NeMe and curator Marc Garrett, Co-Founding and Co-Artistic Director of Furtherfield, have the pleasure to invite you to Children of Prometheus at NeMe Arts Centre, Limassol. The exhibition investigates the landscape of a rapidly transforming world and how some of these shifts inform and affect our immediate environment.
The complex nature of the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus has inspired philosophers, authors and artists throughout many centuries and will continue to do so because of the powerful contradictions which it embodies which reflects the ongoing dualities present in both the human mind and physical existence. Acknowledging that the Promethean spirit lives on in the ambitions of science and technology, which in many cases defies the limits imposed upon humanity by nature, the post-modern Prometheus belongs to an organised world focused on the technology of the internet. This rapidly expanding domain, with its presumed ethos of democracy belies the technologies of data mining, fake data, targeted personalised advertising, etc used by global conglomerates to engineer/manipulate people’s perception via media into a state of hyper-real urgency by dislocating the individual from physical realities.
Yet despite the plethora of work in the field, there has not been any sustained attempt to think through the larger philosophical, sociological, economical, political and cultural implications of new technologies. A crucial methodology for this exhibition is to view these themes through the eyes of the artists. Children of Prometheus generates a visual discussion around this persistent narrative that is still very enmeshed into our contemporary context.
This exhibition was originally produced in partnership with LABoral, in Gijon, and is an extension of the Monsters of the Machine: Frankenstein in the 21st Century, 18 Nov 2016 – 21 May 2017.
AOS (Art is Open Source) was born in Italy, in 2004 as an interdisciplinary research laboratory focused on merging artistic and scientific practices to gain better understandings about the mutation of human beings and their societies with the advent of ubiquitous technologies. AOS was created by Salvatore Iaconesi (engineer, hacker, artist, designer, TED Fellow, Eisenhower Fellow, Yale World Fellow, Prof. in Interaction Design at ISIA Design University in Florence), joined by Oriana Persico (social scientist, artist) and now includes more than 200 artists and researchers from across the world.
Alexia Achilleos is a Finnish-Cypriot artist with a background in fine art, archaeology and cultural studies. Her work is concerned with cultural, political and social issues which impact identity, specifically linked with cultural heritage & tourism, colonialism and national identity politics. She explores interactions, hybridisation and power struggles – especially how a cultural object’s function can change according to geography, history and politics, and how it can be suited to the needs and interests of the adopting culture.
Egor Chemokhonenko lives and works in Cyprus. He is a programmer and open source enthusiast, and keen to mix technologies with the arts. Egor has previously collaborated as a developer with fashion and arts projects such as Lumpen Agency and Cosmoscow Contemporary Art Fair. Machine self-portraits is his second programming for an artwork using artificial intelligence.
Anna Dumitriu is a British artist whose work fuses craft, sculpture and bioscience to explore our relationship to the microbial world, technology and biomedicine. She has an international exhibition profile, having exhibited at venues including The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, The Science Gallery in Dublin, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Taipei, and The V & A Museum in London. She is artist in residence on the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at the University of Oxford, a visiting research fellow: artist in residence in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Hertfordshire, and an honorary research fellow in the Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
Mary Flanagan is a writer and artist whose practice(s) extend into science, design, psychology, and futures studies. Her encompassing work in theory and criticism, with a wide range of essays and books on digital culture, is in constant dialogue with her use of digital and material platforms to create dynamic, constantly evolving systems that reflect cultural questions and trigger reflection. She is the author of the book Critical Play: Radical Game Design, the poetry collection Ghost Sentence, co-author of Values at Play in Digital Games and Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri, and co-editor of the collections Reload: Rethinking Women in Cyberculture and Re:Skin. Her essays and articles have appeared in Salon, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Huffington Post.
Carla Gannis is an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BFA in painting from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an MFA in painting from Boston University. In the late 1990s she began incorporating net and digital technologies into her work. Gannis is the recipient of several awards, including a 2005 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Grant in Computer Arts, an Emerge 7 Fellowship from the Aljira Art Center, and a Chashama AREA Visual Arts Studio Award in New York, NY. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally. She is currently Assistant Chair of Digital Arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Marinos Koutsomichalis is a media artist, scholar and creative technologist. He was born in Athens, GR (1981) and has since lived and worked in various cities around the world. His practice is hybrid, nomadic, and ethnographic, involving field-work, creative coding, critical theory, making, lecturing, live performance, workshopping, artist/research residencies, ‘Doing-It-With-Others’, and hands-on experimentation with materials and technologies of all sorts. His artistic corpus is prolific, yet persistently revolving around the same few themes: material inquiry/exploration; self-erasure; the quest for post-selfhood. He has hitherto publicly presented his work, pursued projects, led workshops, and held talks worldwide more than 250 times and in all sorts of milieux: from leading museums, acclaimed biennales, and concert halls, to churches, industrial sites, and underground venues. He has held teaching and research positions in various academic institutions, has published a book and numerous academic/scientific articles, and is currently a Lecturer in Multimedia Design for Arts at the Cyprus University of Technology (Limassol) where he co-directs the Media Arts and Design Research Lab.
Kypros Kyprianou is an artist based in Bristol. He investigates scientific, political and cultural constructs using materials drawn from official archives, reverse-engineered objects, scenarios from film and hearsay. His practice is often collaborative, culminating in performance, video, publications and site-specific intervention.
Gretta Louw was born in South Africa in 1981 but grew up in Australia. She received her BA in 2001 from the University of Western Australia and Honours in Psychology in 2002, subsequently living in Japan and New Zealand before moving to Germany in 2007. Her work has been exhibited widely, including in public institutions such as the Kunstmuseum Solothurn (CH), Münchner Stadtmuseum (DE), National Portrait Gallery (AUS), UNSW Galleries (AUS), LABoral (ESP), and Galeri Nasional Indonesia (IDN). She was awarded the Heinrich Vetter Preis by the City of Mannheim in 2014 and the Bahnwärter Stipendium by the City of Esslingen am Rhein in 2017, as well as studio scholarships in Munich and Mannheim. In 2017, Louw was an artist in residence at MozFest in London at the invitation of the Tate and the V&A museums in collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation. Louw has also curated thematic exhibitions at museums including the Villa Merkel (DE), Furtherfield Gallery (UK), and Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery (US) and contributed essays to numerous catalogues and publications.
Lynn Hershman Leeson is an artist and filmmaker whose work has been internationally acclaimed over the last five decades. Cited as one of the most influential media artists, Hershman Leeson is widely recognised for her innovative work investigating issues that are now acknowledged as key to the workings of society: the relationship between humans and technology, identity, surveillance, and the use of media as a tool of empowerment against censorship and political repression. Over the last fifty years she has made pioneering contributions to the fields of photography, video, film, performance, installation and interactive as well as net-based media art. ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany, mounted the first comprehensive retrospective of her work titled Civic Radar. A substantial publication, which Holland Cotter named in The New York Times “one of the indispensable art books of 2016.” Lynn Hershman Leeson is a recipient of a Siggraph Lifetime Achievement Award, Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. In 2017 she received a USA Artist Fellowship, the San Francisco Film Society’s “Persistence of Vision” Award and the College Art Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Joana Moll is a Barcelona / Berlin based artist and researcher. Her work critically explores the way post-capitalist narratives affect the alphabetization of machines, humans and ecosystems. Her main research topics include Internet materiality, surveillance, social profiling and interfaces. She has lectured, performed and exhibited her work in different museums, art centers, universities, festivals and publications around the world. Furthermore, she is the co-founder of the Critical Interface Politics Research Group at HANGAR [Barcelona] and co-founder of The Institute for the Advancement of Popular Automatisms. She is currently a visiting lecturer at Universität Potsdam and Escola Superior d’Art de Vic [Barcelona].
Cédric Parizot is a Researcher at the CNRS. He is an anthropologist of politics and currently works at the Institut d’Etudes et de Recherche sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman (IREMAM, Aix en Provence). His research focuses on mobility and borders in the Israeli – Palestinian space. He has recently published with Stephanie Latte Abdallah A l’ombre du mur: Israéliens et Palestiniens entre séparation et occupation, Arles, Actes sud, 2011. He coordinates a transdisciplinary research programme involving social scientists, scientists, artists and professionals in order to elaborate a multidisciplinary approach on the mutations of 21st century Borders in Europe and the Mediterranean at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Marseille, France.
Guido Segni, aka Clemente Pestelli, lives and works somewhere at the intersections between art, pop internet culture and data hallucination. With a background in Hacktivism, Net Art and Video Art, his work is characterized by minimal gestures on technology which combine conceptual approaches with a traditional hacker attitude in making things odd, useless and dysfunctional. Co-founder of Les Liens Invisibles, he exhibited in galleries, museums (MAXXI Rome, New School of New York, KUMU Art Museum of Talinn) and art & media-art international festivals (International Venice Biennale, Piemonte SHARE Festival, Transmediale). Currently he teaches at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Carrara, directs the imaginary REFRAMED lab and he is part of the editorial committee for the project Atypo.
Alan Sondheim is an independent writer/theorist/artist. He co-founded the Cybermind and Wrytingemail lists. He is editor of Being on Line and author of .echo, Disorders of the Real and The Wayward. He is also published widely online and his video/sound work is internationally exhibited. Sondheim is the developer of the concept of code work, wherein computer code itself becomes a medium for artistic expression. He explores notions of the ‘abject’ in the masculine and feminine online, and more recently has dealt with the machinic using the language of computer code to articulate novel forms of identity in cyberspace. His work crosses over between philosophical explorations and sound poetry and more recently he has returned to the language of music using the tonalities of a wide range of ethnic instruments. His current areas of exploration include: the aesthetics of virtual environments and installations; mapping techniques using motion capture and 3D laser scanners; Buddhist philosophy and its relation to avatars and online environments; and experimental choreography.
Detail from ‘The Garden of Emoji Delights Triptych’ (2014) by Carla Gannis
3 October 2019 – 5 January 2020, Daily. Free Entry
The roar of an airplane is a familiar sound for many parts of west London, home to one of the busiest airports in the world and the subject of a new exhibition, Air Matters at Watermans Arts Centre in Brentford, just a few miles away from Heathrow.
Echoing the experience of hearing an aircraft in action, sound itself plays an integral part in the show and leads with The Substitute (2019) by Hermione Spriggs and Laura Cooper. Through overhead speakers outside the main entrance, visitors are greeted by an authoritative voice musing on the fate of local flocks in an airspace strictly controlled by humans and their contraptions, intermittently reciting names of affected birds like a tribute, and ultimately urging listeners to “work with nature” which sets a critical tone.
The audio installation is reminiscent of public announcements at airports, a strategy that continues into the foyer with Frequency (2019) by Louise K Wilson. It features intimate anecdotes of air travel through resonance devices on a skylight roof where planes might fly by at any moment. Speaking softly akin to ASMR, one person wonders about the destinations of travellers, while another recalls vivid memories of flights that seem traumatic, bouncing back and forth between excitement and anxiety.
The theme reaches its crescendo inside the gallery, with a mixture of ambient sounds reverberating across the space from Ascending Composition I (For Planes) (2019) by Kate Carr, an atmospheric concoction of incidental noises recorded around Heathrow including birds, markets, and trains on tracks. With pocket-sized media players attached to deconstructed speakers on strings of fabric, the installation documents an intervention that already took place when the work itself flew up on balloons blasting whispers from the ground, a small but meaningful gesture challenging the sonic waves of jumbo jets that dominate the surrounding sky and soundscape.
This act of defiance flows into Skyport (2019) by Magz Hall, a mixed media installation with a set of frequency scanners emitting an unsettling static. The title refers to a pirate radio station based along a Heathrow flightpath in the 1970s, illustrated with archival images and texts from an attempt to reclaim airwaves colonised by traffic control and engine noise. The work emulates this spirit with an LCD screen broadcasting airport channels as visual wavelengths, the contents of which are protected as classified information in UK law, consequently questioning ownership, access, and authority over radio frequencies.
The symphony of sounds become unavoidable throughout, and there is a possibility that it might grow vexing for some, perhaps more so for the people that work here who may not have a choice but to hear it again and again. Yet, as irksome as that might be, it is a crucial part of what makes this show effective. The audible pieces collectively transform the spaces into simulations of airport lounges and peripheral towns, simultaneously mimicking and counteracting oppressive noises from airplanes and terminals that have become inevitable in contemporary life, irrespective of its value and/or harm.
Beyond aural tendencies, the exhibition reaches further by considering scale and movement. The sheer volume of Capsule (2019) by Nick Ferguson is an imposing presence in the gallery with a wooden sculpture modelled after the wheel bay of a Boeing 777, floating a few inches off the ground and hovering over visitors. Shown alongside printed images of microscopic substances found in a real plane, it orchestrates a juxtaposition between the enormity of a flying machine and the imperceptible residue it accumulates, revealing traces from the many places it has been including sand, spores, and bacteria.
A map nearby, Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures) (2019) by Matthew Flintham, takes the viewer back to west London with a bird’s eye view of the airport complex. Presented on a table that might be used for urban planning, military operation, or board games, it illustrates the topography of the area highlighting a vast infrastructure beneath large sections of controlled airspace, seemingly encroaching on everything else which becomes almost invisible or insignificant.
Navigating the show functions as an exercise of remembrance in many ways, bringing to mind a number of issues that have been at the forefront of public discourse in recent years: from the role of aviation on climate change, to its impact on local communities and ecosystems around airports. And it comes, as if on cue, at a period of heightened environmental concern, propelled most prominently by the Extinction Rebellion movement and climate activist Greta Thunberg, ringing the alarm on the perils of flying.
The controversial Heathrow Airport Expansion also comes through in this context, caught between government plans for future economic growth, and the ongoing resistance from neighbouring residents with campaigns like Stop Heathrow Expansion, No Third Runway Coalition, and Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise.
It conjures up conflicting perspectives that unpack a classic dilemma for a society in flux. On one hand, the flight industry is evidently harmful because of its pollution to the planet and the unfair toll on local hosts. Yet, on the other, it is part of a system that facilitates international trade, freedom of movement, and cultural exchanges, each one increasingly more accessible to broader people beyond a privileged few who will always have it. And while it has serious problems that must be addressed, some of which are rightly pointed out here, a world without it entirely is at risk of descent into tribalism and isolationism.
With so much at stake at this particular time and place, the exhibition feels important for its worthwhile attempt in raising these pertinent questions through art, successfully using Heathrow as a case study for matters that undoubtedly have wider implications.
Like the rumble of a plane and many works in this show, the politics of flying will become inescapable as air travel is projected to almost double in size by 2036, despite recent backlash from flight shaming, the rise of staycation, and a spotlight on frequent flyers. The solutions to its unintended consequences are not as straightforward as it might seem, and will likely require a nuanced approach combining systemic changes, paradigm shifts, technological developments, and personal adjustments, all of which cannot come soon enough.
Air Matters: Learning From Heathrow is at Watermans Arts Centre until 5 January 2020. Curated by Nicholas Ferguson in collaboration with Klio Krajewska. Supported by Arts Council England, Forma, London Borough of Hounslow, Kingston School of Art, and Richmond University.
Featured main image: Kate Carr. Image 11. NF. Ascending Composition 1 (For planes). Mixed media, 2019. Included in Air Matters: Learning from Heathrow. 3 October – 5 January 2019.
Hi Shaina! Tell us about the genesis of CAMP? How are you part of it? Why are you called CAMP?
CAMP came together as a group in 2007, initially consisting of me, Shaina Anand (filmmaker and artist), Sanjay Bhangar (software programmer) and Ashok Sukumaran (architect and artist) in Mumbai, India. The intersection of our skills and different backgrounds created a vital spark in which to experiment with technology and ask deep questions about form and ways of making radical political work. We are called CAMP as we are not an artist’s collective (though we began as a collaboration with KHOJ which was an artist’s collective in Delhi, which you headed operations for) but we call ourselves a studio. In this process, we try to move beyond binaries of art vs non-art, commodity market vs free-culture and to build media for the future. Personally, it gives me the platform to eschew conservative approaches to documentary filmmaking with “the colonial male gaze.”
How did you decide to create new-media and be part of CAMP coming from a strong documentary tradition?
Oh, for that I would like to describe the response my younger self (1992-2004) had to making traditional documentaries. Travelling around India with my mentor, filming a documentary about life in villages for the anniversary of Indian independence, I described how they’d turn up in jeeps, find the subjects, and ask important questions for the nation. I became increasingly disillusioned by what I saw as the repeated orchestration of finding a subject, interviewing, zooming in, asking questions until the subject ends up crying. So, once while analyzing the relationship between filmmaker and subject I echoed the question hovering over so many discussions, “who speaks for the subject and from where?”
That’s when I decided that I had two choices, to either move into fiction which was perhaps less problematic, or to “stay with the trouble”, to let the problems drive the work into becoming something more in line with my politics. I also wanted to “trouble” the triangular relationship of author, subject and technology, so that it favored the subject more.
Very interesting! You mentioned Haraway’s “staying with the trouble”. Were you influenced by her work? Say more! I relate to that experience, having switched from working in Bollywood to doing social documentaries and now learning new-media art. So, what role do you think technology plays in fostering that relationship between the subject and the author and more importantly, how does it “favor” the subject?
Well, yeah. I feel influenced by her as a woman media-maker where I draw from her reflections on race, technology and gender. In CAMP’s work at various biennials, I have often felt that every part of the process of documentary-making had been deftly unpacked and put back together again to reflect vital contemporary political concerns within the actual structure of the work or even its distribution, not just its content. By that, I felt we succeeded in using technology to foster that relationship.
I find it fascinating that technology is not a toy or gimmick in your work but rather gives to access to places and people which traditional approaches to documentary wouldn’t. In this context, could you throw some light on the use of CCTVs in your work esp. at a time when they were increasingly being used as a tool for surveillance?
In our work Al jaar qabla al daar (The Neighbour before the house- 2009), we used CCTV cameras and set them up to film the houses where eight Palestinian families had been forcibly evicted and are linked to remote controls in new homes or refugee places where the families now live. We were then able to zoom and tilt the cameras to spy up washing or as they went about their business. The complexities of the power relations between the observer and observed are dazzlingly deft and agile, giving energy to the otherwise hopeless situation of displaced Palestinians in Jerusalem. We only hear their voices as they trace the lines of personal memory in their old neighborhoods or stalk the new inhabitants of their former homes with the remotely operated CCTV placed on nearby rooftops. We see soldiers training, Orthodox Jews going to prayer, a boy skateboarding, roofs, water tanks, a veranda built by their own families. Their bodies exert a ghostly presence on the very image we see onscreen as a small boy exhorts his mother to “zoom, zoom”– to spy on one of the new inhabitants leaving the house. But nonetheless through the active manipulation of this technology we had “captured” a settler.
Do you think technology facilitates a democratic or rather liberal exchange for the subject? Let’s say immersive technologies like virtual and augmented realities, which I’m interested in, blur the point of view of the author and the subject. What do you think?
The act of wrangling the technology to record the voices of the camera operators while simultaneously filming does create a power shift. For example, in our work, the Palestinian families may be physically invisible in the places they once lived, but their voices and ability to control how we see with even the crudest of cameras, exerts its own pressure. It acknowledges and celebrates the democratization of the camera and makes us question the veracity of all the other images we have seen about Palestine. We hear details about the neighborhoods, how the evictions happened through impossible laws or enforcements as the displaced families observe how the new families don’t clean the stairs or water the lemon tree.
Yes, I liked the use of the footage as a timeline for viewers to edit which led you to form Pad. Ma (Public Access Digital Media Archive) which I was a part of too, at some point. Interestingly, here at UCSC, I met and heard Bernard Stiegler who had long ago worked with annotating found-footage with his students thereby that puts CAMP in that discourse. Say something about that.
Well, for me, the most radical and exciting approaches to documentary were in the 60s in India. Since then, what has changed? Nothing here. CAMP’s work provides a sense of new possibilities as it steals back technology and puts it into that utopian discourse of Stiegler and others to shift our perspective closer to the subjects. By “troubling” the traditional methods of creation and dissemination it empowers both the viewer and the viewed with a fresh perspective.
Some of your work is about migrant population, home and displacement which strikes a chord with my interest in human-rights and immigration. Tell us about this work and its approach.
A privileged perspective into the worldview of another is contained in our work, From Gulf to Gulf invited by the Sharjah Biennial a few years ago.Yet again it is a document of a much richer process that began as an artwork/ community provocation/ friendship built over four years between CAMP and a group of sailors from the Gulf of Kutch in India. Initially CAMP produced radio programs culling material from sailors’ songs, conversations, phone calls etc. and later that evolved into a new-media piece that showed this totally different space in a radically fresh way. It is composed of footage of their journeys and extended selfie- films shot by the sailors on their long voyages, often accompanied by songs which they Bluetooth to each other.
Fascinating! Lastly, I’m keen to hear about what CAMP wants to do with technology next?
At any given time, CAMPwants to challenge the triangular relationship of author, subject and technology, thereby splintering the privileged gaze and our standard mode of perception. That’s our motivation behind whatever we have or will do.
Thank you Shaina for speaking as an artist from CAMP. It was great to talk to you and have worked with you all!
Featured image: Stern, Body Language
Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body As Performance by Nathaniel Stern. ISBN 978-1-78024-009-1 (printed publication), Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK, 2013. 291 pp., 41 Colour Stills.
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to sit in on a talk given by Simon Penny on May 6th 2014 at the University of Exeter. Penny, not unlike Nathaniel Stern, is best known for his praxis, writing and teaching on interactive (and robotic) installations focusing on issues of embodiment, relationality and materiality. So as unorthodox as its inclusion is to start off a review, Penny’s reflections are pertinent here (in this case, Penny’s famous installations Fugitive (1997) and Traces (1999) .
The purpose of Fugitive and Traces (if you can say they had one) sought to ‘embody’ virtual reality through multi-camera infra-red sensors, visual models and real-time movements. At that time, Penny’s unique theoretical take was to distance human-computer interaction away from “a system of abstracted and conventionalised signals” to where the user would “communicate kinesthetically”: instead of investigating the non-human or “inhuman” formal qualities of its medium, or some vague VR future that leaves the body behind, the system itself would “come closer to the native sensibilities of the human.” (Penny) 
In his Exeter talk, Penny momentarily reflected on a weird and altogether disturbing seventeen year feedback loop. The loop in question relates to how, in 2014, Penny’s early avant-garde ideas and theoretical ambitions have largely been desecrated by their replication in big business. With regard to Traces, Penny cited Microsoft’s Kinect as being the most salient example of this desecration: Kinect’s technology – marketed for the Xbox console brand – carries within its insidious techniques the ability to also “communicate kine[c]thetically”, but do so within pre-packaged, patented, IP-driven, focus-grouped-out-of-existence, commercial vacuities of gamer experience.
As an early practitioner and developer of these technologies, Penny was somewhat visibly infuriated with this, and understandably so. For him, it unintentionally reduced his aesthetic experimentation, philosophical insight, technological futurity and theoretical complexity into consumer speculation for the technology market, commandeering the tech but without the value. It transposed the artistic technological avant-garde necessity of Traces into a flaccid ‘tech-demo’ demonstration of novelty limb flailing and high-end visuals devoid of anything. It was, Penny lamented, “a very weird situation” to be in. Part of that weirdness has to do with the fact that Penny hadn’t done anything especially wrong, because there wasn’t any tangible aesthetic qualities that separated his pioneering work from Microsoft’s effort. Neither had Penny’s work brought financial success with its value intact (because its value wasn’t patentable). Instead technological development had overwritten the aesthetic value of Traces, trading technological obsolescence with aesthetic obsolescence.
Penny’s retroactive predicament is not unique in the history of digital art: for all the visionary seeds of potential in Roy Ascott’s legendary networking project, Terminal Art (1980) we now recognise how those salient characteristics have somehow ended up as Skype or Google Hangouts. Still in the 80s, one might evoke Eduardo Kac’s early videotext works (1985-1986) where visual animated poems were broadcast on the online service exchange platform Minitel (“Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique” or “Interactive medium by digitalizing telephone information” in its French iteration): a proprietary precursor to the World Wide Web . The retroactive weirdness accompanying these developments is something I’ll come back to: suffice to say that what counts is the direction (and sometimes hostile return) of infrastructure, not just as the background collection of assemblages artists rely on to experiment with at any historical moment, but the shifting ecological foundations to which technology emerges, affords, and now overwrites such practices. No-one likes to play devil’s advocate and yet one must ask the question specific to Stern’s text: what, or maybe where, is the tangible point at which ‘art’ becomes historically valued in these works, if that latent aesthetic potential becomes just another market for a series of Silicon Valley, or startup conglomerates?
Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment establishes two first events: not only Stern’s debut publication but also the first of a new series from Gylphi entitled “Arts Future Book” edited by Charlotte Frost, which began in 2013. All quotations are from this text unless otherwise stated.
Stern’s vision in brief: in order to rescue what is philosophically significant about interactive art, he justifies its worth through the primary acknowledgement of embodiment, relational situation, performance and sensation. In return, the usual dominant definitions of interactive art which focus on technological objects, or immaterial cultural representations thereof are secondary to the materiality of bodily movement. Comprehending digital interactive art purely as ‘art + technology’ is a secondary move and a “flawed priority” (6), which is instead underscored by a much deeper engagement, or framing, for how one becomes embodied in the work, as work. “I pose that we forget technology and remember the body” (6) Stern retorts, which is a “situational framework for the experience and practice of being and becoming.” (7). The concepts that are needed to disclose these insights are also identified as emergent.
“Sensible concepts are not only emerging, but emerging emergences: continuously constructed and constituted, re-constructed and re-constituted, through relationships with each other, the body, materiality, and more.” (205)
Interactive Art and Embodiment then, is the critical framework that engages, enriches and captivates the viewer with Stern’s vision, delineating the importance of digital interactive art together with its constitutive philosophy.
One might summarise Stern’s effort with his repeated demand to reclaim the definition of “interactive”. The term itself was a blatantly over-used badge designed to vaguely discern what made ‘new media’ that much newer, or freer than previous modes of consumption. This was quickly hunted out of discursive chatter when everyone realised the novel qualities it offered meant very little and were politically moribund. For Stern however, interactivity is central to the entire position put forward, but only insofar as it engages how a body acts within such a work. This reinvigorated definition of “interactive” reinforces deeper, differing qualities of sensual embodiment that take place in one’s relational engagement. This is to say, how one literally “inter-acts” through moving-feeling-thinking as a material bodily process, and not a technological informational entity which defines, determines or formalises its actions. A digital work might only be insipidly interactive, offering narrow computational potentials, but this importance is found wanting so long as the technology is foregrounded over ones experience of it. Instead ones relationship with technological construction should melt away through the implicit duration of a body that literally “inter-acts” with it. In Stern’s words:
“…most visually-, technically-, and linguistically-based writing on interactive art explains that a given piece is interactive, and how it is interactive, but not how we inter-act” (91)
Chapter 1 details how aesthetic ‘vision’ is understood through this framework, heavily criticising the pervasive disembodiment Stern laments in technical discussions of digital art and the VR playgrounds from the yesteryear of the 90s. Digital Interactive Art has continually suppressed a latent embodied performance that widens the disembodied aesthetic experience towards – following Ridgway and Thrift – a “non-representational experience.” Such experiences take the body as an open corporal process within a situation, which includes, whilst also encompassing, the corporal materiality of non-human computational processes. This is, clearly, designed to oppose any discourse that treats computation and digital culture as some sort of liberating, inane, immaterial phenomenon: to which Stern is absolutely right. Moreover, all of these material processes move in motion with embodied possibilities, to “create spaces in which we experience and practice this body, its agency, and how they might become.” (40) To add some political heft, Stern contrasts how the abuse of interactivity is often peddled towards consumerist choice, determining possibilities, put against artistic navigation that relinquishes control, allowing limitless possibilities. Quoting Erin Manning, Stern values interactive art’s success when it doesn’t just move in relation to human experience, but when humans move *the* relation in experience (Manning, 2009: 64; Stern, 46).
Stern’s second chapter moves straight into a philosophical discussion denoting what he means by an anti-Cartesian, non-representational, or implicit body. Heavily contexualised by a host of process, emergent materialist thinkers (Massumi, Hayles, Barad), Stern concentrates on the trait of performance as the site of body which encapsulates its relationally, emergence and potential. The body is not merely formed in stasis, (what Stern dubs “pre-formed” (62) but is regularly and always gushingly “per-formed” (61) in its movement. Following Kelli Fuery, the kind of interactivity Stern wants to foreground is always there, not a stop-start prop literate to computer interaction, but an effervescent ensemble of “becoming interactive” (Fuery, 2009: 44; Stern, 65). Interactive art is not born from an effect bestowed by a particular medium of art making, but of “making literal the kinds of assemblages we are always a part of.” (65)
Chapter three sets out Stern’s account for the implicit body framework: detailing out four areas: “artistic inquiry and process; artwork description; inter-activity and relationally.” (91) Chapters four, five and six flesh out this framework with actual practices. Four considers close readings of the aforementioned work of Penny together with Camille Utterback merging the insights gained from the previous chapters. What both artists encapsulate for Stern is that their interventions focus on the embodied activities of material signification: or “the activities of writing with the body” (114) Utterback’s 1999 installation “Textrain” is exemplary to Stern’s argument: notably the act of collecting falling text characters on a screen merges dynamic body movements with poetic disclosure. The productions of these images are always emergent and inscribed within our embodied practices and becomings: that we think with our environment. Five re-contextualises this with insights into works by Scott Scribbes and Mathieu Briand’s interventions in societal norms and environments. Six takes on the role of the body as a dynamic, topological space: most notably as practiced in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Chapter seven I’ll discuss near the conclusion: the last chapter shortly.
Firstly, the good stuff. Interactive Art and Embodiment is probably one of the most sincerest reads I’ve encountered in the field for some time. Partly this is because the book cultivates Stern’s sincerity for his own artistic practice, together with his own philosophical accounts that supplement that vision. His deep understanding of process philosophy is clearly matched by his enthusiastic reassessment of what interactive art purports to achieve and how other artists might have achieved it too. And it’s hard to disagree with Stern’s own position when he cites examples (of his work and others) that clearly delegate the philosophical insights to which he is committed. One highlight is Stern’s take on Scribbes’ Boundary Foundations (1998) and the Screen Series (2002-03) which intervenes and questions the physical and metaphorical boundaries surrounding ourselves and others, by performing its questioning as work. This is a refreshingly earnest text, proving that theory works best not when praxis matches the esoteric fashions of philosophical thinking, but when art provides its own stakes and its own types of thinking-experience which theory sets out to faithfully account and describe. Stern’s theoretical legitimacy is never earned from just digesting, synthesising and applying copious amounts of philosophy, but from the centrality of describing in detail what he thinks the bodily outcomes of interactive art are and what such accounts have to say: even if they significantly question existing philosophical accounts.
Stern leaves the most earnest part of his book towards the end in his final semi-auto-biographical companion chapter called “In Production (A Narrative Inquiry on Interactive Art)”. This is a snippet of a much larger story, available online and subject to collaboration . Here, Stern recounts or modifies the anxiety inducing experience of being a PhD student and artist, rubbing up alongside the trials of academic rigour, dissertation writing and expected standards. Quite simply, Stern is applying his insights of performative processual experience into the everyday, ordinary experiences faced by most PhD students in this field, and using it to justify a certain writing style and a sense of practice. It’s an enjoyable affair – in large part because it outclasses the dry scholarly tone usually associated with writing ‘academically’, elevating imaginative, illuminating redescriptions for how the experiences of interactive art broadly hang together rather than relying on relentless cynical critique. And most of that is down to Stern’s strong literary metaphorical technique for grounding his vision, perhaps even more effectively than the previous chapters.
Yet earnest experiences aside, there are two problems with Stern’s vision which, in my eyes, leave it flawed. That isn’t a bad thing: all visions are flawed of course. That’s why the similarities between art and philosophy feed our heuristic, academic compulsion to come up with them and debate: well, that and sometimes the most flawed can end up being the most influential. Such flaws only arise in relation to what Stern thinks is valuable in interactive art, and to the extent that the intervention posed may require readdressing. The flaws in question are composed from two different angles, but stem from one objection. The first is philosophical, or at least a problem pre-packaged with relying almost entirely on relational ideas of embodied emergence. The second is more tied to infrastructure and technical expropriation as outlined in Penny’s predicament given from the outset.
In his introduction, Stern makes clear that this is an “art philosophical book” (4), not a philosophy of art as such: only one that “understands art and philosophy as potential practices of one another” (4). Following Brian Massumi, philosophy “tells us the stakes”, whilst “art brings those states to the table” (5), such that the type of art he values and constructs, (digital interactive art) is precisely that which melts away in its interactive encounter when constructed as work. Later on we discover that interactive art “interrupts relationality” (66), making present an “intervention that brings a situated moving-thinking-feeling to a higher power.” (66) Further on, interactive art does something else, when it “intensifies features of […] the ongoing transformation of the ‘living’ body”, and “gifts us with a state to practice being and becoming.” (73) Reflecting on the infamous Bourriaud/Bishop relational aesthetic ruckus a decade ago, Stern outlines how they focus on the explicit body (82) (how we understand ourselves or challenge explicit social/economic positions in the world), whereas artworks which privilege the implicit body have us “encounter how we move, transform, and are (continuous)” (82) in the world. The former takes on the materiality of social relations, the latter (endorsed by Stern) takes on the whole materiality of “embodied relations” (83). And again to reiterate, art operates as “the practice of contemporary philosophies, where we investigate, and further research on, embodiment and relationally together.” (83).
Now, one should admire how Stern blends philosophy and art praxis together precisely by not shoehorning authoritative philosophical accounts into art praxis where they aren’t needed. This works, precisely as the ontology expressed here actively resists such authoritative accounts as well as being cemented with the sort of sincerity with which Stern has such a keen literary grasp. More importantly, Stern cites works which seem to fit the stakes of his ontological conviction perfectly.
However the reliance of process-based philosophy dampens exactly how these works intervene to bring about the values he so desires. The simplest objection comes from asking how Stern might value anything at all, if our entire relational embodiment with the world is constantly in process – or that “[b]odies and matter are change” (220) – and must be always affirmed as such: why should every process and every bodily interaction be affirmed? Moreover why is it art’s place to give primacy to the ontological events of bodily material change?
This is one of the key infrastructural problems that surface, once a theory of art totally subscribes to a process-based ontology, let alone one focusing on embodiment: why should an artist like Stern feel compelled to present an intervention in the first place? If the dominant ontological movement of interactions is a becoming-event, by what standard or eruption should interactive art be said to work on? If, as Stern believes, “the interactive process in interactive work is the ‘work’” (159), it becomes unclear what value interactive artworks are purported to convey, if that process is all there is. To say that embodied processual events make the work “work”, because they underscore our situational intelligibility (or make it effective – so to speak) speaks nothing of what differential criteria should apply to make that aesthetic intervention intelligible. To hazard a guess, the problem is one of articulating how convention exists in a process ontology: because if everything is always emerging as an interactive event of change, the act of rupturing or intervening in convention becomes a real problem. The criteria for valuing these important works is only affirmed it seems, because every process is already affirmed: and if that’s the case you don’t need artists to make an intervention – there is no intervention required, other than the events that already exist, as change in themselves. To put it another way: why should (and how can) a work effectively gift us heightened states of being and becoming, if our entire situational relationship with the world is already situationally related in being and becoming?
I am reminded of Adrian Johnston’s 2001 review of the newly republished English translation of Dominique Laporte’s History of Shit (first published in 1978). Whereas most Foucaultians and Althusserians were disconcertingly vague in pointing out the concrete material conditions for subjectivity and economical production, Laporte boldly contended that the genealogical hypothesis to all modern civilisations was tied to one concrete material condition: the infrastructure of bodily waste management, or, the desire to control and sublimate our need to defecate. In his usual Žižekian repartee, Johnston suggested that Laporte’s bizarre history of modernity implicitly accepted the anti-Cartesian embodiment thesis (that cognition cannot be separated from the actions of the body), but pushed its logic to the end. That for all the affirmative, encompassing, sensual, emergent, potential images embodiment philosophy prefers to agree and discuss, it completely ignores one of our central and basic bodily requirements: to excrete our bodily waste or fecal matter, and remove it from sight and smell (and we don’t need to remind the reader of art’s fascination with this area).
Whilst Johnston’s tongue was firmly planted in his cheek, he did happen to put a psychoanalytical finger on the central problem with process based embodiment. That often enough, sincere accounts of embodiment designed to affirmatively depict and encompass implicit environment material engagements leave behind an unacknowledged stain: one which says more about these accounts than their proponents actually do. And it is precisely because Stern focuses on the most aesthetically agreeable areas of bodily engagement in interactive art, that something as habitual and ritualistic as the excretion of digested matter, or the infrastructure of sewage networks exposes that image.
In terms of materiality this is doubly important. Laporte’s intervention brings into conflict two competing performative materialisms which disclose our own bodily relationships with non-human processes (in this case, computational and networked material): the first is Stern’s own account of the material body as some sort of ‘nebulous material’ which is always emergent, lived, relational and thinking with its own engagement in the world of humans and non-humans. The second is Laporte’s material body seen as ‘brutal material’ – an explicit input-output, complex, evolutionary processing machine, strictly determinate and bounded in its biological function. Despite Stern arguing earnestly for the nebulous form, it doesn’t appear to me that he can hold off the brutal form, or at least prevent the latter from antagonising the former. And often enough, this happens because Stern’s accounts of embodiment, and the philosopher’s accounts he relies on, are already meant to be nebulous in themselves.
This logic unravels by chapter seven, when Stern expands the implicit body framework to analyse other examples of new media art which aren’t preoccupied with bodily participation to work, as work. He terms this “potentialized art” (206) where “audience members do not *make* the work directly through their interactions (207) but are subject to visual performances of potential movement and relation mediated by generative computation and networks. In citing Gordan Savičić and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger – amongst others – Stern argues that these ongoing performances harness generative information participating in embodiment relations, and invite metaphorical sensory change and bodily movement (in the case of Savičić’s performances, quite literally inflicting pain and suffering onto his own body using network data and social media).
However when Stern cites John F. Simon. Jr’s infamous work Every Icon (1997), (227 – 230) (a cellular automation piece which takes approximately several hundred trillion years to complete) it becomes clear to me that the aesthetically agreeable areas of embodiment start to break down. It might be that my own reading of the piece is fairly unorthodox  (I don’t consider the work to be primarily conceptual for a start), but Every Icon eschews what Stern writes as giving “both the corporeal and incorporeal a present and future presence as time and sign” (230) or something that generates attention to our “sensual and conceptual experience of temporality” (230).
Yet, isn’t it the case that Every Icon is probably one of the least potentialised artworks ever made? It doesn’t actually generate anything, (in the strict sense of unpredictable outcomes from simple rules) it simply enumerates configurations of pixels one by one. Neither can we be said to “feel the potency of several hundred trillion years” (230) than we feel the cold, indifferent execution of a real java applet function to which we are forever limited in experiencing directly. If anything, Every Icon is deliberately constructed to forgo a relation with us.
To conclude: this is perhaps why Penny’s predicament with the Kinect is so stark. To demand, as Stern does, that we treat digital interactive art as setting a stage for examining how we “per-form” with our bodies within media, material, conceptual frames and selves, is no longer enough of a stage to give voice to the technological ecologies we find ourselves in: nor of the art that satisfies intervening in it. Credit must be given to Stern for writing over interactive art’s emancipatory myth of disembodied immateriality, but his endorsement of embodiment only serves to realise that the problem isn’t forgetting to focus on material engagement, but forgetting the cold, hard and brutal materiality of procedural performance of infrastructure, that often moves faster than we do. When Microsoft’s Kinect co-opts all the same values of Traces, it does so not because embodiment is totally flawed, but that bodily movement has now become ecologically implicated in deceptive infrastructure.
Just as Penny’s Traces may once have evoked a renewed attention to moving-thinking-feeling, such engagements are now suitably tracked and are in service of non-transparent infrastructures of geo-social activity, which propagate themselves beyond our sensory engagement, yet paradoxically they also indirectly sustain that ordinary engagement. For example, this is now a world where Google funds a 60tbps undersea cable connecting the West Coast to Japan, in order to propagate the reach of their services. The technological engagement of our bodies cannot be restricted to how we move-think-feel, but now weaves itself within layers upon layers of platforms and pervasive surveillance structures. And I don’t disagree with Stern that the implicit body is, perhaps, deeper than the account I give here. But maybe that’s because the body is also another type of performative infrastructure, tightly bound into other formations that are just as deep, complex and engaged. We now live in a time where digital interactive art has to intervene in the performances of geo-social infrastructure: where our bodies have curiously taken on their self-directing performances, rather than our own.
Featured image: Image from “Otherworldly” at Manchester Urban Screens 2007. Curated by Michelle Kasprzak
Eva Kekou interviews Michelle Kasprzak, a Canadian curator and writer based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She is a Curator at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media and the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF). She has appeared in Wired UK, on radio and TV broadcasts by the BBC and CBC, and lectured at PICNIC. In 2006 she founded Curating.info, the web’s leading resource for curators. She has written critical essays for C Magazine, Volume, Spacing, Mute, and many other media outlets. She is a member of IKT (International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art). Michelle is also an avid weightlifter with current personal records of 80 kg squat, 52.5 kg bench press, and 90 kg deadlift.
Eva Kekou: Can you give us some info about your work as an artist and curator and specifically your work at V2_?
Michelle Kasprzak: I was trained as an artist, but my art career feels many moons ago now. My first love was photography, and I spent many hours in the darkroom as a teenager. Later on I moved into live video mixing for performance contexts and parties, single channel video works, and integrating technologies like speech recognition and found objects into performance.
I was also curating throughout this time, though for many years it took a back seat to my artistic practice. Eventually I realized that I was more interested in curating and writing than making the artworks myself. Of course, one should never say never, so I may return to art making someday, but from that point onward and until the present time I focused full-time on curating and writing.
This was the mid 2000s and it was a pretty exciting time to be a media arts curator. It felt as though things were gaining traction. So many years after Cybernetic Serendipity had laid the foundations, we had exhibitions such as The Art Formerly Known As New Media curated by Sarah Cook and Steve Dietz to stimulate the dialogue about new media art and how to exhibit it, and take it all to the next level.
Fast forward to now: a few years later, I’m a curator at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. V2_ loomed large for me as a young undergraduate in Toronto studying new media – it was this far away place in a city I didn’t know with this massive reputation for doing edgy, interesting things. I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams at the time ever imagine I would one day work there.
As an institute, V2_ has been through a number of key transformations and I think it’s interesting to map that on to what was happening at the time both in art and in society. It started in the 1981 as a squat (which was common in the Netherlands at that time) and the founders called it a “multimedia centre”. Sonic Youth, Laibach, and Einsturzende Neubauten played there. The “Manifesto for the Unstable Media” was written in 1987 and arose out of a dissatisfaction with the status quo and it said things like “Our goal is to strive for constant change”. Following the Manifesto, a series of “Manifestations of the Unstable Media” were created, which evolved into the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF), a festival which continues today. In 1994 V2_ moved from s-Hertogenbosch to Rotterdam and has remained there ever since.
Around that same period of the mid- to late-90s, the growth of internet access and support for artists working with networked technologies caused V2_ to change its focus in this direction. In 1997, V2_Lab opened as a hub within V2_ to initiate and support the production of artistic projects investigating contemporary issues in art, science, technology, and society.
EK: So today, in this age of ubiquitous technology and information, where does an institute like V2_ find its place?
MK: I see media art as a category splintering and dissolving, with bits of its ethos absorbed into design, contemporary art, craft, and hacker culture – and vice versa. One way to find a place in the world is to stay true to the origins of V2_ in terms of its squatter ethic. So for example, we (myself and my colleagues, particularly Boris Debackere and Michel van Dartel) recently rewrote the mission statement of the Lab, declaring it “…an autonomous zone where experiments and collaborations can take place outside of the constraints of innovation agendas or economic and political imperatives.” Which is not to say that anything goes, but states explicitly that we’re especially open to people looking for a home for a risky or unconventional idea. Also, following on from several years where V2_Lab hosted residents based on three fairly technologically-driven themes (wearables, augmented reality, and ecology), the Lab has taken on a new direction of being methodologically-driven, and looking at themes like re-enactments, design fiction, and extreme scenarios.
I think it’s a key shift, because in order to “strive for constant change” as we said in the original manifesto, linking to any one technology of the moment seems too static and limiting, as well as reducing our reach into areas with interesting and relevant artistic research occurring, but which might not have much technology involved in an apparent way. The fact is just about everything being made right now is a product of the technological age we live in, so it’s more useful to think in terms of methods and approaches rather than whether something fits a classic definition of what media art is or not.
Take for example one of our latest commissions, Paper Moon by Ilona Gaynor in collaboration with Craig Sinnamon. Ilona and Craig were at V2_ for a few months at the end of 2013 and both have design backgrounds. The work, to describe it in a formal sense, is a series of objects and paper-based work arranged in a specific fashion along with a short screen-based animation. This seems a little different than what one might expect to see at V2_, except for small clues in the creation of some of the items (the animation is generated with 3D animation software, some of the objects have been 3D printed). But more significantly, in its thematic Paper Moon enters the realm of the unstable by exploring the emerging legal definitions and loopholes of outer space – particularly the treatment of the moon and other celestial bodies. Our legal system on Earth, as Ilona put it “…has no definition for what ‘Outer Space’ actually means, what it is, and where it is. The problem we face with such literal unmarked territory is the emergent field of ‘Space Law’ becomes genuinely speculative.”
Ilona’s residency was part of V2_Lab research project Habbakuk, about Innovation in Extreme Scenarios. The Innovation in Extreme Scenarios research thread was generated in reaction to the introduction of an innovation agenda for the arts as part of the Dutch government’s ambitionto be “one of the world’s top five knowledge economies” by 2020. As a way of directly addressing this policy direction, V2_Lab began undertaking research into the nature of and appropriate contexts for innovation through a series of expert meetings, workshops, site visits and interviews over the course of 2013-14. The final outputs of the project, which will comprise project commissions and a final publication, will be used as a tool to engage with the policy conversation on innovation in a more profound way. So we’ve been doing work on this at home and abroad, holding expert meetings and interviews in the Netherlands, Canada, Hungary, and Denmark.
The Dutch policy context explains the “innovation” part, but the “extreme scenarios” part came from somewhere else. For that I was inspired by the World War II story of the Habbakuk aircraft carrier which was commissioned by Winston Churchill. The Allies were plagued by German U-boats, and Churchill desperately needed an innovative solution to this particular problem. In the extreme scenario of war, Churchill authorized the production of a radically innovative solution: building an aircraft carrier made of ice – specifically Pykrete, a frozen mixture of water and sawdust.
Pykrete seems like ordinary ice but the addition of sawdust makes it into a kind of wonder material that takes longer to melt and invulnerable to bullets. In the end the massive ship, which was to be christened “Habbakuk”, never saw the theatre of war but considerable effort was put into developing a prototype in total secrecy deep in the Canadian Rockies.
Inspired by both the Habbakuk story and our own policy situation brewing at home, some of the questions we’ve been trying to answer with this research are things like: What are the best contexts for innovation to take place? What are the myths surrounding how innovation occurs? Does the pressure of an extreme scenario inspire innovative solutions, or only eccentric, unrealisable concepts? What’s the U-boat problem of today?
The theme of Innovation in Extreme Scenarios is also being explored in the programme that I devised and curate at V2_ called Blowup. Blowup refers to a number of things: the way that you can blow up a photograph, a balloon, a situation, and of course – the Antonioni film. I see it as a container that presents things in a slightly different way each time, and that its main remit is to examine the things that are changing the way we live now, or reinforcing the status quo of today. The formats for Blowup have varied a lot: from a workshop, to a talk show, to a talk show within a talk show, to a five day booksprint, to an exhibition in a pop-up space. The topics have been equally eclectic: art for animals, outer space, journalism as an art practice, object-oriented ontology, and so on. The most consistent element is that each event has an eBook released along with it, and that these eBooks explore the topic in a little more depth, but also combine previously released material with newly commissioned material. We all have bulging bookshelves and intend to always read something later – by bringing relevant old texts back into the forefront, I hope to give them a chance for a second look (or a first look if you missed it when it was released).
EK: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
MK: For the future, I think new ideas are incredibly rare, and that doesn’t bother me at all – what interests me is that dreams that were previously impossible are becoming possible, and so my passion continues to be seeking out the inventive eccentrics with grand master plans, and being a part of realising that. Churchill dreamed of ending the war with a boat made of ice more than ten times the size of the Queen Mary. These are the kinds of big wild dreams – in scale and in scope, if not in my discipline – that I dream of.
Unmanned mobile devices, better known as drones, are one of the most significant ‘dark technologies’ of the 2010’s, and proceeds to reconfigure sociopolitical relations through the gesture of the remote gaze. Note that I say ‘mobile’, as opposed to ‘aerial’, as drones encompass unmanned land and water-based craft as well, but for our purposes, the flying eye has been the most visible technology in Baudrillard’s mediascape in terms of its use by the CIA in the Afghanistan/Pakistan and African theatres of operation.
To compound matters, the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act has created a milieu in which estimates are that there could be 10,000 domestic drones in use by 2020 (Bennett & Rubin). Drones are going to be one of the US’s major technology growth markets, with the devices being used in geographic, aerospace, and environmental research as well as military and law enforcement uses.
From this, a strange series of cultural disconnects are emerging as drone images become Tumblr fodder as part of the ‘New Aesthetic’ art movement via James Bridle’s Dronestagram site (Bridle), and drones proliferate through sites like DIYDrones.com and even retailer Costco. What emerges is a complex cultural landscape where a burgeoning remote air force polices the globe in the name of American power, while the images generated by them elicit a perverse visual fascination amongst certain subcultures. Furthermore, only slightly domesticated versions of these technologies are now being flown by techno-enthusiasts and children. What is developing is a complex set of relations that is abstracting power, interaction, and representation.
In March of 2012, a panel of five artists, writers, and designers presented a panel at the media festival South by Southwest entitled, “The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Digital Devices” (Bridle, et al). In this panel, they stated that the aesthetics of digital vision and representation, created through algorithmically-driven imaging and devices, including generative art, Kinects, and drones, are creating a machine aesthetic signaling a distinct step in the creation of the digital image since its emergence in the 1960’s. The panel expounded upon the aesthetics of new re-presentation technologies like 3D printing as well. Keep in mind that this panel drew with a very broad brush, including everything from algorism to computer glitch media, but what has intersected with current events are robot eyes like those of drones and their cyborg sighting mechanisms that team pattern recognition with human remote operators. This panel may have faded into obscurity if it were not for Bruce Sterling’s endnote talk foregrounding the concept (Sterling).
Bridle’s creation of the Dronestagram Tumblr foregrounds the drone’s eye view or the ‘shadow’ of the drone on the landscape, as depicted by Bridle’s Drone Shadow 002 (Bridle), which was a 1:1 scale outline of a drone’s shadow in Istanbul for the 1st Istanbul Design Biennial. Other projects that highlight the gaze from and the gazing of military drones are Trevor Paglen’s Drone Vision and Omar Fast’s film, Five Thousand Feet is the Best, which tells a fictionalized encounter of a Nevada-based drone operator with an interaction between a Middle Eastern family and a group of men planting an IED. Fast makes an interesting observation in the narrative, “Seeing the world from above doesn’t just flatten things, it sharpens them. It makes relationships clearer.” (Fast) Conversely, Trevor Paglen remarks on the nature of drone vision:
“What is particularly interesting to me are the ways in which ‘seeing like a drone’ is and is not like seeing through a standard bombsight: the techno-optical regime through which conventional bombing has been conducted differs from the high-resolution full-motion video feeds that inform (and misinform) the networked bombing of late modern war. Those feeds significantly compress the imaginative distance between the air and the ground, but they do so in a highly selective fashion.” (Paglen, from Gregory)
How I see the gaze of the drone is not through relief, technological regimes, or even traditional paradigms of Mulvey’s acquisitiveness of the male gaze (Mulvey), but of a Latourian network of objects (actors) in a network (Latour) that reconfigures the definition of the viewed object that the line of flight that the drone-gaze confers. In my model, the operator-node views the ‘sighted’ object through a framing of the drone camera, part of which is controlled by pattern-acquisition algorithms. What results is an augmented ‘cyborg’ sight in which the mise en scene is given the illusion of being sharpened by the technological regime of the drone’s technological systems. It is a line of flight that travels along of three nodes in a network of gaze; the operations site, the programmatic framing node of the drone-object which then redirects the gaze to the objective, transforming it from a house, person, or loved one to a target or objective. This is the problem of the cyborg gaze of the drone.
Another read of the drone gaze can be found in James Cameron’s movie, Avatar(ibid.) In it, disabled soldier Jake Sully operates a bioengineered clone of one of the native species, the Na’vi, to infiltrate their culture. While many have likened Avatar to a criticism of the Iraq and Afghanistan engagements, I posit that Jake’s avatar, is in fact a drone in biomorphic form. The difference here is not merely the optic (and haptic) immediacy of the avatar and its less destructive mission, but the avatar’s mission to win the “hearts and minds” of the native population, similar to that of the Afghanistan conflict. The drone-dream of Avatar is experience and agency without presence, although Jake does end up ‘going native’ when his human body is killed and his soul transfers into his Na’vi body. This echoes many films in which the colonizing body becomes part of the colonized demographic after spending time with them, like Dances with Wolves. It’s safe to say that a drone pilot might not want to ‘go native’ until such a biomorphic agent is invented, but Avatar problematizes the notion of remote engagement in terms of Fast’s affective gaze of the drone and its context to human relationships in addition to Cameron’s romanticization of the avatar-drone.
The second aspect of remote engagement that Avatar brings into focus is the lack of distinction between the technologically enabled person of disability versus the able-bodied person placed into a state of paralysis by being tied to the workstation or network-connected device. In The Third Interval, (Virilio) Paul Virilio posits this liminal (dis)abled state as an effect of the technological collapse of space through networked technology, but as Raunig states, a Deleuzian line of flight and invention appropriated by the state apparatus as a tool for the institution of war. Jake becomes freed by his cyborg existence, only to be trapped by the war machine of the corporate state until he is freed by the elimination of his techno-duality. It appears that true freedom can only come from the severance from remote control and cognitive integration with the drone itself. To experience the ontology of a drone, you must become one, not merely control it. (Bogost)
“There are eyes everywhere. No blind spot left. What shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? We’ll dream of being blind.” – Paul Virilio
Setting aside the idea of becoming drones, I want to share a cognitive dissonance that I experienced at the end of 2012. While reading descriptions of the dark spectacle of “The Light of God” (what the laser homing beam used for the Hellfire missile has been called) in the Middle East, over Christmas 2013 I was horrified to see stacks of drones for sale at the local Costco (a regional US wholesale big-box chain) in a picture posted on Facebook by scholar Richard Grusin. I had been working with devices like the ARDrone for a couple years, but to see stacks of them for holiday sale was a grim fantasy made real. It is not that, as Paul Virilio said, there are just more eyes in the panoptic First World (in addition to police cameras, phones, ATM machines and the like), but these particular eyes that are being used as extensions of state power are being sold as infantilized versions at holiday retailers. The ARDrone was the early techno-adopter’s fetish of the 2012 shopping season, military technology commodified as completely as any iPad (which it uses as a controller, by the way). As Laurie Anderson said in the film, McLuhan’s Wake, “if you want to get the job done, you‘re gonna want the latest thing…”(McLaughlin, et al), and in this case, the thing is the ARDrone. Or it could be any of the products promoted by Chris Anderson’s new project, DIYDrones.com, a start-up he left WIRED Magazine in part to create.
The connecting conversation between the military Predator and our “pet” predator (i.e. the videodrone; and there is an irony that many of our pets are predators, such as dogs, cats, and ferrets) is that I was communicating with artist Art Jones in Karachi, Pakistan who was doing an art project with the US State Department. He called it The Pakistani Playlist(), where US artists would send media and links to him in Karachi as a form of intercultural dialogue. I sent links to devices like the ARDrone and videos of children playing with these infantilized versions of military technologies that were zipping around the outer tribal lands. My aim, and Jones understood this, was that technoculture and the military-industrial complex sells a dark dichotomy between remote hunter-killers abroad and sexy flying eyes at home that one woman even asked me to use to see if her landlord had successfully removed the bird nest from her rafters. How can something so fun and useful, because it’s little more than a radio-controlled plane with a camera, be that dangerous? What’s the worst that could happen, except for perhaps having your teenage son spying on the sunbathing girl next door? As a point of note, that scenario was one illustrated briefly in a PBS documentary called The Rise of the Drones.
The cultural effect of the domesticated drone is that of banalization and aestheticization of military technology and its products that elide the stark reality that the ARDrone at the Costco is not a General Atomics Predator. The swarms of synchronized quadricopters being developed at Penn State in videos on YouTube are not seen in the context of their potential applications for the violation of personal privacy. In addition, Parrot (the maker of the ARDrone) offers tools to dynamically upload your flight videos to YouTube without vetting, and another app allows you to create snazzy dance numbers by creating aerial ballets for your drone on your iPad. Those who have always dreamt of flight, like me, can now share our dreams of flight through the social nets. Given this, drone flight logs have the potential of having the banality of funny cat videos and hipster Tumblr sites, while eliding the social issues these devices raise. What is the meaning of a domestic commons when Foucault’s panoptic vision is merely intensified by the number of Virilio’s public eyes? Is the fact that public eyes are now nearly universal, justifying the installation of more of them? And who are the operators, and what is the intent of the gaze of the domestic drone? And what of the configuration of the drone as fetishized object itself, such as Antoine Catala’s objectified drone exhibition (Kirsch) or Burt Jensen’s Orvillecopter(Netburn), the merger of taxidermied cat and quadridrone?
The emergence of the drone in all its configurations, fixed-wing, quadricopter, or rover, how they represent the detached gaze and how they are depicted in the media, call into the question the ethics of remote warfare, new forms of objectification, commodification, and aestheticization of intrusive technologies and their mediated production. The use of drone strikes by the CIA around the world, the intersection of these practices through critical artmaking sectors of The New Aesthetic and its obsession with the machine eye, as well as the proliferation of domestic drones (at least in North America) show the complexities of the cultural impact of this ‘dark’ technology. Furthermore, where technology is in one place a weapon, in another a toy, and yet in another a fetishized object brings us to a complex discursive locus where the extension of military power, McLuhanist body augmentation, and cultural production are all brought into question. Where the military-industrial complex has given technological apparatuses with multivalent uses such as the Internet, drones complicate the concept of the remote eye in ways that are in no way even close to resolution.
Featured image: Five Thousand Feet is the Best by Omer Fast.
In perusing Honor Harger’s recent missive on drone aesthetics and James Bridle’s ongoing posts of drone images at Dronestagram, taken in context with the Glitch un-conference in Chicago, some new questions have come to mind. These questions have to do with conceptions of New Aesthetics in its various forms in terms of interaction with the program/device and its level of autonomy from the user. In my mind, there seems to be a NA continuum from generative programs that operate under the strict criteria of the programmer to the often-autonomous actions of drones and planetary rovers. As you can see, I am still chewing on the idea that The New Aesthetic as it seems to be defined, as encompassing all semi-autonomous aspects of ‘computer vision’. This includes Glitch, Algorism, Drone imagery, satellite photography and face recognition, and it’s sometimes a tough nugget to swallow that resonates with me on a number of levels.
First, image-creating technological agents are far from new, as Darko Fritz recently stated in a talk that algorithms have been creating images, in my opinion, within criteria of NA since the 60’s, and pioneers like Frieder Nake, A. Michael Noll, and Roman Verostko have been exploring algorithmic agency for decades. If we take these computer art pioneers into account, one can argue that NA has existed since the 60’s if one lumps in genres like Verostko’s ‘style’ of Algorism or the use of algorithms as aesthetic choice. A notch along the continuum toward the ‘fire and forget’ imaging (e.g. drones) is the Glitch contingent, which is less deterministic about their methodologies of data corruption aesthetics by either running a program that corrupts the media or they perform digital vivisection and watch what little monster they’ve created. Glitchers exhibit less control over their processes, and are much more akin to John Cage, Dada or Fluxus artists in their allowance of whimsical or chance elements in their media.
However, as we slide along the spectrum of control/autonomy from the lockstep control of code to the less deterministic aesthetics of face recognition, drone imaging, robotic cameras, Google Street View cams, Mars Rovers and satellite imaging, things get murkier. Autonomic aesthetics remind me of the ruby-hued Terminator T500 vision generated by intelligent agents running the ‘housekeeping’ on the machine platform. I consider this continuum from Algorism to Glitch to autonomous robotic agents under an NA continuum of aesthetics is important insofar as it defines a balance of agency between the operator and the ‘tool’. For me this is the difference between the high degree of control of the Algorist, the ‘twiddle and tweak’ sensibility of the Glitcher, and the gleaning from the database of pseudo-autonomous images created by Big Imaging created by drones and automatic imaging. Notice I use the term ‘pseudo’ in that there are operators flying the platforms or driving the car, while the on-board agents take care of issues like pattern/face recognition and target acquisition. We also see this in Facebook, as recent technological changes as of 2012 have introduced face recognition in the tagging of images. From this, a key issue for me in this discussion of what began as a nebulous set of terms (the criteria of NA as defined by the global conversation) is that of agency and autonomy, and how much control the New Aestheticist gets in the execution of their process. Another important point is that I am not calling the ‘New Aestheticist’ an artist or curator, but something in between, but I’ll get to that later as this is also an issue of control of intent.
Back to this idea of autonomy between the subject, the ‘curator’ and the viewer, what interests me is the degree of control or not that the person creating, tweaking, or gleaning the image has over the creation or contextualization of that image. In the case of the Algorist, this is the Control end of the spectrum, where the artist takes nearly full control of the process of creation of the image, unless there is a randomization function involved in the process, and that it itself is a form of control – very Cybernetic in nature. Agency is at a maximum here, as the artist and machine are in partnership. Roman Verostko is a prime example of this, as he explores intricate recursive images created by ink pen plotters using paints in the pens. What he, and the AI-driven AARON, by Harold Cohen, for that matter, are machine painting.
The next step down the autonomy spectrum would involve the use of ‘glitch’ tools and processes that distort, disturb, and warp digital media. The process involves executing a given intervention upon the medium, such as saving it improperly, hex editing its code to corrupt it, or as Caleb Kelly writes, ‘crack’ the media. There are differing degrees of disturbance of the media to inject chance processes into it, from a more ‘algoristic’/programmatic application of programs upon the media to directly changing the internal data structure through manipulating the information through hex code and text editors. The resultant process is an iterative ‘tweak and test’ methodology that still involves the user in the process to varying degrees. Of course, the direct manipulation of the data with a hex editor is the most intimate of the processes, but there is still one factor to account for. The factor in question is that there is the set of causes and effects that are set in motion when the artist/operator opens the media and the codec (Compressor/DECompressor) mis/interprets the media, as is intended by the artist.
If we are to look at the glitch process, we can say that there is a point of intervention/disturbance upon the media, which is entirely a function of control on the part of the user. Afterwards, it is set loose into the system to allow the corruptions within the media to trigger chance/autonomous operations in its interpretation in the browser, etc. This is where the glitcher straddles the line between control and autonomy, as they manually insert noise into their media (control), then the codecs struggle with the ‘cracked’ media (autonomy). The glitcher, then, has the option to try a new iteration, thereby making the process cybernetic in nature. In Glitch, there is a conversation between the operator, the media and the codec. With the aesthetics created by drones, algorithmic recognition software, and satellite reconstructions, the process is far more autonomous/disjoint, and the New Aestheticist has to deal with this in the construction of their practice.
In the genre that I will call ‘mobEYEle’ imaging, the robot, satellite, or parabolic street eye abstracts from the ‘artist’, aptly turning them into an ‘aestheticist’, as their level of control is defined as that of a gleaner/pattern recognizer from the image bank of Big Data. Rhetorically speaking, we could say that a connection between the aestheticist and the generator of the image would be less abstract if, say, a New Aestheticist were to be in the room with a drone pilot, conversing about points of interest. It is likely that a military remote pilot and a graphic designer would have sharply differing views as to what constitutes a ‘target of interest’. Like that’s going to happen…
Therefore, let us just say that the collaboration of a New Aestheticist and a drone pilot is nightly unlikely, and that the New Aestheticist is therefore abstracted from the decisions of command and control involved in acquiring the image that eventually gets in their hands. This, however, presents us with two levels of autonomous agency, one human and one algotrithmic. But before I expand on this, I would like to discuss my decision to call the practitioner an ‘aestheticist’ as opposed to an artist or curator.
This decision rests on what I feel is the function of the aestheticist, that is, to glean value from an image and ‘ascribe’ an aesthetic to it. This position puts them in a murky locus between artist and curator, as they have elements of neither and both. For example, does the drone-image NA practitioner create the image; are they the artist per se, of the image? No. Although they are more closely aligned to curatorial practice as they collect, filter (to paraphrase Anne-Marie Schleiner), and post on tumblrs and Pinterests? From my perspective, the role of a curator is the suggestion of taste through and informed subjectivity through ecologies of trust and legitimacy, but the social image aggregator, although they might want to perform the same function, has no guarantee of accomplishing this unless they develop a following. Therefore, under my definition, they are neither creators nor taste-makers in the traditional sense, so what makes sense is to call them ‘aggregators’ of aesthetic material and thus my term ‘Aestheticist’.
Returning to our conversation, the drone aestheticist, then, is subject to one of two degrees of completely abstracted autonomy of the creation of the image; that of the operator or that of the algorithms operating the drone. The abstraction surrounding the human operator is easiest to resolve, as the images of interest are either the preference of the drone operator or those created by the operator under the parameters of the mission, and not the results of a New Aestheticist’s joyride on a Global Hawk. It is merely someone else’s volition selecting the image, and a confluence of personal interest deciding as to whether the image deserves to be on the New Aestheticist’s social imaging organ. However, it is the drone’s algorithmic image acquisition system that creates a more alien perspective in regards to aesthetics and autonomy of the image.
Compared to the Algorist or the Glitcher, all loosely placed under the banner of New Aesthetics, the Drone/Big Data Aestheticist is most problematic, as they are a fetishizer of sheer command and control operations that are potentially utterly abstracted from the pilot/driver’s volition. This creates a double abstraction through first the pilot, and then the algorithmic recognition system. There is no cybernetic loop here at all, as the gleaning of the item of interest from the beach of Big Data is twice removed from any feedback potential. Secondly, as I have written before, the Drone Aestheticist is exactly that, a gleaner of interesting images for use on their social image site, which in itself is a bit of an abject exercise.
Or is it? For example, if one is to say that the Aestheticist gleaning the images does so without intent or politics, and is merely operating on fetish/interest value, then this is perhaps one of the least interesting practices in New Aesthetic practice. But on the other hand, if one looks at the work of practitioners like Jordan Crandall, Trevor Paglen, or Ricardo Dominguez, who examine the acquired image as instrument of aggression, control, and oppression, this puts a new lease on the life of the Drone Aesthetic. In a way, though inquiry, there is an indirect feedback loop established in questioning the gaze of the device, its presence, and its function in its theater of operations. The politics of the New Aesthetic emerges here, in asking what mechanisms of command and control guide the machine eye and determine its targets of interest. This is of utmost importance, as the abstracted eye is guided without subjectivity or ethics and is determined solely by the parameters of its algorithms and the stated goals of its functions.
Is the aesthetic of the machine image merely a function of examining its processes, fetishizing its errors, or something else? The criteria of the New Aesthetic attempts to talk about a spectrum of digital imaging that stretches back into time far longer than 2010, and has a problematically broad sense of definition. Once these problems are set aside as a given, one of the key criteria for the evaluation of NA practice and the function of its images depends upon the degree of control and autonomy inherent in the process within the creation of the image. This is formed in a continuum of control and abstraction from Algorism and Generative Art to autonomous eyes like drones and satellites. Algorism is one of the oldest NA practices, and exhibits the closest relationship between artist, machine and determinacy of digital process. A greater degree of indeterminacy is evident in the Glitch, but the iterative process of tweaking the media and then setting it forth into the process of interpretation by the codec, foregrounds the issue of digital autonomy.
The eye of the unmanned platform abstracts creation from the human organism at least once if a human does not operate it remotely, and twice if it is. There is the Terminator-like fear of the autonomous robot, but at this time, perhaps the more salient questions regarding what I have qualified as drone/autonomous aestheticism under NA of what the function of the image is, and is it really that interesting? Are the practices of NA blurring artistic and curatorial practice into a conceptual aestheticism, creating a cool detachment from the image despite its source or method of creation? Is the bottom line to the genres of NA the degree of control that the artist or aestheticist has over the image’s creation or its modality/intent? It seems that NA is an ongoing reflection upon the continuum of control over the generation of the image, our beliefs regarding its aesthetics, and what the intentions or politics are behind the creation of the New Aesthetic image. Or, as I have written before, are we just pinning images from Big Data and saying, “Isn’t that kinda cool?”
Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of intention and cool.
Featured image: Jon Satrom (left) and jonCates at Intuit, Sept. 20, 2012 (right). image: Shawne Michaelain Holloway
Post-Static: Realtime Performances by jonCates and Jon Satrom @ Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago). September 20, 2012. Programmed by Christy LeMaster
“Alchemy; the science of understanding the structure of matter, breaking it down, then reconstructing it as something else. It can even make gold from lead. But Alchemy is a science, so it must follow the natural laws: To create, something of equal value must be lost. This is the principle of Equivalent Exchange. But on that night, I learned the value of some things can’t be measured on a simple scale.”
In 1966, Bell Laboratories scientists and engineers collaborated with artists to construct several performance-based installations under the title 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering. Works included Variations VII by John Cage and performance engineer Cecil Coker, in which a sound system pulled sounds from radio, telephone lines, microphones and musical instruments, and Carriage Discreteness by Yvonne Rainer and performance engineer Per Biorn, a dance event controlled by walkie-talkie and TEEM (theatre electronic environment modular system). Critic Lucy Lippard was wrote that the event was filled with technical problems and that the artists involved allowed the technology to take precedence over the art. She pointed out that no theatre people took part in the event and suggested that while this event did not offer a specific design for a new approach to theatre, it revealed the possibility that new approaches to theatre might be born from the combination of art and technology:
A new theater might well begin as a non-verbal phenomenon and work back towards words from a different angle. Departing from Samuel Beckett’s highly verbal, single-image emphasis, it could move into an area of perceptual experience alone, its tools a more primitive use of sight and non-linguistic sound. Such a theater would not necessarily be the amorphous carnival of psychedelic fame but could be as rigorously controlled as any other.
She also observed that it was often impossible to understand the relationship between the technology and the events it triggered without reading the program, mentioning one such missed connection in Open Score, by Robert Rauschenberg and performance engineer Jim McGee. In this piece, tennis rackets were wired such that each impact of the ball on a racket turned off one light in the performance hall. Lippard wrote that this connection was not noticeable and thus the conceptual framework of the piece was lost to the audience.
To artists working at the intersection of art and technology more than forty years after this event, it is disturbing to note that the same issues Lippard pointed out —the subjugation of concept to technology, the failure of the technology itself and the lack of a radical approach to the intersection— are still all too present in many works taking place in the worlds of new media art 
. None of these were issues for jonCates or Jon Satrom as each presented a performance intersecting with the exhibition “Ex-Static: George Kagan’s Radios” at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, IL. Their performances serve as examples of new media employed as a tactic in support of art rather than “new media art” as a condition represented by infatuation with expensive devices. Instead of yet another demo of “cool” tech, the audience experienced a rigorously controlled blast of chaos.
The lights go down completely and we are illuminated by a large amorphous video projection behind a table stacked with equipment. The video is black and white as is the video monitor facing us from the table. jonCates moves between the back and front of the table, with purpose. While the equipment stack is familiar, multiple mixers and cases, this is no DJ set. Much closer is the image of a few men in long sleeves and ties tending to tables full of equipment for John Cage’s “Variations VII”. With several nondescript devices on and adjusted, the air around us has become alive with a noisy drone that, by this date and to this audience, is very familiar (parallels extend back to sonic attacks from Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter with Throbbing Gristle) but now the sound is comforting, an aural field that is neither alien nor distracting.
A droning, machine sound, or the droning machine sound, has become a ridiculously common element of a contemporary “experimental” sound and video work. It is thus all the more surprising to be instantly drawn into jonCates’ audio, to take pleasure in it and to lose track of time completely. We are watching him control the mixer and occasionally speak into the microphone that is set in front of a conspicuous security camera. Again, jonCates uses the most expected situation —the camera faces upward toward the video projection screen, creating a counter-clockwise tilting feedback loop. And again, we are not distracted by this, it is familiar yet beautifully framed and we are drawn in. We have been invited to a field constructed by a tactician expertly employing simple situations.
The raw quality of both the droning audio and the feedback loop combine with jonCates’ humble appearance to remove the expectation of a spectacle and we return to the real situation with questions: who is this man and what is he going to do? He keeps speaking into the microphone, his eyes look desperate, and, despite seeing him perform a similar (although much less engaging) performance at the 2011 Gli.tc/h festival, we are surprised as we realize, as it is nearly two-thirds complete, what he is doing: giving a lecture.
jonCates has been speaking for some time but only a few echoed fragments are reaching out beyond the drone. It has been an incantation without purpose, a repetition of the meaningless words one says when one is presenting something to an audience. Finally, jonCates drops the distortion and the volume on the droning sound and his voice becomes clearer. It is obvious that some communication is going to happen and everyone shifts slightly as we strain to remember how to listen to a voice. Are we here to see another performance or hear something important?. The voice is not strong and it has no authority. It is perfectly ordinary, slightly academic with a hint of vulnerability. It’s the voice of a mad scientist who has begun to understand that his experiments may be his undoing. At this point the piece could collapse and jonCates has not propped himself up with his technology. Instead, he’s used it to lead us to key moments and obliterating everything else. Still, he seems not so much frightened as curious to see where this will end, if what he needs to say can be given a short lifespan in this space. This is where performance lives —in the unfolding present. And jonCates says:
“…and I thought [?] … I thought [?] about how I should remix something in realtime for you that I should reflect upon the past, I should reflect upon [?] …patterns so I thought that I should probably do this as a remix and render it in realtime for you but then I found … from 1997…and it was sitting right next to the first tape … it was sitting right next to the first tape, had the same title as the first one, that also said “Flow” and right next to it had another a label that said “Remix” and I thought ‘I already made that piece’ [sampled voice droning: ‘oceanic waves upon waves upon waves upon waves’] and that’s almost too good to be true so I put the tape called ‘remix’ into the VCR, not this VCR. I had to buy a new VCR that VCR broke and … called ‘remix’ .. rendered in realtime for you … and I watched it, and almost [? ] [?] decide … I had already … [sampled voice droning: ‘we can stay in the spell of the laser lights’] … and I’ve been thinking about these things … [sampled voice droning: ‘we are all together … in the time space continuum of … of … of …’ and the drone continues.]”
“The peculiarity of the time bounce, as he mulled it over, was that the resumption of the earlier state of being not only set physical objects back to their former positions, it actually wiped out the events of the lost hour. Like daylight saving indeed! With the lost hour unhappened, even memories of the time were obliterated…They might be reliving a given moment for the fifth time, the fiftieth, the five millionth, and never notice it!”
“A representation is the occasion when something is re-presented, when something from the past is shown again —something that once was, now is. For representation it is not an imitation or description of a past event, a representation denies time. It abolishes that difference between yesterday and today. It takes yesterday’s action and makes it live again in every one of its aspects —including it’s immediacy. In other words, a representation is what it claims to be —a making present.”
“For every organ-machine, an energy-machine: all the time, flows and interruptions. Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus. And rest assured that it works: Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and is capable of explaining the process theoretically. Something is produced: the effects of a machine, not mere metaphors.”
They are called radio buttons because on old car radios you pushed one button and the other popped out. The performances of jonCates and Jon Satrom were developed as an intersection with the exhibition Ex-Static: George Kagan’s Radios at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, on display until January 5, 2013, curated by Erik Peterson and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford.
“In the wee, wee hours your mind get hazy / Radio relay towers lead me to my baby / The radio’s jammed up with talk show stations / Its just talk, talk, talk, talk, till you lose your patience”
jonCates makes Dirty New Media Art, Noise Musics and Computer Glitchcraft. His experimental New Media Art projects are presented internationally in exhibitions and events from Berlin to Beijing, Cairo to Chicago, Madrid to Mexico City and widely available online. His writings on Media Art Histories also appear online and in print publications, as in recent books from Gestalten, The Penn State University Press and Unsorted Books. He is the Chair of the Film, Video, New Media & Animation department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:
Jon Satrom undermines interfaces, problematizes presets, and bends data. He spends his days fixing things and making things work. He spends his evenings breaking things and searching for the unique blips inherent to the systems he explores and exploits. By over-clocking everyday digital tools, Satrom kludges abandonware, funware, necroware, and artware into extended-dirty-glitchy-systems for performance, execution, and collaboration. His time-based works have been enjoyed on screens of all sizes; his Prepared Desktop has been performed in many localizations. Satrom organizes, develops, and performs with I ♥ PRESETS, poxparty, GLI.TC/H, in addition to other initiatives with talented dirty new-media comrades.
In September 2012, Italian tactical media artist Salvatore Iaconesi got the diagnosis. He had a glioma (glial cell brain cancer) of approximately 2×3 cm on the surface of his right hemisphere. Upon asking to see all the data relating to his condition, he found that all of the documents, MRI scans, and so on were in obscure not readily used formats. This meant that if one wanted to view the data, you needed specific or corporate software.
What he did then was remarkable. Iaconesi then hacked the formats of the documents and converted them into open-source ones that anyone could read could read with FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source) software. He then created the site, La Cura, where he presented his records as an “open source cure”. People around the world could access his records and then add their recommendations and findings about his condition, cancer, and so on. I begin this interview with Salvatore on September 15, 2012, and the La Cura website already has a rapidly expanding database of information at http://www.artisopensource.net/cure/.
Patrick Lichty: Salvatore, thank you for having this conversation. I remember that it was only a year and a half ago when we were shop-giving copies of the REFF tactical media book from your project, Fake Press in Rome. So, it was a shock when I learned of the glioma the day you launched the site. Could you talk a little about what is on the La Cura site?
Salvatore Iaconesi: Hi Patrick! Yes I do remember, too. And that is also a great explanation on what can be found at La Cura site: it is like one of our “fakes”, except that it is not a fake.
La Cura is about an alternative reality which I want to materialize on this planet, now. In this alternative reality, when someone has a serious disease, life does not end. One can be social, creative, and friendly. Work, art, design, fun and entertainment are possible for diseased people in this alternative reality, just as it is possible to reach out to find cures in any philosophy, time, strategy, culture or way one wishes. And consider that even technologies in this alternative reality are designed to enable and facilitate all this, actively promoting the freedom and autonomy of people.But, sadly, life is not like this alternative reality.
I wanted it to be my alternative reality, so I just did everything it took to bring that reality into the world. It’s like when you make an Augmented Reality application: you do a series of things to “materialize” some other things into ordinary reality. And then you have them, right there. So, La Cura is my personal Augmented Reality, in which, if I want to, I have all the tools and information I need to find a “cure” for my disease in one of multiple ways and strategies, which are medical, cultural, technological, emotional, artistic, political etc.
To achieve this, I have had to go through a series of obstacles:
The first is connected to language and information, as the first thing you notice at the hospital is that they are not really talking to you. Medical language is difficult and complex, and they rarely take action to make things more understandable to you. One of the testimonies I received in La Cura was that of a lady who has found herself in front of a doctor shouting at her: “You really think that I will explain to you why your thyroid has to be removed? It has to be removed! That’s it!”
This is really not “open”, in any sense. And, in more than one way, it is an explicit evidence of the approach which medicine has towards patients: they cease to be “humans” and become sets of parameters on a medical record subject to certain protocols and standards. When you are in the hospital, it’s often as if you’re not there. The only thing that matters is your data: blood pressure, heartbeat, magnetic resonance etc.
And the way in which information reflects this if handled in this context. Data formats may be, technically “open”, meaning that they are described somewhere but they’re really an explicit reflection that when you’re sick you “step out of society”. That data is usable and accessible only to “professionals” and to those people who have tools and skills to handle them.
I, as someone with considerable expertise with computers, have had some difficulties in opening them. Imagine someone else with less skill! Most people would not have been able to benefit from all the types of “cure” which I am currently accessing from a variety of sources and modalities. They would not have access to a “cure” that doesn’t end at a list of medicines and dosages, but spreads out into society.
To do that, I have had to hack into the information and convert it into really “open” data, using multiple formats that could be used by many kinds of people to do multiple things. In the format that the data was originally in, even if it was “technically open”, that data would have been seen only by “professional doctors” and, instead of being a “human being”, I would only have been a “patient”, or worse yet, a “case”.
PL: What do you want people to do with the information?
SI: Whatever they wish! Obviously! What is important in this case is that we must agree on what the “information” is… What I am publishing is my autonomous will to disclose my state of disease, including all data and medical information. I have my own purposes for this, but it does not necessarily mean that this purpose must/should be shared by others.
My personal purpose for this disclosure is to autonomously shape my own human condition. I have a disease but I am not a “diseased person”. I am a person. And, as such, I wish to create my personal “cure”, which has to do with my life, not with my disease. For what people know, I might even consider cancer as not being a “disease” at all! I might, for example, consider it an expression of the “cure”, such as if I adhered to Hamer’s theories. Which I don’t, or, at least, not in the sense that “I believe” in Hamer’s theories; I take them into consideration, but I don’t believe in them, just as I don’t believe in chemotherapy, in Aloe Vera, in Caisse Formula, in surgery, in shamanism, in healers, oncology or in any of these things. I take all of them into serious consideration, just as I seriously consider certain philosophies that say that we are made of energy, energy creates matter, and cancer is “matter” and so on. Therefore, cancer must be created by energy in some form. And so it could possibly be that I created cancer myself in a way or another.
So in this sense, I think it is very important to be able to easily look at the images of my cancer and to say “hello” to them. It is important to turn them upside down, to edit them with GIMP, to make mosaics out of them, to speak to them, asking “hello?” What are you doing in there? Did I do something to cause you? Can I change something to make you/myself feel better?”
Both scientific and traditional evidence shows that art, positive emotions, laughter, reduced stress, and a good social life have great practical benefits to the human body, I want to seriously consider that part of my cure could be formed by receiving an image of my brain with a smiley face drawn across it over the tumor, or a picture of a friend of mine, or a video of a projection mapping done with Processing in which the images of my cancer cover a whole facade of a building.
And since I don’t want to believe, but I want to take all of these things into serious consideration, I cannot focus only on the “medical” approach (and the related information, and its formats). I need to access all of my information in multiple ways, and I wish that everyone could do the same (as, from my point of view, it’s part of my Cure). And, even if “technically open”, the format in which my medical records have been disclosed is not enough, because it is “open for professionals” and so the only thing I could do with it would be “show it to professionals”, missing out on all the other wonderful parts of the “cure” which are available in the world.
This for me, is an interesting starting point to think about what things such as “OpenData” could mean. This is far beyond the idea that some government can some data according to ways in which some “professionals” could grab it and, do something like make a visualization or an App out of them. Who knows? In this sense, instead, we would not be talking about “technology”, we would be talking about “humanity”.
In the end, this is exactly what I’d like people to do with the “information”. I want the world to take the fact that I decided to disclose the fact that I have a disease and that I want to actively search for a cure for from all of these perspectives. In the meantime, I want to reconsider what it means to be “diseased” in current times and what new conceptions of the word “cure”, “medicine” associated with my condition could mean.
PL: What has happened since you launched the La Cura site?
SI: Lots of things. People are contributing and participating in multiple ways. There are testimonies, art, poetry, suggestions, videos, performances. Many doctors have called in to propose their methodologies and technologies. I have had very interesting and profound discussions with people who are prepared to deal with very complex things every day of their lives. I’ve communicated with doctors who are perfectly open to the possibility of such a paradigm change for the word “cure”. Artists, designers, activists, are giving me wonderful parts of “cure”. Many “patients”, “ex-patients”, “relatives” and “friends” of “diseased people” are sharing their experiences, are opening discussions, are sharing the information I found on possible medical cures. And so many people want to talk to someone in new and different ways, becoming again, simply, humans. Journalists from all kinds of media have started to ask for interviews, texts and videos. We stopped that after a while, as we don’t wish to turn this into merely a “spectacle”. We only keep on working on this with journalists which we know we can trust and which we know will not transform what we say to produce their news.
PL: For your information, I had an MRI in 2009 here in the States, due to my doctors’ concerns of something similar (nothing was found), but when I asked for the data, I got a CD full of JPEG images. Were you surprised when you found out your records were in particular formats?
SI: They were not really in a proprietary format. Let’s call them “exotic formats for professionals”. And yes, I would have expected something which I could have shared easily (such as your JPEG images, and maybe some meta-data in some easy to use format such as XML, or even a spreadsheet). But this was a sort of paradox: an “open” format which is really hard to open and to use for something else other than putting the CD in an envelope and (snail)mailing to the next doctor.
PL: What do you think the line is between privacy and data oppression? Would that be when the patient is denied access to their rights to access the information and distribute it as they wish?
SI: We should all know this by now. Privacy is not a problem unless the “system” is made by lousy people. We have tools to protect ourselves and to promote ourselves, and these tools are dangerous only when who runs them is a lousy person. Privacy protection arises through education (understanding what is privacy and when/where/how/why would I want to protect it) and through the acquisition of decent ethics from the people and organizations which run the entire infrastructure through which all our digital data goes through. And obviously, and most importantly, our ethics is created by helping each other out in a P2P way, teaching each other what we know, what we discover and how we decided to handle it when we found out.
There is no single line between privacy and data oppression. Not one which everyone would agree on. We have the tools for each one of us to tune this line to our own wishes, according to what we want to do, what are our desires, what are our objectives etc. We “just” need more places (physical, digital, virtual, institutional, occasional…) in which to discuss and share our points of view, as every time this happens, many things are learned on all sides.
PL: Do you consider your site a form of radical tactical media intervention?
SI: I can now say “I have a radical tactical media intervention in my head”. Cancer is the new Black. The Cancer is the Message. And we could go on. I don’t know. I guess I could call it that. I also guess I could call it a performance. I guess I could call it life. I guess I could call it hacking or whatever. I will just call it La Cura.
PL: What has been the most inspirational information, art, or otherwise that has resulted from the launching of the La Cura site?
SI: The most enlightening thing that happened is the experience of talking about the same exact thing using dozens of different languages. I have spoken with neurosurgeons, shamans, nutritionists, pranotherapists, doctors, activists, macrobiotics, hippies, cyberpunks, punks, friends, relatives. Most of the time, I received incredibly good advice. When you look at that advice from different points of view, you start to understand that you are really talking about the same thing, but in different languages.
For example, two of the most important things which you deal with when you talk about cancer are the idea of creating alkaline environments in your body (because cancer cells cannot stand them) and the facts that anti-oxidants are a great tool in support of any type of therapy (because of the molecular reactions which are at the base of cancer).
Well, speaking of just these two, it occurred to me that multiple theories deal exactly with these two concepts. I have had an esoteric master describe my cancer as an invisible living being, and he suggested to drive it away using sulfur and Rosa Rubiginosa oil, in ways which turn them into two incredible anti-oxidants and creators of alkaline environments as well as powerful stimulants of the immune system. I have also spoken with nutritionists and macrobiotics communities and learned about their instructions on choosing food, cooking and eating, many of which are directed exactly to that: anti-oxidants and creating alkaline environments, but through food.
And when an oncologist explained us his therapy, that’s exactly what it was about: powerful anti-oxidants and alkaline environments. And on, and on and on. Aloe Vera, Caisse formula, fungus theory, chemiotherapy, Di Bella method, potassium ascorbate, ketogenic diets, etc: all highlight cancer cells in some way; create an environment around them which is as alkaline as possible; anti-oxidate them; activate the immune system as powerfully as possible so that the highlighted weakened, cancer cells can be more easily “convinced” at mutating back to a decent form or to commit suicide with the help of the immune system. Realizing this is an enlightening experience: it spans across thousands of years and also helps you make some choices (things stand out when they speak about different things!).
Everything else that is going on in La Cura is wonderful, but having realized this fact is just incredible and fascinating. You start imagining about all the other things we discuss about in our daily lives using multiple languages (energy, politics, emotions…) and start to wonder what would happen if you turned on this shared, P2P modality in those cases as well.
PL: How do you hope that others will benefit from the conversation that you are starting through La Cura?
SI: I don’t “hope” anything. I did this because I felt I needed to. When one talks about “revolution” dialogues start arriving at the point when one says, “Let’s burn everything down!” “Let’s destroy everything!” and so on.
We know we can’t do it. We can’t “destroy everything”. It’s not possible. What we can do is to create a reality as if everything already happened – as if the “revolution” already happened, as if the world had been burned down already, and rebuilt, just the way you like it. We can live life like this. It is a bit more than “seeing things”. But you do Augmented Reality, Patrick. You know what I mean. It’s a bit more than “writing”, it’s about creating worlds.
PL: As of this interview, what is the prognosis of your condition?
SI: Depends on what perspective you look at it from. From the medical point of view I have a low-grade glioma at intensity which is still undecided, between 1 and 2 (we will have to wait an histologic exam to know for sure). From the human point of view: I am fine! I have no apparent symptoms. I just need to be careful because if I find myself in stressful situations I could react by having an epileptic shock. So it is not advised that I drive or things like that. It’s the perfect excuse! 🙂
PL: Don’t you think it’s funny that the abbreviation for your name is “si”?
SI: Sì! Obviously 🙂
Featured image: London Hackspace http://wiki.london.hackspace.org.uk/view/London_Hackspace
…the machine is always social before it is technical.
Though the term ‘lab’ conjures the image of a fairly sanitised environment optimised for scientific experiments and populated by people in white coats, media labs – centres for creative experimentation – are quite different. At their most basic, they are spaces – mostly physical but sometimes also virtual – for sharing technological resources like computers, software and even perhaps highly expensive 3D printers; offering training; and supporting the types of collaborative research that do not easily reside elsewhere. In the early-to-mid-1990s, partly propelled by the exciting possibilities of the internet and associated web browser technologies, groups began to coalesce, bent on developing access to the inherent potential of collective creativity. With the exuberant new dot.com businesses fuelling a ‘creative economy’, the Californian ‘cybercafé’ (surf the internet and slurp the coffee) was emulated in urban centres around the UK and in some cases artists were heavily involved. They saw the internet’s myriad ways of changing the way we make, think about and share art – not to mention its capacity for social empowerment – and wanted to harness these qualities quickly and effectively. With many practitioners coming from the spaces, practices and communities forged by the independent film and video movement, the phenomenon of the UK media lab was born. However, despite the importance of these spaces as the hybrid homes of the then emergent and now embedded creative activities that characterise today’s rich field of digital and media practices, their history and contribution to current lab environments has been little discussed outside a niche arena.
Early Media Labs
Two of the earliest UK media labs were Artec and Backspace (aka Bakspc), both based in London. Artec, which was established in 1990, was initially funded by Islington Council and ESF (the European Social Fund), but soon won additional support from Arts Council England. Conceived by Frank Boyd and Derek Richards, its focus from the outset was to deploy technology for social empowerment and, early on, it provided valuable professional training to the long-term unemployed. In this sense, it did not operate from within an arts context proper, but combined art and technology in the name of social integration. Creative projects were led by Graham Harwood, whose own artistic practice and his collective Mongrel were formed through associations at Artec.
Harwood and Mongrel’s practice is known widely for scrutinising social, political and cultural divisions through a framework of technology. A notable piece from this period was Rehearsal of Memory (1995), which took the collective experiences of staff and patients at Ashworth high security mental hospital, near Liverpool, and presented them as a unified and anonymous computer-based group portrait. Now available as a CD-ROM, the work strongly undermines the assumptions we make about mental health, blurring the line between those branded ‘normal’ or not. It is an excellent example of the way artists and media labs habitually combine creative activities with technology to give people a renewed agency. Around 1995, Peter Ride was brought on board to curate a stream of activity called Channel, which lead to further powerful artworks including Ubiquity (1997) by David Bickerstaff and Susan Collins’ In Conversation (1997).
Without regular public funding, Backspace started out as an independent self-organised cybercafé. Initiated by James Stevens as a ‘soft space’ adjunct to his commercial web design business, Obsolete, it had a physical studio and lounge on Clink Street. People could drop in and use the web access and computer terminals in exchange for a nominal membership fee and commitment to maintain the space. What is notable about the Backspace model is how it attempted to foster a co-operatively managed resource. It exemplified a preoccupation amongst internet culture devotees with autonomy and new forms of governance, and struggled with all the contradictions of such ideals alongside the fact of its commercial parent entity. Obsolete shared its (at that time) capacious bandwidth. This gave people web hosting and streaming capabilities that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive; allowed for the hosting of many artistic projects produced within the space itself; and facilitated many early streaming experiments with link-ups between other European media labs including as E-lab in Riga, Lativa and Ljudmila in Llubljana, Slovenia. Early attendees and co-facilitators of Backspace now list some central figures of the Digital and New Media art fields including: Matt Fuller, Simon Pope, Armin Medosch, Heath Bunting, Ruth Catlow, Pete Gomes, Manu Luksch and Thomson and Craighead – even Turner Prize winner Mark Lecky was a regular for a while.
Globally distributed discussion networks provided a discursive layer for these media labs, with early mailing lists such as Nettime, Rhizome and Syndicate forging international connections around technology, art and politics. Likewise, Mute (at first a newspaper, then a glossy magazine, now a web journal) provided regular critical commentary on burgeoning digital culture.
Foundationally different, Artec and Backspace were united by a belief in the importance of access to tools and training within a social context. In slightly differing ways, they put creative experimentation and social concerns at the centre of the agenda via technology. This was to become an important organisational strategy for this sector. Though both spaces have since closed, Stevens continues to build social and technological infrastructure as Deckspace, at Borough Hall, Greenwich. Without a physical space, Frank Boyd has evolved his media lab system into an industry-orientated programme called Crossover, which assembles creative professionals to workshop cross-platform ‘experiences’ from a variety of creative arenas including film TV and the computer games industry. Crossover is one of many peripatetic media lab models that privilege collaborative creative processes, although it is more goal-orientated than most as participants often pitch to a panel of industry commissioners.
Process over Product
With less of an eye on industry and an abiding interest in the creative process itself, PVA MediaLab was formed in 1997 by artists Simon Poulter and Julie Penfold. In its first incarnation, it took up residence at Dartington College of the Arts, with funding from South West Arts. While there, artists were offered a well-equipped space in which to experiment with technology and develop ideas. In fact it is this developmental freedom that forms another core operational component of the media lab. Rather than asking artists to arrive with pre-formulated projects, or expecting them to see a piece through from start to finish, media labs have consistently placed value on self-determined exploration. PVA helps artists to manufacture methodologies rather than final artworks, fully designed products or content packages. They have also led the way in assisting other media labs to produce a similar system, through their Labculture programme. Highly itinerant, the Labculture model adjusts itself to host organisations, like Vivid, in Birmingham, so they can learn how to set and achieve goals while building the sorts of lasting partnerships that will sustain future activity.
This shared or Open Source way of working integral to media lab culture is also exemplified by GYOML (Grow Your Own Media Lab). A collaborative project between media labs Folly, Access Space and the Polytechnic, GYOML was designed to help generate more media lab initiatives. It has included: ‘GYOML in a Kitchen’, a sound recording and editing workshop by Steve Symons (Lancaster); ‘GYOML in a Van’, which staged an introductory workshop in media-lab culture for community group leaders (Lancaster); a game-centred ‘GYOML for teenagers’ (Rochdale); and ‘GYOML at the Canteen’, catering to film-makers and professional artists with an interest in open source (Barrow-in-Furness). Legacies of this project include the Digital Artists Handbook, an impressive guide to Open Source tools and techniques and ‘Grow Your Own Media Lab (the graphic novel)’, a set of inspiring case studies. Folly continue to work very much in this manner, forming essential infrastructural relationships as and where needed and guiding others through the adoption of free software.
Another example of this attention to operation and openess comes from GIST Lab, in Sheffield, which energises community-based projects through a space that hosts meetings and workshops. Even without a dedicated tech suite, their knowledge-exchange is a short-cut to all manner of original cross-over work, and they have supported yet another project that literally and metaphorically recreates aspects of the media lab model. 3D printing (or rapid prototyping) is increasingly popular in producing anything from car parts to jewellery, by layering materials like plastic into finished three-dimensional objects. RepRap, however, is able to print the spare parts it needs to be built while it is still itself under construction. Just like media labs, this self-replicating 3D Printer is all about sharing access to a successful system.
If media labs are not driven by material production, neither are they all about technology. Arising from the work of the art group, Redundant Technology Initiative, Access Space in Sheffield established its media lab through the use of free and recycled technology and learning. Given our cultural predisposition for wanting the latest, fastest equipment and our reprehensible dumping of perfectly serviceable technology, abundant hardware is sourced from all manner of locations. The latest Free and Open Source software is installed on the hardware where expensive proprietary software once lay and the media lab space, complete with this equipment, is opened to the public five days a week. The one proviso placed on this access – continuing the recycling theme – is that once a media lab participant has learnt how to do something, they should pass this knowledge on. As evidence of the success of this system Access Space boasts impressive outreach capacity: more than a thousand regular visitors, of which only about thirty-five percent are university educated, and over half are unemployed, and they habitually work with people experiencing disabilities, learning disorders, poor health, homelessness or other measures of exclusion.
One of the projects that clearly shows what they do is Zero Dollar Laptop, a collaboration with the Furtherfield organisation and community. Through a series of workshops, homeless participants are given the ability to use and maintain a free laptop complete with free software in self-led creative projects. It is this model of learning through self-directed creativity that arises again and again in media labs because it provides demonstrable results in helping people acquire and retain the skills they need. Without ‘bells and whistles’ new technology, Access Space emphasise the importance of ideas over technology and demystify all manner of computer-based skills. SPACE Studio’s MediaLab is also an excellent example of a lab working at a range of levels to offer beneficial specialised training. They teach software packages at a professional level to film makers, artists and a range of media industry workers, as well as offering film-making and media training for NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) teenagers in the local area. There are also a number of DIY Technology workshops including those regularly hosted by MzTEK who have expanded their operation as a result of their connections with SPACE. MzTEK are all about encouraging women to build technical skills and enter the new media sector. Growing from a small group to wide and supportive network they answer underdeveloped areas of knowledge. In addition to this, SPACE’s PERMACULTURES residency series has, to date, hosted eight residencies supporting over eleven artists, helping them explore technology and go on to show in a range of spaces.
The media lab also plugs an important gap in the art gallery and museum network. Digital and New Media arts are distinctive for collapsing boundaries between the place of production and exhibition. As a result, few existing art spaces have been in a position to fully represent it. Media labs, as well as community websites like Furtherfield and Rhizome, international festivals including ISEA and Transmediale and curatorial resources like CRUMB (the Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) have imaginatively responded to this situation. Media labs in particular have been very successful in fostering relationships between artists and galleries. They have helped to translate not only the ideas expressed by this type of art – which can require much additional contextualisation – but also their physical installation in spaces not designed for this new breed of work.
For example, Folly recently collaborated on an experiment in the exhibition and acquisition of New Media art with the Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Entitled Current, the project saw expert panels first select works to be exhibited at the gallery (in Spring 2011) and then choose one to enter the permanent collection. Not only did this give the gallery the chance to add a timely contemporary work to their collection but it formed a useful public case study showing other institutions how they might engage with emergent art forms in various new media.
Media labs greatly contribute to the collaborative working methods the creative sector now thrives upon. Cross or interdisciplinary partnerships involve people from very different industries or working cultures combining and even reinventing the way they work in order to unearth all manner of new practices and products. Many universities, having born witness to a boom in research which straddles different academic subjects and industry sectors (due in some part to government funding imperatives around ‘knowledge transfer’), have established their own media labs. A relatively early example of this was i-DAT (the Institute of Digital Art and Technology) at the School of Computing, Communication and Electronics at the University of Plymouth. A large project with many interrelated strands is their op-sys (operating systems) network of research into architectural, biological, social and economic data and how it can be made publicly available and useful. The University of Nottingham has the Mixed Reality Lab, which was established in 1999 with £1.2 million in funding from the JREI (Joint Research and Equipment Initiative) programme as well as ongoing grants and investments. Run by Steve Benford, it hosts around eighteen PhD students providing resources for researchers and post-graduates working in areas that intersect its host department, the School of Computer Science, and associated training facility, the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre. It maintains a number of diverse projects, some of which have won prestigious awards and award nominations including Can You See Me Now, a collaboration with Blast Theory. The CoDE (Cultures of the Digital Economy) Institute at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge has a digital performance laboratory that focuses on sound-based work. Culture Lab is Newcastle University’s bespoke unit of media-lab-style flexibility, where artists work experimentally and across disciplines, and Sandbox, a similar resource, is located at the University of Central Lancashire. Another approach for universities is to partner with existing media labs. Pervasive Media Studio, a Bristol-located media lab, was set up by Watershed, a cross-artform production organisation, HP Labs and the South West Regional Development Agency. They have a partnership which runs for three years with the University of West England’s Digital Cultures Research Centre and work in a number of different ways including offering Graduate and New Talent residencies for those just starting out in their careers. The Pervasive Media Studio has helped to establish events like Igfest, the Interesting Games festival, held annually in Bristol, as well as development platforms such as Theatre Sandbox, which helps theatre makers introduce technology to their practice. They also support artists, including: AntiVJ, Duncan Speakman and Luke Jerram.
As we have seen, some labs have been nomadic or temporary while others have evolved into new incarnations. A media lab might be part of an array of dependencies with institutional responsibilities i.e. Folly, Isis Arts, Lighthouse, Pavilion, Pervasive Media Lab, PVA, Vivid and more, all of which regularly produce an abundance of quality experimentation in Digital art and culture. While new incarnations of the media lab may respond to three distinct but related phenomena: the rapidly evolving technology sector; the transient networks of geeks and digital experimenters; the need for sustainable models for innovation in industry. MadLab, in Manchester, provides space and facilitates meetings and workshops for ‘geeks, artists, designers, illustrators, hackers, tinkerers, innovators and idle dreamers’. Their ‘drop in’ events, commonly known as ‘Hacklabs’ (for example *Hack to the Future* during the Edinburgh International Science Festival), give people instant hands-on experience with all sorts of code and kit. Although hacking is still seen as a specialist and somewhat murky activity, the term is being increasingly decoupled from its conventional criminal associations and made accessible to mainstream arts territory. In January 2011 the Royal Opera House facilitated a ‘Culture Hack Day’, bringing cultural organisations such as the Crafts Council and UK Film Council together with software developers and creative technologists to usefully open up and share data. Other HackLabs may have less of an arts focus, but do have impressive resources built using the open membership model (pioneered by the likes of Backspace). The London Hackspace boasts a laser cutter, digital oscilloscope and kiln, all donated or collectively purchased.
Scattered through many of our city centres are office/studio-based working spaces which cater to the creative industries by offering flexible working environments and abundant networking and training opportunities. The Hub, in London’s Islington and Kings Cross areas (with up to thirty further Hubs in cities across the globe), gives fee-paying members access to facilities and a way of working orientated towards connecting people from across the network in cost-effective innovation. These spaces are indicative of the emphasis placed on the creative economy as the big hope for economic renewal driven by small entrepreneurs grabbing and shaping the opportunities in technology, entertainment and design.
Inspirational before Institutional
Looking briefly at some of the ways media labs have operated since the 1990s shows them as uniquely fertile spaces for all manner of shared expertise and creative innovation. They have made a fundamental contribution to Open Source culture. Working as openly and collaboratively as possible, participants have found ways of sharing process and product, while an interdisciplinary nature has revealed a plethora of creative possibilities. Fulfilling a difficult remit by offering a home for many of the emergent artistic practices currently transforming artistic activity, they have led us away from ‘art for art’s sake’ and towards work which has demonstrable meaning and lasting social and economic benefit. Large institutions might be extremely well-versed in mounting financially advantageous blockbuster exhibitions, but the beauty of media labs derives from their ability to develop and disseminate the socially-transformative systems that have already and will continue to shape the future of the arts.
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to this research despite their incredibly busy schedules and a special shout to: Simon Poulter for pulling over his car, Clive Gillman for kindly kicking things off, Sarah Cook for an innovative approach to note sharing and Peter Ride for not taking a lunch break.
You can find Charlotte’s original article on Collaboration and Freedom – The World of Free and Open Source Art http://p2pfoundation.net/World_of_Free_and_Open_Source_Art
The Glitch Moment(um)
Institute Of Network Cultures, 2011
Rosa Menkman’s book “The Glitch Moment(um)” is a comprehensive study of the theory, practice and social context of contemporary digital Glitch Art. Glitch Art is similar to the ironisation of the noise of old media into cultural signals seen in Trip Hop and that is the basis for the nostalgic image-making of Lomography or Instagram. But it is based on current digital technology, rather than past analogue technology.
Glitch Art is growing in popularity and critical attention, and is already being recuperated by the mass media (for example in a recent Calvin Klein perfume television advertisement). Analogue glitches have been part of art and popular culture for decades, for example in Nam June Paik’s television-based art or the titular character of the cyberpunk TV show “Max Headroom”. Digital glitches and their simulation featured in the postmodern graphic design of the early 1990s created by groups such as Designers’ Republic. But between a history of analogue media and a future of mass media recuperation there is the current Moment(um) of digital glitch aesthetics that Menkman identifies.
Menkman begins by explaining the basics of Shannon/Weaver information theory as the basis for a theory of what glitches are. In information theory, messages are sent as a signal from a transmitter to a receiver over a channel which is disrupted by a source of noise. This “noise” is the crackle on analogue telephones or on vinyl records, the static on analogue TV and radio, and the corruption that sometimes affects digital images or audio streams (nowadays notably Skype chats).
Where kinds of noise are associated with a particular we can recognise them as particular “noise artifacts”. We can also recognise compression artefacts in digital media such as those seen in over-compressed lossy image and video files (JPEG and MPEG artefacts). These noise and compression artifacts are experienced by the users of communication media as glitches. Menkman describes these phenomena in detail, providing the reader with a firm foundation in the sources and expression of Glitch phenomena.
How artists can deliberately create these phenomena is the subject of the next section of the book. Titled “A Vernacular Of File formats” it is a condensed adaptation of Menkman’s 2010 artwork of the same name. It is a thorough and accessible resource for both understanding the production of and creating visual glitch aesthetics. Each picture demonstrates a technique for modifying the data of an image file format so that a computer can still parse and render the file but it will appear corrupted to a human viewer. Starting with an uncorrupted (but unnervingly contrasty) “RAW” image, Menkman explains the production and principles of corrupted digital images in sufficient detail that the reader can recreate and build on these techniques themself, or use this knowledge as the basis for understanding and appreciating the work involved in the Glitch Art produced by others.
The next two chapters cover the phenomenology and philosophy of Glitch. The theories of Paul Virilio and Alan Liu are usefully deployed here to give Glitch a philosophical grounding. But there is also a recognition that Glitch is an inherently open concept that is difficult to define. Menkman rightly considers the work of Beflix (Ant Scott) as a leading Glitch Art figure. The diversity of Beflix’s work illustrates the problem with categorizing Glitch neatly, or at all. 5VOLTCORE, JODI, and others provide alternative views of what Glitch can be. This builds to Menkman defining “Glitchspeak” as the vernacular, or in possibly the creole, of Glitch Art.
In “From Artifact To Commodity”, Menkman turns to Glitch aesthetics in music, particularly the glitches created through circuitbending, and the precedent this has set for the creation of standardized tools for glitching visual media. As such tools have been created for images, Glitch aesthetics have found their way into the artistic mainstream and into music videos and other mass media. Glitch may be impossible to categorize but it is all too easy to commodify. This marks its emergence as a genre, and Menkman finishes this section by considering Glitch as a recognizable but still problematic genre that relies heavily on spectators’ technical, aesthetic and theoretic literacy.
Having given the reader a solid grounding in the theory, practice and philosophy of Glitch, Menkman finally moves on to its sociology. Using a tool that looks like Gephi but isn’t (Issuecrawler), Menkman models the social network of relationships between Glitch artists that exist on the Internet. Clustering blogs and other Internet expressions by the number of links between them allows the tools of social network analysis to be used, revealing who is central to the Glitch artworld as judged by the clicks of their peers.
Finally Menkman sums up Glitch aesthetics in a section called “The Emancipation of
Dissonance Glitch”. Starting with a quote from Jackson Pollock:
“I don’t use the accident. I deny the accident. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.”
Menkman concludes that “Like the best ideas, glitch practices are dangerous because they generate awareness”. By which point the reader is perfectly placed to understand just how and what kind of awareness Glitch generates, and how they can appreciate or produce Glitch art themselves.
Glitch Art has been long overdue serious critical attention. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that so thoroughly and concisely presented the theory and practice of a contemporary art movement in as does “The Glitch Moment(um)”.
You can download a PDF or order a print copy here
DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! is a new video work (2012) by Everything is Terrible!, a self-described “found footage chop shoppe”. DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! is an active catalog which describes, invents and destroys concepts as it arranges video footage into flows of multiple cuts that map the use of dogs in cinema and television. The structure of this review takes hints from the work it overlays. We dispensed with “original” writing and didactic detailing of what we as critics experienced. Instead, we unraveled multiple threads left hanging after watching DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! We neglected to offer an appraisal of the worth of the work, and add to the number of words already in the world. Instead, we traced the flows passing through the video and developed a program of citations that provide a map of exit and entrance points-a map, as any map, that is as much about those making as about the territory described-which we hope will provide openings for a reader who has not yet watched the work, and provide expanded intersections for those who already have.
“This is the scenario: You are terminally ill, all medical treatments acceptable to you have been exhausted, and the suffering in its different forms is unbearable. Because the illness is serious, you recognize that your life is drawing to a close. Euthanasia comes to mind as a way of release.” 1
“Success consists of simply getting up one more time than you fall.” 2
“From whatever angle you approach it, the present offers no way out. This is not the least of its virtues. From those who seek hope above all, it tears away every firm ground. Those who claim to have solutions are contradicted almost immediately. Everyone agrees that things can only get worse. ” 3
“A positive anything is better than a negative nothing.” 4
“I think it’s because dog movies and dog footage tends to be the dumbest. It’s like the lowest common denominator amongst everything we’ve found, the most mediocre footage imaginable. I think that was a big motivator, and we just like dogs. It’s a nicer way to deliver horrible things about humanity. Instead of watching people be racist, which makes you feel terrible, you get to watch dogs be racist, and you’re like, ‘That’s a little better.'” 5
“Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011. That’s an all-time high, and for the first time in history more than $50 billion has gone to dogs, cats, canaries, guppies and the like, the American Pet Products Association reports. Food and vet costs accounted for about 65 percent of the spending. But it was a service category one that includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting and day care that grew more than any other, surging 7.9 percent from $3.51 billion in 2010 to $3.79 billion in 2011.” 6
“So we have a corpse on our backs, but we won’t be able to rid ourselves of it just like that. Nothing is to be expected from the end of civilization, from its clinical death. In and of itself, it can only be of interest to historians. It’s a fact, and it must be translated into a decision. Facts can be conjured away, but decision is political. To decide on the death of civilization, then to work out how it will happen: only decision will rid us of the corpse.” 7
2:39 . Black and white footage of a clothed dog sleeping in hay.
2:41 . Saint Bernard laying on the floor trying to drink champagne out of a bottle.
2:42 . Black and white footage of a dog holding a bottle labeled “Hard Cider” in his mouth and drinking.
2:43 . Dog with bandana sitting at table licking the foam from a beer.
A hand pouring beer into a dish filled with dog food.
2:44 . A club. Multiple young women filling the face of a puppet dog full of liquor bottles.
2:45 . A dog wearing a jersey with the number one peeing on a referee’s ankle.
2:47 . A dog lifting its leg on a pants suit leg.
A bulldog in a spiked collar peeing on a floor mat that says “I [heart] Acting.”
2:48 . A dog peeing on a metal catwalk, shot from below.
2:49 . Jack Nicholson holds a small dog up and away from his chest as the dog pees.
A man lying on a floor is shot below and through a dogs legs, the dog’s urine stream is hitting him in the face.
2:51 . A similar shot, reversed. Another man, wearing a fur hat, is buried to his neck in sand and ice. A dog urinates into his mouth.
2:51 . The same bulldog in spiked collar lifts his leg to pee. A small rocket comes out of from beneath him.
2:52 . A similar shot from the other side, a different dog is urinating flames.
“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.” 8
“Trash collection is the business of public sanitation; its recycling, the very height of capitalist alchemy, turns everything into grist for commodification’s mill. But it is also a strategy of aesthetic sublimation that, according to Thomas Crow, is internal to modernism (he has analyzed the cyclical aspect of this in terms of the incorporation of the ‘low’ by the ‘high’)” 9
“Classification in the widest sense is, along with astronomy, probably one of the oldest scientific pursuits undertaken by man. In the most general terms classification is the process of giving names to a collection of objects which are thought to be similar to each other in some respect. The ability to sort similar things into categories is obviously a primitive one, since it would seem to be a prerequisite of the development of language, which consists of words which help us to recognize and discuss the diSerent types of events, objects and people we encounter; each noun in a language is a label used to describe a class of things which have striking features in common. Thus for example, we name animals as cats, dogs, or horses and such a name collects individuals into groups.” 10
“I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is.” 11
“What is it that moves over the body of a society? It is always flows, and a person is always a cutting off [coupure] of a flow. A person is always a point of departure for the production of a flow, a point of destination for the reception of a flow, a flow of any kind; or, better yet, an interception of many flows.” 12
“I am for the art of things lost or thrown away, coming home from school.” 13
“Cluster analysis, also called data segmentation, has a variety of goals. All relate to grouping or segmenting a collection of objects into subsets or “clusters,” such that those within each cluster are more closely related to one another than objects assigned to different clusters. An object can be described by a set of measurements, or by its relation to other objects.” 14
“And now, we have to start from scratch with this movie and go through thousands of VHS tapes and find those three minutes and put them in a pile until we have enough to make an hour-long movie. And yeah, it made it harder because we just fucking hate those movies.” 15
“Central to all of the goals of cluster analysis is the notion of the degree of similarity (or dissimilarity) between the individual objects being clustered. A clustering method attempts to group the objects based on the definition of similarity supplied to it.” 16
“[Claes Oldenburg] quickly saw that it didn’t take anything to make a Ray Gun: any right angle would suffice, even blunted, even barely perceptible. The Ray Gun is the ‘universal angle’: ‘Examples: Legs, Sevens, Pistols, Arms, Phalli-simple Ray Guns. Double Ray Guns: Cross, Airplanes. Absurd Ray Guns: Ice Cream Sodas. Complex Ray Guns: Chairs, Beds. Mondrian didn’t need to reduce everything to the right angle: everything is already a right angle. During the time of The Store, Oldenburg made huge numbers of Ray Guns (in plaster, in papier mache, in all kinds of materials in fact), but he soon saw that he didn’t even need to make them: the world is full of Ray Guns. All one has to do is stoop to gather them from the sidewalks (the Ray Gun is an essentially urban piece of trash: Oldenburg produced their anagram as Nug Yar:New York). Even better: he didn’t even need to collect them himself; he could ask his friends to bring them to him (he limited himself to accepting or refusing the find’s addition into the corpus, according to purely subjective criteria). Finally, there are all the Ray Guns one can’t move- splotches on the ground, holes in the wall, torn posters-but which one could photograph. The “inventory”is potentially infinite. And what should be done with this invasive tide? Put it in the museum.” 17
“I am for the art out of a doggy’s mouth, falling five stories from the roof.” 18
2:54 . A dog and man lay side-by-side. The dog’s legs are up and its belly is exposed to the camera. Voiceover: “Being a thief isn’t bad enough, you have to be a lush too.”
2:56 . A golden retriever puppy faces the camera with a drunken expression. The dogs lips move as he says “That’s the weirdestest grape juice ever.” He laughs.
3:02 . A dog jumps off a large desert rock onto another rock. He yells “Hasta la vista, kitty.” A mountain lion is shown launching into the air.
3:05 . Maniacal laughter is played over footage of a tree frog sitting on the top of a dog’s head.
3:06 . A Weimaraner sleeps under a blanket. Voiceover: “Do dogs dream? She dreams she’s a dear”
A ripple dissolve into the same dog with her head stuck through a tapestry of deer so that it appears that there is a deer with a dog head.
“Are there Oedipal animals with which one can ‘play Oedipus,’ play family, my little dog, my little cat, and then other animals by contrast draw us into an irresistible becoming? Or another hypothesis : Can the same animal taken up by two opposing functions and movements, depending on the case?” 19
“Writing about the dog who befriended him and his fellow-inmates in a concentration camp, and whom they named Bobby, Levinas says that this dog was ‘the last Kantian in Nazi Germany,’ because his joyful greetings reminded the prisoners of their human dignity. Yet, when questioned closely about the ethical status of nonhuman animals, Levinas is reluctant to ascribe to animals that ‘ethical face’ which he elsewhere has called (as Martin calls Sylvia’s face) ‘an epiphany.’ By contrast, says Levinas, the animal face is merely ‘biological,’ incapable of demanding the ethical response. Levinas denies that the dog can have a face in the ethical sense: ‘the phenomenon of the face is not in its purest form in the dog,’ he writes. ‘I cannot say at what moment you have the right to be called ‘face.’ The human face is completely different and only afterwards do we discover the face of the animal.’ In an article subtitled ‘Levinas Faces the Animal,’ Peter Steeves, with gentle irony, stages another face-to-face encounter between Levinas and Bobby, asking the philosopher: ‘What could Bobby be missing? Is his snout too pointy to constitute a face? Is his nose too wet? Do his ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro? How can this not be a face?'” 20
“We’ve always had a thing with how people treat little people at Everything Is Terrible!, like it’s really weird and creepy. Anybody who’s like a second-class being, when they’re used in videos, it comes across very creepy and gross. I think it’s the same thing with humans and dogs. They’re weirdly sexualized, they’re weirdly turned into little kids at the same time.” 21
“…individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, ‘my’ cat, ‘my’ dog. These animals invite us to regress, draw us into a narcissistic contemplation, and they are the only kind of animal psychoanalysis understands, the better to discover a daddy, a mommy, a little brother behind them (when psychoanalysis talks about animals, animals learn to laugh): anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool.” 22
“I think that’s a big reason why people use dogs the way they do, because I think we kind of hate ourselves so we dress up dogs like ourselves to mock ourselves. So you dress a dog up like a drunk human, and then you laugh at how ridiculous it is, but I think it’s therapeutic. We’re letting off steam about how much we hate ourselves.” 23
3:13 . A close-up of a shaggy dog who speaks. “It’s not a dream”.
3:16 . A large dog outside a car tells a small dog inside a car, “Bitches ain’t got no business being inside your head” The voice is or is similar to Samuel Jackson’s.
3:17 . A bloodhound with an ice pack on its head also has cartoon dream bubbles floating around it. The woman inside the bubbles says, brightly “Wake up!”
Another dog, turning his head to the camera, says “Who are those jokers?”
Return to the bloodhound, the floating woman says “It’s me, Jan.”
3:20 . A dog dressed as a pauper is grabbed from above and dragged to the side.
A dog wearing a bandana says “Great danes! This is terrible. But what can I do…”
This trails into a golden retriever saying “…I’m a dog.”
“What difference does it make if someone is terminal? We are all terminal.” 24
layla commented: 4-21-2008 9:01 PM “In 2007 Guillermo Vargas Habacuc a so called artist took an abandoned dog from the streets tied him to a very short rope to a wall in an art gallery and left a kettle of food on the other side of the room beyond his reach and left him there to slowly die of hunger and thirst. The socalled artist of such cruelty and the visitors of the gallery of art watched the agony of this animal. The dog finally died of famine surely after a painful absurd and incomprehensible torture. The prestigious Centralamerican Biennial of Art decided that this horrible act committed by this guy was art and Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel actions in said Biennial in 2008. i seen this post on facebook and a few pictures of the poor innocent dog starving to death it broke my heart and i had to see if peta was aware of this sick man who thinks this i some great at creation.” 25
olivia commented: 5-10-2008 5:35 PM “i hate you. you should be put in the poor dog’s possision. you can’t imagine how many people hate you. almost more than a million. just so you know thats not art. the dog died because of you. you should go to prison because of this. you broke peoples’ hearts. i am really upset at you i could write all day long if i have to because you just waisted a life i wish i could waiste youres!!!!!! do you wish all the animals should die? you just made my day so so so horrible. im going to tell everyone what you just did. just so you know i’m cring. i hate hate hate hate you. you should be ashamed of your self. so listen to this just because you think your all that doesn’t mean that you can kill an other animal. i have 7 animals and you are not going to touch them! that dog did nothing to you. if heshe did doesn’t mean you should kill him! please don’t touch any other animal!!!!!! you suck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! P.s i hate youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu” 26
Renate commented: 5-5-2008 1:34 PM “Here’s a thought let’s tie up Guillermo Vargas at one of his own exhibits and starve him to death!” 27
Rainie M commented: 4-28-2008 2:59 PM “Oh Gods! How can anyone be so bloody heartless? Dead or dying animals are NOT art…things like this only come from sick minds. Is the human race devolving so much that we have come down to this as entertainment? If you want Art go to a Museum . Geez this is just sick…” 28
Tucker commented: 4-26-2008 10:43 AM “THIS IS DOWN RIGHT UNCALLED FOR DIGUSTINGCRUEL AND THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOCKED UP AND CHARGED BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I AM CRYING SO HARD RIGHT NOW IT IS UNBELIEVABLE WHAT $IN PEOPLE DO TO ANIMALS AND THIS ALL NEEDS TO STOP NOW AND BIG TIME CHARGES AND JAIL TIME NEED TO BE STRONGER AND LONGER IN ALL STATES AND AROUND THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SAVE THE ANIMALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 29
Angie commented: 4-24-2008 12:55 PM “I am so sickend by this whole so called art.. I am a artist myself. ! And i think someone need to tie this guy up and not feed him any food and have people watch him starve . Then he will realize how it feels. He gives a bad name to other artist out there!” 30
yf commented: 4-22-2008 2:32 PM “you know he really shoudl have starved himself and then do a ‘selfportrait’.. much more apt.. silly stupid man.. so pointless.. so banal.. people KNOW what skeletal skin and bones animals look like .. we have seen them.. we know what skeletal starved humans look like too infact.. we dont’ need a dumb dimwit 12 brained idiot to INTENIONALLY starve a dog in ORDER to produce his pointless ‘artwork’.. what a dumb stupid peabrained twit !” 31
Kristin Gleeson commented: 4-22-2008 1:29 AM “Yeah I’ve seen something like this before but what was it? Oh yeah the HOLOCAUST. Thousands of people collected subdued and starved to death. Was that an artistic masterpiece? If you call this art you’d have to call Hitler an artist I mean after all he was trying to make a culturally altering statement as well. It’s not art it’s sadistic immoral and completely disgusting. This poor creature did not deserve this and neither does any other animal on the planet.” 32
“Do not imitate a dog, but make your organism enter into composition with something else in such a way that the particles emitted from the aggregate thus composed will be a canine as a function of the relation of movement and rest, or of molecular proximity, into which they enter.” 33
“Its efficiency is striking. There is nothing extra, superfluous or obscure about Mr. Kulik’s performance. For all intents and purposes, he is a dog: he can be scary and unpredictable and territorial. After all, he’s in his prime, about 5 dog years old; visitors who wish to enter his cage may do so one at a time and must put on the quilted overalls and arm-guards that hang near the chained and barred door to his cage.” 34
“The choice of the term ‘pack’ for this older and more limited kind of crowd is intended to remind us that it owes its origin among men to the example of animals, the pack of animals hunting together. Wolves, which man knew well and from whom many of the dogs he uses derive, had impressed him very early. Their occurrence as mythical animals among so many peoples, the conception of the were-wolf, the stories of men who, disguised as wolves, assailed and dismembered other men, the legend of children brought up as wolvesall these things and many others prove how close the wolf was to man.” 35
“Saying it would be too confusing, a judge has denied the petition of a so-called ‘furry’ to legally change his name to Boomer the Dog. Forty-four-year-old Green Tree resident Gary Guy Mathews says he filed for the name change in June because he’s a fan of a short-lived 1980s NBC television series called “Here’s Boomer,” which featured a dog that rescued people.” 36
Where’s Waldo, #1.5 – Sun Aug 15, 2010 10:31 PM EDT “This boy ain’t wired right. I’ve heard of men wanting to be a women and women wanting to be men but this is a new one on me. Mom and Dad must have raised the poor kid in a kennel instead of a crib. Wonder what his favorite pup food was? Of course maybe he’s smarter than any of us thinks……or maybe not.” 37
dave-735909, Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:21 AM EDT “Why can’t we just respect people’s constitutional right to be crazy?” 38
Susi-Oh, Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:10 PM EDT “My sentiments exactly but how far do you want to take this? Should we just let him bark back when you ask him a question? Can you introduce a guy like that with a straight face? He’s big for a dog and might scare little children. Actually, even without the name change he looks a bit scary.” 39
Janet A., #15 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:59 AM EDT “If this idiot was truly a dog, we’d put him to sleep for being insane. Just a thought.” 40
wchall1949, #2 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:15 AM EDT “OMG – the really frightening thing here is that this guy is allowed to marry & reproduce!!! Truly scary!! What a moron!!!” 41
Sues-343312, #2.1 – Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:22 AM EDT “Well he is 44 yrs old has managed to not procreate up to now. Let’s just hope he meets up with a spayed female” 42
3:26 . A close-up of a crying child, with a dissolve of snow over his face. He says “Daddy…”
Close up of an adult man, he says “I don’t have a daddy.”
A girl wears a party hat. Lying on her bed, she talks to her brother, also wearing a party hat. She says “I just miss him so much…”
Cut to a different girl in pigtails addressing a bloodhound wearing a king’s crown and fur cape. She says “I miss him too.”
3:30 . Close-up of a crying boy. “I miss him, mom.”
Angry-looking farmer standing under a tree. He says “Your mother passed on.”
3:32 . A woman lays on a bed with a girl. “…to join the angels.”
A man looks up to the sky and gestures upwards “She’s in heaven.”
A woman with a party hat “watching over you right now.”
3:37 . A boy addresses a dog. “My dad used to do that.”
A boy and his mother talk as she drives. The boy says “He wants a dad.”
A woman sits next to a boy outside with a rocky hill behind them. He is looking through binoculars. She says “You remind me a lot of your dad sitting there.”
“When they’re your best friend it turns into this weird, gross, furry pile where you can’t tell where the lines are between human and dog, master and slave, and sex, and it’s just ugh.” 43
“Bestiality lowered a man to the level of a beast, but it also left something human in the animal.” 44
“A man has appeared before Limerick District Court charged with ordering his Alsatian dog to have sex with a 43-year-old mother of four, who died from an adverse allergic reaction to the intercourse.” 45
“Addressing the consent issue, Daniels writes, ‘[T]he truth is that animals, particularly domesticated ones, don’t consent to most of the things that happen to them.’ Animal sexual autonomy is regularly violated for human financial gain through procedures such as AI. Such procedures are probably more disturbing physically and psychologically than an act of zoophilia would be, yet the issue of consent on the part of the animal is never raised in the discussion of such procedures. Should the day Bentham speaks of arrive when animal rights are recognized by society and the law, an argument which speaks only to the zoophile’s right to fair exercise of his property rights in the animals he owns may prove an insufficient legal justification for acts of zoophilia.” 46
“In 1812 in a similar case in strongly Federalist Seneca County, New York,William Moulton, a fifty-eight-year-old veteran of the Revolutionary War and a prominent Democratic-Republican, was accused of buggering a bitch, which then delivered a litter of puppies that ‘had large heads, no hair on them nor tails, and on the side of their head they had small ears.'” 47
“I am for the majestic art of dog-turds, rising like cathedral.” 48
“The right of sovereignty was the right to take life or let live. And then this new right is established: the right to make live and to let die.” 49
“Though a single gull had already struck Melanie on the forehead the day before, the choice of the children’s party for this first fully choreographed attack suggests the extent to which the birds take aim at the social structures of meaning that observances like the birthday party serve to secure and enact: take aim, that is, not only at children and the sacralization of childhood, but also at the very organization of meaning around structures of subjectivity that celebrate, along with the day of one’s birth, the ideology of reproductive necessity.” 50
“Death is outside the power relationship. Death is beyond the reach of power, and power has a grip on it only in general, overall or statistical terms…death now becomes, in contrast, the moment when the individual escapes all power, falls back on himself and retreats, so to speak, into his own privacy. Power no longer recognizes death. Power literally ignores death.” 51
“Physician assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the physician’s professional role.” 52
“Even worse their comments continue to make no distinction between hierarchical and non-hierarchical organizations and institutions — simply rejecting all organization — which is tantamount, if you think about it for a minute, to proposing a future that lacks workplaces, religious centers, families, any kind of assemblies, and so on — a future in which lone individuals or small groups fend for themselves (a vision seemingly not too far from what they propose).” 53
‘It is critical that the medical profession redoubles its efforts to ensure that dying patients are provided optimal treatment for their pain and other discomfort. The use of more aggressive comfort care measures, including greater reliance on hospice care, can alleviate the physical and emotional suffering that dying patients experience. Evaluation and treatment by a health professional with expertise in the psychiatric aspects of terminal illness can often alleviate the suffering that leads a patient to desire assisted suicide.” 54
“Their vision of a commune offers very little guarantee of its own basic existence. There are no proposed methods for deciding what will be produced or consumed nor how much of each or its distribution in a socially responsible way.” 55
“The euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by most animal protection organizations, including [The Humane Society of the United States], as an appropriate and humane means of ending the suffering of an animal in physical distress. It is also used widely to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems, including aggression, and cannot be adopted into an appropriate new home because they pose a threat to the health and safety of people or other animals.” 56
“Once we know where it is we want to go, we can then act with the urgency needed to organize and build institutions and movements able to win change and create the necessary foundations for a future society.” 57
“Those who demand another society should better start to realize that there is none left. And maybe they would then stop being wannabe-managers.” 58
“This is the dog’s real trick, the height of animal acting. Not surprisingly, the imitated action is one of violence and must have been somewhat complicated; because all pet dogs, and dog performers most of all, must be nonviolent and cooperative, the animal actor here must go against its ‘nature’ in order to successfully set up the final tableau. That animals can be domesticatedmade to forego violence in order to serve peopleis the triumph of human culture over nature. That they can then be trained to appear violentto attack humansis the ironic confirmation of this subjection.” 59
“Should you battle on, take the pain, endure the indignity, and await the inevitable end, which may be days, weeks or months away? Or should you take control of the situation and resort to some form of euthanasia, which in its modern-language definition has come to mean ‘help with a good death’?” 60
“At the final stage of this evolution, we see the first socialist mayor of Paris putting the finishing touches on urban pacification with a new police protocol for a poor neighborhood, announced with the following carefully chosen words: ‘We’re building a civilized space here.’ There’s nothing more to say, everything has to be destroyed.” 61
3:43 A montage of eerily smiling children’s’ faces. Audio is the word “dad” played over and over as it overlaps and becomes “dog”. The words dad and dog are repeated in a loop. The video becomes a distorted montage of psychedelic faces of children and dogs. Eventually the words dad and dog becomes god.
4:03 The montage audio and video end abruptly.
A small dog says “I know something we can do.”
A shot of a Bernese, who says “Poop” then winks.
DoggieWoggiez! PoochieWoochiez! $20
Women, Art & Technology is a series of interviews that seeks to find different perspectives on the current voice of women working in art and technology. The series continues with curator Sarah Cook.
Sarah Cook is a curator and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and co-author with Beryl Graham of the book Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media (MIT Press, 2010). She is currently a reader at the University of Sunderland where she co-founded and co-edits CRUMB, the online resource for curators of new media art, and where she teaches on the MA Curating course. Most recently she curated the Mirror Neurons exhibition that is part of the AV Festival running through till March 31, 2012, in New Castle.
Rachel Beth Egenhoefer: Over the last few years you have curated a number of exhibitions in relation to festivals of media art. Could you start by giving us a brief description of the AND (Abandon Normal Devices) Festival and your involvement in it last year?
Sarah Cook: My involvement in the AND Festival was to curate a small group exhibition for the galleries at Liverpool John Moore’s University Gallery (in the Art and Design Academy Building). The exhibition was a part of AND but was also curated for the crowd of academics attending the Rewire conference which I was co-chairing. Rewire was the Fourth International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology. A three-day, peer reviewed, international event, the conference had over 150 speakers and three keynote lectures including one by Andrew Pickering, author of the book The Cybernetic Brain. The exhibition, Q.E.D., included seven projects all of which questioned how we can know anything but looking at documentation of it (a problem for art historians of course!). In 2011 the AND Festival had as its theme questioning belief and the structures of belief, so this exhibition complemented their huge and diverse programme.
I had been involved in previous Media Art Histories conferences – having co-curated the exhibition “The Art Formerly Known As New Media” for the first one, Re:Fresh!, which was held in Banff in 2005.
RBE: Could you give us a few examples of work from your exhibition that you felt really abandoned normal devices or methods of production and presented new perspectives?
SC: I selected works in which the artists might have abandoned normal ways of making art, to undertake experiments of sorts, experiments demonstrating phenomena in the world. (Q.E.D. is from the Latin ‘Quod Erat Demonstrandum’ meaning what was to have been demonstrated or what was required to be proved). I wanted a show in which skepticism was the norm, and a perfectly valid methodology for artists to employ as they go about investigating, modeling or representing the world around them.
So there was documentation of Norman White and Laura Kikuaka’s 1988 project Them Fuckin’ Robots — an attempt to create one male and one female electro-mechanical sex machine, without sharing in advance any information about materials, function, or how they would connect.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Sascha Pohflepp’s work-in-progress, Yesterday’s Today, was part of their Southampton University commission investigating the limits and possibilities of models for describing knowledge. They started with the oldest predictive model known to science, and a very British one at that, the weather forecast, and attempted to cool the gallery space to the predicted temperature for the day. There was a heatwave in Liverpool that week in September, so it was a great to experience reality and a model of reality simultaneously.
Axel Straschnoy, along with his many collaborators at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (Ben Brown, Garth Zeglin, Geoff Gordon, Iheanyi Umez-Eronini, Marek Michalowski, Paul Serri, Sue Ann Hong), showed the documentation of their attempts to create a robot that performs art and a robot that watches and appreciates performance art. The informal video interviews with the artificial intelligence engineers discussing how a robot might want to make art are brilliant and often funny.
RBE: I understand your work with AND has lead to a new project recently launched with the AV Festival.
SC: Yes, I have curated an exhibition for the AV Festival, taking place across Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesborough through March 2012. The show is at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland and is called Mirror Neurons. While AV Festival has a theme of Slowness, Mirror Neurons seeks to question time delay, media processing, and the time it takes for our cognition to kick in when we are in the presence of art – interactive, reactive or not. One of the pieces which was in Q.E.D is in this show also: Scott Rogers’ Self-Flowing Flask – a glass object made based on a drawing by 17th century scientist and inventor Robert Boyle, shown alongside a digitally created animation of it. There is a real sense of confusion by viewers when they see the object: Does it work? Could it work? How would it work? And then when they see the animation they have to work out if it is real or not.
RBE: You mention “Slowness” as the theme for the AV Festival. “Slowness” is also a trending theme right now with slow food, slow craft, etc. How do you see slowness in relationship to technology which is usually portrayed as something “fast”?
SC: The theme of slowness was chosen by AV Festival director Rebecca Shatwell, and so I was glad to leave exploration of that notion to her and her programme, which is stacked with fantastic works of art in moving media (film and video) and sound and performance. In the exhibitions I’ve curated for AV Festival, which include both Mirror Neurons, and a new commission from New York-based artist Joe Winter – also on view at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland – I’ve focused less on the theme of slowness than on the human action of recognising time passing, the lag between our perception or understanding of time and space, and our acknowledgement of our own actions within it.
There are some works in Mirror Neurons which seem, on the surface, to be about time, but which play with the possibility of shifting time, or at least reprocessing it or subjecting it to a new set of rules, with computer technology. By the same token, these works then also implicate you, the viewer, in the time of their action, in your realization of what it is those works are ‘doing’. For instance, Thomson & Craighead’s work Flipped Clock, is a standard computer digital clock, but with the numerals rotated, so that it is defamiliarised and causes you to do a double take and spend a moment working it out. And Michael Snow’s WVLNT (Wavelength for those that don’t have the time) was 45 minutes, now 15!!, in my mind collapses time and space, by superimposing scenes from his 1967 structuralist film – not speeding it up but overlaying it, and seeing through it from beginning to end within the same frames.
Last comes Joe Winter’s work (which was also included in Q.E.D in the form of wall-based works which appear to be representations of astronomical or geological phenomena, but are made from standard office photocopier images or meeting room whiteboards). For the AV Festival I commissioned him to make a new work for the National Glass Centre also. …a history of light: variable array is comprised of a series of sculptural works which appear like lovingly-made office in-box trays to hold documents. Only they are ranged on white pedestals across a sunny balcony space, and contain coloured craft paper and plates of glass produced by Cate Watkinson. The idea is that over the time of the exhibition (1 March to 20 May) the sunlight will fade the coloured paper, through the plates of glass, and abstract images, based on the patterns and effects in the glass, will result. The images are both created, and destroyed, by the light, over time. Joe’s previous works have all dealt in conceptions of time – deep time, geological time, astronomical time and media time – and his work takes its aesthetics from the media and technology which surrounds us, in mundane spaces such as the office cubicle or the classroom, which while might contain ‘fast’ technology, such as computers, also contains quite ‘slow’ or old or timeless technology, such as chalk, or paper.
RBE: This interview is going to be part of a series of interviews with women working in Art & Technology. What do you consider to be important today about being a woman working in art & technology? Do you think it is still useful to discuss the female voice in the field?
SC: I suppose there is an interesting generational break in the art and technology world at the moment as regards women’s work. I am keenly aware of (and tremendously grateful for) the work of a slightly older generation of women than me, including curators, who set up networks, facilitated international exchange, built the platforms which new media artists can work on. This generation also includes important women artists who worked with technology, gaining access to labs and high tech equipment to make work – some understanding it technically better than others, many working with the help of (often male) programmers.
In the exhibition Mirror Neurons is the work of Catherine Richards, a media artist from Canada whose work I wrote about in my PhD dissertation. For her career to date she has investigated how our bodies are plugged in to the electromagnetic spectrum which surrounds us, making Faraday Cages and copper-woven blankets to insulate us from these signals. Other of her work makes visible the connection between us, as electric beings, and our techno-environment. For the work on view in Sunderland, which was made in 2000, she worked with expert vacuum physicists and scientific glass producers at the National Research Council of Canada. For other works she has collaborated with software engineers (it was an early web-based project of hers which led in part to the invention of the software Java). She plays an important role also teaching art students, reminding them of the history of media art, which is often overlooked, and of where these technologies we take for granted come from.
Now that technologies are more ubiquitous there is a younger generation of women artists working in the field, under their own initiative. For instance, the new Pixel Palace programme at the Tyneside Cinema included three women artists in residence earlier this year – working in sound, film and digital media. Sometimes I do wonder what the preceding generation is up to; have they been able to keep up with new technologies or stuck with older ways of doing things? Have they changed tactics and after working so hard to establish themselves in what was then a rather male technological world, decided to move on? Like any field, the art and technology world will have its share of ‘old boys’ but I suppose in my work I strive to always value the collaborative relationships I have with artists and other curators, of any generation and any gender.