The Banality of The New Aesthetic

It’s a bizarre thing when you stumble upon the “new art movement” filtering through discursive chatter. Is it actually a movement, or is it simply a bunch of like-minded individuals telling me its a movement?

Behold The New Aesthetic then – a new art meme in visual culture whimsically constructed by James Bridle, which manifests itself in a Tumblr blog, a presentation for Web Directions South, Sydney and an original blog post. Recent attention to it has reached feverish proportions coming off the back of a SXSW panel in March and a generally positive endorsement by Bruce Sterling in Wired, plus some group responses on the creators project. More recently, the computational media scholar and philosopher Ian Bogost has posted his own thoughts for The Atlantic.

As a meme should do, “the New Aesthetic” has fulfilled its role – it has a lot of people talking about it. Like any meme which dices visual culture with some sort of research element, it has artists, writers, even media and aesthetic scholars measuring their own opinions on it in rank order without anyone knowing exactly where it’s going, what it really is or who exactly is doing it. In our noisy and crowded “I can’t believe I got 50+ retweets” over-networked epoch, this is quite an achievement even if you don’t take it that seriously.

But here’s the question: can the new aesthetic be more than a meme? More to the point, does it want to be? Is it capable of a direction? Can it be serious?

That said (and as Bridle avers) this isn’t really a prominent “movement” of ideas as such. Neither does it present material which it would deem ‘arty’. Instead, it’s an extremely broad and oblique orientation which seeks to document the subtle (and sometimes explicit) changes within our information saturated existence. It simply contextualises the contingent manifestations of computational activity, and how they are reversing and revising computational and human activities back in on themselves. Bridle’s tumblr simply presents the new aesthetic for what it is, much akin to perusing through pictures in a Facebook profile, a Reddit top ten list or clicking on Stumbleupon – simple snapshots of “stuff” which echo a blurring between the world of networks, machines and everything outside of it (with a particular emphasis on where it goes a bit wrong, hence a certain infatuation with glitchyness). Quoting Bridle’s Tumblr page;

“It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.”

In another video presentation ‘We fell in love in a coded space‘ at Lift12, Bridle terms this ‘network realism’ – instances where the amalgamation of computational networked activity blurs with non-computational activity, to such an extent that it reduces any observer to nothing but a curious, passive node, gleefully whittling through instances of vaguely creative stuff. For Bridle, this occurs not just in industry but also architecture, finance, storage, fashion and now an attempt at aesthetic understanding. It’s an infatuation with the alterity of bots, algorithms, pixels and realised fictions. In this presentation however, Bridle is largely concerned with how one can respond or understand the ‘desires’ of bots, unaware that anthropomorphising the situation may not reap the rewards required. In this interpretation the new aesthetic is charged with the task of asking how we can think and orient ourselves computationally, whether it be designers, thinkers, writers, scholars or artists.

Sterling himself, mostly issues praise with a pinch of amusing impatience, as if the New Aesthetic movement should progress faster than it actually is doing, with more ideas and more focus. Kyle Chayka states that artists are already embracing it as a ‘contextual seedbed, rather than a label’. Jonathan Minard understands it as a new method of reflection concerning cultural tool-making, where the ‘dumb tools’ of machinic interface scream images back at us.

Digital Humanities scholar David Berry has blogged a similar view echoing that the new aesthetic is tapping into what he calls ‘Computationality’, a historical paradigm frame-making of sorts, which constructs specific meaning-making practices. Visualisation revolves around processes and patterns and so the list making exercise of Bridles’s Tumblr blog would seem apt in this regard, as it issues unparalleled amounts of pattern making not just as content, but as form. The archive is a jamboree of other pattern recognising events; security face recognition, retro 8bit encapsulation, satellite visuals and generally messing about with an Xbox 360 Kinect. James George mentions something similar but suggests that the new aesthetic should question the critical distance between artistic activity and technological use. It resembles a massive screen dump from a digital artist’s delicious account. Quoting Bridle again in an interview with The Design Observer Group;

“The New Aesthetic is not criticism, but an exploration; not a plea for change, rather a series of reference points to the change that is occurring. An attempt to understand not only the ways in which technology shapes the things we make, but the way we see and understand them.”

To most of the established readers here, it’s easy to criticise the “newness” of the New Aesthetic, in the same way the 90’s trope “New Media” has been quickly bundled away as if it never existed (Marius Watz makes this point). For those of you who have been studying such issues concerning hacking, play, enumeration, collecting, remixing, glitch-ing, (see Rosa Menkman in particular) in the broader realm of the computational arts, there really isn’t anything novel to gawk at: this is more of a rearrange or a rebadge. Indeed, internet discussion has been rife with such criticism, from the triteness of using Tumblr as the ‘official site’, to quick dismissals concerning the New Aesthetic’s distinct lack of any historically serious ‘substantial practice’ – not that it wanted it in the first place (Indeed it’s a pity that it has contingently replaced an identical term for a movement unrelated to Bridle’s own, coined by arts writer Michael Paraskos and realist artist Clive Head. Moreover, depending on how one looks at it, Paraskos and Head’s own movement has similar views espoused by Bridle’s version, including perhaps a direct opposition to conceptualism and foregrounding art as a material practice).

If Bridle were not so sincere about the whole affair, one would be mistaken that this was a too-cool-for-school strategy straight out of a Nathan Barley episode. But thats an easy misread. As Bogost states, Bridle is just curious about the weirdness of the network we all rely on and revel in. But there is a point where fascination with creativity turns into ADHD. The New Aesthetics tumblr site, already does just that, without any hint of standing still. “What’s going to come next? What can we do next? What are the limitations? What happens if I click that? What is that doing there?”

However both Bogost and Greg Borenstein issue a different view about the new aesthetic. They both discuss it in relation to a recent trend in philosophy called Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), a movement to which I am extremely sympathetic to. Bogost explains OOO succinctly enough;

“If ontology is the philosophical study of existence, then object-oriented ontology puts things at the center of being. We humans are elements, but not the sole elements of philosophical interest. OOO contends that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally–plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. OOO steers a path between scientific naturalism and social relativism, drawing attention to things at all scales and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much as ourselves.” 

The link to OOO is fairly self-evident. If one of the most prominent aspects of the new aesthetic is an obsession with how a machine “sees” the world, OOO is a commitment to the seeing of things in widest possible sense. But while Borenstein generally aligns OOO to the new aesthetic with exuberant equivalence, Bogost’s view is one of general optimism, but not broad acceptance. For a start, the new aesthetics is based on a continual divide and repair between two opposing realms; the physical and the digital, each coming together and breaking apart endlessly, like throwing a box of magnets.

One of the main stipulations of being an OOO advocate is the realist eruption of what counts as a thing, and how that thing contingently relates to different types of entities. This is why Bogost decenters computation in the new aesthetic, and emphasises the multitude of things that escape the physical/digital divide. Their adventures are always-already strewn across the ontological landscape. One of the other main stipulations involves us lacking secure knowledge in fully understanding discrete units on their own terms – we can never experience their being in the same way we experience our being.

If one has read Bogost’s latest publication, Alien Phenomenology (and if you haven’t, I’d urge you to do so immediately), one would understand Bogost’s view that the new aesthetics misses out not just speculating on the hidden lives of objects other than computers and humans, but it also hovers on the inescapable problem of anthropomorphising machines and objects to within an inch of their lives. The alien aesthetics challenge is provocative.

“[T]his Alien Aesthetics would not try to satisfy our human drive for art and design, but to fashion design fictions that speculate about the aesthetic judgments of objects. If computers write manifestos, if Sun Chips make art for Doritos, if bamboo mocks the bad taste of other grasses–what do these things look like? Or for that matter, when toaster pastries convene conferences or write essays about aesthetics, what do they say, and how do they say it?”

There is an interesting discussion to be had in OOO about the usefulness of anthropomorphising the infinitesimal non-human relationships between the properties of things. Whilst others (including Bogost) see it as an inevitable factor of being one finite human entity amongst a crowd of other finite entities, I see it as a hinderance.

In particular, I’m interested in the way the new aesthetic never manages to access computation ‘just’ as it is. It only takes computation seriously when it functions as a qualitatively intelligent system, which meets or surpasses rational intelligence, or, it directly flips into “dumb tools” of (mis)communicative manipulation for the whims of human mental acts.

But I digress. Last year Bridle released a book called “Where the F**k Was I?”, which accurately sums up the mentality of the movement. The really interesting element of the new aesthetic is that it presents genuinely interesting stuff, but Bridle’s delivery strategy is set to ‘gushing disorientation’. At present, it’s the victim of the compulsive insular network it feeds off from. It presents little engagement with the works themselves instead favouring bombardment and distraction. Under these terms, aesthetics only leads to a banal drudgery, where everything melts together into a depthless disco. Any depth to the works themselves are forgotten.

Memes require instant satisfaction. Art requires depth.

The Glitch Moment(um)

The Glitch Moment(um)
Rosa Menkman
Institute Of Network Cultures, 2011
ISBN 9789081602167

Rosa Menkman’s book “The Glitch Moment(um)” is a comprehensive study of the theory, practice and social context of contemporary digital Glitch Art. Glitch Art is similar to the ironisation of the noise of old media into cultural signals seen in Trip Hop and that is the basis for the nostalgic image-making of Lomography or Instagram. But it is based on current digital technology, rather than past analogue technology.

Glitch Art is growing in popularity and critical attention, and is already being recuperated by the mass media (for example in a recent Calvin Klein perfume television advertisement). Analogue glitches have been part of art and popular culture for decades, for example in Nam June Paik’s television-based art or the titular character of the cyberpunk TV show “Max Headroom”. Digital glitches and their simulation featured in the postmodern graphic design of the early 1990s created by groups such as Designers’ Republic. But between a history of analogue media and a future of mass media recuperation there is the current Moment(um) of digital glitch aesthetics that Menkman identifies.

Menkman begins by explaining the basics of Shannon/Weaver information theory as the basis for a theory of what glitches are. In information theory, messages are sent as a signal from a transmitter to a receiver over a channel which is disrupted by a source of noise. This “noise” is the crackle on analogue telephones or on vinyl records, the static on analogue TV and radio, and the corruption that sometimes affects digital images or audio streams (nowadays notably Skype chats).

Where kinds of noise are associated with a particular we can recognise them as particular “noise artifacts”. We can also recognise compression artefacts in digital media such as those seen in over-compressed lossy image and video files (JPEG and MPEG artefacts). These noise and compression artifacts are experienced by the users of communication media as glitches. Menkman describes these phenomena in detail, providing the reader with a firm foundation in the sources and expression of Glitch phenomena.

How artists can deliberately create these phenomena is the subject of the next section of the book. Titled “A Vernacular Of File formats” it is a condensed adaptation of Menkman’s 2010 artwork of the same name. It is a thorough and accessible resource for both understanding the production of and creating visual glitch aesthetics. Each picture demonstrates a technique for modifying the data of an image file format so that a computer can still parse and render the file but it will appear corrupted to a human viewer. Starting with an uncorrupted (but unnervingly contrasty) “RAW” image, Menkman explains the production and principles of corrupted digital images in sufficient detail that the reader can recreate and build on these techniques themself, or use this knowledge as the basis for understanding and appreciating the work involved in the Glitch Art produced by others.

The next two chapters cover the phenomenology and philosophy of Glitch. The theories of Paul Virilio and Alan Liu are usefully deployed here to give Glitch a philosophical grounding. But there is also a recognition that Glitch is an inherently open concept that is difficult to define. Menkman rightly considers the work of Beflix (Ant Scott) as a leading Glitch Art figure. The diversity of Beflix’s work illustrates the problem with categorizing Glitch neatly, or at all. 5VOLTCORE, JODI, and others provide alternative views of what Glitch can be. This builds to Menkman defining “Glitchspeak” as the vernacular, or in possibly the creole, of Glitch Art.

In “From Artifact To Commodity”, Menkman turns to Glitch aesthetics in music, particularly the glitches created through circuitbending, and the precedent this has set for the creation of standardized tools for glitching visual media. As such tools have been created for images, Glitch aesthetics have found their way into the artistic mainstream and into music videos and other mass media. Glitch may be impossible to categorize but it is all too easy to commodify. This marks its emergence as a genre, and Menkman finishes this section by considering Glitch as a recognizable but still problematic genre that relies heavily on spectators’ technical, aesthetic and theoretic literacy.

Having given the reader a solid grounding in the theory, practice and philosophy of Glitch, Menkman finally moves on to its sociology. Using a tool that looks like Gephi but isn’t (Issuecrawler), Menkman models the social network of relationships between Glitch artists that exist on the Internet. Clustering blogs and other Internet expressions by the number of links between them allows the tools of social network analysis to be used, revealing who is central to the Glitch artworld as judged by the clicks of their peers.

Finally Menkman sums up Glitch aesthetics in a section called “The Emancipation of Dissonance Glitch”. Starting with a quote from Jackson Pollock:

“I don’t use the accident. I deny the accident. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.”

Menkman concludes that “Like the best ideas, glitch practices are dangerous because they generate awareness”. By which point the reader is perfectly placed to understand just how and what kind of awareness Glitch generates, and how they can appreciate or produce Glitch art themselves.

Glitch Art has been long overdue serious critical attention. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that so thoroughly and concisely presented the theory and practice of a contemporary art movement in as does “The Glitch Moment(um)”.

You can download a PDF or order a print copy here

The text of this review is licenced under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Licence.

DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! and the Right to Die


DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! is a new video work (2012) by Everything is Terrible!, a self-described “found footage chop shoppe”. DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! is an active catalog which describes, invents and destroys concepts as it arranges video footage into flows of multiple cuts that map the use of dogs in cinema and television. The structure of this review takes hints from the work it overlays. We dispensed with “original” writing and didactic detailing of what we as critics experienced. Instead, we unraveled multiple threads left hanging after watching DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! We neglected to offer an appraisal of the worth of the work, and add to the number of words already in the world. Instead, we traced the flows passing through the video and developed a program of citations that provide a map of exit and entrance points-a map, as any map, that is as much about those making as about the territory described-which we hope will provide openings for a reader who has not yet watched the work, and provide expanded intersections for those who already have.

“This is the scenario: You are terminally ill, all medical treatments acceptable to you have been exhausted, and the suffering in its different forms is unbearable. Because the illness is serious, you recognize that your life is drawing to a close. Euthanasia comes to mind as a way of release.”  1

“Success consists of simply getting up one more time than you fall.”  2

“From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. From those who seek hope above all, it tears away every firm ground. Those who claim to have solutions are contradicted almost immediately. Everyone agrees that things can only get worse. ”  3

“A positive anything is better than a negative nothing.”4

Roadkill: We have a corpse on our backs.

“I think it’s because dog movies and dog footage tends to be the dumbest. It’s like the lowest common denominator amongst everything we’ve found, the most mediocre footage imaginable. I think that was a big motivator, and we just like dogs. It’s a nicer way to deliver horrible things about humanity. Instead of watching people be racist, which makes you feel terrible, you get to watch dogs be racist, and you’re like, ‘That’s a little better.'”  5

“Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011. That’s an all-time high, and for the first time in history more than $50 billion has gone to dogs, cats, canaries, guppies and the like, the American Pet Products Association reports. Food and vet costs accounted for about 65 percent of the spending. But it was a service category one that includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting and day care that grew more than any other, surging 7.9 percent from $3.51 billion in 2010 to $3.79 billion in 2011.”  6

“So we have a corpse on our backs, but we won’t be able to rid ourselves of it just like that. Nothing is to be expected from the end of civilization, from its clinical death. In and of itself, it can only be of interest to historians. It’s a fact, and it must be translated into a decision. Facts can be conjured away, but decision is political. To decide on the death of civilization, then to work out how it will happen: only decision will rid us of the corpse.”  7

Description of DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! Minutes 2:39 to 2:52
2:39 Black and white footage of a clothed dog sleeping in hay.
2:41 Saint Bernard laying on the floor trying to drink champagne out of a bottle.
2:42 Black and white footage of a dog holding a bottle labeled “Hard Cider” in his mouth and drinking.
2:43 Dog with bandana sitting at table licking the foam from a beer.
A hand pouring beer into a dish filled with dog food.
2:44 A club. Multiple young women filling the face of a puppet dog full of liquor bottles.
2:45 A dog wearing a jersey with the number one peeing on a referee’s ankle.
2:47 A dog lifting its leg on a pants suit leg.
A bulldog in a spiked collar peeing on a floor mat that says “I [heart] Acting.”
2:48 A dog peeing on a metal catwalk, shot from below.
2:49 Jack Nicholson holds a small dog up and away from his chest as the dog pees.
A man lying on a floor is shot below and through a dogs legs, the dog’s urine stream is hitting him in the face.
2:51 A similar shot, reversed. Another man, wearing a fur hat, is buried to his neck in sand and ice. A dog urinates into his mouth.
2:51 The same bulldog in spiked collar lifts his leg to pee. A small rocket comes out of from beneath him.
2:52 A similar shot from the other side, a different dog is urinating flames.

Two images of men whose faces are being urinated in by dogs.

Pointers: Haircut, Ray Gun

“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.”  8

“Trash collection is the business of public sanitation; its recycling, the very height of capitalist alchemy, turns everything into grist for commodification’s mill. But it is also a strategy of aesthetic sublimation that, according to Thomas Crow, is internal to modernism (he has analyzed the cyclical aspect of this in terms of the incorporation of the ‘low’ by the ‘high’)”  9

“Classification in the widest sense is, along with astronomy, probably one of the oldest scientific pursuits undertaken by man. In the most general terms classification is the process of giving names to a collection of objects which are thought to be similar to each other in some respect. The ability to sort similar things into categories is obviously a primitive one, since it would seem to be a prerequisite of the development of language, which consists of words which help us to recognize and discuss the diSerent types of events, objects and people we encounter; each noun in a language is a label used to describe a class of things which have striking features in common. Thus for example, we name animals as cats, dogs, or horses and such a name collects individuals into groups.”  10

“I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is.”  11

“What is it that moves over the body of a society? It is always flows, and a person is always a cutting off [coupure] of a flow. A person is always a point of departure for the production of a flow, a point of destination for the reception of a flow, a flow of any kind; or, better yet, an interception of many flows.”  12

“I am for the art of things lost or thrown away, coming home from school.”  13

“Cluster analysis, also called data segmentation, has a variety of goals. All relate to grouping or segmenting a collection of objects into subsets or “clusters,” such that those within each cluster are more closely related to one another than objects assigned to different clusters. An object can be described by a set of measurements, or by its relation to other objects.”  14

“And now, we have to start from scratch with this movie and go through thousands of VHS tapes and find those three minutes and put them in a pile until we have enough to make an hour-long movie. And yeah, it made it harder because we just fucking hate those movies.”  15

“Central to all of the goals of cluster analysis is the notion of the degree of similarity (or dissimilarity) between the individual objects being clustered. A clustering method attempts to group the objects based on the definition of similarity supplied to it.”  16

“[Claes Oldenburg] quickly saw that it didn’t take anything to make a Ray Gun: any right angle would suffice, even blunted, even barely perceptible. The Ray Gun is the ‘universal angle’: ‘Examples: Legs, Sevens, Pistols, Arms, Phalli-simple Ray Guns. Double Ray Guns: Cross, Airplanes. Absurd Ray Guns: Ice Cream Sodas. Complex Ray Guns: Chairs, Beds. Mondrian didn’t need to reduce everything to the right angle: everything is already a right angle. During the time of The Store, Oldenburg made huge numbers of Ray Guns (in plaster, in papier mache, in all kinds of materials in fact), but he soon saw that he didn’t even need to make them: the world is full of Ray Guns. All one has to do is stoop to gather them from the sidewalks (the Ray Gun is an essentially urban piece of trash: Oldenburg produced their anagram as Nug Yar:New York). Even better: he didn’t even need to collect them himself; he could ask his friends to bring them to him (he limited himself to accepting or refusing the find’s addition into the corpus, according to purely subjective criteria). Finally, there are all the Ray Guns one can’t move- splotches on the ground, holes in the wall, torn posters-but which one could photograph. The “inventory”is potentially infinite. And what should be done with this invasive tide? Put it in the museum.”  17

“I am for the art out of a doggy’s mouth, falling five stories from the roof.”  18

Description of DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! Minutes 2:54 to 3:06
2:54 A dog and man lay side-by-side. The dog’s legs are up and its belly is exposed to the camera. Voiceover: “Being a thief isn’t bad enough, you have to be a lush too.”
2:56 A golden retriever puppy faces the camera with a drunken expression. The dogs lips move as he says “That’s the weirdestest grape juice ever.” He laughs.
3:02 A dog jumps off a large desert rock onto another rock. He yells “Hasta la vista, kitty.” A mountain lion is shown launching into the air.
3:05 Maniacal laughter is played over footage of a tree frog sitting on the top of a dog’s head.
3:06 A Weimaraner sleeps under a blanket. Voiceover: “Do dogs dream? She dreams she’s a dear”
A ripple dissolve into the same dog with her head stuck through a tapestry of deer so that it appears that there is a deer with a dog head.

Canis Lupus Familiaris

“Are there Oedipal animals with which one can ‘play Oedipus,’ play family, my little dog, my little cat, and then other animals by contrast draw us into an irresistible becoming? Or another hypothesis : Can the same animal taken up by two opposing functions and movements, depending on the case?”  19

“Writing about the dog who befriended him and his fellow-inmates in a concentration camp, and whom they named Bobby, Levinas says that this dog was ‘the last Kantian in Nazi Germany,’ because his joyful greetings reminded the prisoners of their human dignity. Yet, when questioned closely about the ethical status of nonhuman animals, Levinas is reluctant to ascribe to animals that ‘ethical face’ which he elsewhere has called (as Martin calls Sylvia’s face) ‘an epiphany.’ By contrast, says Levinas, the animal face is merely ‘biological,’ incapable of demanding the ethical response. Levinas denies that the dog can have a face in the ethical sense: ‘the phenomenon of the face is not in its purest form in the dog,’ he writes. ‘I cannot say at what moment you have the right to be called ‘face.’ The human face is completely different and only afterwards do we discover the face of the animal.’ In an article subtitled ‘Levinas Faces the Animal,’ Peter Steeves, with gentle irony, stages another face-to-face encounter between Levinas and Bobby, asking the philosopher: ‘What could Bobby be missing? Is his snout too pointy to constitute a face? Is his nose too wet? Do his ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro? How can this not be a face?'”  20

“We’ve always had a thing with how people treat little people at Everything Is Terrible!, like it’s really weird and creepy. Anybody who’s like a second-class being, when they’re used in videos, it comes across very creepy and gross. I think it’s the same thing with humans and dogs. They’re weirdly sexualized, they’re weirdly turned into little kids at the same time.”  21

“…individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, ‘my’ cat, ‘my’ dog. These animals invite us to regress, draw us into a narcissistic contemplation, and they are the only kind of animal psychoanalysis understands, the better to discover a daddy, a mommy, a little brother behind them (when psychoanalysis talks about animals, animals learn to laugh): anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool.”  22

“I think that’s a big reason why people use dogs the way they do, because I think we kind of hate ourselves so we dress up dogs like ourselves to mock ourselves. So you dress a dog up like a drunk human, and then you laugh at how ridiculous it is, but I think it’s therapeutic. We’re letting off steam about how much we hate ourselves.”  23

Description of DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! Minutes 3:13 to 3:20
3:13 A close-up of a shaggy dog who speaks. “It’s not a dream”.
3:16 A large dog outside a car tells a small dog inside a car, “Bitches ain’t got no business being inside your head” The voice is or is similar to Samuel Jackson’s.
3:17 A bloodhound with an ice pack on its head also has cartoon dream bubbles floating around it. The woman inside the bubbles says, brightly “Wake up!”
Another dog, turning his head to the camera, says “Who are those jokers?”
Return to the bloodhound, the floating woman says “It’s me, Jan.”
3:20 A dog dressed as a pauper is grabbed from above and dragged to the side.
A dog wearing a bandana says “Great danes! This is terrible. But what can I do…”
This trails into a golden retriever saying “…I’m a dog.”

An image of an angel holding a dead dog beside an image of a dog-costumed person

Dead Dog: “Eres Lo Que Lees” (“You Are What You Read”)

“What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal.”  24

layla commented: 4-21-2008 9:01 PM “In 2007 Guillermo Vargas Habacuc a so called artist took an abandoned dog from the streets tied him to a very short rope to a wall in an art gallery and left a kettle of food on the other side of the room beyond his reach and left him there to slowly die of hunger and thirst. The socalled artist of such cruelty and the visitors of the gallery of art watched the agony of this animal. The dog finally died of famine surely after a painful absurd and incomprehensible torture. The prestigious Centralamerican Biennial of Art decided that this horrible act committed by this guy was art and Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel actions in said Biennial in 2008. i seen this post on facebook and a few pictures of the poor innocent dog starving to death it broke my heart and i had to see if peta was aware of this sick man who thinks this i some great at creation.”  25

olivia commented: 5-10-2008 5:35 PM “i hate you. you should be put in the poor dog’s possision. you can’t imagine how many people hate you. almost more than a million. just so you know thats not art. the dog died because of you. you should go to prison because of this. you broke peoples’ hearts. i am really upset at you i could write all day long if i have to because you just waisted a life i wish i could waiste youres!!!!!! do you wish all the animals should die? you just made my day so so so horrible. im going to tell everyone what you just did. just so you know i’m cring. i hate hate hate hate you. you should be ashamed of your self. so listen to this just because you think your all that doesn’t mean that you can kill an other animal. i have 7 animals and you are not going to touch them! that dog did nothing to you. if heshe did doesn’t mean you should kill him! please don’t touch any other animal!!!!!! you suck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! P.s i hate youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu”  26

Renate commented: 5-5-2008 1:34 PM “Here’s a thought let’s tie up Guillermo Vargas at one of his own exhibits and starve him to death!”  27

Rainie M commented: 4-28-2008 2:59 PM “Oh Gods! How can anyone be so bloody heartless? Dead or dying animals are NOT art…things like this only come from sick minds. Is the human race devolving so much that we have come down to this as entertainment? If you want Art go to a Museum . Geez this is just sick…”  28

Tucker commented: 4-26-2008 10:43 AM “THIS IS DOWN RIGHT UNCALLED FOR DIGUSTINGCRUEL AND THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOCKED UP AND CHARGED BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I AM CRYING SO HARD RIGHT NOW IT IS UNBELIEVABLE WHAT $IN PEOPLE DO TO ANIMALS AND THIS ALL NEEDS TO STOP NOW AND BIG TIME CHARGES AND JAIL TIME NEED TO BE STRONGER AND LONGER IN ALL STATES AND AROUND THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SAVE THE ANIMALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  29

Angie commented: 4-24-2008 12:55 PM “I am so sickend by this whole so called art.. I am a artist myself. ! And i think someone need to tie this guy up and not feed him any food and have people watch him starve . Then he will realize how it feels. He gives a bad name to other artist out there!”  30

yf commented: 4-22-2008 2:32 PM “you know he really shoudl have starved himself and then do a ‘selfportrait’.. much more apt.. silly stupid man.. so pointless.. so banal.. people KNOW what skeletal skin and bones animals look like .. we have seen them.. we know what skeletal starved humans look like too infact.. we dont’ need a dumb dimwit 12 brained idiot to INTENIONALLY starve a dog in ORDER to produce his pointless ‘artwork’.. what a dumb stupid peabrained twit !”  31

Kristin Gleeson commented: 4-22-2008 1:29 AM “Yeah I’ve seen something like this before but what was it? Oh yeah the HOLOCAUST. Thousands of people collected subdued and starved to death. Was that an artistic masterpiece? If you call this art you’d have to call Hitler an artist I mean after all he was trying to make a culturally altering statement as well. It’s not art it’s sadistic immoral and completely disgusting. This poor creature did not deserve this and neither does any other animal on the planet.”  32


“Do not imitate a dog, but make your organism enter into composition with something else in such a way that the particles emitted from the aggregate thus composed will be a canine as a function of the relation of movement and rest, or of molecular proximity, into which they enter.”  33

“Its efficiency is striking. There is nothing extra, superfluous or obscure about Mr. Kulik’s performance. For all intents and purposes, he is a dog: he can be scary and unpredictable and territorial. After all, he’s in his prime, about 5 dog years old; visitors who wish to enter his cage may do so one at a time and must put on the quilted overalls and arm-guards that hang near the chained and barred door to his cage.”  34

“The choice of the term ‘pack’ for this older and more limited kind of crowd is intended to remind us that it owes its origin among men to the example of animals, the pack of animals hunting together. Wolves, which man knew well and from whom many of the dogs he uses derive, had impressed him very early. Their occurrence as mythical animals among so many peoples, the conception of the were-wolf, the stories of men who, disguised as wolves, assailed and dismembered other men, the legend of children brought up as wolvesall these things and many others prove how close the wolf was to man.”  35

“Saying it would be too confusing, a judge has denied the petition of a so-called ‘furry’ to legally change his name to Boomer the Dog. Forty-four-year-old Green Tree resident Gary Guy Mathews says he filed for the name change in June because he’s a fan of a short-lived 1980s NBC television series called “Here’s Boomer,” which featured a dog that rescued people.”  36

Where’s Waldo, #1.5 – Sun Aug 15, 2010 10:31 PM EDT “This boy ain’t wired right. I’ve heard of men wanting to be a women and women wanting to be men but this is a new one on me. Mom and Dad must have raised the poor kid in a kennel instead of a crib. Wonder what his favorite pup food was? Of course maybe he’s smarter than any of us thinks……or maybe not.”  37

dave-735909, Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:21 AM EDT “Why can’t we just respect people’s constitutional right to be crazy?”  38

Susi-Oh, Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:10 PM EDT “My sentiments exactly but how far do you want to take this? Should we just let him bark back when you ask him a question? Can you introduce a guy like that with a straight face? He’s big for a dog and might scare little children. Actually, even without the name change he looks a bit scary.”  39

Janet A., #15 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:59 AM EDT “If this idiot was truly a dog, we’d put him to sleep for being insane. Just a thought.”  40

wchall1949, #2 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:15 AM EDT “OMG – the really frightening thing here is that this guy is allowed to marry & reproduce!!! Truly scary!! What a moron!!!”  41

Sues-343312, #2.1 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:22 AM EDT “Well he is 44 yrs old has managed to not procreate up to now. Let’s just hope he meets up with a spayed female”  42

Description of DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! Minutes 3:26 to 3:37
3:26 A close-up of a crying child, with a dissolve of snow over his face. He says “Daddy…”
Close up of an adult man, he says “I don’t have a daddy.”
A girl wears a party hat. Lying on her bed, she talks to her brother, also wearing a party hat. She says “I just miss him so much…”
Cut to a different girl in pigtails addressing a bloodhound wearing a king’s crown and fur cape. She says “I miss him too.”
3:30 Close-up of a crying boy. “I miss him, mom.”
Angry-looking farmer standing under a tree. He says “Your mother passed on.”
3:32 A woman lays on a bed with a girl. “…to join the angels.”
A man looks up to the sky and gestures upwards “She’s in heaven.”
A woman with a party hat “watching over you right now.”
3:37 A boy addresses a dog. “My dad used to do that.”
A boy and his mother talk as she drives. The boy says “He wants a dad.”
A woman sits next to a boy outside with a rocky hill behind them. He is looking through binoculars. She says “You remind me a lot of your dad sitting there.”

Domestic Tie: Puppies

“When they’re your best friend it turns into this weird, gross, furry pile where you can’t tell where the lines are between human and dog, master and slave, and sex, and it’s just ugh.”  43

“Bestiality lowered a man to the level of a beast, but it also left something human in the animal.”  44

“A man has appeared before Limerick District Court charged with ordering his Alsatian dog to have sex with a 43-year-old mother of four, who died from an adverse allergic reaction to the intercourse.”  45

“Addressing the consent issue, Daniels writes, ‘[T]he truth is that animals, particularly domesticated ones, don’t consent to most of the things that happen to them.’ Animal sexual autonomy is regularly violated for human financial gain through procedures such as AI. Such procedures are probably more disturbing physically and psychologically than an act of zoophilia would be, yet the issue of consent on the part of the animal is never raised in the discussion of such procedures. Should the day Bentham speaks of arrive when animal rights are recognized by society and the law, an argument which speaks only to the zoophile’s right to fair exercise of his property rights in the animals he owns may prove an insufficient legal justification for acts of zoophilia.”  46

“In 1812 in a similar case in strongly Federalist Seneca County, New York,William Moulton, a fifty-eight-year-old veteran of the Revolutionary War and a prominent Democratic-Republican, was accused of buggering a bitch, which then delivered a litter of puppies that ‘had large heads, no hair on them nor tails, and on the side of their head they had small ears.'”  47

Dead Dog: The Right to Make Live and to Let Die

“I am for the majestic art of dog-turds, rising like cathedral.”  48

“The right of sovereignty was the right to take life or let live. And then this new right is established: the right to make live and to let die.”  49

“Though a single gull had already struck Melanie on the forehead the day before, the choice of the children’s party for this first fully choreographed attack suggests the extent to which the birds take aim at the social structures of meaning that observances like the birthday party serve to secure and enact: take aim, that is, not only at children and the sacralization of childhood, but also at the very organization of meaning around structures of subjectivity that celebrate, along with the day of one’s birth, the ideology of reproductive necessity.”  50

“Death is outside the power relationship. Death is beyond the reach of power, and power has a grip on it only in general, overall or statistical terms…death now becomes, in contrast, the moment when the individual escapes all power, falls back on himself and retreats, so to speak, into his own privacy. Power no longer recognizes death. Power literally ignores death.”  51

“Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s professional role.”  52

“Even worse their comments continue to make no distinction between hierarchical and non-hierarchical organizations and institutions — simply rejecting all organization — which is tantamount, if you think about it for a minute, to proposing a future that lacks workplaces, religious centers, families, any kind of assemblies, and so on — a future in which lone individuals or small groups fend for themselves (a vision seemingly not too far from what they propose).”  53

‘It is critical that the medical profession redoubles its efforts to ensure that dying patients are provided optimal treatment for their pain and other discomfort. The use of more aggressive comfort care measures, including greater reliance on hospice care, can alleviate the physical and emotional suffering that dying patients experience. Evaluation and treatment by a health professional with expertise in the psychiatric aspects of terminal illness can often alleviate the suffering that leads a patient to desire assisted suicide.”  54

“Their vision of a commune offers very little guarantee of its own basic existence. There are no proposed methods for deciding what will be produced or consumed nor how much of each or its distribution in a socially responsible way.”  55

“The euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by most animal protection organizations, including [The Humane Society of the United States], as an appropriate and humane means of ending the suffering of an animal in physical distress. It is also used widely to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems, including aggression, and cannot be adopted into an appropriate new home because they pose a threat to the health and safety of people or other animals.”  56

“Once we know where it is we want to go, we can then act with the urgency needed to organize and build institutions and movements able to win change and create the necessary foundations for a future society.”  57

“Those who demand another society should better start to realize that there is none left. And maybe they would then stop being wannabe-managers.”  58

“This is the dog’s real trick, the height of animal acting. Not surprisingly, the imitated action is one of violence and must have been somewhat complicated; because all pet dogs, and dog performers most of all, must be nonviolent and cooperative, the animal actor here must go against its ‘nature’ in order to successfully set up the final tableau. That animals can be domesticatedmade to forego violence in order to serve peopleis the triumph of human culture over nature. That they can then be trained to appear violentto attack humansis the ironic confirmation of this subjection.”  59

“Should you battle on, take the pain, endure the indignity, and await the inevitable end, which may be days, weeks or months away? Or should you take control of the situation and resort to some form of euthanasia, which in its modern-language definition has come to mean ‘help with a good death’?”  60

“At the final stage of this evolution, we see the first socialist mayor of Paris putting the finishing touches on urban pacification with a new police protocol for a poor neighborhood, announced with the following carefully chosen words: ‘We’re building a civilized space here.’ There’s nothing more to say, everything has to be destroyed.”  61

Description of DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! Minutes 3:43 to 4:03
3:43 A montage of eerily smiling children’s’ faces. Audio is the word “dad” played over and over as it overlaps and becomes “dog”. The words dad and dog are repeated in a loop. The video becomes a distorted montage of psychedelic faces of children and dogs. Eventually the words dad and dog becomes god.
4:03 The montage audio and video end abruptly.
A small dog says “I know something we can do.”
A shot of a Bernese, who says “Poop” then winks.

DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! $20

Libre Graphics Research Unit – Co-Position meeting

How can designers and programmers work more harmoniously? How can the tools being created better meet the needs of users? There is a need for designers to have a greater role in the production of the tools that they use, aside from just reporting bugs, requesting features or designing logos for open source projects. This is where the Libre Graphics Research Unit comes in. The Libre Graphics Research Unit (LGRU) is a traveling lab where new ideas for creative tools are developed. The unit has grand aims, looking to bring aspects of open source software development to artistic practices. The programme, sponsored by many organisations in Europe, is split into four interconnected threads:

  • Networked graphics
  • Co-position
  • Piksels and lines
  • Abstracting craft

The first meeting, Networked Graphics, took place in Rotterdam from 7-10 December, 2011 and was Hosted by WORM. This second meeting, Co-Position, for which I was present, took place at venues across Brussels from 22-25 February 2012. Co-Position is described by LGRU as:

[…] an attempt to re-imagine lay-out from scratch. We will analyse the history of lay-out (from moveable type to compositing engines) in order to better understand how relations between workflow, material and media have been coded into our tools. We will look at emerging software for doing lay-out differently, but most importantly we want to sketch ideas for tools that combine elements of canvas editing, dynamic lay-out, networked lay-out, web-to-print and Print on Demand.

The meeting saw the coming together of many international artists, theorists and developers for four days of work around this subject. As some of the sessions of the meeting took place simultaneously I’m unable to give a full synopsis of the event. Instead, what is presented below are some of the key issues raised at the meeting.

Libre workflows

The subject of copyright cannot be avoided when discussing digital art and collaborative practices. There is a definite need to foster a safe and welcoming environment for artists and designers to produce, share and remix their work. Licensing of artwork under Copyleft licences – such as Creative Commons – helps to create this environment.

LGRU Day 1 - Visual Versioning
In his presentation, entitled “Libre Workflows – A Tragedy In 3 Acts”, Aymeric Mansoux was quick to point out that Creative Commons licences do not cover the source of the artwork. To put it into context, a JPG is covered by a Creative Commons licence but is the XCF/PSD file? Mansoux also considered what is actually a finished piece of artwork? In a remix culture is an artwork ever finished? Mansoux refers to this quote from Michael Szpakowski for further elaboration:

I’ve found it helpful to think of any artwork, be it literary, visual art or music as a kind of fuzzy four dimensional manifold. So the “complete” artwork is the sum of all its instances in time, and all epiphenomena. The entire artwork, seen this way, is a real and precisely enumerable sum, a concrete, not imaginary, set, which could be knowable in its entirety by something long lived and far seeing enough.

Visual Versioning

From their home town of Porto, Portugal, Ana Carvalho and Ricardo Lafuente produce Libre Graphics Magazine with ginger coons who is based in Toronto, Canada. For the production of the magazine they use Git, with their repository being hosted on Gitorious. As a tool for sharing files between collaborators Git is very useful. However, they explained that they feel they are not making effective use of all that Git has to offer. Part of this comes from the complexity of using Git. There are more than 140 commands in Git, each with their own unique function. These are usually entered via the command-line, but there are a number of programs with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) available. Programs with a GUI are usually favoured over command-line programs as they remove some of the complexity. Carvalho and Lafuente have found, however, that many of of these GUI programs simply replace commands with buttons, which doesn’t remove any of the complexity in using Git. What is needed is an easy to use specialised tool for the production of art.

Visual Versioning Work Session

LGRU Day 1 - Visual Versioning

In this work session, presented by Ana Carvalho and Eric Schrijver, the work group imagined how to adapt existing version control tools to meet the needs of artists and designers. The session began by taking a look at how people currently implement version control. A common practice is to manually make backups, renaming files to differentiate between stages. This can be an effective way of making different versions, but it doesn’t address other issues such as making comparisons or merging changes. The ineffectiveness of these manual methods is soon very apparent. The work group was introduced to the Open Source Publishing (OSP) Visual Repository viewer, which begins to respond to some problems with current version control systems by providing thumbnails of files in a repository.

Using this as a basis we began to look at other functions that the OSP Visual Repository viewer should have, such as the ability to compare graphical files in different ways and to revert back to previous versions or merge versions. Although there was no time to produce working code we did seek to address the complex task of merging and comparing not only the ouput file but also the working files (svg/xcf/psd).


Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.

This quote from The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Steve Raymond could not be more accurate in describing the motivations behind the development of Laidout, developed by Tom Lechner, a comic artist from Portland, Oregon. Perhaps one of the most impressive software demonstrations of LGRU, Laidout is a program for laying out artwork on pages with any number of folds, which don’t even have to be rectangular.

Tom Lechner presents Laidout. Photo by Michael Murtaugh

LGRU Day 2 - Collision

SVG from scratch

In an attempt to devise new tags that can be added to the SVG specification, Michael Murtaugh and Stephanie Villayphiou presented a work session that looked at the different ways language is interpreted by both humans and computers. To address this the work group took part in a task that saw them act as an interpreter of commands. With nothing more than a list of tags used in SVG files the work group would attempt to construct shapes.

SVG tags. Photo by Michael Murtaugh

SVG From Scratch. Photo by Michael Murtaugh

The results varied from person to person and highlighted an important question: How can computers interpret ambiguity

Using the Richard A Bolt “Put that there” demonstration, Murtaugh showed how human-computer interaction is still based around using very clear, unambiguous commands that can be easily interpreted by computers. In SVG only the most basic of shapes – rectangles, circles and lines – are represented. But, as the work group participants asked, could there be tags to represent more complex shapes, such as a horse?

Roundtable discussion

LGRU Day 4 - Prototypes

On the final day of the meeting I took part in a roundtable discussion, chaired by Angela Plohman and featuring myself, Stephanie Vilayphiou, Camille Bissuel and Ana Carvalho. The discussion first went over all that we had achieved over the four days at the meeting, and then the discussion focused on how and why we share our artwork. Expanding on the earlier quote from Szpakowski, how can we make sharing all of our artwork – including the early stages and inspirations behind it – an easier and integrated part of making artwork? In addition to sharing our final, “finished” artworks do we want to also share our processes and ideas behind the artwork? More importantly, can software easily aid this?

Other topics debated in the discussion revolved around opening up our artwork and processes to others. By opening up the development process of our artwork do we do so to invite collaborators and contributions or just observers? The Blender Open projects, for example, are highly regarded as an example of the work that can be made using open source software. The files used to make these projects are are released upon completion of the project, but the development process remains closed to the team of artists and developers. Would opening up this process to contributors add any value or could having too many ideas dilute the original vision of the project.

Although no conclusions around these topics were made, it was nonetheless important for everyone at the meeting to think critically about their practice

The Future of Layout

A concern of mine is that research is not always acted up on and exciting possibilities exist only as theory. However, I feel that the approach of Libre Graphics Research Unit, which combines research and practice, will ensure that the work undertaken at the meetings is implemented. It is actively working with developers and users to try and create solutions.

At the Co-Poistion meeting not one final product was made, but the initial vision for the future of layout was formed.

The next meeting, Piksels and Lines, takes place in Bergen, Norway and is organised by Piksel.