Lords of Manors, through this Nation; that have begun to cut, or that through fear and covetousness, do intend to cut down the Woods and Trees that grow upon the Commons and Waste Land– a Digger manifesto written by Gerrard Winstanley in 1649. The conversation was for a seminar intended to take place in the supermarket, if the supermarket had given permission; they didn’t, so it was filmed instead and posted online.

    Gerard Winstantley

    The Digger era was a time of unprecedented freedom of expression. Hill describes the "continuous flow of pamphlets on every subject under the sun ... For a short time, ordinary people were freer from the authority of church and social superiors than ever before, or were for a long time to be again... They speculated about the end of the world and the coming of the millennium; about the justice of God in condemning the mass of mankind to eternal torment for a sin which (if anyone) Adam committed; some of them became skeptical of the existence of hell. They contemplated the possibility that God might intend to save everybody, that something of God might be within each of us. They founded new sects to express these new ideas.... They attacked the monopolization of knowledge within the privileged professions, divinity, law, medicine. They criticized the existing educational structure, especially the universities, and proposed a vast expansion of educational opportunity. They discussed the relation of the sexes, and questioned parts of the Protestant ethic. The eloquence, the power of the simple artisans who took place in these discussions was staggering."

    This newfound ability to publish widely and freely was crucial. Before the reformed monarchy clamped down on free presses in 1660, there was an explosion of dissenting religious and political pamphlets from Diggers, Adamites, Anabaptists, Baptists, Barrowists, Behmenists, Brownists, Familists, Fifth Monarchists, Free-will Men, Gindletonians, Jacobites, Levellers, Lollards, Muggletonians, Puritans, Quakers, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Seekers, and Socinians, as well as unaffiliated critics, madmen and visionaries (John Milton, for example). When Hill observed that during this brief time "it may have been easier for eccentrics to get into print than ever before or since" he was writing in a pre-Internet 1972. Of course now, forty years on, the very idea of "getting in print" has exploded beyond all recognition.

    The dizzying circulation of words across contemporary networks, as well as crises of ownership and file sharing, suggest more unexpected resonances with the Digger era. In their book Cloud Time (Zero Books 2012), Rob Coley and Dean Lockwood suggest Winstanley as the unlikely "patron saint of cloud culture." In particular, they are referring to British writer Charles Leadbeater, who has recently begun championing Winstanley in support of a utopian “open cloud.” Against this interpretation, Coley/Lockwood argue that, "Leadbeater’s response to the end-time of the neoliberal project, juxtaposing the cloud commons with this eulogy to Winstanley, overlooks the fact that the digital commons is the new hunting ground for contemporary capital. Cloud culture is a product of post-9/11 disaster capitalism. Technological systems and ideas that were in their infancy prior to 9/11, merely lying around without coherence, were swiftly joined up and rationalized in a way that previously had been politically untenable." As Metahaven also continue to track in detail, the rise of cloud computing suggests a brand new form of enclosure, an increasingly privatised Internet with just a handful of conglomerate landlords.

    In his writings, Winstanley also sometimes talked about clouds. They could also be ominous: in The Law of Freedom in a Platform he describes monarchical power as "the great thick cloud that hath hid the light of the sun of righteousness from shining in his full strength a long time," and in The Saint's Paradice (ca. 1648) he suggests, "It hath been the universall condition of the earth (mankind) to be over-spread with a black cloud of darkness." But elsewhere, he is prepared to accept the cloud and its ill effects: "The clouds send down raine, and there is great undeniable reason in it, for otherwise the earth could not bring forth grasse and fruit. … So that the mighty power Reason hath made these to give life and preservation one to another" (Truth Lifting Up Its Head Above Scandals, 1949).

    Similarly, Metahaven are ambivalent about the cloud: "The political, legal and jurisdictional consequences of the cloud are slowly becoming apparent—right at the time when we are unlikely to withdraw from it. The cloud is just too good." At the same time they close with a cliffhanger, noting the basic materiality, the "lumpiness" of data: "The world indeed is lumpy enough for us not to draw easy conclusions. This story is not over yet. Tomorrow’s clouds are forming." There is a clear parallel between historical land enclosure and its creeping contemporary forms, but the obvious question – how does one dig a cloud? – is also a strange one. This is language out of control, a series of metaphors far too mangled. By contrast Winstanley’s insight was wonderfully straightforward: concentrations of power are intimately connected to buying and selling, to be undermined together; on or offline, free or otherwise.


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    In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile five artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

    Matthew Plummer-Fernandez is a London-based artist who combines scanning, 3D printing, and computational approaches to make remixed art objects. His 3D printed works expose the limitations of the technology and the glitches that occur when translating real objects into digital ones.

    In his Digital Natives series, Plummber-Fernandez samples everyday household items, remixes them using his own software, and then 3D prints them using a z-corp printer with a color resin, in order to blur the line between the real and the digital. Once functional objects are rendered useless, but beautiful, in their new algorithmically abstracted forms. Laura Davidson reviews Plummer-Fernandez's work for Rhizome, noting he takes: "...a more creative approach to engineering... His work proposes new ways in how we discuss the process of making a crafted object. Algorithms and their parameters become a tool to be mastered in the same way a lathe or a chisel would be... The results are almost alchemic and magical."

    For Rhizome's Community Fundraiser, Plummer-Fernadez has donated two limited edition pieces from the Digital Natives series, available at the $1,000 level. The designs were based on a scan of a typical yellow ceramic jug and transformed using the artist's software. These unique table sculptures will be printed in the color of your choice. 

    Images courtesy of the artist


    You will also become a member of the Rhizome Council, a leadership council for significant supporters that brings you closer to Rhizome. As a member, you will be invited to special Council-only events including intimate studio visits with entrepreneurs and artists in New York City and abroad. You will also receive the limited edition tote bag by ReCode Project, and the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens eBook by Sebatian Schiemg and Silivo Lorusso.

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    WaWa Complex, 2011, Fatima Al Qadiri w/ Khalid Al Gharaballi (From WaWa Series)

    There is little distinction between Fatima Al Qadiri’s work as an artist and composer. Her compositions and related performances are intertwined and in reference to the cross-pollination of genres, mediums, and artifacts of culture that infiltrates her video art and multimedia installations. Her most recent musical output, Desert Strike EP, is a testament to this blending of disparate ideas.

    Born in Senegal and raised in Kuwait, Al Qadiri studied Linguistics at New York University and has performed and exhibited at the New Museum, MoMa, the Kitchen, and Performa, among others. As a child, she also witnessed the unfolding of the Gulf War. A love for and fascination with video games grew during this period and sustained for years afterward. In particular, the Sega Megadrive game “Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf,” which involves a US army helicopter waging war on a Middle Eastern country, was a frequent source of entertainment. The dichotomy between her own experiences outside of and in relation to videogames shapes the sound of the EP.

    Desert Strike is filled with dry, hypnotic beats, cold, 8-bit-like synths and gunshots to create songs that are haunting and ethereal. The all-instrumental work is a deep and heavy soundtrack to a surreal yet familiar game that has yet to be not been created. But most importantly, it is a smart piece of music and work of art. Like her previous work, Genre-Specific Xperience, Desert Strike is representative of a multi-faceted and post-modern consumption of music and culture that fits in seamlessly with the sounds and creators of contemporary society.

    Dala3 (in Vegas), 2011, Fatima Al Qadiri w/ Khalid Al Gharaballi (From WaWa Series)

    I first learned of your work through your more traditionally artistic-medium practices. However, within the last year, you've developed a following for your music. Would you consider your music to be an extension of your past artwork –another layer to your artistic practice – or something different?

    I've been writing music for most of my life. I know some visual artists pursue music to extend their practice, but music production is my main activity.

    Your EP at many times sounds like a video game. In the past, you've said that you were attracted to video games because of their soundtracks and the Desert Strike game was especially relevant to you because of your experiences witnessing Operation Desert Storm.  Why do or did you find video game soundtracks so interesting?

    Playing video games marked the period of the occupation, which was 7 months of no school. My obsession was fomented in that context, but honestly, any electronic music producer can tell you that video games rank high as a common source of influence. I don't try to consciously sound like anything, it’s all improvised. I use VSTs, old and new virtual synths. I guess overly synthesized melodic patterns have a tendency to sound video game-like now. It's the appeal of bite-size synth chunks.

    What is it about the use and creation of soundtracks that you find compelling when creating your own work?

    I loved movies and soundtracks as a kid. The First Gulf War was like a sci-fi movie. Werner Herzog made Lessons of Darkness for a reason. I've been wanting to write a soundtrack for that period ever since.

    It's the lure of an untold story, from my perspective anyway.

    I've also found that your work fits in well with the themes of the New Aesthetic, the mix of the virtual and the physical, the visual language of visual technology. Was this a goal of yours or did it occur more organically?

    My interest with the virtual and the physical started with “Desert Strike,” the video game, in 1992. That was my wake up call. I feel a lot of creative kids who grew up in the 80s played video games in the 90s. With the advent of virtual reality, a shared fascination with the prospect of finally living our sci-fi dreams was born.

    This is a generational issue really, as far as I can see, it crosses ethnicity, nationality, gender, etc. The reason why people are referencing the popular technology of the fleeting past is because they want to commemorate it's obsolescence. It's a sentimental exercise, at the core.

    You are also well known for your video works. Will you still be working with Thunder Horse Video and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria for video accompaniments to the EP?

    Absolutely. Thunderhorse is doing a video for “Ghost Raid.” Sophia Al-Maria is doing one for “Desert Strike.” I met Sophia through Bidoun magazine. We collaborated on a work prior to meeting. I met Thunderhorse through Tabor Robak and DIS, out and about in New York. I wouldn't say their past work fitted in exactly with my EP. I knew they were right for the project. Thunderhorse are tech wizards and Sophia is a master narrator, both skills complement the EP's aspirations.

    Listening to your EP, I noticed that it also fits in really well with other genre experimentations in electronic music. What music are you currently listening to and enjoying?

    I've been listening to a lot of rap lately, truth be told. It's America's finest export, musically-speaking. Who's not influenced by rap? Pick any country or community on the map and I guarantee you, if they have a rudimentary Internet connection, you'll find local rappers. It's the most influential music in the world.

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    In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile five artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

    2012 was the Year of the Glitch for Brooklyn-based artist Phillip Stearns. Devoted to exploring the manifestations of glitches produced by electronics, Stearns posted a new image, video or sound file to his Year of the Glitch tumblr every day throughout the year.

    Glitch Textile (all images courtesy of the artist)

    The images on Year of the Glitch are "not of broken things, but the unlocking of other worlds latent in the technologies with which we surround ourselves. Part of what this project is about is approaching the familiar with fresh senses, to turn it into something that is unfamiliar."

    Through his glitch-a-day project, Stearns developed a collection of woven and knit textiles whose patterns were generated using images taken with short circuited digital cameras. Glitch Textiles converts cold, hard digital information in to warm, soft blankets, rugs or tapestries. Stearns's textiles exposes the technology that surrounds us, and transforms it into a cozy and inviting object to wrap yourself in.

    Stearns has donated five Glitch Textiles to Rhizome's Community Fundraiser. Available at the $500 level, donors will receive a Knit Glitch Blanket (40" x 60") made from machine washable 100% cotton. Donors at this level will also receive the limited edition tote bag by ReCode Project, the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens (Kindle Edition) eBook, and one full year of Rhizome membership.

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  • 01/09/13--08:55: Another History Is Possible
  • The End, 2012, charcoal on paper, 27.5 x 39", courtesy of Badlands Unlimited

    On Democracy by Saddam Hussein, with artwork by Paul Chan, is a slim yet imposing volume graced by a cloudy sketch of Hussein disguised beneath his formidable beard. The book contains three of Hussein’s speeches, from 1977-1978, along with an introduction by Jeff Severns Guntzel and essays by Negar Azimi and Nickolas Calabrese. Guntzel, in his introduction, describes the process through which he came to posses a volume of Hussein’s writings:

    My original copy of Hussein’s book of essays was a gag gift, purchased by a dear friend at the book market on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad … Back home it ended up in a box in storage. I rediscovered the book sometime after the Mutanabi market had been destroyed by a suicide bomber in 2007, just a few months after Hussein’s hanging. As a gag gift it was funny. Now it is an artifact of an Iraq destroyed, dictator and all, and I find even the darkest of humor elusive.

    On Democracy is published by Chan’s Badlands Unlimited press in this spirit: inquisitive and without ridicule. It is tempting to read history back into the book: after these speeches, in 1979, Hussein became President and initiated an extensive political purge of his Baath Party. Hussein’s rhetoric—his ability to conceal, with questions about democracy, the true nature and viciousness of his future regime—becomes a mental tug of war throughout the text.

    As Calabrese indicates in his essay, “One would be hard pressed to locate the notorious dictator who rose to power through murder, torture, and blatant human-rights abuse” throughout the speeches collected in On Democracy. Which Hussein speaks when he exclaims, “Democratic practice should be permanently part of our policies as it constitutes a basic part of the Arab Baath Socialist Party’s ideology, which considers the individual a high value but not the absolute value,” and what definition of democracy, to be married with future totalitarianism, is being formulated? Or are these simply a tyrant’s lies?

    If these are the stakes of On Democracy, they are ultimately self-reflexive: “Political injustice can happen anywhere under any name.” Calabrese continues. “The transformation of democracy into any type of oppressive political system can be a matter of a few well spoken words.” Pages before, Chan’s drawing of President Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, complete with 4.4 stars out of 5 (1,417 reviewers). Gunzel’s introduction shares an exchange between an American congressional aide and Tariq Aziz, then Hussein’s deputy prime minister. The aide asked when there would be democracy in Iraq. After an extensive answer reporting Hussein’s rise to power, Aziz put a period on his response: “Democracy? We haven’t had time for democracy. We’ve been at war for twenty years.” And how long have we been at war?

    The End 2, 2012, charcoal on paper, 35 x 47", courtesy of Badlands Unlimited

    Azimi’s essay takes explores this unspoken terrain. In contrasting Hussein’s extensive control over Iraqi history with the choreography of American triumph following the declared termination of the war in Iraq, Azimi both opens an unknown history and traces its reverberations throughout our own 24 hour news cycle. More powerfully, Azimi chronicles Hussein’s loosening grip not only on the ability to define history, but to define himself: by the time of his death, he had lost so much control as to be disseminated, willy-nilly, via low-res cellphone video.

    Yet the questions about narrative control in Azimi’s essay indicate that increased American cultural and political introspection is not On Democracy by Saddam Hussein’s potential. The challenge, instead, is to probe a history written neither by the heroes nor by consensus. Can there be another history? This, I think, is where On Democracy becomes essential. Badlands Unlimited is an art publishing house making “books in an expanded field.” In America’s current political and discursive landscape, where history is written in talking points by political campaigns, On Democracy is superfluous. The book then exists as an art project. Art becomes the place where history escapes from the confines of victory.

    That narrative slipped away from Hussein in his final moments is, in some sense, the injustice that On Democracy by Saddam Hussein works against. The ability to read these not as Hussein’s speeches but as the speeches by the respected vice-president who became Saddam Hussein—that is this book’s challenge. Then perhaps another history could be possible.

    Untitled, 2012, charcoal and fabric on paper, 35 x 47", courtesy of Badlands Unlimited

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    In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile five artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

    Concerned with the ever growing level of surveillance today, the work of Brooklyn-based artist Adam Harvey aims to provide a fashionable and functional means to combat it.

    The Off Pocket is one in a series of projects where Harvey has thwarted the methods by which we are tracked in contemporary society  whether it be phone signal, or cameras, Harvey's work uncovers the surreptitious new enablers of surveillance societies. In an Artist Profile for Rhizome, Harvey explains:

    "Smartphones infiltrate our senses. They cause anxiety, phantom vibrations, and keep us on alert. We expend energy maintaining an always-on connection. Smartphones should come with a switch to turn this off, but they don’t. Turning my iPhone off and back on takes 45 seconds. Using flight mode is also clumsy. I wanted a way to quickly and politely disconnect myself without relying on the phone’s software or hardware features. The Off Pocket circumvents this design flaw."

    Harvey has donated twenty of his Off Pockets (Off Pouch version) which prevent data leakage from your smart phone. Placing your phone inside of the Off Pocket will improve personal privacy for smart phone users concerned about phone hacking, tracking, or simply a break from the connected life. 

    Contributions of $300 will receive an Off Pocket as well as the limited edition tote bag by ReCode Project, the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens (Kindle Edition) eBook, and one full year of Rhizome membership.

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    In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile five artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

    Tabor Robak creates sci-fi and techno-utopian interactive virtual environments, websites, videos and images. His imagery exploits high-end commercial aesthetics and slick special effects found in design, video games, action and sci-fi fantasy films.

    Vatican Vibes, Music video for Fatima Al Qadiri, HD video with sound, 5:16 min, 2011

    Robak spoke about his exaltation of technology in his work in his Artist Profile, last year:

    "I truly believe in the transformative potential of technology but I am also trying to be a realist. As eagerly as I await the singularity I also think it is ridiculous to hope for a techno-god to save us. There are 2 feelings I frequently find that reflected in my work that express this attitude. One is a complete, hopeful, teary-eyed love of the glittering special effects and commercial aesthetics. The other is a dark, almost comedic feeling of contentless emptiness." 

    Rocks (mirrored) (2012) 

    For Rhizome's Community Campaign, Robak has generously donated a limited edition digital print (20'' x 30'') from his Rocks series, Rocks (mirrored) (2012) available at the $125 level. Donors will also receive the limited edition tote bag by ReCode Project, the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens (Kindle Edition) eBook, and one full year of Rhizome membership.

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    In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile six artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

    ReCode Project

    The ReCode Project is a community-driven effort to preserve computer art by translating it into a modern programming language (Processing). Works from the earliest days of creative computing are recoded by members of the project, either by referencing existing code left by the original artist, or sometimes just the artwork or image itself where code is no longer available. The translated works are then made publicly available to learn, share, and build upon.

    Writing to Bruce Sterling and published on, Matthew Epler notes the ReCode project "start[s] a larger discussion about the transitory nature of not only our work but also the languages and platforms on which we create it. Can we see a common conceptual thread through these pieces that speaks to the digital art practice as a whole over decades? Or will our work always be limited by our machines?". The project draws attention to not just the final image, but the code that produced it, as a kind of living born-digital archive.

    Benjamin Fox, Based on: From the Square Series by Roger Coqart, 1977

    For Rhizome's Community Fundraiser, Benjamin Fox from ReCode Project, translated code from Roger Coqart's From the Square Series (1977). Coqart's graphics were featured in the November 1977 issue of "Computer Graphics and Art" magazine. The code was then used to create the design for a limited edition tote bag, made just for the Fundraiser. There was no code published alongside the original artwork, which required Fox to interpret the piece in a new way.


    Donations at the $50 level will receive the ReCode tote bag and also receive the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens eBook, plus one full year of Rhizome membership. 

    56 Broken Kindle Screens

    Sebastian Schmieg and Silvio Lorusso's 56 Broken Kindle Screens is a print on demand book of found photos of broken Kindle screens. When a Kindle screen breaks, a glitchy collage of E Ink images are left behind.

    56 Broken Kindle Screens - Silvio Lorusso and Sebastian Schmieg (2012)

    The artist talked about their facination with E Ink to Fast Company Design:

    “We are fascinated by the way in which various ‘strata’ of content and device features, such as pages, cover illustrations and interface elements, mix and merge. Functional parts of the screens cohabit with broken ones constituting a multifaceted composition... We find them haunting as well, because when they break they stop being a window into the content. The device itself becomes the focus, its materiality is very different to that of a printed book and this is something it needs to be remembered.”

    Schmieg and Lorusso have generously created a special edition of the project just for the Community Fundraiser. 56+10 Broken Kindle Screens (Kindle Edition) includes an additional 10 broken Kindle screen images and is only available during the Fundraiser. Donations at the $30 will receieve a copy of 56+10 Broken Kindle Screens and one full year of Rhizome membership. 

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