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  • 01/12/13--09:56: Dear Jeff Bezos

    Today is the birthday of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. On this day, self-proclaimed “interface artist” Johannes P Osterhoff begins a new performance work, titled “Dear Jeff Bezos.” The work stems from the artist’s realiziation that Amazon logs Kindle user data (through their “Whispersync” technology and "Whispernet" network) pertaining to bookmarks placed by the reader and furthest page read. Osterhoff has modified his Kindle such that whenever this data is logged, it is also emailed directly to CEO Jeff Bezos, and published publicly at Rhizome spoke with Osterhoff about about his new project:

    Why email this data to Jeff Bezos, and why make these emails public?

    Not so long ago it was very simple to read a book in private. With the Kindle and Whispersync it is impossible. I am required to surrender my privacy during reading on my Kindle. So sending e-mails about my reading activity directly to the CEO of Amazon was just the next logical step.

    With regard to making the emails public: The reasons are manifold. Companies like Amazon are interested in exclusive ownership of data, because with this exclusivity comes its value. As a user of such services, one loses not only control but also authorship of the data one generated. To make the data I generate public, is to devalue it. This is why I prefer to share data in an open format. I have done so with my two previous performances: the one year of public Google search, and also with iPhone live.

    In many ways the solitude of reading has been inverted with e-readers… what we are reading is invisible to those physically near us – in the park, on the train – yet a data center knows far more than simply what we are reading, but when and how we are reading it.

    Yes, it is like somebody is always reading over your shoulder. I do not voluntarily share my reading with a community (such as Goodreads), but do not really have a choice when reading on the Kindle, and with whispersync this data goes exclusively to Amazon.

    Can other people similarly modify their Kindles?

    Yes, I will post an instruction on in a few days. It is very simple actually. Jailbreak the Kindle first. There are useful wikis and how-to's on the web. The MobileRead Wiki is a good start. This post explains how to install a disk image with additional linux packages called Kindle Extend. This allows me to run PHP to send the new bookmarks from my Kindle to my server, and to email Jeff Bezos from there.

    How do you know when your performance has been successful?

    It would be obvious to wait for Jeff Bezos to reply.

    But he would be wise not to, I guess.


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    It's been a big year for worthy, interesting projects and causes for you all to support. With Hurricane Sandy relief efforts all along the east coast, many great projects on sites like Kickstarter, and the countless other ways our community gives, we understand if you're a little tapped out this year.

    Arts organizations like ours survive year in, year out, on the support of the publics we serve. Since we became a non-profit, we've been running our campaign annually and thousands of people have donated over the years – we are thankful for the support we've received. Though we promote the fundraiser online, it's not crowd funding in the way most people have come to understand it today. It's not a one-time project, there's no end date or cut-off for the work we do. Rhizome's fundraiser is an annual ask, rooted in a tradition of public support for arts organizations they deem critical and necessary. Rhizome's mission – to examine, and sometimes challenge, the role that technology plays in culture, from the unique perspective of contemporary art – is one that our readers and audiences believe in.

    We know you'd like to get back to regular programming at Rhizome. Let's compromise – take us just a bit farther, to $20,000, and we'll cap off the campaign knowing we've got to work harder than ever this year to make sure your investment goes as far as it can to reach our goals. We're willing, if you are.

    Please, donate today.

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    ''We're not psychologists. We're math guys,” remarked Sam Yagan, the chief executive of OKCupid. He wasn’t being self-deprecating.  

    OKC suggests romantic pairings based on information gathered from a sprawling, seemingly endless questionnaire. When filling out the questionnaire, users are also asked to rank the relative importance of each question and to say which answer or answers they would prefer in a partner. Users, in other words, describe to the OKCupid database their ideal “match” as a set of data points.

    Because users are generally able to intuit the basic parameters of how the system works, they upvote the questions most likely to be useful in narrowing down a pool of millions of strangers—that is, the questions most likely to be incredibly divisive. A good OKCupid question is like a good question in a game of “Guess Who?”--one that eliminates the most candidates.  

    The questionnaire asks users to provide their own definitive standards for in-group and out-group belonging. Then, in their profiles, users are expected to distinguish themselves within their chosen group or groups through a combination of photographs and prompted text.

    OKCupid profiles are sort of like really long pick-up lines pitched at an imaginary “perfect match.” In general, they show humanity in a humiliating light, and various OKCupid users have taken it upon themselves to liberate the profiles of others, condensing them into image macros and sharing them outside the context of the site. The ethics of this are out of focus, because the culture has not yet decided where sites like OKCupid fall in terms of public vs. private space, and what reasonable expectations people can have when they join these sites. 

    The found OKCupid profile has become one of the Internet’s most unsettling genres. Part Cindy Sherman film still, part Robert Browning monologue, the best found profiles match the uncanny visual embodiment of a cultural type with an elliptically unraveling text of unconscious self-revelation.

    For example:

    The Tumblr “Nice Guys of OKCupid[1]develops a specific variation of the found OKCupid profile. NGOKC doesn’t just expose the strange. Rather, it proposes to chart a demonstrable connection between a kind of rhetoric found in the romantic self-advertising of OKCupid’s profile pages and a pattern of data logged in its semi-hidden underworld of fascinating soft science.

    The connection is that male users who go on at length in their profiles about being a “Nice Guy” who is perpetually “Friendzoned” because women prefer “Assholes”—these people often express, through their questionnaire, profoundly hostile and confused notions about female sexual and psychological autonomy.

    For example:

    The term “friend zone” is traceable to a 1994 episode of Friends in which the hopeless nebbish Ross is referred to as “Mayor of the Friendzone,” for his pattern of being romantically rejected and platonically embraced. The term mostly disappeared from popular culture in the last half of the 1990s, but it’s been revived online in the past 10 or so years.

    Look at the recent Internet meme “Women Logic.” Nominally intended to expose the distorted thinking patterns of females everywhere, it has, in its crowdsourced form, been given over hugely to complaints about nice guys, assholes, and friend-zones:

    The desire to rearticulate this complaint in as many forms as possible means that it’s bled across Internet genres and communities.

    Among Internet “Rage Comics”—miniature narratives in which people complain about daily life using a combination of text and stock characters—there is a whole sub-genre dedicated to the topoi of The Friend Zone:

    I admire this one on a formal level, for its nearly wordless visual grammar and shocking parataxis:

    The friend zone mythos has spawned a whole pantheon that contains not just the Nice Guy and the Asshole, but lesser Olympians, such as Friend Zone Fiona, Friend Zoned Phil, and Friendzone Johnny.




    Reddit—“the front page of the Internet”—is rich with debate about the zone. Recently, for example, some lost and frightened Candide began a thread by asking, “Why does the friend zone happen?”

    The section of Reddit with the most zone-talk is r/MensRights, a sub-Reddit dedicated to self-described “Men’s Rights Activists,” or MRAs. One of the regularly linked-to sites on r/MensRights, for example, is “A Voice for Men,” which features articles such as, “Nice Guys Are Emotional Toilet Paper” and “Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t live here anymore.”

    MRA culture grew out of various masculine revivalist movements of the 90s and early 2000s: the right-wing moralism of the Promise Keepers; the revenge-fantasy sociopathy of the “seduction community” cataloged by Neil Strauss in The Game; Nu Metal.

    MRAs distinguish themselves from these predecessors through their ability to mock-impersonate and invert the specialized language of the very progressive advocacy groups whom they exist to oppose. These men are “activists,” and they are advocating “rights.”

    MRAs adopt a peculiar tone of wounded self-righteousness, one that’s bled into popular culture on certain issues, as is the case with nice guys, assholes, and friend zones—terms MRA message boards have been instrumental in popularizing.

    Indeed, a landmark in the MRA movement was the launch, in 2001, of, which currently greets readers:

    "Let's just be friends." If you're here, you've probably heard this phrase a thousand times from many different women, all of whom you were romantically interested in at one point or another.

    Back in 2005—the oldest version of the site currently viewable—the landing page read:

    I'm NiceGuy. Why did I make this site, if I'm Nice? Because: Ameriskanks (mostly) Suck. ("Ameriskanks" means "North American females" obviously.) And yes, they 're horrible beyond imagination. Don't shoot the messenger. It's actually a good thing for me to come out and say this- our biggest critics are our truest friends because they show us how to improve ourselves. In this case, I'm giving an entire gender the criticism it needs to improve itself.

    This site is currently subtitled, “American Women (Mostly) Suck.” It’s become, since its launch, part of an entire community of sites, including and

    All of these pages argue that women from certain other countries—mostly in Eastern Asia—make better sexual and/or romantic and/or conversational and/or life partners.

    There is a logic linking “Nice Guys” and “Assholes” to MRAs and the historical recurrence of expatriated Orientalist fetishism, and this logic is what’s under analysis by “Nice Guys of OKCupid.”

    On its surface, the “Nice Guy” meme appears merely to generalize a specific psychological condition.

    This stereotyping would not be so terrible were it not usually married to a high-pitched tone of moral alarm and indignation. This tone transmits a large and important cultural meme: The idea that when women choose to have sex they should be meting out some sort of cosmic justice; ordering the universe by rules of honor that are essentially fair—instead of, say, procuring their own sexual satisfaction, or merely to ward off boredom.

    No one expects this of men—whom everyone agrees are “dogs”—but calling that a double-standard would be a little like calling Google “a website.” True, but it’s also more a structure that gives lightning-quick access to a massive extended network of double-standards.

    The Nice Guy complaint has become a primary and self-obscuring—primary because self-obscuring—way to argue that female sexuality carries an additional moral dimension, one that lies beyond the more straightforward matter of self-determination, and is, within this framework, clearly more significant.

    The trick is to distract attention away from the moral prerogative being asserted in the conversation—the right of the male speaker to act as moral arbiter of the female subject’s sexual desires—and direct it toward a third-party, whose moral virtues, or lack thereof, then become the most immediate and most easily apprehensible topic of debate.

    This rhetorical maneuver seems to have been around for as long as American women have been asserting expanded notions of sexual autonomy. In Sisterhood is Powerful, an influential anthology of feminist writings published in 1970, the Women’s Collective of the New York High School Student Union wrote about “some males within the Movement” telling them to not have sex with “guys who aren’t ‘good revolutionaries.’”  The very moral convictions that assert a right are used here to try to nullify it; a perfect match.

    Strikingly, this rhetoric can easily shade into what is more simply just emotional abuse. Look at the text “Pop-Punk Pick-Up Line,” which was spread last year through Tumblr and other social media:

    The brilliance of “Nice Guys of OKCupid” is that it helps illustrate a large, dispersed, systemic problem by pillaging a large, systemic database. NGOKC extends its analysis beyond the merely anecdotal. While not itself social science, it takes its findings from what is, essentially, one of the most enormous and bizarre social science experiments of all time.

    We could call this cultural form—the form of NGOKC—the detournement of data. It occurs when a massive store of information created by corporate or government powers is used by individuals for purposes peripheral or counter to the reasons for its collection. The culture’s psychologists can steal from the findings of its math people.  

    While not unique to the Internet, the detournement of data is one of its signal forms. It’s also a precarious one, as the large-scale privatization of information online continues unabated. We do not all conduct our lives in public online, but when we go online, all of us do conduct our lives for a select audience of corporate oligarchies—and as we do so, we’re comforted by the idea that most of our performance will be redescribed only as numbers and code.

    [1] As of publication, this site has been taken down; in its place, a link to Google archive of the blog is provided.

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  • 01/16/13--08:37: For Aaron
  • Aaron Swartz’s passing affected us all at Rhizome. We’re grateful to Artinfo for writing the piece that, in our sadness and confusion, we couldn’t quite write ourselves – about our work with him, how much his work meant to those in our field, and how artists found a like mind in him. We on the staff and Board are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Aaron through Seven on Seven. We put this here as a fitting profile and tribute, alongside the documentation of his Seven on Seven presentation with Taryn Simon, in order that he might continue to inspire us.

    Ben Davis writes:

    Last year, Swartz was one of the figures invited by curator Lauren Cornell to take part in’s “Seven on Seven” event at the New Museum, which pairs technologists with contemporary artists to brainstorm productive collaborations. Of the various pairings, Swartz’s work with photo-conceptualist Taryn Simon was particularly impressive. In fact, in a blog post, I dubbed it “The Coolest Art-Tech Project From This Weekend’s Seven on Seven Conference.”
    What it amounted to was a prototype for “Image Atlas,” a website that ran simultaneous searches on locally preferred engines in a variety of nations around the world, and displayed the results side by side. Thus, you could compare what images represented “freedom,” or “death,” or “America” in different countries — a simple and surprisingly effective device to make the point of how our local contexts shape our view of the world.
    Introducing the results of their 12-hour brainstorming session onstage, Swartz explained the impulse behind it in a way that suggests the moral vision behind the project:
    "One of the things that people are paying more attention to… is the way that these sort of neutral tools like Facebook and Google and so on, which claim to present an almost unmediated view of the world, through statistics and algorithms and analyses, in fact are programmed and are programming us. So we wanted to find a way to visualize that, to expose some of the value judgments that get made."
    Last August, the work was launched on the New Museum’s website as part of its “First Look” series of Internet art. It remains online, now serving the added purpose of standing as a tribute to Swartz’s sensitive and critical mind.
    “Watching him program was akin to watching a magician in speed and ability,” Taryn Simon wrote in an email today. “I’ve never witnessed anything like it. It looked like a court stenographer, but he wasn't recording something, he was constructing and creating.”
    Curator Lauren Cornell described Swartz as “a wonderful collaborator, warm and enthusiastic, excited at every aspect of participating in the event, and at every step of realizing the project in the months afterwards.” She described herself as “devastated by the loss.”
    Aaron Swartz’s work, Cornell said, “represents incredibly important values and goals that are urgent in our time.”

    An interview with Aaron from Steal This Film II, 2007, directed by Jamie King.

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    A collection of examples from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the web on creative projects and installations which employ the typewriter as part of the work.

    On Journalism #2 Typewriter

    Installation piece connects computer to typewriter that generates stories about journalists who have died since 1992. By Julian Koschwitz:

    The typewriter installation «On Journalism #2 Typewriter» writes generatively constructed stories about all journalist who have been killed worldwide between 1992 and today based on the existing data of their lives as well as their published work. The individual stories are connected through common fields of coverage, places, professions and many other aspects. Besides the text the typewriter creates also images e.g. flags which are heavier distorted the more journalists got killed in that particular country.

    The story is written endlessly on one endless piece of paper.

    Infinite Type Trooper

    Interactive installation displays animated type entered from a vintage keyboard:

    From Letters Are My Friends in Berlin comes an installation that enables you to experience their animated and generated Buchstabengewitter Typeface with a haptic tactile interface - an old Rheinmetall Typewriter from the 1920s. We used the Arduino based USB Typewriter Kit by Jack Zylkin to convert this machine into an USB keyboard and give it a long deserved upgrade after almost a century. The keys are send to a PC that is running the Buchstabengewitter vvvv-patch that animates the glyphs. We gonna use it as a realtime comment tool for talks and events.


    Project by Jonathan M. Guberman turns a typewriter into an interactive fiction platform - in the video below you can see a demonstration of the Zork text adventure game:

    Introducing the Automatypewriter, a new way to experience interactive fiction!

    It’s still a little rough around the edges (in particular, you can see that the spacebar sticks a little, and the whole thing needs to be tidied up), but you get the idea: the Automatypewriter is a typewriter that can type on its own, as well as detect what you type on it. By reading what it types to you and responding, it can be used interactively to play a game or participate in a story (in this case, Zork).

    More here.

    The Boolean Image / Conceptual Typewriter


    Project from 1970 by Carl Fernbach-Flarsheim uses a program called 'Conceptual Typewriter' to generate random spatial outputs of letters and numbers - taken from the excellent "SOFTWARE" exhibition catalogue:

    We are surrounded by a causal reality, bordered by our concepts of birth and death. Inside this reality we stabilize ourselves by making decisions. The Boolean Image is a matrix built upon this supposition . It is a womb containing decisional cues. These cues are neutral elements placed into specific relationships with each other. On these elements we hang decisions, labels which make them into anything we
    decide them to be. Since such decisional cues often occur in relational groupings or sets the matrix was named after George Boole, the originator of set theory.

    ... Computer realizations displayed on the scopes in this exhibition are based upon Boolean Images whose decisional cues are alphanumerical. The computer can most easily sense this type of cue and convert it into the decisions of the artist, programmer, audience-collective.

    Boolean Images may not be immediately perceivable. In the Conceptual Typewriter program the Boolean Image is fairly easy to recognize.

    You can find out more about the SOFTWARE exhibition guide here.

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    Chimera Q.T.E at London’s Cell Project Space draws its curatorial theme from a collagist interpretation of the Internet – a view that sees the web as a collection of orphaned, mashed and re-mashed digital fragments, or a kind of infinite patchwork quilt. For inspiration and the exhibition title, London based curator Attilia Fattori Franchini nudged aside contemporary similes to pull a monster from Greek mythology. The chimera, like that other Grecian mashup the griffin, is a beast composed of several animals, and both its status as an organic mishmash, and the common use of its name to denote fanciful pipe dreams, provided Franchini with a comparative reference for what the web is like.

    Luckily the beast’s double status as a hybrid creature and linguistic unit is also a useful tool for interpreting the show. For while the fragmented web model (i.e. the body of the beast) is popular and necessary for those who see contemporary artists as nomadic remixers and postproducers (see Mark Amerika’s recent remixthebook), it is an idea built on fragile conceptual foundations that tumble down beyond the aggregated world of Tumblr and BuzzFeed. Hence the idea that today’s artists are cut-and-pasting their way towards a liberatory new praxis could be mere chimera. What Chimera Q.T.E captures then is not a mediation of the Internet as it is – because nobody really knows. It captures an aesthetic sensibility informed by the fragmented web model and its proposed utopic possibilities. When formalised this sensibility, shared by the eight international artists on display, becomes a hybrid mix of lurid color palettes, errant geometry, and vivid, startlingly flat, digital precision. What the viewer sees in each work is essentially a dispatch from an abstract digital territory, an ambient landscape of the hyperreal.

    Chimera Q.T.E installation view

    Montreal-based Sabrina Ratté’s nine minute looped video Age Maze (2011) offers a hypnotic view of this alternate expanse. It is a shimmering kaleidoscopic journey through a field of shifting planes and dissolving geometric shapes. With its ambient soundtrack and trippy triangle animations, the work offers easy comparisons to the lo-fi, New Age aesthetics favoured by those affiliated with chillwave or seapunk, but something far more disquieting and primal is at play in Ratté’s piece. In his 1970 book Migraine Oliver Sacks introduced the idea of the migraine aura, a symptom of the condition that resulted in pre-headache visual hallucinations for the sufferer. He wrote ‘the simplest hallucination takes the form of a dance of brilliant stars, sparks, flashes or simple geometric forms across the visual field’. These hallucinations, which Sacks suggests were recorded as early as the twelfth century, are the first instances of geometrical abstraction and parts of Age Maze bear a striking resemblance to the disorienting phosphenes that cloud the vision of migraine aura sufferers.

    Age Maze, Sabrina Ratté, 2011

    A similar affinity can be seen in New York- based Travis Smalley’s Alta Dark (2012) a large abstract digital print on silk in which warm pinks, reds, and greens coalesce in shards and swirls of amorphous color gradation. One gets the sense in looking at both works that the surface of abstraction is in fact obscuring a coherent image laying just behind it. Whereas parts of twentieth century abstraction (i.e. Mark Rothko, Morris Louis, and Jackson Pollock) may be said to evoke a transcendental signified, Smalley and Ratte’s works conjure the transcendentalism of the unexpected vision that obscures reality. Their language of abstraction may have clear cultural antecedents, but the dual sensation of disquiet and disorientation the works provoked felt thrillingly unique. Elsewhere, London-based Oliver Sutherland’s Waving (2012) registered a muted form of abstraction. Two flat LCD screens were positioned on the floor and propped against the wall next to each other. On each screen the area of what seemed like dappled and clouded glass was illuminated by a light that was blurred by the partially see-though material’s surface. Sutherland’s seemed to be a more lyrical impulse, a poetic meditation on a human gesture diffused.

    Alta Dark, Travis Smalley, 2012

    In the centre of Cell’s modest white cube is Adam Faramawy’s Violet Like Psychic Honey 2 (2012) a two screen sculptural installation whose ambient, Vangelis-like soundtrack both dominates the room and blends with synthesised chords drifting from Ratte’s separate projection space. The screens sit on two spray-painted plinths whose gradated colours look like details from an HTML colour spectra wheel. Faramawy’s video also deals in abstract space, but is closer to that of the looping world of desktop screensavers. On each screen animated footage cycles through images of crystal formations, glitched imagery, organic shapes and rippling water oscillate against flat washes of too perfect digital color. Again there is a disconcerting air, but this time it comes from the banality of the desktop loop, and the planeless territory of a post-human digital expanse. Still photographs in Berry Pattern’s *D (2012), The Dream is Kournikova (2012), and Cornelia Baltes Baccara (2012) also tread the same digital path faultlessly flat imagery, and so it is left to fellow Londoners Jack Lavender and Nicholas Deshayes to rough things up a bit in the material world. Both artists use steel in their sculptural assemblages. Lavender’s Glasses Tree (2012) is a small tree-like sculpture with mirrored shades hanging on each barren branch, and Deshayes' Salts (2012) is a multi panelled wall-based structure. Both works look as if they’ve been shanghaied from the industrial set of a 90s cyberpunk flick or the studios of Josh Harris’s Pseudo.

    Violet Like Psychic Honey 2, Adam Faramawy, 2012

    Chimera Q.T.E is a curious exhibition. Attempting to capture something of the heterogeneity of the Internet, Franchini has instead produced a display that foregrounds the aesthetic sensibility shared by a group of international peers. Together this collection of works yields an experience for the viewer that skims, perhaps ironically, across a surface of cultural nostalgia and transcendental spiritualism. While this is too partial a view to be representative of what the Internet is, it provides an indication of where the fragmented web model, and the utopic image of the artist as postproducer, is currently pushing abstraction and digital aesthetics.

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  • 01/21/13--08:31: Artist Profile: Ed Atkins

        Still from Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths 2013, HD video with 5.1 surround, 13'. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Visual Arts.

    Your video installation Us Dead Talk Love, currently on view at MoMA PS1, makes use of hi-def and surround-sound technologies. How do you approach these in your video installation process? How did you approach the installation specifically for Chisenhale?

    It's predicated on immersion, I suppose. An attempt to address the body whole, rather than privilege sight, hearing. This might begin with a redressing of the balance between ocular and aural, and pan down to take in the whole wobbling form, up to some emotional affect – the surround sound penetrating, the visuals interrupting and shifting themselves between depths of field and vast cosmic spaces; infinitesimal motes of dust. These technologies are corporeal in their totalising address, which I see as dichotomous to the material reality of the technology – which seems to be dissipated or perhaps simply deferred to some desperate mine in some OTHER continent. The combined effect being one of possession – the work finding its home entirely within the body of the audience.

    You've spoken of the tension between text or writing and filmic realization in your work before. How did this tension come into play during the production of your work in Us Dead Talk Love? Was it exacerbated or sublimated by your chosen technologies?

    If I had to choose, I'd say sublimated – though I think that it's more straightforwardly performative. The one to and of the other. New media as a home for these things. Whether that's somewhat apologetic for the a failure of these things to stand alone is moot, I hope.

    You've mentioned before your exposure to Hollis Frampton. What influence did Frampton have on your work? Certain sound editing in Death Mask 3 (2011) seems to me reminiscent of Frampton's experiments with vertical montage.

    I came to Frampton – and much artist moving image – very late, in the primary form. It took a long time to retrace my influences: I'd basically 'read' work that was the direct but rather distant descendants of Frampton. Editing in particular, certainly – more specifically a certain structural troping. Frampton's harmonious approach to montage in relation to sound and its rhythms and discords and editing possibilities was something that had trickled down to me via other artists and possibly more popular formats who had priorly copied or expanded upon Frampton's thinking. And, I suppose, via Scratch Video and the technological possibility of new media.

    Finally, I'm wondering if you can talk about the apparent concern in your work with cinema's increasing immateriality, which you've previously spoken of as the "hyper-materiality of the image itself" combined with an empty body.

    I suppose what I mean by that is, in the absence of a body, a tangible medium or body, there is different kind of materiality described – one that is deferred to some other, subterranean situation – somewhere far away from the digital pinnacle. The appearance, at least, is of immateriality. That this lack of physical resolution, but rather a haunting of different physical situations, in the experience itself – in the experience of the video or the music, might engender a contrary accumulation or emphasis of matter in those other analogue agents involved in the encounter. This would include the body of the human watching or listening or experiencing or whatever – being addressed as gut as much as brain – and also the subject of the digital document. HD – at whatever current height it's reached (4K, 48fps?) – seems testament to this compensatory movement of material truth away from the body of the medium to… here, into the image. The surfaces depicted are vivid to the point of excess, to a point of imbalance, where subjects – subject matter – begins to die off, GETS BUMPED OFF – to be turned, in a blink, into dead matter – as a direct result, I think, of the weaponised heights of representative acuity. Like a knife with an atomically thin edge (obsidian), HD has the potential to murder its subject and present a great dermic husk of matter in its stead – all hair, skin, makeup, bruises – moving according to some occult, silicone anima. As youtube DAZ tutorials teach us, however, the actual weightlessness of these cadavers serves to describe their hollowness. Wireframe forms are skinned and rigged, but what about all that echoing space inside? To me, problems of ignorance in the face of these new modes, bodies, mortalities are very different to the ideological illusions conjured by analogue moving image – more difficult to expose, to undermine or ironise. I confess, I don't know much about an iPad, let alone how to make one – but it seems to know rather a lot about me, discerned, apparently, as I caress it. I'm thinking of Yul Brynner, a flask of acid flung in his face.

        Still from Us Dead Talk Love 2012, Two-channel 4:3 in 16:9 HD video with 5.1 surround, 34'


    Age: 30

    Location: London

    How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

    The gap between fiddling with tech and 'working creatively' with it is perhaps a question of responsibility. As in, making sense of computer-oriented stuff as a legitimated, skilled thing – or perhaps as economically valid. Perhaps the gap between play and work is terrifically slim, requiring simply a maturation of perspective. Or perhaps it's the point at which medium specific reflexivity appears – when the previously transparent suddenly goes opaque, unwieldy. Not sure. I've certainly been writing, designing and drawing using software since my first Commodore. I know sincerely that I can't properly write longhand any more – not without great difficulty and a cramp within a couple of sentences. But I could till a few years ago. When I first got a laptop, perhaps. Maybe there was something about a laptop that finished the usurpation of analogous tools in terms of expediency and I started living properly through the computer. For everything, more or less. I made my first video from chunks of Tarzan movies and sample libraries of saxophones in 2008. I do remember it being an amazing thing, discovering video editing – I'd not felt such a sense of clarity and understanding around a medium since the pleasure of cross-hatching with a BIC biro as a kid.

    Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

    Laptop entirely. I've been through a few now, since my first white macbook. The intimacy afforded by a laptop – the sense of coincidence, of coalescence – inducted a kind of space that matched my rather distracted thinking and, really, alienation. Everything could happen in one place and at more or less the same time and on my own. Simultaneous production – a kind of super-positioning – seemed possible. I could write in Word while something rendered in Final Cut, something else converted in Streamclip, something else downloaded, something else uploaded, music played and video spooled – all in the same place. That sense of convergence has only increased over time. Pragmatically, things get pushed through one final cipher usually: Premiere these days for the videos; Indesign for the texts. But the work will have touched or been chiselled from, reduced by, whittled down using all manner of other bits of software and digital process. I've stopped using a camera – perhaps temporarily – relying solely on my laptop as the confluence and generator of everything. There are side effects, of course. I'm using Self Control at the moment. It's an app that blocks access to the internet for a given amount of time. It's effectively a pair of blinkers to funnel my concentration.

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

    I went to Central Saint Martin's for my BA, and The Slade for my MA. Both in Fine Art – both places choosing the new media- / time-based media-esque 'pathway'. At Slade I'm pretty sure it was simply called 'Media', as apart from painting and sculpture; whereas at CSM it was called, amazingly, '4D', as apart from 2D and 3D. I was a four-dimensional student on my BA: I could pass through walls and stuff.

    What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

    Everything I use is pretty much a surrogate for some 'traditional media'. It's this surrogacy, this loitering analogous terrain that fascinates me, really. As distinct from more apparently 'experimental' techniques and methods. For example, my use of a Kinect is as a camera, is essentially visual – the structure being just that. It's about performance capture – to engage in a history of photography, performance, representation pretty much directly. Whereas it might be used elsewhere to, say, make a directly interactive EXPERIENCE. Which, ironic though it may be, strikes me as often far more trite, more apposite and agreeable a use of tech than a more sincere appropriative use. Not that that's necessarily what I manage, but to use the Kinect at its potential! To use it as a tool of productive progress. To align oneself to the desires of the technology, really, seems like something regressive regarding understanding the tacit ideology of such tech.

    Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

    I'd like to say I'm a writer of any worth, but I won't. Likewise music. These things, however, have managed to find a home in the videos, the books that accompany the videos. Or vice versa. But none of which are complete in the way that an insoluble poem might be complete – not until they're brought together, either in the combinative work of a video or in the combinative BRAIN of a spectator.

    What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

    I'm a lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London. It's utterly related to everything I do – always has been. As in, I firmly believe in the education, even if I'm not entirely sure it believes in me, institutionally. It's a complicated and highly problematic scenario in the UK at the moment, but the grist of it – talking with students, discussing and getting mutually excited about things, is hugely rewarding.

    Who are your key artistic influences?

    There are some that seem so overt as to be plagiarism. A shortlist of debt and adoration might include Jan Svankmajer, Robert Bresson, Graham Lambkin, David Markson, Gilbert Sorrentino, Roberto Bolaño, Jeremy Prynne, Pierre Guyotat, Philip Atkins.

    Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

    My dear friend James Richards is a constant collaborator – though only occasionally in a public sense. We worked together with Haroon Mirza in 2011 on an event for the screens in Times Square, which was where we solidified our friendship. The gallery I work with in London, Cabinet – Martin McGeown and Andrew Wheatley – is a constant source of terrific discussion, alcohol and intense camaraderie. My dear friend Patrick Ward, with whom I made the video 'Defining Holes', which was probably the most fun I've had making something. My partner Sally-Ginger has always been there, educating and encouraging me. 'Collaboration', however, in its particularly scary scare quotes, is something I sort of balk at. Only for myself, of course.

    Do you actively study art history?

    Yes and no. I am afflicted, like so many, with a post-internet dilettante approach. Not 'afflicted', as I don't see the problem in this specific context. And anyway, surely caution-inducing anxiety makes up for any guilt? There are parts of art history that are illuminated and others that are so murky as to be nearly invisible. Histories of cinema, music and literature similarly, though I'd say I'm more at home in those.

    Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

    I do. Currently Catherine Malabou, Leo Bersani and Michel Serres are at the forefront of my addled brain. Literature usually wins out, however – though I'd consider all three of those writers to be literary in their aspect, if not in their… impunity.

    Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

    The internet and its infinite cliques and fetish-holes. I still like rooms, (silent) communion, immersion – open-ish space. If only as respite and to get me away from this laptop here. I'm going to the toilet to be alone, etc.

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    Image via Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing since 1864 from Everyday Science and Mechanics magazine, 1935

    Artists have often been at the forefront of technological innovations in publishing media — experimenting to push boundaries in new directions. They create new ideas about interactions with emerging media and spark fresh conversations about legacy practices and formats — think; David Horvitz, Metahaven, and Paul Chan’s Badlands Unlimited, to name only a few. This phenomenon of experimental publishing isn’t new, but Alessandro Ludovico puts the enterprise into a unique and digestible perspective in Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing since 1864. His research reveals the deep history and early seeds of current publishing media remix in their original surroundings — from Fluxus promotions to the rise and fall of zines and up to the interventionist work of Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev’s Newstweek and beyond.

    In our present digital era, the ‘death of paper’ has become a plausible concept, widely expected to materialise sooner or later. The ‘digitisation of everything’ explicitly threatens to supplant every single ‘old’ medium (anything carrying content in one way or another), while claiming to add new qualities, supposedly essential for the contemporary world: being mobile, searchable, editable, perhaps shareable. And indeed, all of the ‘old’ media have been radically transformed from their previous forms and modalities – as we have seen happen with records, radio and video. On the other hand, none of these media ever really disappeared; they ‘merely’ evolved and transformed, according to new technical and industrial requirements.

    The printed page, the oldest medium of them all, seems to be the last scheduled to undergo this evolutionary process. This transformation has been endlessly postponed, for various reasons, by the industry as well as by the public at large. And so the question may very well be: is printed paper truly doomed? Are we actually going to witness an endless proliferation of display screens taking over our mediascape, causing a gradual but irreversible extinction of the printed page?

    It’s never easy to predict the future, but it’s completely useless to even attempt to envision it without first properly analysing the past. Looking back in history, we can see that the death of paper has been duly announced at various specific moments in time – in fact, whenever some ‘new’ medium was busy establishing its popularity, while deeply questioning the previous ‘old’ media in order to justify its own existence. In such moments in history, it was believed that paper would soon become obsolete.

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  • 01/24/13--09:45: Painting by Numbers
  • Bruce Sterling recently suggested that it no longer makes sense to talk about “the internet” as a whole. Instead, we ought to refer to the distinct corporate structures that define the topography of experience online: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. These companies provide users with similar services and, increasingly, they organize them in self-sufficient “silos” to encumber disloyal users with incompatibility issues. Sterling’s claim that there’s no more internet sounds premature and calculated to provoke buzz (cf. Wired’s September 2010 cover story, “The Web Is Dead”), but it’s useful nevertheless as a reminder of the limits on the user’s agency as these companies attempt to consolidate their control over information and bind the net to their devices.

    With that in mind, Michael Manning’s Microsoft Store Paintings might be seen as a proposition about what happens to internet art when doesn’t make sense to talk about the internet. The digital abstractions are painted at locations of the retail chain named in the series’ title, sometimes at the first-ever Microsoft store in Mission Viejo, CA, which opened in 2009. Microsoft’s retail outlets are, of course, a riposte to the success of Apple’s stores, launched after two decades when the software giant happily dispersed its products through Best Buy and CompUSA. They herald the non-internet seen by Sterling.

    An image of a Microsoft Store from Michael Manning's Instagram

    A list of the things that Manning uses to make the paintings his Microsoft series would include his fingers, Fresh Paint (the default painting program in Windows 8), a Microsoft touchscreen computer, and the Microsoft store itself, since he’s never bought a device there to take home. (He doesn’t have an iPad either; his iPad paintings are made on devices borrowed from family and friends. The only painterly apparatus he owns is his iPhone, which he uses to contribute to the Phone Arts blog.) With no studio and no gallery, not even a keyboard or a mouse, painting becomes a function of the tools provided by a major corporation and the user’s physical contact with them. Manning’s operation of this function yields great results, but I won’t describe them in depth; as much as I enjoy looking at painting I don’t really like to write about it. And besides, the process of scrolling through the many paintings on Manning’s sites encourages the viewer to skim the visual content of any single work, to consider instead their common stylistic traits or the conditions of their making. Untitled beyond the indication of a device in the series name, the paintings have a sameness that partially masks Manning’s hand and highlights how software functions influence the movement of his fingers. No wonder he relishes the Pinterest thread where moms debate whether their toddlers could paint on the iPhone as well as he does.

    As a result, his paintings seem to suggest an enthusiastic embrace of corporate control over user creativity. But when Manning organized a Street Show outside Eyebeam in the summer of 2011, he meant the gesture of putting digital art offline as a dig at its innate incompatibility with the art market’s concern for scarcity (the show was uploaded to the internet within hours of the opening). Similarly, while the Microsoft Store Paintings are ostensibly anchored to branded devices—even to their points of sale—they are distributed via Tumblr, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever other platform is handy. The image of the internet and the corporate consolidation of its parts that appears in Manning’s paintings, then, is not a neat array of self-contained silos, humming away busily as users operate inside their confines, but rather a messy mass of overlapping and colliding edifices, with the artful user at play in the openings between them.

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    From Rodney Graham's Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005, 35mm film loop shown on a custom 48 FPS projector

    As of November 2012, the last packages of light-sensitive film vanished from the racks of my local department store. The meager supply of 35mm roll film and disposable cameras disappeared, and with it came the reality that the changeover from analog to digital image acquisition is finally wrapping up. Equally visible changes are happening in the cinemas, where video projectors have slowly replaced film projectors. However, there is one curious, rarely questioned holdover from the analog era that persists among many motion photographers to this day.

    The current trend of using digital filters to artificially age or alter one's snapshots has been criticized extensively, but this editorial is not about the artifice of premature aging or planned glitches. It is about an odd trait of motion picture film that lives on in the many digital cameras, video cameras and smartphone apps whose superior functionality quickened the decline of film in stores and cinemas.

    From an advertisement for the Canon 5D Mark II

    In the nascent years of motion picture photography, there were no hard-and-fast rules on how many images should be captured per second. With both cameras and projectors hand-cranked by individual operators in those early days, the amount of frames seen every second by viewers in the silent film era could vary between 12 to 26 FPS (frames per second) under typical viewing conditions. By the 1930's, after decades of wildly varying frame rates, the addition of sound dictated a constant playback speed to avoid variations in audio pitch (ever try to play a record by moving the turntable with your finger?) The standard of 24 FPS was established as the minimum rate by which professional movie cameras and projectors would record and project still images to accurately create the illusion of motion. It was the lowest frame rate by which films could be seen without a pronounced flicker; any higher speed would be a waste of film. By this time, early television experimenters were working out their own technical guidelines, but they were bound by a different set of constraints.

    TV engineers in countries with 60 Hertz electrical grids adopted video transmission and recording systems that operated at 30 FPS, and for 50 Hertz countries, 25 FPS.  (This even halving of frame rates was to reduce interference from the power grid.) Both systems employed a bandwidth-saving technique called “interlacing” that split each frame into two interpolated fields, which further increased the perceived frame rate. When these video standards were adopted mid-century, the frame rate of professional motion picture film was already set, leaving film and video with their own distinct “look.” Film quickly became the more expensive option for moving image recording soon after the debut of videotape in the late 1950's, but the lower quality of standard definition video was obvious to all.

    For many viewers of television and cinema, 24 FPS could easily be discerned from 30 or even 25 FPS, and the slightly blurred action of 24 FPS became one of the most recognizable traits of the "film look." Thusly, 30 FPS became associated with low-budget, shot-on-video movie productions. Film was the preferred medium of any auteur seeking high technical standards and mainstream credibility. For several decades, video was a last resort, and film was a badge of honor. For the aspirational filmmaker of the 1990's, various workarounds became available to make their video recording resemble film. 25 FPS video cameras intended for the European market were used to acquire footage and the video was slowed down in post-production by 4% to 24 FPS. This method was useful to ensure a smooth migration from video to film, should the budget-minded director be lucky enough to land a screening at a film festival, of which many were strictly film-only.

    In the early 2000's, affordable video cameras appeared on the market that could acquire footage in 24 FPS natively. Filmmakers could finally bypass the work of adapting their video for film output in post production. At this point, however, video projection systems were improving and the need for a film print became less essential. To the delight of many, it became easy to make video content that was passably film-like, even with no prospective need for an actual film copy. In the past decade, high definition video finally began to match or exceed the image quality of 35mm movie film as seen in a typical cinema. With the installation of HD video projectors in theaters, viewers will not be exposed to glitches such as the wiggly vertical lines seen when film is scratched or errant pieces of thread jittering at the bottom of the frame; These artifacts are happily eliminated and forgotten by even the most ardent cheerleaders of film, but some still insist on 24 FPS in a loop of cyclical reasoning.  

    We are indoctrinated to associate this frame rate with high-budget, sophisticated productions, but it will not change the fact that the "film look" of 24 FPS video is ultimately a compression artifact. Continued use of this standard for contemporary purposes is little more than an Instagram-style "nostalgic filter," as garish and unexamined as a sepia-toned screenshot of an instant message conversation from a smartphone. There is no practical advantage to shooting new 24 FPS video, save for hand drawn or stop-motion animation. With the end of film and the economic constraints that it imposed, I'm left to wonder what exactly 24 FPS video is aspiring to imitate.

    Jesse England is a media artist who resides in Pittsburgh, PA.

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    Being Digital by Enda O'Donoghue (2008)

    A collection of examples from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive featuring artists who have inserted the visual grammar of new media technology into painting.

    Enda O’Donoghue

    wow, my stomach looks really great! (2010)

    The 1604 (2006)

    Reflection (2010)

    Enda O’Donoghue’s work presents a forensic interest in the medium and process of painting and an ongoing dialogue with the mediation of images through digital technology. Hovering between the realms of abstraction and representation, between the mathematical encoded and the organic, O’Donoghue’s paintings are the result of a process which is highly analytical and methodical and yet inviting of errors, misalignments and glitches. The imagery comes almost exclusively from found photographs sourced from the Internet, where O'Donoghue plays with random throw-away moments of everyday life, merging them together in various interconnected themes. In O’Donoghue’s work, the painterliness of his technique works with the disposable nature of his subjects to make the work sometimes poignant and melancholic, or alternatively brittle and harsh. His work is deeply influenced by our digital high speed reality and he transports these seemingly meaningless sound-bite images from a place of apparent futility to one that questions and searches for meaning through the transformative act of painting.

    William Betts

    US-54 and Hondo Pass, El Paso, Texas, November 15, 2006, 17:12 (2008)

    KLM 777, Schiphol (2010)

    Executives (2008)

    Houston-based artist with a background as a software executive, William Betts has created various series of works which utilize limited technological resolution recreated with acrylic.

    Kon Trubkovich

    Untitled (2010)

    Good-bye Uncle Rudolph (2010)

    Double Entrance / Double Exit (2009)

    Russian-born artist paints scenes of distorted videos with oils - from OHWOW:

    Kon Trubkovich’s work is concerned with notions of space and memory visualization. His videos, paintings, and works on paper, often deal with the technological transfer of information, and the inherent visual aspects that occur from disruption, interference, and distortion – lines, blips, anomalies. Video transmissions are garbled, and the two-dimensional work derives from equally abstruse digital stills. Paintings and graphite drawings depicting recorded instants, which may contain recognizable elements or be completely abstract, lack identity and are unclear in content. This work refers to the randomness of analog static, but also illustrates the paradox that exists with the value and exercise of capturing a moment.

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  • 01/31/13--09:48: The People Code
  • Installation view of pΓσ₠§§℩η⅁ at the Goethe-Institut Library. Photo courtesy of Jenny Jaskey

    The mission of the library could be described as calibrating the optimal ratio of signal to noise, by eliminating as much noise as possible. This description would cover both shushing and the extensive cataloguing that eases readers’ paths to the information they want. But what becomes of that mission when so many people carry a gateway to vast expanses of knowledge in their pockets (even if they mainly use that gateway to take selfies and play Angry Birds)? Does the library of bricks, mortar, and bound books effectively bracket the search for information by offering a specific set of physical resources, with a corresponding language of signals? Or is it yet another backdrop for selfies and Angry Birds—the constant noise of everyday life?

    This fall the Goethe-Institut Library, an outpost of the German cultural ministry in SoHo, enlisted curator Jenny Jaskey to organize “The End(s) of the Library,” a year-long series of artists projects that rethink the library’s mission. common room redesigned the floor plan to open up space and introduced a modular exhibition apparatus; David Horvitz established an electronic archive of artists’ books—both scanned works on paper and ebooks—to supplement the Goethe-Institut Library’s catalogs both here and in Europe. The latest project is pΓσ₠§§℩η⅁, a collaboration by Juliete Aranda, Fia Backstrom, and R. Lyon that directly tackles questions of signals and noise. They began by processing the library’s raw database through Safari 5.0.5 and printing out the results, in which catalog entries are cluttered and stretched by symbols and glyphs—representations of the metadata that the computer needs to process catalog entries. A reading was held on January 5 where participants vocalized the print-outs, glyph by glyph, pausing for the expanses of spaces. Now large versions of the prints hang from common room’s partitions—a noisy counterpart to the black-and-white wallpaper, the pattern of which details the Dewey Decimal system. Two monitors along the wall—at a glance indistinguishable from the catalog computers—show fuzzy screenshot videos of keyword searches highlighting the terms “Kafka” and “Hitler.” (The end[s] of German culture?) At some point there will be a live performance by noise band Wretched Worst, but the artists aren’t disclosing the time. They don’t want to attract fans who can process noise as a genre; as with the January 5 reading, the point is to create a temporary anti-library, where raw information estranges human minds that struggle and fail to parse it. Wretched Worst’s waves of sound will disturb random readers as they vibrate the books in the stacks.

    Screenshot from

    But the heart of pΓσ₠§§℩η⅁ is Human Readable Type—a project that exists entirely outside the physical resources of the Goethe-Institute Library. It’s a free application that transforms Roman letters into roughly similar glyphs as you type. The results are noise to machines and signals—albeit staticky ones—to humans. Human Readable Type is represented in the library by a diptych of prints: on the left hangs a love letter, on the right—a list of the trigger words that attract the attention NSA’s Echelon program, which supposedly scans all emails for potential security threats. The pairing suggests a clandestine romance, where the lovers use Human Readable Type to stay invisible to surveillance. Love and other affects are a kind of non-information, equally opaque to a search algorithm or cataloging system as the words broken up into glyphs, yet viscerally experienced by humans (if not always easily communicated). If readers come to a library searching for, say, Kafka or Hitler, that affective non-information is what they’re really after. Perhaps that’s the benefit of bringing artists into the library: They make good reminders that the most powerful connections involve signal and noise in equal measure.

    pΓσ₠§§℩η⅁ is on view at the Goethe-Institut Library through February 15.

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    Non-playable danmaku test / simulation programmed in Visual C++ and DirectX c 9.0

    The ‘Apollo’ game center near Abeno Station in Osaka is indistinguishable from dozens of others scattered throughout urban Japan, yet is no less compelling for this fact: as far as total sensory environments go, there are few things like it, and the over-abundance of loudly competing sound sources makes it is easy for one to get ‘lost’ in here even with an easily understood floor plan. To that end, the game consoles in this establishment are organized by genre in their own compact micro-districts or “functional clusters” of three or four (an organizational strategy that is seemingly carried out on a much grander scale by Japan’s urban planners.) Slinking gradually from the main entrance to the rear of the establishment, I first have to navigate past a throng of uniformed high school students watching intently as one of their representatives dances for his life on the one-man stage of a Dance Dance Revolution spinoff. Similar dramatic scenes play out on the nearby musical instrument simulators, with wide-eyed and spiky-maned boys proving themselves to their peers by banging stacatto rhythms on replicas of wa-daiko drums, or shredding away on pushbutton-powered guitars. The crowd noticably thins out as I reach a room separated from all this energy expenditure, where an older and more sedentary gaming constituency - either oblivious or indifferent to the hyperactivity in the adjacent room - sits tranquilly in front of tooth enamel-white game consoles housing mah-jongg simulations or nostalgic arcade hits from the country’s sorely missed “bubble” decade. They languidly go about their business while enjoying canned coffees and Seven Stars cigarettes, sitting in close proximity yet effectively isolated in their private capsules of shuddering screen glow.

    However, their disaffected behavior - which, coupled with their standard dress of pressed white shirts and loosened mono-chromatic neckties, makes their leisure time here seem like just an outgrowth of their office workdays - is somewhat miselading: tucked away in their refuge are some of the most nerve-wracking, blood pressure-inflating electronic games yet devised, known in Anglophone fan circles as “manic shooters” but known locally by the more colorful sobriquet danmaku [弾幕、”bullet curtain”.] With their provenance in the Tokyo game workshops of ToaPlan and Cave (the latter rising from the ashes of the former almost immediately after its 1994 declaration of bankruptcy), the games’ common objective is simplicity itself: players, in a single or double configuration, navigate their personal spaceship icons through virtual battlefields of progressive complexity and difficulty while destroying enemy war machines, collecting both points and weapons upgrades for their efforts, and making sure to dodge the considerable amount of enemy fire.

    Mandala-like firing patterns in a game from the TouHou Project series

    Despite this apparent banality, a minute’s worth of patience will reward the player with an aspect of these games’ visuality that is, in fact, highly unique - even if that uniqueness is merely a matter of taking some familiar visual elements to an extreme of saturated perception. Namely, the “enemy fire” in question greets the player as an amorphous mass of flickering color that seems to take on a life independent of its releasing entities: in the danmaku game, orb- or arrow-shaped projectiles form the atomic units of pulsating, multi-hued latticeworks and arabesques. Sometimes these designs will manifest as screen-swallowing circles with equidistant radii or spokes, or will wheel across the entire screen space in the form of undulating tendrils, or on other occasions will rain down like multi-colored confetti streamers. They will coalesce into individual strands of menacing webs, or spin wildly in double helix formations. In worst-case scenarios, such as the final battle of Cave’s 2004 hit Mushihime-sama [虫姫さま、“Insect Princess”], an uncountable number of angry magenta orbs settle into an oppressive rolling fog, with seemingly no gaps through which to escape. A teasing, moderately difficult ‘period of emergence’ generally lures players into these more challenging moments: they may be required to fight through a couple of preliminary game levels for the dynamic variation in such patterns to become truly impressive, with the more superlative moments of danmaku exhibition being reserved for one-on-one confrontations with hulking end-of-level “boss” characters (e.g. the stage-climaxing super-villains of Cave’s 2010 tour de force Akai Katana [赤い刀、”Red Blade”] who summon up and hurl massive gunships that unleash their own hot-pink torrents of fire in turn.)

    In keeping with the familiar game taxonomy that sees game genres being named for the action involved in them (e.g. “shoot ‘em up”), danmaku games have also been refered to more specifically as danmaku kaishi [弾幕回避, “bullet evasion”] games. Yet whatever relation one has to the ‘bullets,’ it would not be too much of a reckless leap in reasoning to name the “bullet curtains” themselves as the true iconic “stars” or attractions of these games (in most of these games, only cursory efforts are made to weave a narrative around the pilot characters or their anatagonists.) Arcade gamers must learn very quickly, in order to make their sacrifice of 100-200 yen a worthy one, to view these tantalizing clusters of glowing globules or phosphorescent spear tips as the primary focus of their visual attention: no matter how well rendered the digital landscapes are in which the action takes place, or how intricately detailed any of the in-game objects may be, they must be treated as a kind of extraneous visual noise. The most successful danmaku players must hone a kind of visual essentialism that recalls the Optical paintings of Tadasuke “Tadasky” Kuwayama: his characteristic ‘concentric circle’ works not only presented an illusion of three-dimensionality, but conferred the illusion of being animated or ‘breathing’ objects as well (we could also refer to 19th-century harmonograph etchings for other designs in which concentric circles appear three-dimensional or spherical.) Showing another kind of kinship with Optical art works, the screen images of flaring bullet curtains can provide the viewer with a ‘post-exhibition exhibition’ in the form of entoptic phenomena: though appearing in a less unequivocally colorful form, the danmaku formations continue to twist and dance beneath closed eyelids for brief post-play periods.

    A danmaku-saturated screen of a game in the TouHou Project series

    As with previous generations of shooter game, a variety of powerfully destructive ship upgrades are available to the player, which can allow the contestant to match the projectile torrents of the on-screen enemy and mount vicious pre-emptive strikes or counter-attacks, all the while adding more blaring hues to this strange kaleidoscopic portrait of virtual combat. As hinted at above, the games are staggeringly difficult, yet are ‘beatable’ in theory (especially now that quasi-legal ports for arcade emulator software like MAME make it unnecessary to feed hard currency into the machines to prolong one’s virtual life.) The games are generally finite in terms of levels or stages, as well. Their playership is therefore not playing in order to gain some ontological understanding from the racking up of successive losses; a concept that Shuen-shing Lee identifies as being the prerogative of “second-level model players” (a “specific kind of player [that] is able to realize the implications of ‘to lose’ in an intentionally un-winnable form.”)[i] If there is a ‘masochistic’ component to these games, it can be attributed to the voluntary taxing of one’s eyeballs as much, if not more, than the voluntary entrance into an arena where ignominious defeat is highly likely.

    The novelty of facing off against claustrophobia-inducing swarms comprised of dozens of enemy units - whose individually limited attack and defense options combine in daunting examples of emergent cohesion - was already made famous by Williams Electronics’ highly successful run of dystopian blast-‘em-ups, beginning with Robotron 2084 [1982] and arguably achieving ‘peak controversy’ with the blood-drenched shooters Smash TV [1990] and N.A.R.C. [1988]. The implausible, massively exagerrated, and perversely humorous carnage of the latter two earned them the sort of bipartisan condemnation[ii] that would surface again after the games in the Doom series were revealed as a favorite pasttime of the Columbine High School shooters, and still again in recent months (violent video games being a perennially cited cause of American mass slayings.) In marked contrast with Williams’ arcade hits brimful of gore, the concern with developing games that require destroying or eliminating opponents - yet do not wholesale adopt the sanguinary images of human warfare - has been a component of the Japanese gaming industry since the advent of Space Invaders [1978] itself.[iii] The Japanese gaming industry’s more cautious approach to ultraviolence has not stopped American detractors from critiquing them on other grounds, though (e.g. that the exportation of ‘addictive’ Japanese video games stemmed from a kind of hegemonic, implicitly ‘warlike’ aggression towards the impressionable minds of Western youth.)

    I would submit, then, that it is neither the exceptional level of ‘swarming’ and concomitant destruction endemic to danmaku games, nor the difficulty of achieving mastery over them, that make these games qualitatively different from previous variations on the ‘shooter’ game. Rather, it is something else that has always been inextricable from electronic gameplay: namely, these games’ promise of a unique aesthetic that tests the limits of human optics within a simple agonistic framework that may or may not lose its pulling power as players become progressively immersed in the pure experience of flickering color. In the same way that George Slusser once declared cyberpunk fiction to be an “optical prose […] less a world of conflicts than of textures,”[iv] the games thrive more upon the aestheticization of bewilderment than on the commitment to a narrative that unfolds over each successive chapter or game stage. Even the reward mechanisms of certain danmaku titles underscore this emphasis on immersion in shimmering, bewildering beauty over the narrative functions of playing a ‘hero’ role and besting an enemy: see, for example, the technique in ProGear [Cave, 2001] by which the encroaching bullets of an enemy vehicle will, when destroyed by the player’s special attack, transform into a stream of precious gemstones, which are then pulled towards the player’s craft by a kind of magnetic force.

    Examples of concentric designs in the firing patterns of ‘TouHou’ project, a fan-developed danmaku game

    Now, for the sake of not downplaying the fact that these are, at best, hybrids of game and aesthetic object (and for the sake of not assuming readers’ complete familiarity with the recent history of arcade games) some discussion of the games’ strategy and mechanics is necessary here. For those who have spent some time in a video arcade or parked in front of a home gaming console, the mechanics of gameplay are highly intuitive, using the same control surface of joystick and multiple pushbuttons that have been used for hundreds of other arcade and home console games. Meanwhile, the top-down and vertically-scrolling view of the onscreen action, largely the prefered ‘camera angle’ for these games, traces its lineage back to one of the very first computer amusements (1962’s Spacewar!), and was later adopted for such gaming industry goldmines as Space Invaders. The latter, of course, stands as one of the highest-grossing coin-operated machines at all time, its runaway popularity allegedly forcing the Japanese mint ro ramp up the production of 100-yen coins (the Japanese rail transport system of the time was largely dependent on the use of coin-operated ticket vending machines.)[v]

    The flight controlled by players’ 8-direction joysticks is modulated by a built-in limitation that disallows the simultaneous deployment of maximum agility and maximum firepower. In a continual test of “fight ot flight” reflexes, players are required to either sacrifice firepower for agility, or vice versa, as the use of more powerful weapons generally causes a reduction in speed of movement. To this end, a popular control feature of danmaku gameplay is the alternation between an “A” attack and a “B” attack, with the former being initiated by repeatedly tapping a “fire” button and the latter achieved by holding the same button down continuously. The “A” attack will generally be a sort of standard semi-automatic fire while the “B” attack will vary much more from one vehicle to another: this can manifest as thick neon-colored ropes of homing fire, slowly advancing but powerful explosive drones, enveloping shields that destroy enemy ships on contact, and much more besides.

    Danmaku titles, despite a high degree of overlap between their easily intuited control schemes, and the challenges implied by their taxonomic classification, do not share a common template for gameplay or for “look and feel.” While certain of the formative games in the genre (e.g. Toaplan’s Dogyuun [1991]or Cave’s Donpatchi [1995]and Dangun Feveron [1998]) are the heirs apparent to the overhead, vertically-scrolling ‘camera’ view of earlier airborne action titles, others like the more ‘bullet curtain’-intensive ProGear use a side-scrolling scheme. Meanwhile, the visual style within these the games has gradually deviated from the familiar metal-encrusted worlds depicted in “classics” like Dogyuun or Batsugun [both from ToaPlan, 1991 and 1993 respectively]: ProGear is notable for its distinctly ‘steampunk’ style of anachronistic visuals, Dangun Feveron profers a comically incongruous blend of galactic space travel and disco-dancing imagery, and MushiHime Sama [Cave / AMI, 2004] relies on a persistent ‘insect world’ motif, which conveniently ties in with present-day theorists’ relating the biological “swarm” to artificial intelligence (particularly Jussi Parikka’s contention that the superorganization of the swarm is “more than the sum of its parts…without an overarching organizational principle guiding the actions of the singularities under one umbrella.”)[vi]

    Part II will appear in two weeks.

    [i] Shuen-shing Lee, “I Lose, Therefore I Think: A Search for Contemplation amid Wars of Push-Button Glare.” Available online at Retrieved January 10, 2013.

    [ii] Though not citing Smash TV or N.A.R.C. specifically, I would point to the sentiments expressed in Simon Gottschalk’s protests as exemplary of the leftist critique of these games. See “Video-Games as Postmodern Sites/Sights of Ideological Reproduction” (Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 18, No. 1 [Spring 1995], pp. 1-18.) Protests from the center or right have gained much more traction in mainstream news reportage, and so I hope my readers will forgive me for not revisiting these arguments here.

    [iii] However, this is far from an absolute assessment, and even Space Invaders’ parent company Taito has portrayed conventional warfare with titles such as the WWII fighter plane simulator Sky Destroyer (1983) and the Uzi-powered ‘commando thriller’ Operation Wolf (1987).

    [iv] George Slusser, “Literary MTV.”  Mississippi Review, Vol. 16, No. 2/3 (1988), pp. 279-288.

    [v] See Retrieved January 10, 2013.

    [vi] Jussi Parikka, Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology, p. 47. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis / London, 2010.

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  • 02/08/13--10:45: Ben Jones: The Video
  • Ben Jones, The Video

    It seems pretty fitting that I’ve sat down to write about Ben Jones’ current exhibition at least three or four times.  The requisite online “research” always turned into episodes of Problem Solverz, Jones’ show on Cartoon Network, a trip down the wormhole of media-saturated content on Paper Rad, his collaborative with Jessica and Jacob Ciocci (including Rhizome and the New Museum’s recent archival of their website, and the accompanying exhibition, “Welcome to My Homey Page”), and a late night gchat where a friend excitedly offered to rip me his hard-to-find videos on DVD.

    This is exactly the kind of intertextually meandering, visually anarchic, mentally overwhelming and massively entertaining experience that Jones is known for. Based on the gallery text and interviews that I read while trying to get a grip on his new material, Jones is trying—really—to simplify.

    Ben Jones: The Video, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Pacific Design Center through February 24th, includes plenty that will look familiar to those who have tripped in the Jones universe before.  Quasi-religious Gumby dolls, burning neon suns, loveable part man-dog-anteater Alfe; they’re all here.  But the mood of the show is quite different from his prior work. It’s hypnotic, reflective, and more than a little bit sinister.

    Ben Jones, The Video video painting still, 2012

    The exhibition has been described as a series of video installations and while, technically, that’s correct, it’s also more than that. Collectively, the works in the show function as an installation about making videos.  Unlike many of his fine art contemporaries, Jones is himself a manifestation of network age high-low plurality.  He runs a successful commercial animation practice, creating music videos for the likes of Beck and M.I.A., and he writes, voices, animates, directs and scores the Problem Solverz, a children’s show soon to begin it’s second season. The works on display at MOCA seem keenly aware of his double life and how these differing working methods affect his artistic production.

    The first floor of the PDC galleries holds several large-scale “video paintings,” RGB videos projected over florescent-painted canvases in, alternately, flat geometric and discombobulating perspectival geometric patterns. The video paintings feature short pulsing loops of familiar pop culture, internet and technological tropes – including an eerily anthropomorphized TV color test screen – morphing into and submerging with their linear backdrops in a fitting introduction to what Jones calls “The New Dark Age,” the dystopian and mystical future of the present.  Running concurrently in a relatively small space, the works aren’t individually immersive but, rather, jockey for your attention, making evident the struggle to create and maintain narrative tension for a chronically distracted audience. 

    Jones – despite his RISD BFA and art world pedigree—maintains a strong populist, mass media bent to his conceptual approach.  The artist claimed, in a 2010 interview with the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, to have learned the most about minimalism from Atari.  On the one hand, this is self-consciously flippant but, on the other, it’s an insightful and increasingly prevalent view of the osmotic interfaces of visual and material culture.  Where did Tron come from if not a Lewitt grid or a Flavin neon?  And where did Paper Rad come from if not video games, children’s television and what has, in today’s parlance, transformed into Tumblr aesthetics?

    While this isn’t exactly a new observation, what’s interesting here is Jones’ sustained focus on just one media and its working processes, outputs and various subcultures. Video game designer and media theorist Ian Bogost has suggested a similarly focused approach for gaming, calling it media micro-ecology (in reference to McLuhan’s original term).[1]  Bogost proposes a focus on a singular form of media and its effect on society as a way to break down totalizing statements about technology.  Concerned primarily with video in the form of hand-drawn animation and digital vector rendering, Jones’ works here seem sympathetic to Bogost’s model: in their richness and variety they aren’t particularly concerned with the value or reputation of the medium itself but, rather, with documenting in hyperactive, sometimes overwhelming wonderment the many, various, and yet totally overlapping social applications of its use.

    The second floor main gallery proves a particularly personal application of this concept, aside from a few forgettable road trip video paintings.  A clip from Problem Solverz offers a bizarre comedic interjection, while also driving home how an adult sature of children’s television made by an East Coast art collective ended up as a legitimately family friendly TV show.  Is this is a part of the medium’s life cycle or just an illustration of how close the two are, in reality?  The Alfe pilot, “This is Carzy,” from Paper Rad’s 2006 DVD Talking Trash, reads like a Simpsons/Beavis and Butthead hybrid, while the “mature” Problem Solverz was screened at Art Los Angeles Contemporary this weekend and the last clip I watched prominently featured nervous adolescent cyborg Roba sitting at an Eero Saarinen table on an Alvar Aalto stool.

    Driving home Jones’ own involvement in both cultural spheres, caught somewhere between Ben-Jones-Commercial-Animator and Ben-Jones-Serious-Artist, is a video proposing a metanarrative for the entire exhibition.  A rendering of the gallery in which you stand contains a single male figure at its fictional nexus (is it where you stand, you wonder…where the projector is?) popping sloppily relabeled VHS tapes in to play on an outdated monitor, controlling the confounding parade of images we’ve just experienced.  Is he a congenial slacker just messing with us for lols, or some kind of media mastermind?  Just in case things were fitting a bit too neatly into the antihero artistic archetype, however, the compositional crux of the exhibition is, ultimately, its only non-video piece – a painting of a VHS tape labeled “New Final Master #3.”  Paintings about video, art about childhood, Day-Glo Gumbys about the dark age of media culture. This microecology reveals itself as vast, weird, and infinitely transmutable.

    Images via

    [1] Ian Bogost, How to Do Things With Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

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    Installation View: Joel Holmberg, Soft Laws (2013), American Contemporary, New York

    If we look back at the community of artists associated with the surf club Nasty Nets, including John Michael Boling, Michael Bell-Smith, Aleksandra Domanović, Joel Holmberg, and Kevin Bewersdorf, to name a few, we’ll see that they’ve continued on extremely heterogeneous paths. Some, such as John Michael Boling and Kevin Bewersdorf, have slowed down or halted their artistic practices to pursue careers in IT or other ventures, while others—say Aleksandra Domanović and Michael Bell-Smith—have enjoyed considerable success in the art market, both artists being represented by notable commercial galleries. Holmberg, the subject of this article, gained attention in 2010 for his existential-yet-slightly-trolling Legendary Account included in Free, curated by former Rhizome Executive Director Lauren Cornell. For Legendary Account, Holmberg asked the normally utilitarian Yahoo! Answers site questions such as “Does having a crummy day-job help stimulate your creativity?”,  “Is it possible to jet ski or sea doo in the dead sea?”, or “How long does post-coital last?”. Holmberg and Cornell exhibited blown-up, printed documentation of the account at the New Museum, and the account is now archived on Rhizome’s Art Base.

    Two years later, Holmberg studies at Yale’s Master of Fine Arts Program and has launched his first commercial gallery exhibition in New York at American Contemporary (previously Museum 52) in NoHo. Holmberg’s Soft Laws presents an array of sculpture divergent in size and material. We see a plaster-covered lamp shade, jib crane, fiberglass chair built on top of a filing cabinet, ceramic tile, pencil wall drawings, etc.—these works unified by their almost slapdash handmade nature and implicit sense of humor. While Holmberg’s humor has always been prevalent in his oeuvre, the heightened, studio-born materiality of his newer work may seem something of a new thing. Like his humor, connecting the artist’s process is his tendency to continually relate back to how our identities can be subsumed by clichés, platitudes, and larger systems of thought by the relationships and interactions that they script.

    If Holmberg’s Legendary Account sought to de-script the Yahoo! Answers format by introducing the site to an air of jocularity and existentialism, his new sculptural works in Soft Laws exaggerate and re-script common artistic materials as well as the popular characterization of the artist. Take the painterly Emotional Bioré (2012), one piece in a series of five large wall-mounted works using ceramic tile as a base with plaster pushed through back to front—mimicking, the artist says, the functionality of backlit digital screens. Sourcing sheets of tile that have yet to grouted, Holmberg considers the medium of the tile to be a scripted material that prompts the user’s action (i.e., there are grooves between individual tiles, and they will only adhere to a surface if one grouts them, thus one must grout them. This effect isn’t terribly unlike the act of posting a status update to social networking sites in order for it to be liked. For example, I’m going to post a photo of myself smiling on the beach so that my friends will confirm how relaxed and tan I look.) Holmberg douses the plaster composition’s front with printer ink while it sets, imbuing it a saturated, CMYK feel. When splattered, the ink changes the topography of the plaster to appear similar to a lunar surface or Pollock-inspired drip, itself a scripted gesture pointing toward the bravado of the oft-drunk, late-Modernist abstract expressionist painter—perhaps pop culture’s favorite portrayal of the romantic, tortured artist.

    Joel Holmberg, Verner Panton Chair with Filing Cabinet (2012)

    Holmberg’s exhibition takes the eccentric story of distinguished French artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud’s tile house as fodder. After a divorce in 1969, Raynaud spent 23 years fitting every surface of his house with 15cm x 15cm white bathroom tiles. At first, the artist merely thought of the tiles as a utilitarian, easy-to-clean surface. Through either a twist of genius or bout of mental illness, the project soon became an obsessive exercise in sensory perception, the artist closing off the house to all visitors—including repairmen and friends—in 1988. Raynaud eventually chose to demolish it in 1993, in order to give it one last “audacious” breath of life by exhibiting it in stainless steel buckets. “The love story between me and the house has already lasted for 23 years,” Raynaud deadpans in a 1993 documentary on the house directed by French filmmaker Michelle Porte. “I have set it in time, in passion, in destruction, in reconstruction, like any couple living together.” Hundreds of stainless steel buckets filled with sledgehammered tiles were later shown in army-like grids at the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux. Porte’s documentary ends with a slow-pan throughout the show set to an operatic soundtrack, the buckets being dwarfed by the high-ceilinged architecture of the Bordeaux institution.

    As one may expect, Holmberg isn’t exactly awe-inspired by Raynaud’s story, and is rather annoyed by the artist’s bloated, artist-as-outsider-genius affectation. Holmberg’s frustration with this all-too-familiar “kooky artist” mentality is clarified in the exhibition’s press release, written by the artist, stating, “We are used to hearing people described as being like an artist. Though I’ve yet to hear someone described as being an artist when it comes to time management, which might actually be what artists are best at…Isn’t it funny how one might advocate for a prickly person by saying that they are just ‘wired differently’? That can excuse a lot of difficult behavior.” Here Holmberg introduces a variety of outdated platitudes we use to make sense of artists and their relationships to the world. Being “like an artist” or “wired differently,” or, not to mention, spending 23 years tiling the inside of your house after a divorce denigrates the role of the artist—who now must be business, tech, and socially savvy—to that of a confused, emotionally unstable social outsider bearing little value to society.

    Joel Holmberg, Thank You Note (2012)

    While these clichés are carried via the currents of popular culture and mass media, (which may at times misleadingly feel a comfortable arms length away from the contemporary fine art world), Soft Laws evinces how embedded these insidious ideas have become in our artistic practices and interpersonal relations. Holmberg proves that identifying and breaking open such platitudes carves space for refreshing, personally tailored practices that are untethered by such spectral pressures.

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    Album cover for ECCOS

    This month, The Download premieres Andrew Norman Wilson's first experimental album, ECCOS (2012), a modified soudtrack from an Ecco the Dolphin gameplay video. Wilson contextualizes ECCOS as furniture music: not a centerpiece, but a backdrop for thought and other activities. The project utilizes an input output system, in which he employs the simple "change speed" and "echo" effects in Final Cut Pro and pushes them to their maximum values. Wilson has diagrammed the process (included in The Download), relating it to kindred experiments like Brian Eno's Discreet Music. In that spirit, ECCOS seeks and finds– a limit within the music itself.

    Learn more about Wilson's diverse practice in his interview with former Rhizome Editorial Fellow, Louis Doulas.

    The Download gives a first look to great art for Rhizome members. Start your own digital art collection by becoming a member today.

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    A collection of examples from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive on the subject of Slitscanning, a photographic effect that creates distortions and occasionally insightful images based on time.

    The slitscan effect has, of-late, had something of a renaissance over the past year thanks to digital technology. Once a time consuming and expensive technique, coders have created their own solutions (either personally or commercially in the mobile app market). For the uninitiated, it has been defined by Golan Levin thus:

    Slitscan imaging techniques are used to create static images of time-based phenomena. In traditional film photography, slit scan images are created by exposing film as it slides past a slit-shaped aperture. In the digital realm, thin slices are extracted from a sequence of video frames, and concatenated into a new image.

    Below are some examples of creative coding with the slitscan technique:

    Volumetric Slitscan Experiments by Memo Akten


    The slitscan technique is a well-explored method in photography and video, but this is the first time I have seen it using a Kinect camera feed, where depth plays an additional factor. Two short videos are embedded above, and they are made more fun by the music (dancing to Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”). 

    Work-in-progress prototype for an upcoming project involving volumetric slitscanning using kinect (should it be called surface-scanning?). Similar to traditional slitscanning ... but instead of working with 2D images + time, this technique uses spatial + temporal data stored in a 4D Space-Time Continuum, and 3 dimensional temporal gradients (i.e. not just slitscanning on the depth/rgb images, but surface-scanning on the animated 3D point cloud).

    Slitscan 3D Test by Ryan Suits


    A slitscan experiment in anaglyph vision, worth digging out those red/blue 3D glasses!


    Bookmarklet can turn HTML5 videos on Youtube and Vimeo into slitscan-like images:

    Slitscanner is a little piece of Javascript you can run as a bookmarklet to start, well, slitscanning videos online. This only works in the HTML5 video players so for Vimeo you will need to select “Switch to HTML5 Player” in the lower right on the video pages. For YouTube it’s a little trickier, you can opt into the HTML5 test here, but they will still use the Flash Player for videos with ads.
    … Just hit the bookmarklet on any YouTube or Vimeo video page with an HTML5 player, and it will start drawing onto a canvas in the browser. You can modify the speed with the slider (the default value draws the entire video to the width of the browser). You can also download the code and modify it as you wish.

    You can find out more and get the bookmarklet here, plus here is a Tumblr blog with some more examples.

    2001 A Space Odyssey: Unwrapping The Slitscan Sequence

    A visual investigation using code to 'unroll' the famous psychedelic sequence from the film, itself a slitscan:

    While watching Kubrick's "2001 A Space Odyssey", I thought it would be fun to write some software to unravel the slit scan artwork in the psychedelic sequences of 2001, to see what they were. The results of this experiment are below..
    The technique used to unravel the sequences involved using an SGI's real time video hardware, with a hacked version of 'videoin.c' (from the SGI example programs) to accumulate scanlines from the DVD and concatenate them back into the original artwork. So as the film played, the program ran, unrolling the scanlines in realtime; it was really fun to see the first results..!

    You can see more here.

    Other links:

    An Informal Catalogue of Slit-Scan Video Artworks and Research: An extensive collection of examples of slitscan works.

    Vimeo 'slitscan 3d' search: Plenty of examples of contemporary experimentation.

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  • 02/14/13--09:27: Younger than Rihanna
  • In 2009 the New Museum played host to its inaugural triennial, the now famous “Younger Than Jesus” Generational. Taking its name from its restrictive age limit, the exhibition proposed a survey of artists aged 33 and younger, which is to say, born after 1976 (Jesus was born before). Art has long fetishized youth, and neither the show’s curatorial premise nor title are particularly shocking; scrolling through the reviews online we find business as usual round ups of a “business as usual” show. Yet this if anything seems the exhibition’s strength, coming across as an app-store of reactions to what was then emerging as a new, networked normal. It’s enticing today to flick through the detailed catalogue, checking which artists you’re now Facebook friends with, and which artists you still secretly idolize.

    Such is an interesting moment to bear in mind when thinking about this year’s DLD art panel in Munich, assembled by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets, whose curatorial remit of “89+” seems almost tongue in cheek by comparison. If Douglas Coupland bizarrely suggested “The Diamond Generation” as an appropriate tagline for this group of fluidly networked and distributed digital natives, “Younger Than Rihanna” might have been more fitting, seeing as Forbes’ fourth most powerful celebrity of 2012 would have been too old by a matter of months.

    The theme for this year’s conference was “Patterns That Connect”, but the words on everyone’s mouth were big data. Big data is the accumulation of massive data sets, and allows for the tracking of behavior in previously undreamt of ways - just think of the sorts of comparisons Facebook Graphs allow us to conduct on the people that surround us. Albert-László Barabási summarized it accordingly in a keynote on the final day: “Our behavior can be now tracked in a very objective manner, and we can start asking quantitatively: how do we really behave?” It is tempting, if at the moment still humorous, to view the 89+ project in this context, as a powerful mapping tool able to screen capture artists straight out of art school and plot their shifting network ties through their career. Indeed, the first network maps of those involved in the project have already been produced. As Barabási later concluded: “Where you are defines what you do.” Yet right now, and at the immediate birth of the project, it is probably enough to make some initial observations—or at least provide some cannon fodder for future critique.

    If new, socially driven technologies are responsible for enabling a project of this scale, what was perhaps interesting about the artists brought together was the degree to which they hadn’t networked previously with each other online. Perhaps this was due to a desire for globalism in the curation, but most of the artists in Munich were both meeting each other and finding out about each other’s work for the first time (although they will undoubtedly remain in touch following the event). For a generation famous for its social media saturation, this was perhaps surprising. However, and as testament to the series of distributed conversations that pulled this group of people together, what this maybe points towards is a renewed localism within art networks; artists that network through a small number of strong, geographically-centered ties rather than a more dispersed variety of weak ties. Amalia Ulman and K-HOLE, the best travelled of the participants, had the most network ties because of their ability to travel between these various locals, a phenomenon engrained within but not reducible to their social media outreach.

    Further, none of the artists involved were brought into the panel to talk about the art they had produced, even if this is what some of them inadvertently did. What’s differentiated the political movements of the last three years from their historical precursors is that they have reversed the order of political action. Whereas previously a unifying demand would have to be decided upon as a way to invoke political organisation (an economy of scale best achieved by unions and political parties), today it has become more common to see the opposite—for a critical mass of people to network together and then decide on a demand. Social media has radically impacted the possibilities of political organisation; we’re still working out how to use it, and art can be an enticing field for doing so. Not only does a similar technology bring into dialogue a group of artists at the beginning of their careers, but it also presents them to a world stage before they have had a chance to fully develop their work. This is prefigurative art making in an audacious way.

    It seems strange to imagine any artist will make a great artwork in 2013; we’re today much more versed in a currency of projects and practices. Ulman’s presentation was indicative of this shift, as she chose to present her research - a socio-ethnographic exploration of teetering economies through the embedded eye of the selfie - as opposed to any more straightforward art object. This was both canny extension of a personal brand within DLD’s quintessentially absurd architecture (anyone interested can always browse her work online), as well as an important centering of the real-world economies that envelop this concert hall in Munich. Brian Khek was clear in his emphasis of this too, if overly sensitive of recession as opposed to some of the more structural issues implicit within current economic crises. What DLD presents is the opportunity for a group of artists to develop their practices in tandem with the very economies and structures that maintain them, and in fact face these structures at their most blatant and abrasive. Artistic agency lies in the degree to which these structures are incorporated and subverted.

    Between every panel they had a brass band stationed by the main stage playing covers of current pop songs, most memorably Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” interpreted as patriarchal swing. It was a shame they never played Rihanna, as this would have provided the perfect soundtrack for when the video emerges on YouTube. Yet as much as she provided perhaps the main point of solidarity between those participating, Rihanna embodied in many ways a more ominous presence at the conference, providing an interesting point of contact with the previous year’s “Ways Beyond the Internet” panel. For the assembling of Aids-3D, Oliver Laric, Ed Fornieles, Rafael Rozendaal et. al. at the unabashedly corporate conference has marked a highpoint in interaction between nascent counter-institutional internet practices and mainstream capitalism; a tension that was to be made forthright with the panoply of Greek New Media Shit throughout Rihanna’s recent performance on Saturday Night Live. This is not to claim this as an inherently good or bad thing; art today is embedded in a culture of elitism and high finance, and any sort of political resistance it permits will have to emerge from within this connubial relationship.

    What this moment does mark however is an awareness, that is no longer viable to maintain an binary between insider and outsider art practices, that sooner or later all forms of oppositional culture will have to interface with the mainstream. Traditional computer devices are fast being replaced by the more malleable notion of interfaces as they disintegrate into our daily lives, yet we would do well to think of the more expanded meaning of the word, as that of our interaction with social and structural discontinuities in general. Coupland may not have branded this group the “Interface Generation”, but they could yet earn this term.

    1989 may have been the year they invented the Internet, but it was also the year of the fall of the Soviet Union, and the intensification of neoliberal capitalism’s project of rampant globalization. For better or worse, these are today still the dominant narratives within our culture, and provide the material for the majority of art as presented on the panel. For a generation of the “graduate without a future”, and emblazoned with debt before able to work out what they just spent all that money on, it makes sense that eight artists should find themselves on a stage at one of the most established corporate conferences - it is as perhaps natural a reaction as squatting in the 1970s. It is not wrong therefore to view the 89plus project with this degree of historicity, and in fact of urgency, to reclaim that famous word. Its form, format and communicative potential are all genuinely new, if not unprecedented. The prerogative this creates is to be more than this, however. To fetishize newness not for its own sake, but in relation and constant disruption to overarching narratives. To make urgency into action, even if that action is by way of a selfie.

    Or else it’ll be exhaustion by the time they reach Jesus’ age.

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    Dancers often describe the feeling of watching someone else’s performance and actually feeling, in their own bodies, the form and movement of the other. This sensation of inhabiting another’s body in a relative physical way is called proprioception and it does have a basis in neurological fact, which reports that some can access this bodily empathy innately while others, especially in kinesthetic disciplines like dancing or music, develop a sensitivity to it over time. But can a non-human entity like, say, an osprey or a radio frequency be considered proprioceptively knowable?

    Jennifer Monson’s upcoming performance at The Kitchen, Live Dancing Archive, plays with this idea, asking if dance can function as a continuously generating archive of bodily experience. The piece, her first in a theater setting in years and by far the longest of her choreographed works, revisits one of her own earlier projects as source material.  A dance-based environmental research trip across Atlantic bird migration routes, BIRD BRAIN Osprey Migration (2002) aimed to collect environmental data through tracing the physical route of the birds from the North Atlantic to South America. This new work, in turn, uses video documentation of the dancers on that tour, Monson included, as the archival data to be embodied and brought to light in her performance.

    While this might appear to point to a highly personal and, perhaps, political interpretation of the archival impulse – i.e. to advocate for a specific kind of environmental knowing through an artistic research practice – Monson’s collaborative development of Live Dancing Archive points to an interest in a more open and fluid definition of the concept.  The piece was developed collaboratively over the course of the last year and a half by Monson, video artist Robin Vachal (who recorded the initial documentation of the 2002 project), lighting designer Joe Levasseur, and audio artist Jeff Kolar.  In its final incarnation, the work exists as the simultaneous performance of Monson, Levasseur, and Kolar, all of whom will be physically present on stage, a video installation that will be on view on The Kitchen’s stage during days of performance, and a digital archive of video footage and ephemera from the BIRD BRAIN project that will go live on the day of the performance’s premier.

    The project’s composer, Jeff Kolar, agreed to answer a few questions about the audio component of the performance, an “indeterminate score… generated through live field experiments in the AM/FM, shortwave, Citizens, and unlicensed spectrum (27 MHz or 49 MHz band).”[1]

    Can you explain a bit about your composition and performance process?  Have you scored dance or performance in the past? I understand that you’ll be onstage with Jennifer and that, like her dance practice, any number of environmental variables can impact the aural product of that particular performance.

    In 2011, I produced a project called Start Up / Shut Down , which focuses on Window and Macintosh operating system event sounds. I spent a great deal of time examining the strict durational formatting and other standards found in the one-to-four second event sound. The result was two five-minute tracks that act as a set of hand-made alternatives to proprietary operating system sounds.

    Following that, I created The Wilhelm Scream (2012), a work that explores the iconic three-second cinematic sound effect “The Wilhelm Scream”. The piece explored the scream’s origins, usage, and cult status as well as the character conversations and ambient sounds that immediately precede and follow the sound effect. And my most recent release, Ringtones (2012) is a set of operative ring tones produced specifically for use by mobile devices. The ring tones, released for iPhone and Android, range from four-to-forty-seconds in duration. The work is situated as functional audio objects that can be installed on wireless cellular phones for everyday use.

    The audio material in Live Dancing Archive is generated live through field experiments in the AM/FM, Shortwave, Citizens, and Unlicensed radio spectrums. The instrument arrangement of hand-built radio transmitters and receivers respond directly to external weather phenomena, wireless technology systems, and human activity. The radios were specifically designed as low-powered and battery-controlled to create a sensitive, interference-proned sonic landscape.

    What about the project drew you to using exclusively analog technologies, in comparison to the rest of your practice, which is more cross-platform?  Is there actually an anti-archival quality to employing the sounds broadcast on radio frequencies that, at least in theory, aren’t as easy to replicate or record?

    For this particular project, the instrument arrangement is entirely analog; a chain of handmade radio transmitters and receivers that respond directly to the specific site of transmission. The work explores a diverse range of licensed and unlicensed electromagnetic frequencies that are affected by peripheral analog and digital wireless systems that surround the performance venue.

    I view radio as an inherently ephemeral medium. A landscape that is operating in and experienced by the complexities of real-time. There is a long tradition of using radio as indeterminate musical instruments (i.e. musique concrète, John Cage, Luc Ferrari, etc.). Pre-dating the use of broadcast delays, radio's history is that of a "live" technological media. A sonic landscape that is always on and omnipresent.

    This notion of radio as real-time experience was a large factor in my developing Radius, an experimental radio broadcast platform that focuses on supporting radio work via the event of live radio broadcast. Radius intentionally does not have a real-time internet stream. Instead, the platform exists to represent sound and radio art on the radio, in the spectrum, in real-time.

    As a medium that is so specific to the time and place of the listener, it seemed like an appropriate choice to use analog radio in Live Dancing Archive. I've developed a score that is flexible enough to change based on time, place and external interferences, but specific enough to relate directly to the compositional elements found in the dance movement. I am constantly negotiating the desire for a fixed composition while also dealing with the indeterminate nature of live radio. I do record every performance of Live Dancing Archive, but have yet to reuse any of that material. I am much more interested in the real-time execution of the work than the documentation of it.

    In Hal Foster’s analysis of the archival impulse as it has appeared in contemporary practice, the tactile and personal figuration of the archive is directly at odds with the technological one from which it’s language is drawn.[2]  He writes that they “are recalcitrantly material, fragmentary rather than fungible, and as such they call out for human interpretation, not machinic reprocessing.”[3] What’s your take on this human-technological binary in the framework of a performance like this one?  Could you talk a bit about the impact of physical human bodies and their movements as they are tracked through your own performance?

    I view radio as a medium that is intensely linked to the human body. Radio is often considered a disembodied media that focuses entirely on the transmission of the human voice and refuses the bodies of senders and receivers. This notion of a uni- or mono-directional radio system references a very corporate use of the radio spectrum. A viewpoint that focuses on the desire for maximum signal strength to obtain more potential listeners, which equates to higher potential advertising revenue. This is often found specifically in FM music stations and AM talk radio.

    I would argue that radio is inherently linked to the specific sites of transmission and reception, and the interaction of bodies to architecture, the environment, and other technological equipment. In that way, I view that the body as an object of interference; a physical thing that can alter electromagnetic waves. The archival implications found in the Live Dancing Archive project are as much about real-time as it is about the preserved or documented time. The audiences that experience the live performances become part of that archive.

    My work with the electromagnetic spectrum acts as a physical environment for dance to live and be performed within; a systems of physical relations (waves) that alter and open the inaudible spaces that surround us. In that way, Live Dancing Archive documents indeterminate ecological systems, and reveals a deep relationship among technological, ecological, and human environments. The audience in attendance, Jennifer's body, my proximity to the radio equipment quite literally affect the sonic output from the radios. The score is comprised of sensitive systems of social and tele-communcation relations. In that way, every performance is a learning experience for me: a site-specific event filled with transmission accidents, wireless feedback, and physical interferences.


    Live Dancing Archive//Jennifer Monson/iLAND//The Kitchen//February 14-23

    [2] Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” October 110, (Fall 2004), 3-22. 

    [3] Ibid, 7.

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