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Reshaping Spectatorship, Clearing the Cloud: Theory, Meet Artist

The productive alliance between instruments of computing techne and artistic endeavour is certainly not new. This turbulent relationship is generally charted across an accelerating process outwards, gathering traction from a sparse emergence in the 1960s.[1] Along the way, the union of art and technology has absorbed a variety of nomenclatures and classifiers: the observer encounters a peppering of computer art, new media, Net.art, uttered by voices careening between disparagement, foretelling bleak dystopian dreams, or overflowing with whimsical idealism. Once reserved for specialist applications in engineering and scientific fields, computing hardware has infiltrated the personal domain.Today’s technology can no longer be fully addressed through purely permutational or systematic artworks, exemplified in 60’s era Conceptualism. The ubiquity of devices in daily life is now both representative and instrumental to our changing cultural interface. Technologies of computing, networks and virtuality provide extension to our faculties of sense, allowing us phenomenal agency in communication and representation. As such, their widespread use demands new artistic perspectives more relentlessly than ever.

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Interview with ‘Monsters of the Machine’ Artist, Eugenio Tisselli

As curator of the exhibition Monsters of the machine: Frankenstein in the 21st Century, I thought it necessary to interview the artists in the exhibition, while it is shown in the magnificent gallery space at Laboral, in Spain, until August 31st 2017. I wanted to get more of an idea of how they see their work in the show relates to the core themes. Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, has been interpreted in numerous ways since was written in 1816, and then published anonymously in London in 1818.

Eugenio Tisselli is a Mexican artist and programmer. He is a PhD candidate at Z-Node, the Zurich Node of the Planetary Collegium. Previously, he worked as an associate researcher at the Sony Computer Science Lab in Paris and was also a teacher and co-director of the Masters in Digital Arts program at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. In his role as director of the ojoVoz project, he has carried out extended workshops with small-scale farming communities in different parts of the world. The ojoVoz project may be accessed at http://ojovoz.net. His personal projects may be accessed at http://motorhueso.net

Interview.

Marc Garrett: Can you explain how and why the Sauti ya wakulima, “The voice of the farmers” project came about?

Eugenio Tisselli: In 2010, I came to realize that the way we feed ourselves is actually one of the main drivers of the accelerated destruction of societies and ecosystems that is currently underway. I felt like I had been living in La-La-Land before the veil was ripped off. My life changed radically. At that time, I was collaborating in the megafone.net project which had worked since 2004 with several groups of people at risk of social exclusion in different parts of the world. By offering an unfiltered communications platform, consisting of mobile and web applications, the megafone project tried to help these groups to make their voices widely heard. But, in 2011, I left the project with the purpose of offering its tools and methodologies to farming communities who wished to seek recognition and explore different forms of communication.

The voice of the farmers” installation. Monsters of the machine exhibition, at Laboral, in Spain. Image by Marcos Morilla.

The first opportunity took shape in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, where a group of farmers expressed their interest in trying out these tools. I came in contact with this group through a scientific project that studied the direct and indirect effects of climate change on agriculture. The original goal of ‘Sauti ya wakulima’ was that the farmers would use smartphones and a web application to create a collaborative, audiovisual knowledge base of weather-related events, such as droughts, floods or crop diseases. However, the farmers eventually discovered that they could reshape this goal, and started to use the phones to interview other farmers with the purpose of creating a network of mutual exchange of knowledge about agricultural practices and techniques.

Episodes of fruitful learning have happened since then: one farmer learned the proper way to grow maize thanks to a picture taken by one of his colleagues. Another one learned a clever way to build chicken sheds during a trip to an agricultural fair. He took pictures of the sheds and when he came back to his community, he formed a cooperative for chicken production together with three of his colleagues. I could go on, but the project is still active after six years and that is probably the best thing that can be said of ‘Sauti ya wakulima’. It is alive because farmers find it useful, and it’s inspiring to learn from them that the mutual exchange of knowledge can become a key to a more resilient and interesting life. To me, the agricultures depicted in the photos posted by the Tanzanian farmers are not echoes of ‘the past’, but pathways to the future.

MG: What particular themes in the exhibition do you feel relate to the “The voice of the farmers” installation?

ET: I imagine ‘The monster in the machine’ not as a horrible, threatening ghoul, but as a weird and tricky creature made of language. The ‘body’ of this creature is made up of what we would call ‘principles’, ‘values’ and even ‘ideologies’. And it silently lurks inside the technological artifacts we use every day. The smartphone, for instance, epitomizes the ideal 21st century citizen: a self-sufficient, competitive and efficient individual. And, indeed, the monster that lives inside our smartphones is made of those values: its presence is inscribed in the device’s circuits and from there it casts its spell. What I mean is that technologies are not neutral. They are not empty: they are haunted by whispering ghosts.

If you look at technologies used in agriculture, you will also find a multitude of monsters that softly dictate from the insides of things. Perhaps not by coincidence, genetically modified (GM) seeds speak the same things as mobile phones, only with different words. They tell farmers: “stop sharing seeds with your community, it’s a waste. Become an entrepreneur, there are shitloads of money to be made! Buy me! I’ll make you rich!” The sad thing is that these words are a trap: farmers ultimately become entangled in monetized loops that are beyond their control. Desperation sets in and, in absurdly horrible cases, such as GM cotton farmers in India, suicide becomes the only exit. But there are, indeed, other exits.

The small print on a packet of hybrid tomato seeds obtained through industrial processes, as sold to small-scale farmers in Tanzania. Photo by Eugenio Tisselli.

It is possible to rewrite the values and ideologies inscribed in technologies, in order to make them speak words that will do less harm. This is one of the key components of Sauti ya wakulima. From the very beginning of the project, the farmers agreed to redefine the smartphones as communal tools for collaborative documentation. They still share them and, when it is someone’s turn to use one, that person knows that she will not be taking pictures and recording sounds with a personal device, but with one that belongs to the group. These dynamics of sharing can create or strengthen reciprocal bonds. Renalda Msaki, a farmer who participates in Sauti ya wakulima, once said that the project had brought the group closer together. When I reflect upon her words, I can see how the monster in the machine can be transformed into a gentler creature that, nevertheless, remains weird and tricky.

MG: What role do you think the artist has when dealing with questions such as Monsters of the Machine exhibition?

ET: I think the artist can take up an incredibly vast range of roles when dealing with machines. But, whatever one does, one shouldn’t be naive about technology. Happily, the times when media artists created huge and complex pieces filled with little technological wonders just because it was exciting to celebrate their ‘magic’ is (almost) over. I used to say that (most) media art was the smiling face of techno-capitalism. Now I would add that, while technology was generally understood as a mediator between us and the world, it has now become a vector that uses humans to create its own mediations with the world. The roles have shifted, and things have taken a perverse turn. There’s a growing chorus of techno-objects that insistently asks us, humans, to drill the Arctic, build pipelines, burn coal, destroy forests and dig up more minerals. And we obey: we must feed the monster. Artists who approach technologies as materials to play with need to be aware of these power relations. We must acknowledge that technologies of all sorts have become overpowering actors that like to command.

Conclusion

Tisselli warns us that we need to be more aware of our responsibilties when implementing technologies into the environment. An important factor of the exhibition was to bring about a vision where the art was not just one type of art. This means different engagements in how we see and work with technology, are reflected as part of its context. Also, technology is not only a human skill, ’21st century scientific studies indicate that other primates and certain dolphin communities have developed simple tools and passed their knowledge to other generations.'[2]

As I write this conclusion, ‘Trump is poised to sign an executive order that will dramatically reduce the role that climate change has in governmental decision-making. The order could impact everything from energy policy to appliance standards.'[3] We live in a time where US policies are written via Twitter, and the rich are typically risking ours and the world’s future for their own ends. Tisselli and the farmers, remind us that, we need to be connecting with the land once more. We need to reclaim the soil before it is lost forever.

Mary Shelley’s distrust of the  patriarch in the form of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is as relevant now as it was 200 years ago. ‘Her portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein as an egocentric obsessive who will stop at nothing until he completes his mission in bringing his creature to life; represents man’s blind quest in pushing on until the precarious end, at whatever cost.'[4] Tisselli echoes this with his own critique towards artists working in technology. If we are to rethink what innovation can be now, what would that look like if we were to update it in a way that included indigenous voices, other levels of equality, and practices beyond what now seems like tired, machismo, and over obsessive, tech-enchantment?

The ‘Monsters of the machine: Frankenstein in the 21st Century’ exhibition is on at at Laboral, in Spain until August 31st 2017. http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/exposiciones/monsters-of-the-machine

Notes:

Those involved in the Sauti ya wakulima / The voice of the farmers project.
The farmers: Abdallah Jumanne, Mwinyimvua Mohamedi, Fatuma Ngomero, Rehema Maganga, Haeshi Shabani, Renada Msaki, Hamisi Rajabu, Ali Isha Salum, Imani Mlooka, Sina
Rafael.

Group coordinator / extension officer: Mr. Hamza S. Suleyman
Scientific advisors: Dr. Angelika Hilbeck (ETHZ), Dr. Flora Ismail (UDSM)
Programming: Eugenio Tisselli, Lluís Gómez
Translation: Cecilia Leweri
Graphic design: Joana Moll, Eugenio Tisselli
Project by: Eugenio Tisselli, Angelika Hilbeck, Juanita Schläpfer-Miller
Sponsored by The North-South Center, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology – Zürich
With the support of The Department of Botany, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM)

References:

[1] Garrett, Marc. Laboral. Monsters of the Machine: Frankenstein in the 21st Century. 2016.
http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/exposiciones/monsters-of-the-machine

[2] Technology. (last checked March 14th 2017)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology

[3] Tarantola, Andrew. Trump to sign sweeping rollback of Obama-era climate change rules. End Gadget. March 15th 2017.
https://www.engadget.com/2017/03/14/trump-to-sign-sweeping-rollback-of-obama-era-climate-change-rule/

[4] Garrett, Marc. Prometheus 2.0: Frankenstein Conquers the World! Furtherfield. 03/06/2014.
https://www.furtherfield.org/features/prometheus-20-and-our-god-complex


In Defence of Serendipity: For a Radical Politics of Innovation – by Sebastian Olma

What is serendipity? Notoriously difficult to translate1, it is described as a trivial encounter, a pleasing coincidence, or a moment or encounter that was unplanned and occurred without intentionally looking for it. For Olma there appears to be much more at stake than a charming French accident. In the book ‘In Defence of Serendipity: For a Radical Politics of Innovation’ (2016), Olma gallops through the oppressive apparatus of the creative industries and the tireless illusion of innovation that captivates the hearts of young creatives and designers all over Europe, before finally resting on a call to arms for a radical politics of innovation that encompasses creativity, citizenship and social emancipation.

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Interview: Looking at Alien Matter with Inke Arns

Since 2005, Inke Arns has been the curator and artist director of Hartware MedienKunstVerein, an institution focusing the cross-section between media and technology into forms of experimental and contemporary art. This year, she was the curator for the exhibition titled alien matter during transmediale festival’s thirty-year anniversary. I had the pleasure of meeting Inke and taking a leisurely stroll with her around the exhibition.

The interview is written as part of a late-night email exchange with Inke a couple of weeks following our initial meeting.

CS: How did the idea come about? In your introductory text you mention The Terminator. Were you truly watching Arnold when alien matter occurred to you as an exploratory concept?

IA: Haha, good question! No, seriously, this particular scene from Terminator 2 (1991) was sitting in the back of my head for years, maybe even decades. It’s the scene where the T-1000, a shape-shifting android, appears as the main (evil) antagonist of the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The T-1000 is composed of a mimetic polyalloy. His liquid metal body allows it to assume the form of other objects or people, typically terminated victims. It can use its ability to fit through narrow openings, morph its arms into bladed weapons, or change its surface colour and texture to convincingly imitate non-metallic materials. It is capable of accurately mimicking voices as well, including the ability to extrapolate a relatively small voice sample in order to generate a wider array of words or inflections as required.

The T-1000 is effectively impervious to mechanical damage: If any body part is detached, the part turns into liquid form and simply flows back into the T-1000’s body from a far range, up to 9 miles. Somehow, the strange material of the T-1000 was teaming up with Jean-Francois Lyotard’s notion of “Les Immatériaux” (1985). Lyotard tried to describe new kinds of matter, that at first sight look like something that we know of old, but in fact are materials that have been taken apart and re-assembled and therefore come to us with radically new qualities. It is essentially alien matter which Lyotard was describing.

CS: You also comment on intelligent liquid and then make reference to four subcategories for the ‘rise of new object cultures’: AI, Plastic, Infrastructure, and the Internet of Things. Is this what makes up ‘alien matter’ to you? Inorganic materials? Simultaneously, HTF The Gardener and Hard Body Trade explicitly and dominantly utilise nature.

IA: Well, the shape shifting intelligent liquid acts more like a metaphor. It is a metaphor for the fact that the clear division between active subjects and passive objects is becoming more and more blurred. Today, we are increasingly faced with active objects, with things that are acting for us. The German philosopher Günther Anders, yet another inspiration for alien matter, described in his seminal book The Obsolescence of Man (Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen) how machines – or computers – are “coming down”, how over time they have come to look less and less like machines, and how they are becoming part of the ‘background’. Or, if you wish, how they have become environment. That’s what I tried to capture in these four subcategories AI, Internet of Things, Infrastructure and Plastic. It is subcategories that reflect our contemporary situation, and at the same time are future obsolete. All of this is becoming part of the big machine that is becoming visible on the horizon. The description that Anders uses is eerily up to date.

Is this alien matter inorganic? Well, yes and no. It is primarily something inorganic as plastic could be described as one of the earliest alien matters – its qualities, like, e.g., its lifespan, are radically different from human qualities. However, it is something that increasingly merges with organic matter – Alien in Green showed this in their workshop that dealt with the xeno-hormones released by plastic and how they can be found in our own bodies. They did this by analyzing the participants’ urine samples in which they found stuff that was profoundly alien.

In the exhibition, everything is highly artificial, even if it looks like nature, like in Ignas Krunglevicius’ video Hard Body Trade or Suzanne Treister’s series of drawings/prints HFT The Gardener. The ‘natural’ is becoming increasingly polluted by potentially intelligent xeno-matter. We are advancing into murky waters.

CS: There is no use of walls in the exhibition, other than Video Palace, standing as a monumental structure made out of VHS tapes. Why did you decide to exclude setting up rooms or walls for alien matter?

IA: I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to keep the space as open as possible. Anything you build into this specific space will look kind of awkward. This is also how I make exhibitions in general: Keeping the exhibition space as open as possible, building as few separate spaces as possible in order to allow for dialogues to happen between the individual works. For alien matter we worked with raumlaborberlin, an architectural office that is known for its unusual and experimental spatial solutions and that has been working with transmediale for quite some time now. I have worked with them for the first time and I am super happy with the result. We met several times during the development process, and raumlabor proposed these amazing tripods you can see in the show. They serve as support for screens and the lighting system. (Almost) nothing is attached to the walls or the ceiling. raumlabor were very inspired by the aliens in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds – where the extraterrestrials are depicted with three legs and a gigantic head. Even if the show is not about aliens I really liked the idea and the appearance of these tripods. They look at the same time elegant, strange, and through their sheer size they are also a bit awe-inspiring. Strange elegant aliens so to speak to whom we have to look up in order to see. At the same time they are ‘caring’ for the exhibition, almost as if they were making sure that everything is running smoothly.


CS:
What can you tell me about the narrative behind Johannes Paul Raether’s Protekto.x.x. 5.5.5.1.pcp.? You mentioned that it was originally a performance in the Apple Store, nearly branding the artist a terrorist.

IA: Correct. The figure central to the installation is one of the many fictional identities of artist Johannes Paul Raether, Protektorama. It investigates people’s obsession with their smartphones, explores portable computer systems as body prosthetics, and addresses the materiality, manufacturing, and mines of information technologies. Protektorama became known to a wider audience in July 2016 when a performance in Berlin, in which gallium—a harmless metal—was liquefied in an Apple store, led to a police operation at Kurfürstendamm. In contrast to the shrill tabloid coverage, the performative work of the witch is based on complex research and visualizations, presented here for the first time in the form of a sculptural ensemble including original audio tracks from the performance. The figure of Protektorama stems from Raether’s cyclical performance system Systema identitekturae (Identitecture), which he has been developing since 2009.

CS: Throughout the exhibition there is an awareness that technological singularity can and possibly will overcome the human body and condition. In the context of the exhibition, do you think that we may be accelerating towards technological and machinic singularity? As humans, are we already mourning the future?

IA: The technological singularity is a trans-humanist figure of thought that is currently being propagated by the mathematician Vernor Vinge and the author, inventor and Google employee Ray Kurzweil. This is understood as a point in time, and here I resort to Wikipedia, “at which machines rapidly improve themselves by way of artificial intelligence (AI) and thus accelerate technical progress in such a way that the future of humanity beyond this event is no longer predictable.” The next question you are probably going to ask is whether I believe in the singularity.

CS: Do you?

IA: Whether I believe in it? (laughs) The singularity is in fact a kind of almost theological figure. Technology and theology are very close to one another in a sense. The famous American science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently developed technology can’t be differentiated from magic. I consider the singularity to be an interesting speculative figure of thought. Assuming the development of technology were to continue on its course as rapidly as it has to date, and Moore’s Law (stating that computing performance of computer chips doubles every 12-24 months) retained its validity, what would then be possible in 30 years? Could it really come to this tipping point of the singularity in which pure quantity is transformed into quality? I don’t know. What is interesting right now is that instead of the singularity, we are faced with something that the technology anthropologist Justin Pickart calls the ‘crapularity’: “3D printing + spam + micropayments = tribbles that you get billed for, as it replicates wildly out of control. 90% of everything is rubbish, and it’s all in your spare room – or someone else’s spare room, which you’re forced to rent through AirBnB.” I also suggest to check out the ‘Internet of Shit’ Twitter feed.

CS: You come from a literary background. Noticing the selection and curation of alien matter, it becomes clear that you love working with narratives. Do you feel as though your approach of combining narrative and speculative imaginations is fruitful and rewarding?

IA: I do (if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it). I think narrative – or: storytelling – and speculative imaginations are powerful tools of art. They allow us to see the world from a different perspective. One that is not necessarily ours, or that is maybe improbable or unthinkable today. The Russian Formalists called this (literary) procedure ‘estrangement’ (this was ten years before Bertolt Brecht with his ‘estrangement effect’). Storytelling and/or speculative imaginations help us grasping things that might be difficult to access from our or from today’s perspective. It’s like an interface into the unknown. Maybe you can compare it to learning a foreign language – it greatly helps you to understand your own native language.

CS: On a final note, I’d like to revisit a conversation we had during transmediale’s opening weekend. We spoke about a potential dichotomy or contention between the discourse followed by transmediale and that of the contemporary art world, using the review by The Guardian about the Berlin Biennial as an example. Beautifully written, albeit you seemed to disagree with some points made – particularly at the notion enforced by the writer that works shown there, similar in nature to the works in alien matter, are not ‘art’. Could you elaborate on your thoughts?

IA: You are mixing up several things – let me try to disentangle them. I was referring to the article “Welcome to the LOLhouse” published in The Guardian. The article was especially critical of the supposed cynicism and sarcasm it detected in the Berlin Biennale curators’ and most of the artists’ approaches. Well, what was true for Berlin Biennale was the fact that it showed many younger artists from the field of what some people call ‘post-Internet’ art. This generation of artists – the ‘digital natives’ – mostly grew up with digital media. And one of the realities of the all pervasive digital media is the predominance of surfaces. The generation of artists presented at the Berlin Biennale dealt a lot with these surfaces. In that sense it was a very timely and at the same time a cold reflection of the realities we are constantly faced with. I felt as if the artists held up a mirror in which today’s pervasiveness of shiny surfaces was reflected. It could be interpreted as sarcasm or cynicism – I would rather call it a realistic reflection of contemporary realities. And it was not necessarily nice what we could see in this mirror. But I liked it exactly because of this unresolved ambivalence.

About transmediale and the contemporary art world: These are in fact two worlds that merge or mix very rarely. I have often heard from people deeply involved in the field of contemporary art (even some friends of mine) that they are not interested in transmediale and/or that they would never attend the festival or go and see the exhibition. And vice versa. This is mainly due to the fact that the art people think that transmediale is too nerdy, it’s for the tech geeks (there is some truth in this), and the transmediale people are not interested in the contemporary art world as they deem it superficial (there is some truth in this as well). For my part, I am not interested in preaching to the converted. That’s why I included a lot of artists in the show that have never exhibited at transmediale before (like Joep van Liefland, Suzanne Treister, Johannes Paul Raether, Mark Leckey). However, albeit the borders, the fields have become increasingly blurred. It is also visible that what is coming more from a transmediale (or ‘media art’) context clearly displays a greater interest in the (politics of) infrastructures that are covered by the ever shiny surfaces (that bring along their own but different politics).

I could continue but I’d rather stop, as it is Monday morning, 3:01 am.


You can also read a review of alien matter, available here.
alien matter 
is on display until the 5th of March, in conjunction with the closing weekend of trasmediale. Don’t snooze on the last chance to see it!

All in-text images are courtesy of Luca Girardini, 2017 (CC NC-SA 4.0)
Main image is a still from the movie The Terminator 2 (1991)


What is truly alien? – A review of alien matter, curated by Inke Arns

Within the context of transmediale’s thirty-year anniversary, Inke Arns curates an exhibition titled alien matter. Housed in Haus der Kulturen der Welt, alien matter is a stand-alone product that has been worked on for more than a year, featuring thirty artists from Berlin and beyond. In the introductory text, Arns utilises her background in literature and borrows a quote from J.G. Ballard, an English novelist associated with New Wave science fiction and post apocalyptic stories. The quote reads:

The only truly alien planet is Earth. – J.G. Ballard in his essay Which Way to Inner Space?

Ballard was redefining the notion of space as ‘outer space’, seemingly beyond the Earth, and ‘inner space’ as the matter constituting the planet we live on. For him, the idea of outer space is irrelevant if we do not fully understand the components of our inner space, claiming, ‘It is inner space, not outer, that needs to be explored’. The ever increasing and accelerating modes of infrastructural and therefore environmental change caused by humans on our Earth is immense. Arns searches for the ways by which this form of change has contributed to the making of alien matter on a planet we consider secure, familiar and essentially, our home. In the age where technological advancements are so severe that machines are taking over human labour, singularity is a predominant theme whilst the human condition is reaching a deadlock in more ways than we can predict. The works shown in alien matter respond to this deadlock by shedding their status as mere objects of utility and evolve into autonomous agents, thus posing the question, ‘where does agency lie?’

Entering the space possessing alien matter, one is immediately confronted with a giant wall – not one like Trump’s, but instead a structure made out of approximately 20,000 obsolescent VHS tapes on wooden shelves. It is Joep van Liefland’s Video Palace #44, hollowed inside with a green glow coming from within at its entry point. The audience has the opportunity to enter the palace and be encapsulated within its plastic and green fluorescent walls, reminiscent perhaps of old video rental stores with an added touch of neon. The massive sculpture acts as an archaeological monument. It highlights one of Arns’ allocated subcategories encompassing alien matter, (The Outdateness of) Plastic(s); the rest are as follows: (The Outdatedness of) Artificial Intelligence, (The Outdatedness of) Infastructure and (The Outdatedness of) Internet(s) of Things.

Part of Plastic(s) is Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s project titled The 3D Additivist Cookbook, initially making its conceptual debut at last year’s transmediale festival. In collaboration with Ami Drach, Dov Ganchrow, Joey Holder and Kuang-Yi Ku, the Cookbook examines 3D printing as possessing innovative capabilities to further the functions of human activities in a post-human age. The 3D printer is no longer just an object for realising speculative ideas, but instead is manifested as a means of creating items that may initially (and currently) be considered alien for human utility. Kuang-Yi Ku’s contribution, The Fellatio Modification Project, for example, applies biological techniques of dentistry through 3D printing in order to enhance sexual pleasure. Through the 3D Additivist Cookbook, plastic is transformed into a material with infinite possibilities, in which may also be considered as alien because of their human unfamiliarity.

Alien and unfamiliarity is also prevalent when noticing the approach by which the works are laid out and lit throughout the exhibition. Without taking Video Palace #44 into consideration, the exhibiting space is void of walls and rooms. Instead, what we witness are erect structures, or tripods, clasping screens and lights. These architectural constructions are, as Arns points out in the interview we conducted, reminiscent of the extraterrestrial tripods invading the Earth in H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds; initially illustrated by Warwick Goble in 1898. The perception of alien matter is enriched through this witty application of these technical requirements as audiences wander amongst unknown fabrications.

Amidst and through these alien structures, screens become manifestations for expressive AIs. Pinar Yoldas’ Artificial Intelligence for Governance, the Kitty AI envisages the world in the near future, 2039. Now, in the year 2017, Kitty AI appears to the viewer as a slightly humorous political statement, however, much of what Kitty is saying may not be far from speculation. Kitty AI appears in the form of rudimentary and aged video graphics of a cute kitten, possibly to not alarm humans with its words. It speaks against paralysed politicians, extrapolates on overloaded infrastructures of human settlement, the on-going refugee crisis still happening in 2039 but to larger dimensions and… love.

 

The Kitty AI is ‘running our lives, controlling all the systems it learns for us’, providing us with a politician-free zone and states that it ‘can love up to three million people at the time’ and that it ‘cares and cares about you’. Kitty AI has evolved and possesses the capacity to fulfil our most base desires and needs – solutions to problems in which human are intrinsically the cause of. Kitty AI  is a perfect example when taking into consideration Paul Virilio’s theory in his book A Landscape of Events, stating:

And so we went from the metempsychosis of the evolutionary monkey to the embodiment of a human mind in an android; why not move on after that to those evolving machines whose rituals could be jolted into action by their own energy potential. ­– Paul Virilio in his book A Landscape of Events

Virilio doesn’t necessarily condemn the evolution of AIs; humans had the equal opportunity to progress throughout the years. Instead his concerns rise from worries that this evolution is unpredictably diminishing human agency. The starting stage for this loss of agency would be the fabrication of algorithms having the ability to speculate possible scenarios or futures. Such is the work of Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska titled Predictive Art Bot. Almost nonsensical and increasingly witty, the Predictive Art Robot borrows headlines from global market developments, purchasing behaviour, phrases from websites containing articles about digital art and hacktivism, and sometimes even crimes to create its own hypothetical, yet conceivable, storyboards. The interchange of concepts rangings from economics, to ecologies, to art, transhumanism and even medicine, pertain subjects like ‘tactical self-driving cars’ and ‘radical pranks’ for disruption and ‘political drones’ and even ‘hardcore websites perverting the female entity’.

To a certain degree, both Kitty AI and Art Predictive Bot could be seen as radical statements regarding the future of human agency, particularly in politics. There is always an underline danger regarding fading human agency and its importance for both these works and imagined scenarios – particularly when taking into consideration Sascha Pohflepp’s Recursion.

Recursion, acted by Erika Ostrander,is an attempt by an AI to speak about human ideas coming from Wikipedia, songs by The Beatles and Joni Mitchell, and even philosophy by Hegel, regarding ‘self-consciousness’, ‘sexual consciousness’, the ‘good form of the economy’, and ‘the reality of social contract’. Ostrander’s performance of the piece is almost uncanny to how we might expect AIs to understand and read through language regarding these subjects. The AI has been programmed to compose a text from these readings starting with the word ‘human’ – the result is a computer which passes a Turing test, almost mimetic of what in its own eyes is considered an ‘other’ in which we can understand that simulacra gains dialectal power as the slippage becomes mutual. Simultaneously, these words are performed by a seemingly human entity, posing the question of have we been aliens within all along without self-conscious awareness?

Throughout alien matter it becomes gradually apparent that the reason why AIs are problematic to agency is because of their ability to imitate or even be connected to a natural entity. In Ignas Krunglevičius’ video, Hard Body Trade, we are encapsulated by panoramic landscapes of mountains complimented by soothing chords and a dynamic sub-bass as a soundtrack. The AI speaks over it ‘we are sending you a message in real time’ for us to be afraid, as they are ‘the brand new’ and ‘wear masks just like you’ implying they now emulate human personas. The time-lapse continues and the AI echoes, ‘we are replacing things with math while your ideas and building in your body like fat’ – are humans reaching a point of finitude in a landscape whereby everything moves much faster than ourselves?

Arn’s potential resolution might be to foster environments of participation and understanding, as with the inclusion of Johannes Paul Raether’s Protektor.x.x. 5.5.5.1.pcp. Raether’s project is a participatory narrative following the daily structures of the WorldWideWitches and tells the story of an Apple Store ‘infiltration’ which took place on the 9th of July 2016 in Berlin. The performance itself was part of the Cycle Music and Art Festival and was falsely depicted by the media as scandalous; the Berliner Post called it ‘outrageous’. The performance featured Raether, wearing alien attire walking into the Store and allowing gallium to swim on the table. Gallium, as a substance is completely harmless substances to human beings, but if it touches aluminium the gallium liquid metal can completely dissolve the aluminium.

The installation is a means of communicating not only the narrative of the World Wide Witches, but to uncover the fixation that humans have with material metal objects such as iPhones. The installation itself is interactive and quite often engaged a big crowd around it, all curious to see what it was. It was placed on a table covered in a imitated form of gallium spread over cracked screens and pipes which held audio ports for the audience to listen to the WorldWideWitches story. Raether’s work, much like the exhibition as a whole, is immersive, engaging and participatory.

The exhibition precisely depicts alien matter in all its various and potential manifestations. The space, with all its constant flooding of sounds, echoes and reverbations, simulates an environment whereby the works foster intimacy not only with transmediale, but also with its audience. Indeed, Arns with a beautiful touch of curation, has fruitfully brought together the work of these gifted artists fostering an environment that is as much entertaining as it is contemplative. You can read more about Arns’ curatorial process and thoughts on alien matter  through her recent interview with Furtherfield.

alien matter is on display until the 5th of March, in conjunction with the closing weekend of trasmediale. Don’t snooze on the last chance to see it!

All images are courtesy of Luca Girardini, 2017 (CC NC-SA 4.0) 


One & Other: the Everyday Duality of the Self in Contemporary Culture

“It is highly unlikely that we, who can know, determine, and define the natural essences of all things surrounding us, which we are not, should ever be able to do the same for ourselves – this would be like jumping over our own shadows.” – Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

One & Other, part of the Zabludowicz Collection’s annual Testing Ground Project, is a curatorial collaboration between MA Curating students from Chelsea College of Arts and CASS, London Metropolitan University. The show holds together works by Ed Atkins, David Blandy, Cécile B. Evans, Leo Gabin, Isa Genzken, Rashid Johnson, Tim Noble, Sue Webster, Ferhat Ozgur, Jon Rafman, Ugo Rondinone, Amalia Ulman, Ulla Von Brandenburg and Gillian Wearing.

The exhibition threads the simultaneously disturbing yet beautiful dualities between the simulated daily persona humans perform and, as Atkins’ work states, ‘actual’ human presence – the distinction between real and the Other.

Walking into the main area of the late 19th century former Methodist Chapel, Atkins’ work echoes through the two-storey building in an authoritative manner, “read my teeth, read my lips, listen, listen, you don’t know how to listen”.

Situated on the ground floor of the space, No one is more WORK than me (2014) appears to be a lower grade CGI avatar of Dave, a persona from Atkins’ Ribbons. I will just call him Dave. Dave is glitchy, at times not synced. His desire to bring himself into the perceived physicality is overwhelming as he elaborates on causal harm features making himself more human, ‘it’s blood, it’s blood, there’s a bruise’. All the works within the space, share the same space and thus are always accompanied by the backdrop of Atkins’ voice, repetitively stating ‘this is my actual head’ and describing the features on the figure’s face. Dave’s comments about his ‘actual’ body features shape the ambience and undertones of the show.

Shown on a flat screen placed on the floor, Dave commands the space to his will as the only video work not bearing headphones. Dave sings for us on multiple occasions, specifically performing Bryan Adam’s ‘Everything I Do (I Do It for You)’. At times he becomes almost irrationally frustrated with himself and the audience, tells us to do him ‘a favour’ and ‘fuck off’. His performance – and frustration – are immersive and quite literally frame the entire show around the work’s presence. Cécile B. Evans’ work positioned directly opposite it, corresponds with teeth, although harmoniously to the corporeal visuals provided by Atkins’ work.

Evans, now exhibiting at the Tate Liverpool, has been making outstanding work since I first came across Hyperlinks, or it didn’t happen (2014) at Seventeen Gallery in London. In One & Other, her video, The Brightness (2013), involves the visual three-dimensional participation of the audience as the invigilators provide 3D-glasses. She states ‘I am here because I am plastic’ and ‘I was real then’, whilst a CGI render of pirouetting teeth is shown, dislocated from their place of origin, the mouth.

The teeth, traditionally a sign interpreted from dreams as a symbol of anxiety, are animated, dancing and may be symbolising the unease experienced when becoming something outside of what you are. Evans’ work is placed within close proximity to Atkins’ work, adjusting for a very comfortable relational approach to both pieces in conversation with each other as motifs of personifying the unanimated, the plastic.

Sleeping Mask (2004) is a mask of a human face made out of painted wax. Playing with notions of human disguised as human, Wearing creates a re-enactment of one of the most human physical properties, the face. Sleeping Mask was placed on a plinth, on a slightly elevated podium, with a singular spotlight shining on it like the Genie Lamp in the Cave of Wonders, thus proving that particular notion to be very effective.

Less effective, and regrettably so, one of the weaker curatorial links to the show, was the inclusion of Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections – Do You Follow? (2014). As a scripted online-performance viable and lived through her Instagram account, Ulman appears to be critiquing the vanity of self-indulgent approval on social media. Through creating the persona of an overactive digital self, Ulman’s work comes as no surprise when taking into consideration the wider context of the conceptualisation of One & Other. Having been featured in The Telegraph this time last year, she seems to have grabbed the attention of a more public young audience, themselves feverishly present on social media. Whilst her inclusion is not controversial at all, it more so had the teetering effect of ‘oh, it’s that work by Amalia Ulman’. The decision to include her in the show might be interpreted as making a statement – audience participation within this critique becomes redundant as it is vocalised through the very tool she is critiquing. Nonetheless, the surprising addition of Sue Webster and Tim Noble’s work, Ghastly Arrangements (2002), made up for the aforementioned curatorial paradox.

Placed in a room of their own, the work captivates all attention in the darkness. Ghastly Arrangements is an arrangement of silk and plastic flowers in a ceramic vase with a single spotlight projecting its shadow onto the wall. The work addresses the concept of human duality without using humans as a visual medium, perhaps even addressing it more appropriately because it doesn’t involve humans- it involves shadows. The Other in One & Other, is an entity by which can be projected onto, containing duality. Such is Ghastly Arrangements, as the Other assumes a signifier through the shadow as the self. An object can thus be a more powerful vehicle for thought than representation itself – another point made with Jon Rafman’s choice regarding plinths.

A friend of mine once said that a good plinth signifies art with value, making it the ultimate art object. Rafman’s New Age Demanded (2014) is a series of digital sculptures, scattered on tall mirror coated plinths with self-assured confidence on the wooden stage stairs in the upstairs area. Faceless representations of humans are created through quite uncanny looking textured materiality; smooth marble, dripping resin, copper patina and rough concrete. The non-faces are unidentifiable and the absence of definite characteristics moulds an audience-subjective projection of the Other self. The mirror plinth adds to the dimension of projecting oneself, the performative experience and known duality of the self in contemporary society begging the question of, ‘How many people do we exist as?’

Overall, within such an overwhelmingly impressive structure housing the Zabludowicz Collection, a near-perfect group show can prove very challenging to execute. The architecture of the space, its high ceilings, stage and upper balcony, may interfere with the presentation of the art. In One & Other’s case, it felt as though there was too much going on, conceptually but more importantly spatially. Rafman’s immense installation would have been better suited as an isolated entity in the balcony upstairs, whilst the works of Atkins, Evans, Wearing, Webster and Noble could have also stood their own ground conceptually without any further additions. One & Other felt like it could have done with constraining itself to only one type of self-identifying duality, instead of attempting to assess multiple, and although I love the work of Rashid Johnson, it felt slightly out of place within the space; perhaps less is more.

Whilst this piece of writing is only comprised of personal highlights and observations, One & Other is a show not to be missed, and to inspire fellow young and aspiring curators.In the curatorial team for One & Other were Caterina Avataneo, Ryan Blakeley, Nadine Cordial Settele, Sofía Corrales Akerman, Gaia Giacomelli and Angela Pippo.

On until the 26th of February 2017.

All images by Tim Bowditch, courtesy of the Zabludovicz Collection. 


Choose Your Muse Interview: Carla Gannis

Choose Your Muse is a new series of interviews where Marc Garrett asks emerging and established artists, curators, techies, hacktivists, activists and theorists; practising across the fields of art, technology and social change, how and what has inspired them, personally, artistically and culturally.

Gannis is informed by art history, technology, theory, cinema, video games, and speculative fiction, expressing her ideas through many mediums, including digital painting, animation, 3D printing, drawing, video projection, interactive installation, performance, and net art. However, Gannis’s core fascinations, with the nature(s) and politics of identity, were established during her childhood in North Carolina. She draws inspiration from her Appalachian grandparents singing dark mountain ballads about human frailty, her future-minded father working in computing, and a politicized Southern Belle of a mother wearing elaborate costumes, performing her prismatic female identity.

“I am fascinated by contemporary modes of digital communication, the power (and sometimes the perversity) of popular iconography, and the situation of identity in the blurring contexts of technological virtuality and biological reality. Humor and absurdity are important elements in building my nonlinear narratives, and layers upon layers of history are embedded in even my most future focused works.” Gannis.

We begin…

1. Could you tell us who has inspired you the most in your work and why?

The complete list of people who have inspired me is inordinately long. I’m sharing with you here clusters of some of the “most most” inspiring.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Maya Deren, Lady Ada Lovelace, Mary Wollstencraft – I saw Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Conceiving Ada in the late 90s. It was my first introduction to her work, and

I have been blown away by her prescience ever since. Deren, Lovelace, and Wollstencraft, like Leeson, have all been groundbreaking in their creative, scientific and intellectual contributions to humankind.

Yael Kanarek, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler, Sadie Plant, Jonathan Lethem, Harry Crews and Flannery O’Connor – Artist Yael Kanarek’s “World of Awe” was one of the first net art pieces, through its poetry and world building, to inspire me to transition from painting into a new media arts practice. Piercy and Butler are two favorite authors, and they have both written novels where women travel into the past and to the future to reconcile their identities, to come to terms with their present selves — themes that constantly recur throughout my work. Plant opened up broad vistas to me as a woman and feminist working with technology, and the melange of genres Lethem mashes up in his fictional works: sci fi, noir, autobiography, and fantasy, appeals to my own hybrid sensibilities. Crews and O’Connor testify to the absurdity of the human condition, and being a native of the “American South,” their gothic sensibilities resonate with me deeply.

 Philip Guston, San Clemente, 1975, Oil on canvas, 68 x 73 1/4 inches

Philip Guston, Suzanne Valadon, Artemisia Gentileschi, Louise Bourgeois, Hieronymus Bosch and Giotto di Bondone – I studied painting at a school where Guston had taught (many years before I arrived there), and coincidentally we share the same birthday. I have always felt a very strong connection to his work, particularly to his late work, where he resisted the art establishment and made pictures that he felt truly represented his time. Valadon, an autodidact, likewise bucked the conventions of 19th century “lady painting” focusing on the female nude throughout her oeuvre. Gentilsechi in the 17th Century established herself as an artist who painted historical and mythological paintings, rendering women with more agency and strength than her male contemporaries. Bourgeois’s work, the rawness of her drawings particularly, were quite significant to me as a young artist. Twice I got to attend her Sunday Salons in New York, sharing my work with her. She was a tough critic by the way. Bosch and Giotto have long been favorites, the enigmatic quality of Bosch’s vision, and the amalgam of Medieval and Renaissance perspectives colliding in Giotto’s paintings.

Charlie White, Laurie Simmons, Gregory Crewdson, Renee Cox & Cindy Sherman – I think of these photographers as important conceptual forerunners of a Post-Photography movement that seems to be reaching its apogee now. They were each essential to me as I searched for a new aesthetic language, after throwing away my oil paints and canvases.

And today there are so many younger artists who I have deep respect for, Gretta Louw, Angela Washko, RAFiA Santana, Jeremy Bailey, Lorna Mills, Andrea Crespo, Clement Valla, Faith Holland, Jacolby Satterwhite, Morehshin Allahyari and Alfredo Salazar-Caro (to name only a few). They all have significant presences online, and I encourage readers to “google them” for glimpses into the contemporary visions that are shaping and predicting our future.”

2. How have they influenced your own practice and could you share with us some examples?

In my teens and 20s I copied much of the work of my sheroes and heroes. There is little I can share with you of that work now, as I’d copy then delete back then. To be more accurate, since it was physical work, I’d copy and destroy. I destroyed more work than I saved until I found a way to absorb and remix through the filter of my own identity.

Today I identify as a visual storyteller who cuts and pastes from the threads of googleable art history, speculative fiction and networked communication in efforts to aggregate some kind of meaningful narrative. Appropriation feels like an authentic artistic response to mediated culture, registering at a different conceptual frequency than simple mimicry. I mean making a painting like Giotto or Bosch doesn’t make sense in the 21st century, well, unless you “emojify” it (wink). Here is one recent work where my quotation is obvious, “The Garden of Emoji Delights.” In the other works below, a collection of influences are embedded, but perhaps less perceptible on first glance.

Carla Gannis, The Garden of Emoji Delights, 2014

Carla Gannis, Selfie Drawing 36 Universal Translator, 2015

Carla Gannis, Fable, from the project in collaboration with poet Justin Petropoulos, pen and ink on paper, 2013, 8.5 x 11 inches

 3. How is your work different from your influences and what are the reasons for this?

It is essential that my work be different semiotically from the historical influences I mentioned above, if I am to actually understand the nature and power of their work — how each of them were incredibly perceptive and responsive to “their time.” They produced authentic images or texts (or code) that were assembled from aspects of their cultural milieu. Their expressions were comprehensible to their contemporaries, even if at times only a few of their peers engaged. Communication is key to every human enterprise. Nonetheless the infinite (and often futureminded) perspectives of these historical figures still reverberate in our contemporary collective consciousness and influence us to “perceive differently” in our own time.

To be different from influences who are of my own time also involves comprehending why they have an impact on me. They avoid any kind of creative and intellectual status quo. Being unique seems improbable in the internet age, but there are still innumerable ways that we can creatively parse our relationships to the past, present and future, both in concert and contrast to one another.

4. Is there something you’d like to change in the art world, or in fields of art, technology and social change; if so, what would it be?

There are many art worlds. In the more mainstream, celebrity-dominated, auctioneer enabled art world, whose market I rarely follow, but when I do, I find it to be bloated by One Percenters consumed by commodities trading, I would advocate for, if I had the power to do so, more economic temperance, less aura fetishization, and yeah, VR headsets that provide clothes for hackneyed metaphors.

It’s demoralizing that I cannot foresee, at least in the short term, a world without radical income inequality. Our world continues to be populated by a majority of “have nots” who are dominated by a tiny dominion of “haves.” It seems in every financial, social, educational, and entertainment sector, including the visual arts, capital obstructs as much as it supports creativity. Still I believe that the “other art worlds” can and will affect, actually currently are affecting change (incremental as it may seem), through social advocacy programs that embrace and foster diversity; through economic and technological models that celebrity the ubiquity instead of the scarcity of contemporary digital art; through independent artists who define their success in terms of cultural, instead of, or in addition to market value.

Positive changes are happening. Compare our cultural landscape to even two decades ago, and we see a much more diverse population represented in the arts. A new generation of artists and technologists are hopeful about their capacity to shape a better future, while being mindful of what’s a stake if they do not.

That said, and to finally answer your question directly, I’d like to see a change — a major turn in the tides of fascism, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that are flooding countries around the world — so that the various art worlds, the ones that frustrate me, and the ones that inspire me, can survive.

Faultline :: Watch video: https://vimeo.com/156980152

5. Describe a real-life situation that inspired you and then describe a current idea or art work that has inspired you?

Sitting with and drawing digital portraits of my 99 year old Grandma Pansy Mae in January of 2015 inspired me to begin “The Selfie Drawings” project. Being in the presence of someone who has witnessed so much radical social and cultural change, over the course of almost a century, motivated me to interpret, and then stage a series of reinterpretations of myself/selves, within the context of a post-digital age. Pansy Mae was a woman born before women had the right to vote in the United States, a woman with only an 8th grade education who raised my mother, and myself to never let our gender or our class (personally) deter us from pursuing our ambitions. Grandma is now 101 years old, and I wished her Happy Birthday in binary code this past December 31st.

“Nasty Woman” is a current meme that has really struck a chord with me. I have worn a “Nasty Woman” necklace everyday, since November 7th, (the day I picked it up from the studio of artist Yael Kanarek). Embracing the nomenclature that was meant to denigrate a woman has instead empowered and galvanized a collective of women as they face, and resist, the alarming possibilities of increased subjugation under Trump’s leadership.

I recently participated in the NASTY WOMEN exhibition in New York city, (which raised over $42,000 for Planned Parenthood), because I am such a woman, a nasty woman, a bitch, a Jezebel — a complex and empathetic human being who believes change and equality can only occur when we speak up, when we eschew “politeness” in the face of serious threats to our autonomy and personhood.

6. What’s the best piece of advice you can give to anyone thinking of starting up in the fields of art, technology and social change?

I’ve got a few bits of advice. First, as an artist, work; as a technologist, feel; and as an advocate for social change, empathize. Then toss up your FEW cards (feel, empathize and work) and apply them to other aspects of your life as well.

Secondly I suggest losing, if you possess, the sense of what you think you’re entitled to because you are more special and deserving than others. This doesn’t mean you deny the gifts you possess. Nor does it mean you eschew your ambitions or balk at your successes. Brand yourself, or your cause, by all means, if that informs your practice or generates support for your work. But the “I’m a genius, so I have the right to be licentious, egotistical and completely selfserving at the sacrifice of others” trope may (temporarily) get a man into the White House, but generally is tiresome, if not loathsome, to progressive art professionals.

7. Finally, could you recommend any reading materials or exhibitions past or present that you think would be great for the readers to view, and if so why?

What I’ve been reading lately: Object Oriented Feminism edited by Katherine Behar; Artemisia Gentileschi, The Language of Painting by Jesse Locker; Lynn Hershman Leeson Civic Radar edited by Peter Weibel; Hope in the Dark | Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit; The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I recommend these books as a resistance to sophomoric twitter threads usurping all of your attention.

Exhibitions:
Pipilloti Rist : Pixel Forest New Museum, http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/pipilotti-rist-pixel-fores

It is okay for art to wash over you, so that you can revel, even relax, in its beauty…for a while.

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Monster of the Machine : Laboral
curated by Marc Garrett http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/exposiciones/monsters-of-the-machine

A timely and provocative exhibition (thrilled to have work included).

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Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art 1905-2016
http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/Dreamlands

A landmark show for moving image works!

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Protests:
Women’s March On Washington (Saturday, January 21st!) https://www.womensmarch.com/

…or one of the other 386 protests taking place on the same day around the world!
https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters

#notmypresident

Other Choose Your Muse Interviews on Furtherfield

Choose Your Muse Interview: Jeremy Bailey | By Marc Garrett – 26/06/2015
https://furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-jeremy-bailey

Choose Your Muse Interview: Annie Abrahams | By Marc Garrett – 10/09/2015
https://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-annie-abrahams

Choose Your Muse Interview: Lynn Hershman Leeson | By Marc Garrett – 13/07/2015
https://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-lynn-hershman-leeson

Choose Your Muse Interview: Stanza | By Marc Garrett – 03/11/2015
https://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-stanza

Choose Your Muse Interview: Igor Štromajer | By Marc Garrett – 09/06/2015 https://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-igor-%C5%A1tromajer

Choose Your Muse Interview: Mike Stubbs, Director of Fact in Liverpool, UK | By Marc Garrett – 20/05/2015
http://www.furtherfield.org/features/interviews/choose-your-muse-interview-mike-stubbs-director-fact 


Review: New Tendencies – Art at the Threshold of the Information Revolution (1961-1978)

The book New Tendencies – Art at the Threshold of the Information Revolution (1961-1978) by Armin Medosch presents thorough research into the international New Tendencies movement that was active in the 60s and in the 70s. In his book, Medosch gave contextualisation of New Tendencies movement and framed it in the political, social and cultural context of its time. The New Tendencies movement arose in culmination of high modernism in 60s, with its center in Zagreb, Croatia in former Yugoslavia, a country that was itself a modernistic project of the 20th century. Although semi peripheral in industrial development, the climate of modernism in Yugoslavia influenced art and culture and thus prepared conditions for the country to become a knot in a network of artistic centers of European Fordism like Milan, Munich, Düsseldorf and Paris. One of the first who restored the memory of New Tendencies was Croatian artist and curator Darko Fritz with his research Amnesia International, which transferred the memory of NT to the newer generations of Media Art practitioners.

The New Tendencies movement had momentum in 60s, while in the 70s it shared conceptual art’s crisis of faith in late modernism. In the 80s New Tendencies was almost forgotten. Medosch writes that New Tendencies’ “politics of form” was strongly influenced by its disavowal of the artist as a producer of commodities for the art market”. For the first exhibition in Zagreb artists consciously used inexpensive new materials and new media from mass production, such as punch cards, plastic ribbons, cardboard, and plywood. In the third New Tendencies exhibition in Zagreb in 1965, organizers wanted to create a new synthesis between art and applied art through creation of Multiples, art that was reproducible, but this idea was not received well. They wanted to democratize art and were against the scarcity principle that was deeply embedded in the art system. Although ideas around the demystification of art were not new, there was novelty in “the specific way New Tendencies tried to achieve this — through the formula of art as visual research.” Art was redefined as visual research and mass production and abundance were not considered as negative. Ideas of interactivity, the democratization of art and the participation of the public in New Tendencies exhibitions was sometimes seen as seductive, especially when in the late sixties political movements and counter-culture started to influence the art world and became much explicit in demands for political and social change.

Third New Tendencies exhibition in Zagreb: visitors engage with Rudolf Kämmer’s Drehgrafik (Rotary Graphic) (1964–1965). Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.

The book New Tendencies – Art at the Threshold of the Information Revolution (1961-1978) is valuable material for a non-western centric approach to the history of art (it is worth noting that the histories of computer and digital art are not exempt from western centric historization). Still today, there are many examples of ignorance of what was happening outside North America and Western Europe, despite more and more stories, research and documentation about post-WW2 art. Medosch is not looking for the “Other”, trying to fill the geo-holes in the history of arts, or fixing “colonial guilt”, but he is using New Tendencies as a case study of an art movement that connects early history of art & media with social issues. As secondary it came out that the center of this movement was Zagreb and former Yugoslavia. However, non-intentionally Medosch uncovers the story of soft power of that time in Yugoslavia – an uncovering which proves thought-provoking as a counter to western-centrism.

As Medosch outlines, the Croatian artist and curator Darko Fritz was the first to suggest reading New Tendencies as a network – or rather a network of networks that included group Zero from Germany, the groups N and T from Italy, Equipo 57 from Spain, and Paris-based Group de Recherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV), to name just a few. Also in Zagreb New Tendencies had direct precursors such as EXAT 51 or GORGONA whose members had close ties with the movement.

Frieder Nake, Achsenparalleler Polygonzug, 25/2/65 Nr. 14 (Rectangular Random Polygon 25/2/65 No. 14) (1965): computer-generated drawing, ink on paper, 22.4 × 31.1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb

The formation of groups and networking in New Tendencies is shown to include two processes. The first is standard practice in the history of art: young artists get together in order to strengthen their position in art and the social system. The second also showed renewed trust in common destiny and solidarity, that was corrupted by collective totalitarian experiences and disappeared during and after the WW2. New Tendencies artists are of a generation that renovated belief in social progress, common interest and direct democracy. Therefore some groups like GRAV, Equipo 57, and N experimented with collective authorship, a model that for the market is not easy to deal with. This group ethos was not only present in artistic practice but also in curatorial and organizational practices. The curatorial boards of New Tendencies exhibitions and events engaged in joint decision making, often actively communicating with artists about the content they produced. For example, the small details involved in artists filing “application forms” about themselves and describing their works was a self-managed bureaucratic procedure which developed into more complex research and decision making.

New Tendencies artists embraced Fordist technological innovation; rather than opposing technological acceleration, as most other artists in that time did, they were thinking of a future technological society beyond alienation and oppression. Similar to their “artistic relatives” Situationists, some NT artists used playful elements envisioning post-Fordist conditions where repetitive work was viewed as oppressive. In his book Medosch gave analysis of similarities and differences between these two groups that shared much common ground.

In his book, Medosch emphasized the connection between social analysis and developed a critique of New Tendencies groups and new readings of Marx, particularly those of Operaismo in Italy and Praxis in Yugoslavia. A central element of these new readings was “Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism applied to artwork and its ideological function in the capitalist world.” Medosch’s intent is to minimize the current tendency to re-inscribe movements that developed a half-century ago in favour of investigating theoretical frameworks and political conditions of that time.

In August 1968 in Zagreb a symposium Computers and Visual Research was organized, at the same time as the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition in London. The exhibition in Zagreb, called t-4 (Tendencies – 4) in 1969, that followed the symposium, together with Cybernetic Serendipity, were inaugural moments of international computer art. The symposium Computers and Visual Research marked the line between the first phase of New Tendencies’ analog “programmed art works” (as Umberto Eco defines it in the catalog of the exhibition) and the second phase in which NT embraced art that used computers.

Vjenceslav Richter, Yugoslav Pavilion for World Expo 1958, photograph of model, 1956. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.

Although Medosch’s idea was not to emphasize Yugoslavian context beyond the extent needed for general contextualization of the movement, the very fact that Zagreb had logistical, infrastructural and intellectual capacity to be the center of the movement for almost 2 decades showed certain “properties” of Yugoslavia of that time. For the book’s readers in former Yugoslavian countries, the book brings certain discomfort, since after the Yugoslav wars in the nineties, there is a general tendency to forget the heritage of the Yugoslav modernist project. Also the “eagerness” of activity in Zagreb could be due to the fact that that after the breakup of Yugoslavia’s ties with Stalin in 1948, Zagreb wanted to restore connections with cultural context of what historian Eric Hosbawm called the “main mountain range or crest of European economic and cultural dynamism”, an area that encompasses Paris, the Rhine valley, north Italy, south Germany and Switzerland.

First New Tendencies exhibition, 1961. Exhibition view: b 256 and b 36 by Paul Talman (1961; floor and wall); Julio Le Parc, Probabilité Du Noir Égal Au Blanc N° 4 (Probability of Black Being Equal to White No. 4) (1961), wall, right side. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb; copyright © Bildrecht.

First New Tendencies exhibition, 1961. Exhibition view: b 256 and b 36 by Paul Talman (1961; floor and wall); Julio Le Parc, Probabilité Du Noir Égal Au Blanc N° 4 (Probability of Black Being Equal to White No. 4) (1961), wall, right side. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb; copyright © Bildrecht.

In a way similar to New Tendencies in 60’s and 70’s, Media Art (a generic term that covers new media art, net.art, net cultures, digital art, in the end 90’s and beginning of 2000) experienced a “specific” relationship with the mainstream art system. The first thing that connects both New Tendencies and later Media Art is reluctance to be incorporated into contemporary art system. This uneasiness has fuelled recent debates, which range from considering that Media Art is the part of contemporary art system to opinions that Media Art is a completely different category. This relationship has similarities with that of the New Tendencies movement in relation to the contemporary art system half a century ago. The other is something that is unfolding in front of our eyes, a kind of new Amnesia International 2.0, an amnesia that is slowly covering memories of media art and culture of 90’s and early 2000.

Armin Medosch’s book makes a structural connection between early media art and culture and the media art of the 90s and early 2000s. Concepts of sharing, critique of the commodification of art object, the de-elitization and democratization of art, demystification of art, the embracing of discussion of pluralistic techno-political impacts of technology; these are common denominators that connect art at the threshold of Information Revolution with art of late Informationalism in the late 20th and early 21st Century.


That Ends That Matter – An Installation by Jean-Paul Kelly

The Delfina Foundation selected Jean-Paul Kelly to undertake a residency in winter 2015. During his residency, Kelly regularly attended the City of London Magistrate’s court in Central London as a visitor. For eight weeks, he observed the routine events and procedures that took place in the courtroom. The UK’s Criminal Justice Act prohibits any form of documentation within the courtroom, whether it be a sketch or a recording, and only allows illustrators to take notes, most likely in the quick and loose form of stenography.

The absence and overall restriction of documentation within a courtroom (and beyond) leads to the fairly obvious skewing of narrative events. Kelly, who works with found photographs, videos and sounds originating from documentaries, photojournalism and online media streams, realised that the particular restriction was advantageous to the concept and the production of his new work, That Ends That Matter. For him, lack of evidence or documentation of a specific event elucidates a direct relationship between physical materiality and subjective perception of each individual.

Such situations, in which evidence is lacking, fabricate image representations based on a very unreliable form of intangible reflection and recollection as both shared and personal memories. In our day and age, information is as effortlessly accessible as the Evening Standard on the Underground. However, within the courtroom, a place of supposed honesty and acknowledged transparency, the lack of documentation is paradoxical and challenges the sovereignty of such proceedings. That Ends That Matter is an eight-minute, three-channel video acting as a subjective reproduction of the events Kelly witnessed at court. One video re-enacts the court proceedings, another shows a constant photographic image stream as a retelling of the events and the remaining video acts as a visual soundtrack animation made out of geometric shapes.

Initially walking underground into Delfina’s bunker exhibition space, the viewer is confronted by the loud noise coming from the visual animation. To the left of the space, two screens are paired together – the image stream with the animation – and to the right of the space, the re-enactment stands alone. Encountering three screens, viewers may feel bewildered as to how to view the work, however, after a bit of floating, it becomes quite apparent that viewing order doesn’t really matter as each visitor finds their own. Some focus solely on the paired screens, others on the lone screen, and some sit against the wall and view the two screens (image stream and re-enactment) of the two spaces from the side together.

The re-enactment screen video begins, and a soothing female voice sets the tone for the three-channel video:

‘Excuse me, are you appearing before us today? No? Alright, so you’re here as an observer then? Okay, thank you. Welcome… Now we’re going to switch on some noise so we can discuss the matters properly.’

White noise immediately becomes a means of blocking transparent communication, in turn emphasizing the notion of skewing memory and representation of factual information. The re-enactment is played around a table, whereby the actors appear to be waiting around, lingering and passing the time. Although the scene is filled with white noise, none of the participants are talking to each other and there is a particularly eerie focus on an old man who keeps caressing the table with his finger – he soon looks up at us. The environment itself is immersive; the longer the viewer stays with them and observes, the more explicitly the viewer’s presence is felt by the actors. Presence is noticed and through direct and uncomfortable staring at the viewer, it is implied that the viewer’s observation is not wanted. The viewer is thus inclined to move to the left space and look at the other two screens.

Kelly uses a series of motifs and shapes interacting with the tactility of the artist’s finger or palm in order to establish image representation. When the visual animation screen shows a circle and emits noise, the image-stream presents a finger hiding a specific aspect of the photograph. When it is a square or a rectangle, it is usually a palm that hides a part of the photograph. Tactility in an immovable image stream represents an abstraction towards the idea of transparency. The artist’s hands touch, caress, hide, rub, caress and thus at times become overtly sexual when corresponded with homoerotic images – the hole becomes a motif frequently expended. The motifs of tactility cover people’s faces, acts of violence found in protests, and various scenes of despair. Here, tactility not only acts as a way of forming a temporal moment of surrealism, but also as a method by which one can learn how to connect to the images one sees, much like children touching things for the first time. The white noise itself, from being disturbing becomes soothing and harmonious with all three screens.

Smoke acts as another motif in images the viewer is shown. In a photograph where protesters are suffocated by teargas, the solution to the pain is pouring milk over your face, another act of blindness. Smoke becomes recurrent, and in the final frames of both the image-stream screen and the re-enactment screen, smoke presents itself with vigour. Smoke appears in the court of the re-enactment screen, and simultaneously, the sound stops altogether as the figures disappear in the haze.

That Ends That Matter’s representational strategy is based solely on memory and subjectivity as its response, much like the creation of human memories. To a certain degree, Kelly’s work embodies apophenia, a way of drawing connections and conclusions from sources that have no direct correlation other than their lasting perceptions – a spontaneous connection. It’s about communicating signs and non-objective matter, behaving in a way that strives to avoid both nostalgia and emotionlessness in order to question indexical notions of ethics in matters of transparency. Kelly may be asking, is abstraction fairer?

All images by Tim Bowditch, courtesy of Delfina Foundation.


HFT The Gardener: A Network of Financial Trading, Drugs and Botany

At first glance networks and the practice of drawing would seem to be worlds apart. However, the diagram, originally a hand-drawn symbolic form, has long been employed by science as a means of visualising and explaining concepts. Perhaps the most important of these concepts is that of relationships visualised as circles and lines that represent nodes and links or effectively what is related.  As such networks, that is groupings of relationships, have come to be visualised through the use of the same styles and iconography employed in diagrams. For artists to reclaim the diagram as a part of their own practice and thereby adopt the practice of visualising networks developed within science sees the practice of creating diagrams in a sense come full circle. Artists have time and time again drawn diagrams and networks that explore relationships. For example: Josef Beuys famously used blackboard diagrams as part of his teaching performances concerning art and politics; Stephen Willats has since the 1960s developed drawn diagrammatic works that explore his socially formed practice; Mark Lombardi drew societies’ networks of power relations throughout the 1990s; Torgeir Husevaag has since the late 1990s drawn diagrams of a number of networks within which he participated while Emma McNally draws diagrammatic networks “bringing different spaces into relation [such as] the virtual world, the networked world and the supposedly real world” (Hayward, 2014).

HFT The Gardener/Diagrams/Key Diagram, 2014-2015. Annely Juda Fine Art

The work of Suzanne Treister resides within this category of artist’s drawing, and in this instance also painting, networks. With a background in painting Treister works across video, the internet, interactive technologies, photography, drawing and watercolour painting (Treister, n.d.). Her work employs “eccentric narratives and unconventional bodies of research to reveal structures that bind power, identity and knowledge” (ibid) within contemporary contexts. As a result of this process of revealing structures, essentially the relationships within the subject matter she addresses and the resulting networks they form, her practice has since the 1990s been closely allied with art that employs or explores technology. She has been repeatedly included in exhibitions and publications that link her work with networks, cybernetics, new media and most recently Post-Internet Art (Flanagan and Booth, 2002; Pickering, 2012; Larsen, 2014; Warde-Aldam, 2014).

HFT the Gardener (2014-15), a recent solo exhibition by Treister at Annely Juda Fine Art in London, is a body of artworks consisting of drawings, paintings, photographs and digital prints supposedly created by a fictional character and a documentary video about the same character. The character, Hillel Fischer Traumberg, is an algorithmic high-frequency trader (HFT) within the London Stock Exchange. After an optically induced semi-hallucinogenic state, Traumberg experiments with psychoactive drugs in order to recreate and further the experience (Treister, 2015). Along the way Traumberg becomes fascinated with botany, experiments with the molecular formulae of drugs as trading algorithms, makes links between the numerological equivalents of plants’ botanical names and the FT Global 500 index, visually documenting all of his research and ultimately becoming an ‘outsider’ artist (ibid). In the process Traumberg transitions from an insider of one network, a trader within the stock exchange, to that of an outsider in another, the contemporary art world.

Outsider Artworks detail, Cannabis sativa (Marajuana) – Susan Treister. Image by Garrett Lynch

Outsider Artworks detail, Coleus blumei (El Nene) – Susan Treister

This juxtaposition of opposites is repeated throughout the exhibition. For example, the drawings and paintings of HFT the Gardener employ illustrations of networks containing nodes and links. These illustrate a number of different sets of relationships that are established by the artist. These include: that of the central character to his concepts, research and environment; the locations where drugs were taken; states of consciousness; the components of an algorithm; different companies within a sector and different aspects of the universe including life and art. Additionally a variety of diagrammatic forms are co-opted in the creation of the drawings and paintings including the Judaic Kabbalah Tree of Life, radial diagrams, flowcharts similar to those used in software design and reference is made to a number of other abstracted forms including star charts, snow crystals, fractals and paisley design. Through both form and subject matter the illustrations of networks and the diagrams gather together combinations of opposites. There is of course the use of what can be considered traditional media to illustrate new media forms, however among others there are also the opposites of painting and software, science and art, corporate and counter-culture, belief and fact, fiction and reality.

To coincide with the creation of the artwork a book of the same name has been published. In the foreword Erik Davis states that there is an “initial shock of Treister’s juxtaposition of esoterica and the financial sector” (2016). The same could be said of the numerous other juxtapositions that occur within HFT the Gardener. However, are Treister’s, or is it Traumberg’s, combinations really contrasts that shock? Treister does more than simply juxtapose opposites. The artist effectively synthesises them into a whole that is indicative of our networked era where individuals routinely select, cut, paste and combine combinations ad-hoc to suit a moment or context. HFT the Gardener is an artwork that could only be created in this era of networks and as such it cannot be considered shocking or out of context with the eclectic recombinatory society that surrounds it.

Trading Algorithm using Molecular Formulae of 10 Alkaloids to return feedback on Holographic Dimensions of Consciousness. Susan Treister. Image: Garrett Lynch

Not only are drawn diagrams and networks employed extensively throughout the exhibition in a number of ways but a network-like structure is also employed to arrange the artworks within the space of the gallery. Initially on entering the gallery space it seems as if artworks are arranged in no particular order. However it gradually becomes clear that this arrangement is purposefully obliging the visitor to enter into and move through the space as if it were a network; that is entering at any point and navigated in any order. While some series of artworks within HFT the Gardener, such as the Botanical prints, maintain an order to illustrate the ranking of companies employed in their creation, the majority of artworks are experienced out of the order they have been created and the documentary video about Traumberg, presumably from Treister’s perspective, is encountered at the midpoint of the exhibition. As such the artworks are presented as if they are interconnected nodes in a network.

Botanical Prints. Susan Treister at Annely Juda. Image: Garrett Lynch

As a result of the diagrams, illustrations of networks, juxtaposed combinations of subject matter and a network-like structure in arranging the artworks within the exhibition Treister successfully manages to make one last combination of opposites, that of non-linearity of experience and linearity of narrative. In doing so the visitor experiences the juxtapositions, combinations and resulting networks formed by Traumberg’s hallucinatory non-linear associations and yet manages to steadily interpret the detailed narrative carefully constructed by the artist. It is in this last combination where the strength of Treister’s exhibition lies as it not only reflects society at large but also suggests that art is and perhaps always has been, a non-linear networked experience that is only now coming into its own.

An exhibition catalogue of HFT The Gardener is available through ISSUU (https://issuu.com/annelyjuda/docs/treister_cat) and a fully illustrated book of the same name is available from Black Dog Publishing, London.

HFT The Gardener will continue to tour throughout 2017 at the following venues. Please see the artist’s website for exhibition updates.

22/10/2016 – 05/03/2017
Selected works from HFT The Gardener exhibited in The World Without Us
Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV),
Dortmund, Germany.

07/01/2017 – 18/02/2017
HFT The Gardener
diagrams exhibited in Underlying system is not known
Western Exhibitions, Chicago, USA.

03/02/2017 – 05/03/2017
Selected works from HFT The Gardener exhibited in Alien Ecologies
Transmediale 2017
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany.

References

Davis, E., (2016). Foreword. In: S. Treister, 2016. HFT The Gardener. London: Black Dog Publishing.

Flanagan, M. and Booth, A., (2002). Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Hayward Gallery, (2014). Emma McNally – Artist Insight // MIRRORCITY. [online] Vimeo. Available at: [Accessed 19th November 2016].

Larson, L. B., (2014). Networks: Documents of Contemporary Art. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Pickering, A., (2012). Cybernetic Magic. [online] Mute. Available at: [Accessed 19th November 2016].

Treister, S., (n.d.). Suzanne Treister – bio/info. [online] suzannetreister.net. Available at: [Accessed 19th November 2016].

Treister, S., (2014-15). HFT The Gardener. [mixed media]. Annely Juda Fine Art, London [Viewed 26th October 2016].

Treister, S., (2015). Suzanne Treister 2014-15 HFT The Gardener. [online] suzannetreister.net. Available at: [Accessed 19th November 2016].

Warde-Aldam, D., (2014). Post-Surveillance: Suzanne Treister’s riposte to ‘Post-Internet’ art . [online] Apollo. Available at: [Accessed 19th November 2016].


Data Asymmetries // Part 2 : An Interview with Jussi Parikka

In the second part of this two-part interview series Carleigh Morgan interviews Jussi Parikka about Burak Arikan’s work, discussing the way data and networks condition and construct the way we view and interact with the world. The first part of the series, an interview with Burak Arikan, can be read here.

Burak Arikan is one of Turkey’s leading media artists. Through his practice he maps relations of power and invisible infrastructures using network mapping tools. Arikan’s Graph Commons, an online network mapping tool, is an open platform for the creation of networks that encourages its users to explore the functional limits of network architectures as a mechanism for storytelling, data visualization, and modelling our contemporary moment, from graphing financial microtransactions to mapping superstructures splayed across a continent.

Arikan’s most recent body of work, Data Asymmetry, was hosted at the Winchester School of Art from November 10-24, 2016. The exhibition was curated by new media theorist Jussi Parikka (Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics at Winchester School of Art) who comments on the themes, provocations, and challenges that this show invites its audience to consider.

Burak Arikan at Winchester Art Gallery

CM: In your essay New Materialism as Media Theory, you conclude: “I propose a multiplicity of materialisms, and the task of new materialism is to address how to think materialisms in a multiplicity in such a methodological way that enables a grounded analysis of contemporary culture. Such methodologies and vocabularies need to be able to talk not only of objects, but also as much about nonsolids and the processual…so we can understand what might be the specificity of this brand of materialism that we encounter (but do not always perceive) in contemporary media culture.”

Are network visualizations like those in Burak Arikan’s art practice—for example, Islam Republic Neoliberalism, which organises data collected about the urban infrastructure—one way to capture the materialism that “we encounter but do not always perceive”? Are networks as a vocabulary sufficient to do this, and are these limitations to Burak’s methodologies that alert us to this kind of multiplicity of materialisms that cannot conform to the network graph?

JP: The network is one form of seeing the world; it gives one form to things we might sense around us as intuitively present even when we are not sure how to express that. The network is not necessarily an end in itself but one particular frame through which to map things – such as urban transformations, architectures as they pertain to our lived experience – and allows you to put yourself on that map. I don’t see networks as an overarching ontology but as a methodological entry to those relations that then scale on other levels too: experiences, narratives, etc. What’s interesting is how Burak’s work plays out this network relationality not only as a visual reality to be looked at, but as a collective form of doing: how to build a network through workshops, or how to express things that we feel crucial to our existence, especially in some of the more politically oriented activist works.

CM: Networking mapping seems to cover a range of modes: cultural epitome, critical methodology, data visualisation tool, a kind mediation narrative etc. Is there a danger to the multiplicities and modalities of representation that networks capture, namely a danger of being misused or misunderstood?

JP: I remember earlier discussions with Benjamin Bratton where we discussed “big data apophenia”: a particular sort of disorder that is conditioned by data: namely, to see relations and to establish them, even if they are not necessarily as real as one can infer from data. The same thing pertains to network methods: you could use it as a pataphysical tool as well to create imaginary worlds of relations, to offer causalities across logical relations, and to create as such a speculative alternative world. Oddly enough, this is exactly something that speaks to the now hot topic of “post truth politics”: how to manipulate and cater data and “information” in ways that becomes effective whether true or not. We are in any case talking of such methods than can be mobilized for multiple uses.

Burak Arikan at Winchester Art Gallery

CM: “To produce maps is a method of mapping power, addressing by visual means the asymmetry that defines our situation. Not only asking where we are, but inquiring: where is our data and who owns your data trail? This exhibition maps the shift from information asymmetry to data asymmetry, where aggregation of data is where contemporary power lies.”

Do you see network mapping as inherently emancipatory? Is the need to orient oneself via networking mapping also an exercise in self-reflexive targeting, one that uses modes of surveillance and data capture in an attempt to evade those same modes of capture executed at the level of the corporate-state nexus–is this a contradiction and a risk worth taking in order to achieve an orientation within our own data?

JP: It’s a great point—and demonstrates the paradoxes in this sort of activist work. It’s pretty much a necessity to engage head on and inside such techniques to understand their work: the critical distance often required in institutional or political critique is not really sufficient if we want to understand data culture. We need to be able to work inside such techniques and data, also institutions, in order to be able to shift, transform and manipulate those tools to other ends.

CM: Any other comments on the Furtherfield show and Burak’s body of work?

JP: For us it was a really pleasurable opportunity to bring an internationally known artist’s work to Winchester Gallery, and exhibit work that is at that interesting triangle of activism, contemporary media arts and issues that we discuss in media and network studies. Hence while the exhibition was on in the gallery, we also wanted to expand it into other forms of work that build on our earlier collaborations, like at transmediale where we also had Burak as our guest. We also introduced his work into workshops we organised in Winchester and London. It’s this sort of dynamic exchange that also make his works alive: his practice does not merely look at maps and visual relations of data, but also engages, understands, and uses them.

Burak’s visit was part of our AHRC funded project Internet of Cultural Things but also our new research group, or office “AMT”: Archaeologies of Media and Technology.

Burak Arikan’s most recent body of work, Data Asymmetries, was hosted at the Winchester School of Art from November 10-24, 2016. His network mapping tool, Graph Commons, is viewable here.

*Inline image photo credits: Olcay Öztürk


Data Asymmetries: An Interview with Burak Arikan

Burak Arikan is one of Turkey’s leading media artists, a figure who straddles the lines between technologist and practitioner. He explores relations between data and transactions, the regimes of datafication and identification as control, and maps relations of power and invisible infrastructures with network mapping tools. According to new media theorist Jussi Parikka, Burak’s pieces “raise questions of the predictability of ordinary human behavior with MyPocket(2008); reveal insights into the infrastructure of megacities like Istanbul as a network of mosques, republican monuments and shopping malls (Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism, 2012); remap and organise recurring patterns in the official tourism commercials of governments with Monovacation (2012); explore the growth of networks via visual and kinetic abstraction with Tense (2007-2012); and showcase collective production of network maps from the Graph Commons platform.”

Burak’s creation of the Graph Commons, an online network mapping tool, is an open platform for the creation of networks that encourages its users to explore the functional limits of network architectures as a mechanism for storytelling, data visualization, and modelling our contemporary moment, from graphing financial microtransactions to mapping superstructures splayed across a continent.

Burak Arikan’s most recent body of work, Data Asymmetry, was hosted at the Winchester School of Art from November 10-24, 2016. His network mapping tool, Graph Commons, is viewable here.

In the first of this two part interview series, Carleigh Morgan speaks to Burak Arikan about his practice. In the second part of the series Morgan interviews Jussi Parikka about Arikan’s work and the way data and networks condition and build the way we view and interact within the world.

From burak-arikan.com - Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism From burak-arikan.com: Detail from Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism

CM: The aim of the Graph Commons is to “empower people and projects through using network mapping, and collectively experiment with mapping as an ongoing practice.” But every visualising methodology has its hermeneutical blindspots and invisible shortcomings.

With those boundary constraints and affordances in mind: What are networks in art, and how are they are extensions of or departures from the networks that they attempt to depict?

BA: I use network as a map vs network as an event separately in my work.

Network as a map is simply using dots and lines to represent observed or measured relationships in order to explore the structures of rather complex systems in life. For example, I am interested in revealing the institutionalization without walls in the world of art, so I look at relationships of artists exhibiting together with other artists, art institutions related by the artists they show, influence of collector-artist relations etc. Such network mapping reveals central actors, indirect connections, organic clusters, structural holes, bridging actors, outliers etc. Network mapping provides a view of such qualities about that particular art world that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

A network map is both a visual and a mathematical language, that you can visually follow dots and lines with your eyes, as well as apply calculations on this data diagram. When you simply record and measure activities as data points, then you can link them to generate more insight and value from the linked whole than the sum of its parts. This is typical data linking method is commonly employed in security, marketing, finance, and social media industries by governments and corporations. One position I have in my art is to use such data mapping and analysis capacity on power relationships, mapping the ones who are mapping us. No need to say, my work is not necessarily about the internet of art things, but I’ve been interested in revealing the relations at scale in variety of fields ranging from juridical systems to cinematic languages.

Network as an event is a living substrate, it is people hanging out together, machines transmitting data packages, neurons firing signals, online platforms for social networking, physical ecosystems of humans and animals where widespread infectious disease can occur. These are physical, digital, hybrid living and multilayered systems maintained by diverse interactions between independent agents, where their small interactions governed by certain protocols together constitute an ever changing larger whole. Building a living network, or network as an event is another line of effort I’ve been pursuing in my work. For example, in 2007 I’ve built Meta-Markets, an experimental online stock market for trading social media profiles, where users did IPO (Initial Public Offering) their profiles and traded with others, with a goal to evaluate the value of a social media profile, the information you cannot get from the service provider company. It ran for 2 years and a community of members formed a dynamic trade network among a couple of thousand social media profiles.

CM: What types of agencies do network maps engender their makers with, and what kinds of constraints to they bring to bear on their creators? As an artist who works with the form of networks, have you witnessed a formal re-alignment of your thinking to reflect these structures? Through ongoing interrogations with and construction of networks as an aesthetic model, would you consider yourself more alert to the networks that condition our contemporary moment?

BA: As with any research, network maps are subjective too. Because by just measuring a reality you claim a subjective position. Thus, data points are always generated, rather than collected. Furthermore, network diagrams are usually totalizing and contemplative. As McKenzie Wark writes criticizing Frederic Jameson’s cognitive mapping: network maps freeze into a contemplative totality that prescribes an ideal form of action that never comes.

My network mapping work starts with raising new questions on critical relations that scale. Then I conduct research to generate data about a “particular world”, which enables many stories, interpretations, and use cases.

As a response to the lack of the “dialectical” in the frozen totality of static diagrams, I started using algorithmic interfaces in my installations. Such interactive network maps let you touch and change the positions of the dots on a map, yet browse the names without losing their relationality to each other as the software simulation continuously organizes the network layout. This way, normally invisible relations not just become visible, but also touchable, which enables us to effectively explore the chain of influences and relationality at scale. Touching the nodes also displays information cards, where you can get richer information about individual data points. By using an algorithmic interface you navigate back and forth between an abstract large picture and concrete juicy details of a complex issue. I think such encounters help the viewer to effectively interrogate the particular issue at hand and develop better insight. This aesthetic and pedagogical experience of interactive cartography is very different from a static diagram, that still lacks criticism.

CM: There’s a resounding common thread in your work [the mapping of the urban infrastructure of Istanbul in terms of its mosques, malls and national monuments in Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism demonstrates this clearly] that seeks to articulate the imbricated matrices of politics, art, and the practices of everyday life that are often not apprehensible to the individual occupied with the attention-consuming projects of being and living.

How does your work position the actor within the network, and what kinds of political commitments do you see expressed from your position as the authoritative designer/person who captures these networks in artistic form?

BA: Since a network map provides a world rather than a story and is thus a nonlinear medium, there is no flow of introduction, development, and finalization, neither a single story. So you start exploring a network map from a “you are here” point, a familiar name or an interesting image, which may be different for every other viewer. Then you do an unplanned journey through a topology of connected information points, navigate from one connection to another. You experience a traversal, a situationist dérive on a data network.

In my workshops and lectures I tell people not to use network mapping against themselves. Network mapping is a powerful tool, it makes structures transparent. Keep the maps about yourself to yourself. Turn it around and map the ones who map you.

In fact, when you click on a follow button, swipe a metrocard, or use your credit card your data is being captured and mapped by data-driven oligarchies. Obviously, this is not just a concern of privacy violation, in this day and age, data capturing is about ownership and control, thus capital and power.

CM: MyPocket generates data from bank transactions, Monovacation from tourism commercials, Islam Republic Neoliberalism organises data collected about the urban infrastructure, Tense Series generates semi-random numbers and uses it as data.

How does your work foreground how data–as algorithmic material that exists at the level of computation, below the thresholds of human apprehension– conditions and structures the world we live in?

BA: Data about us, metadata, make our everyday behaviour more predictable. No one wants to live such a boring predictable life. In MyPocket (2008), by predicting and publishing what I will buy every other day, I demonstrated how easy it is to algorithmically predict our mundane behavior. With this work, in a way I sacrificed myself by making my data no more exclusive to a bank but available to anyone else, so that you can start thinking what corporations can predict about yourself and what it might mean to you.

By turning data around, we can reveal systematic yet invisible power structures. For example in 2012, I mapped a network of Istanbul’s 3000 mosques based on their overlapping call to prayer sounds. Most people living in Istanbul are born into this and take it for granted. However, the mosque network constitutes a subtle power structure, which became quite apparent to many as the government used this network to make calls to city squares in the days following the coup d’etat attempt on July 15th, 2016.

In most of my mapping work, I simply investigate data about one critical relation that connects many agents and constitutes more power as it scales. When completed, a data network is formed and I put that particular world to use.

From burak-arikan.com: Transactions Graph developed to forecast future purchases of the artist

CM: MyPocket discloses your personal financial records to the internet public by exploring essential patterns in your transactions and deploying software to analyse those transactions. The software, which predicts future spending, sometimes determines your future spending choices. Mark B Hansen calls this a “feed-forward” relationship—one where statistical forecasting, future prediction, and probability calculation can code user behaviour “ahead of time,” framing the future-oriented choices of a subject.

What is an example of a consumer choice you’ve exercised that you were directly influenced to make by this software prediction? Did knowing that your personal financial data was being tracked impact your financial management or change your spending behaviors at all?

BA: MyPocket software was able to successfully predict when and where am I going to buy coffee. It predicts ordinary futures. Our lives have such repetitive patterns, which are not so hard to guess right for a supervised algorithm. With MyPocket, I put myself in an experiment of living under excessive forecast about my everyday purchasing behavior. Would I change my habits, would I abide by the predictions, would I care, would I notice, would I ignore? All of these applied at various stages as I lived with this software system for 2 years.

Today, protecting your privacy is akin to quitting smoking or exercising a vegan lifestyle. Changing habits is clearly hard, but once it starts rolling, it causes a big positive change. I believe, in a society of control that monitors, simulates and pre-mediates individual identities in relation to their data trails, behavioural dissidence is superior to reactionary resistance.

CM: You are an artist and technologist. Does one of these identities emerge more frequently in your work? Did your programming skills drive you to explore the aesthetic possibilities of networking mapping? Was there a sequential logic to your artwork as a secondary and subsequent extension of your work in the computational sphere? How do you situate your artistic practice—one that is reliant on a high degree of technological literacy—to the tools of computer technologies?

BA: My art making is a subjective exploration raising questions, whereas my tool making always wants to be objective, tapping an issue with a solution. I practice them in parallel and they feed each other. Making tools helps me examine all kinds of infrastructures closely thus provides lenses for new questions in my artwork. Artistic inquiries help me change my beliefs about the world.

In the first class of an introduction to computer programming course at MIT, students are told that programming is unrelated to computers in a way that geometry is unrelated to geography. Mastering programming takes years. In fact, in my very early work, technology and algorithms had authority on the outcome, whereas later works have been freed from technological capacities.

BA: Do you find that the procedures for mapping with non-digital tools change your artistic strategies and the types of networks you produce? In a similar vein, is the medium of Graph Commons as a digital interface important to the co-collaborative possibilities that this online platform enables? Would you describe the network mapping that Graph Commons enables as an act that is inherently political, or aligned with activist models of representation?

BA: I always start modeling an idea by sketching on a paper, by discussing with people, by taking notes here and there. It is often a contemplative process that I don’t find possible in a digital tool. As the idea gets mature, the amount of related material might not be manageable on paper – then I start organizing it using digital tools, write some code to scale it and observe its extents.

Obviously, digital tools on the Internet are best for asynchronous communication. The Graph Commons data mapping and publishing platform is great for internet-scale data mapping collaborations. Network mapping particularly is a powerful tool, it makes things more transparent. So activists, journalists, researchers, and civil society organizations around the world use it to untangle complex relations that impact them and their communities.

Winchester School of Art, Data Asymmetries. Image credit: Olcay ÖztürkWinchester School of Art, Data Asymmetries. Image credit: Olcay Öztürk

CM: Do you see networks as maps? Monovacation seems to deploy features of both in its networked parody of the commodity forms and repeated images that characterize the tourism commercial as a typology. What are some key distinctions that might separate these two forms from one another in their attempts to frame, visualize, and enclose data?

BA: As I mentioned earlier, I use network as a map vs network as an event separately in my work.

Monovacation introduced network traversal as a method to deconstruct and explore movies as databases. The official tourism commercials of countries in competition with each other have been selected and each film has been divided into the possible tiniest clips. The 3-4 second long clips have been coded with tags. Tags with shared clips are connected to each other (weighted with number of clips) on a network diagram, which runs as a self-organizing software simulation. A new movie has been algorithmically generated through a traversal on this network map, a program navigating from one node to another, following the weighted path among the tags. Seashores from Egypt to Portugal, women from Israel to India, mythological figures from Thailand to Turkey formed an extracted fantasy of “vacation”.

Burak Arikan, Monovacation: network of concept tags generated by content analysis of tourism commercials

CM: The Graph Commons platform contains an additional axis that static graphics do not: time. How does working within digital media open up new models for orienting the user within data collections, particularly where the ability to represent change-over-time is at play?

BA: Networks are inherently dynamic, undergoing constant changes, both within the composition of nodes, and in the relations between nodes. To help you understand how the network changes and behaves over time, Graph Commons provides a timeline interface. It animates your network map as nodes leave and enter the network and the map expands or contracts in time. The network shape, radius, density, intensity, and emergence of clusters, central and peripheral actors all become observable and comparable using the timeline feature.

CM: Networks are the predominant and paradigmatic episteme of the information age. What kinds of relationalities, phenomena, data collections, or texts do they fail to capture? In other words:

a. What the network is NOT suited to do/perform
b. On speculating through an accelerated lens, what will the predominant formal and organisational structure of the next century look like? Will networks continue to play a role, or will they be completely surpassed by new organisational and structural logics?

BA: Bare network mapping may not be sufficient in studying multilayered diverse network dynamics where actors (nodes) and relations (edges) is not clearly distinguishable from one another as in swarms of species or molecular activity. Moreover, at the heart of capturing data lies the question of measurability. If something analogue can be measured it becomes digital, then it can be linked to other data points and become a subject of a network analysis. I think in this day and age, even emotions, intentions, and desires could be measured to a degree, if not socially reproduced.

In a world where every atom can be addressable with an IP address (IP6), discussion of the possibility of capturing analogue things is increasingly less relevant. What becomes critical is the question of who captures and controls what data owned by whom. Do you own a self-driving car’s data captured from your neighbourhood? Are you in control of your data captured by the network medicine? Are you paid rent for the use of data that belongs to you? Data oligarchies will only continue to grow, and this situation of data dispossession will increasingly constitute what I call data asymmetry for many years to come, until we move from connectivity to collectivity, build purposeful exploitation-free autonomous zones, and reroute our life activities in solidarity.

Regarding the future of organizational structures as imagined to be constituted by cryptocurrencies, something clear from today is that decentralization is not necessarily democratic. It should be deliberately discussed that ones who design the protocols have power and network effects can generate inequality. A blind belief in decentralization would not be so different than a belief in free market ideology. When Poland, Chile, and Turkey opened their markets to the world in the 80s, globally networked corporations penetrated into these markets completely within the laws and yet left the small locally connected actors stagnant, this is one example how network effects could generate inequality.


The Spectacle of Failure in Drone Warfare

At 0213 ZULU on the 2 March 2013, a Predator drone, tail number 04-3133, impacted the ground 7 nautical miles southwest of Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, and was destroyed with a loss valued at $4,688,557.[2]

On the 27th March 2007, a crashed spy plane was discovered by Yemeni military officials in the southern province of Hadramaut, along the country’s Arabian Sea coastline. The following day, Yemen’s state media identified the plane as being of Iranian origin, and that it was yet another example of an Iranian provocation at a time of high diplomatic tensions between the two countries. It was three years later, upon Wikileaks’ release of the so-called Cablegate archive, that a US Embassy cable revealed the “Iranian spy plane” was in fact a “Scan Eagle” drone. The drone was remotely piloted from the US Navy’s USS Ashland which was patrolling the Arabian Sea as part of an international counterterror task force. The United States Military was not “officially” conducting military operations in Yemeni territory at the time, and had not sought permission to conduct operations in the country’s airspace.

The discovery of the crashed drone could have posed a difficult political problem for the US to solve. However, in the cable, the official makes it clear that Yemen’s President Saleh had been keen to reach an agreeable deal with the Americans and apportion blame on a convenient third party — Iran. The cable states:

“He could have taken the opportunity to score political points by appearing tough in public against the United States, but chose instead to blame Iran. No doubt focused on the unrest in Saada and our support for the transfer of excess armored personnel carriers from neighboring countries (reftel), Saleh decided he would benefit more from painting Iran as the bad guy in this case.” [3]

By 2007, aside from occasional reporting in the media and among some activist circles, there was little public awareness of the US drone program. In fact, the program was not officially acknowledged on-the-record by a US government official until 2012. This official was John O. Brennan, then Counterterror Advisor to Barack Obama, and the momentous occasion was a speech at Washington DC’s Wilson Centre—a “key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue”.[4] Brennan states:

“So let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law—and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives—the United States Government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qa’ida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.”[5]

While the use of unmanned aircraft in warfare goes back to the early 20th Century[6], the distinctive image of the drone has come to characterise the ambiguous geopolitics of The Global War on Terror. Their hubristic names—Reapers, Predators — evoke visions of carnivorous animals carefully and selectively stalking their prey. With their stealth and capacity to observe targets for hours on end before striking, the drone selectively adopts the tactics of the insurgency: it is an emergent weapon directed onto an emergent threat. Drones, like their intended targets, are not necessarily contained by borderlines, or to territories on which the US has declared war. They are in a suspended state of exception, and are decried both as being outright illegal by experts in international law, and simultaneously, as Brennan contests, strictly adherent to the doctrine of Just War.

MQ-1B Drone Accident Report, 2nd March 2013, Kandahar Air Base Afghanistan.

[7]

In Brennan’s Wilson Centre speech, he draws on medical analogies to justify the “wisdom” of drone warfare, emphasising its “surgical precision—the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al-Qa’ida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it—that makes this counterterrorism tool so essential.”[8] But are drones as precise as Brennan’s rhetoric implies? Drones are often said to be heard, and not seen—their whirring noise inspiring local derisive colloquialisms[9]. But it is especially in the drone crash that the drone can be seen, and what’s more, subjected to inspection. It alerts us to a vital consideration: the failure of so-called precision military technology.

IOCOSE: Drone Memorial

In IOCOSE‘s Drone Memorial, our attention is drawn to the fact that these complex systems are precarious, that the drone is indeed a fallible technology. The memorial, a sculpture of a fallen Predator drone driven into a copper plinth like a blade, subverts the surgical metaphor proposed by John O. Brennan. The drone’s mirrored surfaces create a fractured, tesselated reflection of its surroundings, its form almost vanishing in a specular camouflage. Inscribed on its wings are the memorial’s “fallen comrades”, the hundreds of other drones that have crashed, listed by location and date. This list can only be considered a selection, however, such is the secrecy around the use of drones in the War on Terror. As such, it should also be considered a monument to the journalists who manage to report on the discrete events of drone warfare in incredibly challenging circumstances.

A GPS beacon embedded in Drone Memorial broadcasts the location of the sculpture on the project website, hinting to us that this seemingly trivial technology in our smartphones has more nefarious uses. Global Positioning Systems have their roots in Cold War ballistics research, specifically in a program by DARPA codenamed TRANSIT, developed to direct the US Navy submarine missiles to “within tens of meters of a target”[10]. Today, GPS is one of many components in the assemblage of technologies used in the drone, and a key enabler of its apparent “precision”. Nevertheless, GPS can of course fail—it can be “jammed” inadvertently, or indeed tactically manipulated by malicious third parties. When the satellite link is lost with a drone, the aircraft goes into a holding pattern, flying autonomously until control is regained. In the Washington Post‘s story “When Drones Fall From the Sky”, they note that in order to keep its weight at a minimum there is little redundancy built into the drone’s on-board systems. Without backup power supplies, transponders and GPS links fail, and in several cases “drones simply disappeared and were never found.”[11]

IOCOSE: Drone Memorial (detail)

IOCOSE’s positioning of the memorial as existing in a hypothetical, post-war scenario poses some interesting questions, but this temporal dissociation is perhaps unnecessary, for this is an issue very much of the present. It is certainly a topic more than worthy of critical investigation—the spectacle and the political consequences of failure have largely been left out of typical artistic engagement with drone warfare. In their press release accompanying the work[12], the artists suggest that the sculpture has an absurd quality. To me, it is not absurd as much as it works as an apt memorial to the violence of failure. In reading the long list of drone crash locations, the viewer might begin to probe the question of what information should be open to public scrutiny. IOCOSE pose the following question to us: “Does a drone crash count as a technological failure, or as a casualty?” This question would appear to have a clear answer: we must see the drone crash as a technological failure, so as not to make a false equivalence with the real casualties of drone warfare—the civilians who are subjected to it, the very same people who might also counter Brennan’s claims that the drone is a surgical, precise weapon of war.

Drone Memorial is the third work in a series titled In Times of Peace. This most recent work is the most astute in challenging the legally and ethically disruptive paradigm of drone warfare: it pierces the reflective rhetoric of US defense officials, and directs our attention to the high-stakes violence of its technological failure. The memorial, of course, ordinarily comes after the historical moment. This ‘moment’ is very much still unfolding 15 years later, and as the Trump administration takes form, it seems that the way in which drones will be deployed in the future is an ‘unknown unknown’. Thus, Drone Memorial is a temporal snapshot, an aesthetic pause on an ongoing, mutable war that seems to operate on a parallel continuum, only occasionally visible. More drones will continue to fail, as the drone war inevitably continues. These failures present a moment for critical analysis, a flash of visibility that should be seized upon.

——

  • [1] Image from When Drones Fall From the Sky, by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post. [link]
  • [2] MQ-1B Drone Accident Report, 2nd March 2013, Kandahar Air Base Afghanistan. [Wayback Machine – link to PDF]
  • [3] WikiLeaks cable [link]
  • [4] The Wilson Centre Mission Statement. [link]
  • [5] Transcript of John O. Brennan’s Speech at the Wilson Centre, April 30, 2012. [link]
  • [6] Gregoire Chamayou (2015) Theory of the Drone [pp26-29], Penguin, Paris, France.
  • [7] Graphic of Drone Operations, from MQ-1B Drone Accident Report, 2nd March 2013, Kandahar Air Base Afghanistan.  [Wayback Machine – link to PDF]
  • [8] Transcript of John O. Brennan’s Speech at the Wilson Centre, April 30, 2012.  [link]
  • [9] “Many locals refer to the drones as bangana—a form of the Pasthun word for “wasp,” in reference to the ubiquitous buzzing sound of the drones. According to residents, drones often hum overhead 24 hours a day.” CIVIC (2010) Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan [p78]. [link to report PDF]
  • [10] DARPA: TRANSIT Satellite Positioning research program. [link]
  • [11] Craig Whitlock When Drones Fall From the Sky, Washington Post June 20 2014.  [link]
  • [12] IOCOSE (2016) Press Release for Drone Memorial. [link to Google Doc]