Artists Organise (on the blockchain) was the fourth event in the DAOWO blockchain laboratory and debate series for reinventing the arts, in collaboration with Goethe Institut London.
In this special event, hosted by Drugo more in Rijeka we learned from the Croatian cultural context before envisioning, devising and testing alternative forms of blockchain-based cultural production systems, for application at Furtherfield in London.
We talked with Davor Miskovic about Clubture, the non-profit initiative that has distributed national cultural funding between a network of peers in Croatia since 2002 according to decentralised, participatory principles.
Workshop participants then took Julian Oliver’s Harvest, in which “wind energy is used to mine cryptocurrency to fund climate research”, as their focus for new proposals for blockchain-based projects to connect park-based arts venues with their local communities. Then they took turns to perform the role of a select committee of skeptical park stakeholders who wanted to know how park users would benefit from the scheme in a time of cuts to public funding and climate change.
Read the semi-fictional Minutes of the Bunsfury Park Stakeholders Group Select Committee
This special event, devised by Ruth Catlow and Max Dovey, and hosted by Drugo more formed part of a wider programme events in Rijeka to accompany the opening at Filodrammatica Gallery of the touring exhibition New World Order.
Thanks to all participants!
In her work, using video, performance and the Internet, Annie Abrahams questions the possibilities and the limits of communication, specifically its modes under networked conditions. A highly regarded pioneer of networked performance art, Abrahams brings her academic training in both biology and fine arts to develop what she calls an aesthetics of trust and attention. She creates situations that “reveal messy and sloppy sides of human behaviour” making that reality of exchanges available for reflection. We first worked with Abrahams in her exhibition ‘If not you not me’ in 2010 and then as part of a group show ‘Being Social’ 2012. In this interview we ask her to reflect on the limits and potentials of art and human agency in the context of increased global automation.
Catlow & Garrett: While predicated on the idea of connectedness, the global social media platforms are designed to profit the companies who create them and to keep billions of us in a state of trance-like immersion which has in turn been shown to cause many of us to feel more isolated. At Furtherfield we have always worked to grow more communal and collaborative contexts for artistic production. What does your current thinking – through your work on Participative Ethology in Artificial Environments: ethnological approaches to Agency Art – reveal for the potential of genuine, participatory networking environments?
Annie Abrahams: Participative Ethology in Artificial Environments: ethnological approaches to Agency Art sounds nice, but it needs a question mark at the end. It’s an interrogation. In times when our technological environment uses all kinds of behavioural techniques to make us uncritical users of their interfaces, it’s important to become aware of our behaviour, to test and experiment with it. My artistic work is based on doing that, but I always had great difficulties explaining it to art institutions etc.
A discussion I had with my friend Cor whom I studied biology with in the seventies, helped me find this latest description. I told her, that I think about my work as having human behaviour as its main aesthetic component and why I call it, silently, “behavioural art”. I compare what I do now to what I did when I studied biology. In both cases I observe behaviour in constrained situations. The monkeys, that were the study objects “became” humans and the cage the Internet.
Because the behavioural science of the late seventies didn’t suit me very well – using Skinner boxes operating on conditioning techniques and the related sociobiology, with a link to eugenics – it has become impossible to use this historically contaminated term. The wish to control, mold nature, and humans wasn’t mine. “Behavioural” was and still is a “stained” word for me. But even so, I do study behaviour and create constrained situations. I ask people to perform in a frame, they are framed in an apparatus, which is more or less perfect – the Internet provokes, lags, bugs, glitches, the computer is old or new, fast or slow, the interface determines how the performers can interact or not, the domestic situation interferes with noise and cats wanting to join in. There is a protocol/a script/a scenario but no rehearsal, just some technical tests. My approach is more phenomenological than scientific, I don’t measure anything. It’s up to the performers to explore their own behaviour, to reflect on it and to learn together what it means to be connected.
I told Cor, my annoyance with the tendency of art institutions to categorise art. Video art, poetry, contemporary art, literature, dance, painting, music and media art, computer art, code art, … It’s so impractical and superficial and it always takes a technology or a medium as its anchor point. It doesn’t say anything about what it makes possible, about what we can experience through it. Maybe that’s why I started to use the word performance, and performance art more and more. It’s a cross-discipline word. It’s multi purpose, but also a bit empty, I must admit.
“Agency Art is art that makes it clear to the receiver via his or her body what is at stake, where opportunities for action lie, and which virtual behaviours he or she can actualize. It demonstrates how choices work.” Arjen Mulder, The Beauty of Agency Art, 2012.
In his article The Beauty of Agency Art, Arjen Mulder uses the concept Agency Art to indicate interactivity as the important component of an art work. It is an interesting attempt to develop a discourse for technology/media art in relation to the contemporary art discourse. He embeds his ideas in history and goes back to thinkers such as: Shannon, Wiener, MacKay, McLuhan, Cassirer, Langer, Gell, Latour, Heidegger, Derrida, Badiou, Rancière, Danto, Whitehead, Steiner, Rolnik and more. I like the concept because it determines art that has behavioural choices and gestures as its centre. Its meaning is the acts that are made possible. What is also important in Mulder’s reasoning, is the concept of “virtual feeling”, introduced by the philosopher Susanne K. Langer in her groundbreaking book Feeling and Form (1953). Langer explains how each individual art medium evokes, manipulates and investigates “virtual feelings” in its own way.
“A painting calls forth virtual depth with lines and colours; a sculpture constructs a virtual volume around itself; a novel constitutes virtual memory, tracked through virtual time. Dance follows virtual forces of attraction and repulsion. All the experiences that are part of this “feeling” are spaces of possibility, virtual feelings waiting for actualization; their nature, allurements and dangers must be studied, and art is where this investigation takes place” Arjen Mulder, The Beauty of Agency Art, 2012.
This is how to think of behaviour as an aesthetic force, I told Cor. This is a concept that I can use to talk about what is important to me. For me, the words are empowering and stimulating, pointing to Butler, ANT theory and Karen Barad, I cannot and won’t leave them behind me.
collectively made – refusing hierarchy- a knitting together of artists and performers in the moment of the event – erasure of the artistic ego – practice – changing rules – choices – connecting – accepting the unexpected – responsive – shared – collaboratively authored – open to all – working with temporal behavioural phenomena – healing – enactment – improvised – including environmental conditions – attentional strategies – instructions – protocols – apparatus – meeting – embracing the ordinary – rehearsing alternatives – re-hijacking therapy – exercising our relations to others – our social (in)capacities – exploring rituals – being together – participatory – concerns individuals and politics
These are keywords found while researching work (from fine art, dance, theater, music, performance, digital art to electronic poetry) I could consider being Agency Art : Deufert&Plischke’s work, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner’s HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US, Building Conversation by Lotte van den Berg, Deep listening by Pauline Oliveros, Poietic Generator by Olivier Auber, Lingua Ignota by Samantha Gorman and Walking Practices by Lenke Kastelein.
Using Agency Art also means being able to make cross sections through disciplines and to open up closed domains of practicing. And that is the moment in our conversation where Cor, who has also a degree in philosophy said : “It’s easy, call your work participative ethology in artificial environments.” I am still pondering and that’s why there has to be a question mark. There always have to be question marks.
#PEAE = #Participative #ethology in #artificial environments #ethnological approach #AgencyArt?
C&G: Katriona Beales drew our attention to the Kazys Varnelis’ essay in the Dispersion catalogue (ICA 2008) which talks about the concentration of power in nodes of connectedness. She says “So even if I write a response to Donald Trump’s tweet saying “I hope you’re impeached”, for example, I add to his power, just through the interaction. I end up contributing to his power base even though I explicitly disagree” This effectively rewards, with attention, those who inspire intense outrage, fury and derision. Interfaces play a crucial role in your network performances and deliberately prompt very different kinds of behaviour – we’re thinking in particular of Angry Women. What kinds of behaviours and responses does your work inspire?
AA: I agree the concentration of power in nodes of connectedness is disturbing and confusing. It puts us in a double bind situation, becoming petrified, unable to act or to flee because we can not choose. I think this might be true when we consider our role in big networks, but it is definitely different when we talk about smaller networks. There it matters what we say and especially how we say it. A big part of my work is to create situations / interfaces / performances that permit us to experiment and train our (un)capacities to do so in networked environments. Participating in one of my performances means taking risks – nothing is rehearsed, means accepting you can’t control everything, it means committing to continue even if all seems to go wrong, to be attentive to the others around you with whom you share the performance space, with whom you are co-responsible for the shared moment in time.
From the people watching I ask that they are aware of what is at stake in a performance. That they watch it not with a connoisseurs regard, but that they see it as an aesthetic experiment in which behaviour is the main aspect / asset. If they become sensitive they have access to a very intimate and fragile aspect of our being, to something we absolutely need to discover further if we want to escape an allover binary future.
For myself I analyse the “concentration of power in nodes” phenomenon as the result of something you could call a lack of res-ponsability in our online affect management. When you are always scrolling you are unaware of the reaction you provoke, you are not awaiting a reply, but already on the next, next, next photo or short text. There is very little interactivity, and even less exchange. We act without caring for what our words, actions, and ideas bring forth. We might not be aware but our words, actions, and ideas live beyond us, they do intra-act with the actual situation. They are things acting in a world. (**)
** I have been reading texts on intra activity, a neologism introduced by the physicist, and feminist theorist Karen Barad. It’s difficult stuff. This video (Written & Created by: Stacey Kerr, Erin Adams, & Beth Pittard) gives easy access to one of her most important points.
Yes, it is now totally normal to refer to “people” as “consumers”, every organisation an “enterprise”, which in turn leads to proposals for the nation-as-a-service, populated and run in the interest of private enterprise as offered by the e-stonia bitnation project.
By accepting the impoverishment of experience and reduction in agency implied by this label we can forget about ourselves as “actors” in the world, and become the cattle of the few. The only agency we are offered is as a responsible consumer (in which our powers are reduced to a binary option to buy or not). This is the new democracy.
In the UK these days, art audiences are often described as “consumers”. How else in your view might we conceive of “audiences”. What agency might we wish for them. And what part might our relationship with devices and digital networks play in this new description?
AA: We are not yet used to machines reacting to and using affects, tapping into our endocrine system. Articles like “Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia” make us more and more aware of how we are manipulated and distracted, how our attention is designed, guided, influenced, used. But a lot of it is still hidden and because it’s so rewarding and because we “need” the attention we continue to click and vote. It is possible to create environments where people can slow down and have more subtle, nuanced agency, where they can participate and become aware and reflect on of their own behaviour. DIWO projects for instance have that power. People, especially art lovers, can be challenged to engage with others in interesting actions and conversations.
With Daniel Pinheiro and Lisa Parra in Distant Feeling(s) we invited the audience to join us in an experiment where we share an interface, normally used for online conferencing, with our eyes closed and no talking allowed. It led to very diverse observations shared via social media and email exchanges: liminal space – pure motion – an intimate regard – a field of light – dissolved, destabilized – an altered state – a telematic embrace – a silent small reprieve – hanging out with friends – machines conversing across the network only when the noisy humans finally shut up – an organic acceptance of silence?
Keywords from the reactions : http://bram.org/distantF/
Distant FeelingS #3 | VisionS in the Nunnery – Oct5-Dec18 2016
C&G: Unlike technologies and forms of production that work in the area of speculative realism, automation and AI, you still place humans and human relations at the centre, how do you view the current moves to shift agency away from humans into these ranges of techno-social systems?
AA: I am particularly intrigued and troubled by what is called deep learning. The algorithms produced by the machines themselves have a big influence in and, we must be honest, potential for for instance the health care business. They also determine on what moment of the day, depending on your mood you will see which advertisement on your device. As explained in The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI nobody can really understand how these applets produce their outcome – not even the programmers who build them.
For me this is problematic. Algorithms cannot invent what didn’t exist before and so they tend to reproduce / to select more of the same / to reinforce the existent. (see deep dream images) Moreover a lot of deep learning is based on the algorithm learning to produce a desired outcome.
As the machines are also designed to make us ready for their coercion, we are already subconsciously, intuitively adapting to these black box processes. We need to try to understand how these processes influence us, not because they are necessarily bad, but because our interests might not always coincide, we might want to differ. We don’t all have to learn programming the machines. That has become far too complicated and specialist and maybe not the best route to take. But we could engage in projects who try to find out how to influence machine behaviour, how to keep some agency. Maybe by introducing noise and entropy into the processing, so, together with the machines we can continue to cherish difference and diversity.
C&G: This question connects with the previous one. How do you see the role of artists in finding ways to negotiate a healthy relationship between artistic agency and capital-driven-machine worlds?
AA: This is a very difficult question to which every artist has to formulate her own answer. But it for sure passes by trying to open up spaces and discussions with people who have other opinions than yours, to going beyond safety-zones, to finding ways to communicate with and about hatred, angst and love.
This editorial series, takes digital addiction as its theme, and sits alongside the Are We All Addicts Now? exhibition, book, symposium and event series, we are hosting at Furtherfield. Are We All Addicts Now? Is an artist research project led by Katriona Beales and has been developed in collaboration with artist-curator Fiona MacDonald: Feral Practice, clinical psychiatrist Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, and curator Vanessa Bartlett. It looks at the application and impacts of many different research findings in the creation of digital interfaces, devices and experiences under the conditions of Neoliberalism.
Featured image: Zombie Academic haunts the Market of Values
Critical Practice, a group of artists, designers, curators and researchers based at Chelsea College of Art recently organised #TransActing: A Market of Values – a pop-up market made up of over 60 ‘stall holders’ invited to creatively explore and produce alternative economies of value.
During my visit, I first encountered a neo-liberal zombie academic, haunting the market with laments over the demise of an expensive art-education system, which extracts maximum value from students, whilst encouraging them to sell their creativity back to the market. At Becky Early and Bridget Harvey’s ‘Mending for Others’ stall, I was taught to darn, and repaired a hole-ridden Sonia Rykiel hat. Here, mending was framed as ‘giftivism’, a way to build or reinforce a social bond.
At Speakers’ Corner, I heard trade union United Voices of the World represented by Percy Yunganina, one of the #southerbys4. He gave a first-hand account of being banned from site by Sotheby’s auction house for having joined a protest over sick pay and an end to trade union victimisation.
Nick Bell and Fabiane Lee-Perella invited me into Early Lab’s economy of promises, inspired by their work with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust: in exchange for a cup of delicately flavoured water, I pledged to make a small intervention to help combat stigmatic preconceptions about mental health.
After these encounters, I #transacted with Critical Practice member Marsha Bradfield, to think about the implications of the Market of Values more deeply:
Charlotte Webb: In critiques of ‘free labour’ on the web, it is claimed that the affective labour of Internet users is exploited by the market. Did you see the Market of Values as a scenario in which the possibility for exploitation was circumvented?
Marsha Bradfield: The short answer is, no. This became acute as building the market ramped up in the days before the event. We became more and more aware how the project embodied our labour, with the vast majority of it being not only unpaid but also affective. We wondered together and apart: To what extent did saying ‘yes’ to the project, sticking with it and honouring our commitment to our peers and community, entail a form of self-exploitation—of us as individuals and as a group? I mean, #TransActing happened and was extraordinary because so many people cared so much—both about the project and each other. And this is, of course, a well-known secret in the worlds of art beyond the art market: their reproduction depends on the widespread exploitation of affective labour. But this isn’t sustainable in the long term. So it’s a valid critique, I think, that #TransActing didn’t exactly buck this trend. Even though we did manage to secure money from the Arts Council and CCW to pay many of those involved, this remuneration was a pittance for what they personally invested. Like others in Critical Practice, I loathe the thought of every transaction being monetised, and in a way this was exactly the conundrum that #TransActing sought to explore by shining a light on types of value that aren’t often valued, precisely because they’re non-financial and cannot easily be accounted for in pounds and pence.
CW: I was intrigued by the uses of the terms ‘value’ and ‘evaluation’ in CP’s description of the event. Are these terms interchangeable for you, or do they carry important nuances? I wondered whether there was something about the measurability of values at stake in the project?
MB: The project was initially called ‘The Market of Evaluation,’ which originated with our research on how value is produced and distributed. We considered, for instance, ‘the value of waste’ by walking around the Isle of Dogs with environmental lawyer Rosie Oliver. She helped us appreciate the social practices of evaluating, well, crap, and how they’re situated, localised and embedded in specific places, buildings, systems, institutions, cultures and histories. The more research we did on evaluation, the more opaque it seemed when generalised. The word has managerial connotations too. So assuming evaluation is, in broad strokes, the assessment of value and that valorisation is the attribution of value, we realised that ‘value’ was the turnkey for our interest. Or rather, it was ‘values’ that so intrigued us, with this plurality opening up space for multiple ones to exist. We also began to appreciate values as transacted through evaluation and valorisation and with this shift, the Market as an event for showcasing these processes gathered steam.
Rather than foregrounding any singular value or type of exploration, our model of distributed curating meant that each Critical Practice member worked with several projects. Each of these explored value in ways that we personally and collectively valued. With 64+ stalls in the market, no one exploration or practitioner dominated. I think we needed this critical mass to make #TransActing a valuable event but not everyone agrees.
Commodification is another way of thinking about the value of #TransActing. The anthropologist David Graeber helped me to crystallise a distinction between value in the singular and values in the plural. David talks about the commoditisation of labour by markets, comparing this with labour like housework and other kinds of care that aren’t commoditised. Of course, it’s money as the so-called universal equivalent that not only allows but entrenches this split. So there’s (singular) value, like that of money that depends on equivalence. And then there are (plural) values, like care, loyalty, generosity, faith, etc. that depend precisely on their refusal to be commensurate with each other.* And so coming back to your question about the measurability of value in #TransActing, Charlotte, I guess that’s the heart of the matter. How do we, on the one hand, take stock of that which must be measured for our work, health, etc. while at the same time more fully appreciate things that can never be measured, but give meaning and significance to our lives?
CW: Critical Practice created bespoke structures for the event, which inevitably created a kind of ‘aesthetic experience’. This brought Claire Bishop’s critique of participatory art to mind – how do you see the role of ‘aesthetics’ playing out in a socially engaged event like this?
MB: You’re right. Tricky questions gather around the aesthetics of social engagement as art practice, especially in the long shadow of the participatory paradigm in contemporary cultural production. Enter politics. As one of many collaborators involved in this project over several years, the ‘aesthetics’ of my engagement has ebbed and flowed over a myriad of micro decisions that together form a kind of slipstream of experience. This makes decision making a prism for organising my insider’s perspective: how I see, hear, and feel this process as it unfolds through sensations of togetherness and shared joy but also tension arising from disagreement.
Much of the decision making that led to #TransActing wasn’t visible on market day. But I’d like to think that ‘aesthetic markers’ maybe signaled it in some way. By these markers I mean indicators that point to the project’s process and all the considerations that it entails. Like the tip of an iceberg, the look and feel of the Market’s stalls, for instance, which were made largely from recycled materials, in collaboration with the stall holders and the art/architectural practice Public Works, pointed to the complex material, conceptual, technical and social processes involved in the Market’s making. I think markers like this help to explain why many who came to #TransActing acknowledged it was ‘a lot of work!’. At the same time the residue of this labour, which filled the atmosphere, gave the impression that doing it was fun.
Decision making was a big part of the participants’ experience too. So many different things were happening simultaneously at the stalls. You had to make moment-by-moment decisions about where to focus. Decision making leading to the market and what occurred on the day seem quite different, though. Much of the will and commitment to make this happen was based on long-term personal relationships. Many of us in Critical Practice are friends and have worked together for years. Exploring the aesthetics of decision making with reference to these tight ties and in contrast to the looser ones organising the experience of #Transacting as a one-day event strikes me as a revealing way to tap the complexity of socially engaged art as cultural production.
*For a concise discussion of theories of value in anthropology, see David Grabber, ‘It is value that brings universes together’ HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3, 2 (2013): 219-43.
Critical Practice is: Metod Blejec, Marsha Bradfield, Cinzia Cremona, Neil Cummings, Neil Farnan, Angela Hodgson-Teal, Karem Ibrahim, Catherine Long, Amy McDonnell, Claire Mokrauer-Madden, Eva Sajovic, Kuba Szreder, Sissu Tarka and many more besides.
Featured image: “High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison’s Zombie Walk” event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz
Like all of the best horror stories, this is a story about something that refuses to die. Despite, or perhaps because of being slashed and burned, prodded and poked in a laboratory and being raised from the grave at least three times, artist Ellie Harrison’s project, High Street Casualties, lives to fight on another day, perhaps with a number of sequels to come.
Our protagonist Ellie Harrison not only stars, directs, writes and produces High Street Casualties, she is responsible for a cast of thousands and hours of dragging an idea through the ups and downs of trying to bring an artwork to some kind of fruition.
I am one of those thousands, playing a small part at the start of the story. I had been interested in Harrison’s work for a few years, especially works such as Toytown featuring a dilapidated 1980s kid’s car ride which starts up and offers people free rides when news relating to the recession makes the headlines on the BBC News RSS feed. Works like Toytown, and Transactions, where Harrison sent an SMS message to a phone installed in a gallery every time she made an economic transaction, triggering a dancing Coke can every time a message is received, seemed to make immediate political statements to a wide audience and be accessible, and, dare I say it, fun.
By early 2013 there was spate of high-profile shop closures and the media was full of Death of the High Street scary stories. Blockbusters, Jessops and HMV all closed within months of each other along with other High Street regulars, being replaced by poundshops and charity shops (although Jessops and HMV got injected with some strange green elixir and brought back to life, lacking what small amount of soul they once had).
I was now commissioning public art for Art Across The City, Swansea, a job that until recently saw 36 temporary commissions in three years including Jeremy Deller, Emily Speed, Ross Sinclair and Jeremy Millar. I’d put forward Harrison at interview stage so was happy to finally commission her. As a former Blockbuster’s employee, who proudly fires off her years of service ‘1997-2000’, Harrison was keen to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the start of the global recession, taking the reported death of the high street as its subject. Following a week long site visit and research period, Harrison proposed a city wide participatory event that like many of her works, are ‘data visualisation’ projects.
This included researching every shop that had closed in the city centre and how many employees had lost jobs, and, hopefully tracking them down and getting them to stage a Zombie Walk through the city, inviting the public to join in, to make the high street and place for creative activity and raising community spirit. This wasn’t a Swansea problem, it was a UK wide problem, the blunt end of day to day global recession. Harrison was aiming to raise awareness and bring people together in a positive action.
Sadly, just three months until launch day, the powers that be in a muddled chain of command, from Swansea Council, Swansea BID and ultimately Art Across The City pulled the plug. It was a small condolence that I managed to make sure Harrison received an ominous sounding ‘kill fee’ of £1000, which would barely scratch the sides of the time spent not only on this, but of not working on other projects. It’s a credit to Harrison that she managed to raise the project from the dead, although even that process has not been without its own silver bullet, crucifixes and garlic bulbs.
After dusting herself down, Harrison proposed the idea to Glasgow International as a collaboration with award winning documentary film maker, Jeanie Finlay. The proposal, probably suffering a hangover from its Swansea cancellation was not selected. Harrison was then approached by Josephine Reichert from Ort Gallery in Birmingham about doing a project which “engaged with the local community”. High Street Casualties perfectly fitted the bill. Again, this was not critical of any specific city, just documenting what was happening globally. Reichert was more than keen to make it happen and submitted an application to Arts Council England to fund the project (on a greatly reduced budget), as part of Ort’s annual programme of exhibitions and events. This first application was unsuccessful but with Reichert’s enthusiasm and passion for the project it was successfully resubmitted. High Street Casualties was to become the last project in the Ort Gallery’s programme with a date finally fixed for April 2015, slap bang in the middle of the General Election Purdah, like a stake through the heart.
While some horror film productions like to promote the hype that filming on set was cursed, High Street Casualties seemed to attract all kinds of uncalled for and ill-informed bad luck. Birmingham City Council declared that they did not want to fund or be associated with the project. They continued to fund the rest of Ort’s annual programme, but withdrew money just from High Street Casualties as they thought it was, and just let this glide through you like a ghost, it was ‘making fun of unemployed people’.
This left just £2000 for an 18 day production, not taking into account the work done over the previous year. Harrison points out that it worked out at £4.50 per hour, which is what she earned whilst at Blockbuster. A further grant application for Glasgow Visual Art Scheme was rejected leaving a limited budget for the make-up artist, photographer and designer. A huge amount of goodwill was required, not just from Reichert and Ort Gallery, who works in the café when not resubmitting ACE applications; the student who helped make the film as part of a placement and of course all of the 60 participants who were involved in a Zombie Walk across Birmingham in their old uniforms, receiving food and drink and make-up tutorials for their time.
Harrison is more than well aware of paying artists and unhappy that the project was compromised on more than one occasion. The original idea about it being a realistic “data visualisation” of redundancies had to be loosened a little as they were at the whim of the number of people who showed up on the day.
60 people is a good crowd given the circumstances but only around a fifth of the number of people who would have lost their jobs from 13 stores. Despite having to cut important corners to the project’s integrity, Harrison is relieved that after two years the initial idea is a reality. The event was not only a success, but proved an alternative form of creative protest in a major UK city. The watching audience, due to the popularity of such Zombie Walks responded well, commenting on old shops and where they used to be. Harrison believes it was popular, radical and subversive, which is a hard trick to pull off.
Following a blood stained finale, the end credits have rolled. I was made redundant recently following Arts Council of Wales cuts. Harrison created Dark Days, a post-apocalyptic communal living project in Glasgow Museum of Modern Art; exhibited an immigrant friendly golf course at the Venice Biennale and continues to campaign on many fronts, including Bring Back British Rail. The High Street carries on in some form or another and Conservative vampires are sucking the life out of the UK and we all limp on, like zombies in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, visiting the shopping mall out of habit.
In these days of austerity, it is important to reach out to the widest audience and speak outside of our own bubbles of influence. High Street Casualties isn’t about criticising what has happened, although it uses that data. It is about making more people aware of why it happened and how we may be able to affect some kind of creative change, however small. High Street Casualties deserves a sequel, a big budget reboot and should tour to every town and city, bringing gore, blood, and ripped Blockbuster uniforms to outside a multiplex near you…
Choose Your Muse is a new series of interviews where Marc Garrett asks emerging and established artists, curators, techies, hacktivists, activists and theorists; practising across the fields of art, technology and social change, how and what has inspired them, personally, artistically and culturally.
Mike Stubbs became director of FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) media arts centre, based in Liverpool in 2007, just before Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year. The centre offers a unique programme of exhibitions, film and participant-led art projects. He views the organisation as to be cutting-edge of art and new media and one of the jewels in the crown of Liverpool’s ongoing cultural renaissance.
Stubbs has worked as an advisor to the Royal Academy of Arts, The Science Musuem, London, Site Gallery, Sheffield and NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and Art), ACID (Australian Centre for Interactive Arts) and the Banff Centre, Canada. He has been Production Advisor to artists such as Roddy Buchannan, Luke Jerram and Louise K Wilson.
Trained at Cardiff Art College and the Royal College of Art, Stubbs’ own internationally commissioned art-work encompasses broadcast, large scale public projections and new media installation. In 2002 he exhibited at the Tate Britain, 2004 at the Baltic, Newcastle, 2006 at the Experimental Arts Foundation, Adelaide. He has received more than a dozen major international awards including 1st prizes for Cultural Quarter, at the 2003 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Japan, WRO Festival, Poland 2005, Golden Pheonix, Monte Negro Media Art Fest 2006. In 2003 he was awarded a Banff, Fleck Fellowship.
Marc Garrett: Could you tell us who has inspired you the most in your work and why?
Mike Stubbs: Uncle Islwyn Thomas (deceased) who told a barman to bugger off in Welsh for not serving us (age 14) – It made me realise one could object.
David Nash. I was lucky to have a chance visit to his studio (chapel) when I worked in Llechwedd Slate Mine Craft shop, Blaenau Ffestiniog. He persuaded to save up for a Kawaskai Z650 in the future and not to be a paint sprayer and instead, go to art college (circa 1976…), and that being an artist was a viable alternative.
And Krzysztof Wodiczko, I saw his Cruise Missile projected on Nelsons Column in 1985 and then him swivel the projector and project a swastika onto the south african embassy in response to Margaret Thatcher donating £7 million quid to PK Botha government – big slap in the face to the anit-apartheid movement of which I was part (Greetings From the Cape of Good Hope can be found here, http://mikestubbsco.ipage.com/artworks.html)
MG: How does your work compare to those who’ve influenced you, and what do you think the reasons are for these differences?
MS: With age I’ve tempered the urge to object to too much and post election, I feel like I’m from another planet. Workwise, I’ve been priviledged and lucky to build support within the public sector for arts organisations which have maintained some edge (Hull Time Based Arts, ACMI, FACT). Recently very proud to have produced Group Therapy, Mental Distress in a Digital Age, which is both critical and a form of social activisim. I am lucky to have collaborated in developing festivals including : ROOT and the AND (Abandon Normal Devices) which have created more room to commission and present a risk taking program.
MG: Is there something you’d like to change in the art world, or in fields of art, technology and social change; if so, what would it be?
MS: That longer term agendas might accept that risk and experiment are needed and that Art IS innovation and that more people from non-art backgrounds get a chance to experience and make art.
MG: Describe a real-life situation that inspired you and then describe a current idea or art work that has inspired you?
MS: Watching on TV a flood victim being rescued by helcopter and dropping her entire belongings. And Hseih Teching’s One Year Performance.
“Tehching Hsieh’s work, informed through a period spent in New York City without a visa, experiments with time. He was actively ‘wasting his time’ by setting up a stringent set of conditions within five different year-long performances. The driving force for an individual to perform such extreme actions must surely be the ultimate cipher for being emotionally, psychologically touched – and that, ultimately, is a gift. His work poses the question: as humans how can we afford not to be touched?” 
MG: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to anyone thinking of starting up in the fields of art, technology and social change?
MS: Do what you feel like. Dont copy others
MG: Finally, could you recommend any reading materials or exhibitions past or present that you think would be great for the readers to view, and if so why?
MS: Post-humous papers Robert Musil, they continuously speak to me at the most fundamental level and with wit. http://bit.ly/1PYIq6A
Diamond Age Neal Stephenson. Inspired the idea of democratising interactive media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diamond_Age
Art of Experience John Dewey, a bible of ideas to re-frame arts and culture – first citing the term ‘impulsion’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_as_Experience
The City and the City, China Meilville. It inspired our exhibition Science Fiction, New Death at FACT. It elegantly suggests how we simultanesouly occupy the same political, social and physical spaces despite difference.
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: Curt Cloninger’s ‘Twixt The Cup And The Lip #3
“A glitch is more than an error: It is a rupture in our collective techno-hypnosis, a herald of underlying realities.” – Paul Hertz
If you haven’t heard about Chicago glitch, you haven’t been paying attention to all the “noise” emanating from the Windy City. The self-proclaimed “dirty new media” crowd in Chicago has captured the imagination of artists around the world with their funky (as in Chicago blues), punk-inspired disruptions and hacked creations. As of this writing, glitChicago: An Exhibition of Chicago Glitch Art at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art is about to close after an impressive two-month run, with works, performances, and discussions involving 22 artists heralding from Chicago and beyond.
While glitch may have a raw, subversive, outlier sensibility, it has also catalyzed a cohesive and collaborative group of artists that has organized an impressive array of community-based conferences, DIY workshops, exhibitions, and spontaneous happenings within the local media culture over the past five years. Ironically, the Chicago high-art academy is also a co-conspirator, as many of the glitch artists are based at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has become the de facto experimental laboratory for the study and practice of glitch.
I spoke via web-conference with the show’s main organizer, artist and historian Paul Hertz, along with two of the artists and co-organizers, Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, in a collective effort to unpack the glitch phenomenon.
Randall Packer: Nice to meet everyone in the third space. I am going to begin with Paul because you were primarily responsible for organizing glitChicago. There are many artists in the show who do not reside in Chicago. Is the work intended to demonstrate Chicago glitch tendencies and influences, or perhaps to situate Chicago as a spiritual home of glitch, like say Chicago blues?
Paul Hertz: I think the latter to some extent, but it’s also a joke about location in a networked society.
RP: From the perspective of being outside of Chicago, I can’t think of another place in the world right now that has a more cohesive community of artists working together, building things together, breaking things together, it’s quite an extraordinary moment in time in Chicago. So my question is: how much diversity, difference of opinion, even polemical positioning is there between the artists who are part of the glitch community.
PH: He wants us to wash our underwear!
Nick Briz: I’m glad it looks so cohesive on the outside, there is disagreement, but it’s a respectful community kind of disagreement.
RP: Nick, as the author of the Glitch Codec Tutorial, in which you describe a method of making glitch, is the idea of a “glitch tutorial” perhaps contradictory to glitch as accident, mistake or rupture?
NB: No, I think it’s the most appropriate format, because it’s not a glitch tutorial, it’s a glitch art tutorial and that’s an important distinction for me. Glitch is this unexpected occurrence within a system that we come to with a certain set of expectations, and a glitch is when those expectations are broken. Glitch art is when that happens intentionally. For me, this is a personal thing. What’s really special about glitch art as a practice are the realizations you come to when you instigate those moments, the political potential for drawing certain connections, for exposing certain invisible politics within a system. That happens in process. So to produce a tutorial is not only, technically, how you produce glitches for your work, but also for people to have those realizations themselves, really experiencing glitches.
RP: So, how does that relate to the idea of intentionality, accident, and indeterminacy in glitch. Is there a right or a wrong way of doing glitch?
Jon Satrom: No, I don’t think there is a right way to do the wrong thing. I think Nick said it in his performance: “do it wrong the right way.”
NB: Do it wrong, but also doing it wrong. As in doing it wrong is the way that you do it. And then I quoted you, Jon: “there are no right ways to provoke the glitch, only the wrong ways prevail.”
JS: I think the right way to do it wrong is to always cycle back or “level up” or go “meta” to a point where you are able to view what you are doing as a structure so that you can then glitch it again.
PH: Once you have a formula though, in a sense, you’ve captured something, but it is no longer glitching when you start saying that there is a right way and a wrong way.
RP: I am curious about this problem of glitch as style, glitch as genre, glitch as a pre-determined method. It seems there is a need to avoid stylization, avoid the predictable, to avoid the preset. So it does seem as though there are boundaries to glitch, there is an area where you don’t want to go.
JS: I feel like everything is fair game.
PH: There were places we had already gone where we weren’t likely to go again and so you could say farewell to jpeg glitching, farewell to png glitching, jpeg2 glitching, to datamoshing. I have argued that those are more like tools that we have and it’s about the new technologies. Going into the show I was quite prepared actually to say that glitch is now art historical, that’s why I was doing the show. But I was surprised at how lively the subculture is, how lively the artists are who have gone on to do new things. I think glitch belongs in many ways to an earlier tradition of noise, and in that sense, it has a history, it has a future in all kinds of directions.
RP: The idea of history seems like a dark cloud that hangs over the practice of glitch, to avoid becoming rigid or formed. In regard to the roundtable discussion you just had, Paul asked the question: “once we induct glitch art into art history, is glitch art dead?” What was the outcome of this discussion? Is glitch as we know it history, has it already become part of the art-historical discourse?
PH: We did shift the conversation a little and started by talking about glitch as having a memory and glitch as having a potential future. And I think we sidestepped the history question by and large. But it was stated by a number of people, including Curt Cloninger in his essay for the show that as long as there are new technologies, there are going to be new glitches.
RP: So is there a reason why the historical question was avoided?
PH: I think it became uninteresting as time went on. We’re having so much fun just doing it, it doesn’t seem like such a serious question. It seems like a question an art historian would ask.
RP: But Paul, you’re an art historian!
PH: We all got around to being artists again.
JS: I think that when you look at history as a rigid structure and if you take a glitch perspective towards a rigid structure you’re looking at it as something that isn’t as static as may come across. Histories are presented in different ways, different agendas, different people, and I think it’s more interesting to consider our job as glitch artists to create structures that are radically inclusive, and experimental, and have enough space for agency, and individuality moving forward, rather than considering whether or not it is dead.
RP: Returning to the glitChicago show, which aspired to the inclusive, open source, community-based, DIY nature of glitch: Nick, you’re project is called 0p3nr3p0…
NB: It’s pronounced “open repo,” short for open repository.
RP: How does this project involve the local community as well as expand itself through the network to engage a more globally social reach?
NB: 0p3nr3p0 is at the moment a project that myself and Joseph Yolk Chiocchi maintain, an unfiltered, open port for uploading glitch art. It was an offspring of the GLI.TC/H conferences in 2010, 2011, and 2012 in Chicago. It was a result of our paranoia to be radically inclusive as a conference. So we didn’t do a call for works that last time, instead what we did was a call for threads, which is we tried to carve out spaces for other people to bring in certain conversations. And while we showed and exhibited work in the evening, all that work as best as we could was actually the result of those communities coming together. There is only so much space, there are only so many people who could show, but there are a lot of people online who we could recognize and include and so 0p3nr3p0 would become that back door entrance to the physical exhibition via the network.
RP: It seems to me that there is something about the nature of glitch that encourages democratization and inclusivity in terms of the accessibility of its practice and the techniques involved.
JS: It comes back to social structure. One way to get around the hierarchies of a social structure is to try and present things in a more populist, more open, more democratized way.
PH: There is also this transgressive aspect to glitch. Glitch itself represents a rupture, instability, of images and media. And that instability has an ideological function, as Nick is very careful to point out in the Glitch Codec Tutorial. If we are transgressing both the technology and exposing the ideology, there are reasons for us to want to expand that kind of rupture to online communities.
RP: I spoke with jonCates in an earlier interview for Hyperallergic about dirty new media. I would like to get your perspectives. Jon (Satrom), it seems like your work particularly reflects this idea as a reaction against the clean, glossy, polish of technology, a reaction against the fetish of the technological object.
JS: Yes, it is a reaction to the sleek, brushed metal of new technology. When I think of dirty new media in terms of Chicago, there is an organic quality to it, literally you can think about dirt. This dirty style: it’s the grit, it’s the rust, it’s the realization of a false promise of technology that many of us just accept and are fine with. We’re purchasing things that are broken and need updates, and yet our agency of not being part of these updates has been stripped from us. Things are changing under our feet all the time. With dirty new media, you don’t bother hiding the cords, you don’t bother sweeping up, there’s a sense of realism to it, there’s the grit, and there is also a kind of a comfort in that. It’s not trying to hide behind these mirrored surfaces.
RP: Perhaps it’s a critique of our relationship with technology in terms of humanizing that relationship.
NB: Maybe trying to take agency back in that relationship. In the computer industry, a very specific relationship has been imposed, we’re told how we’re supposed to use these things, both as consumers and as producers. As consumers we’re told this is what you are supposed to do with your technology, to have a kind of reverence for technology. Dirty new media is an irreverent response to that. And then as producers they’ve imposed a certain relationship. There are “right” ways to do things as programmers, and “right” ways to do things as media artists and dirty new media tends to be kind of punk: how can you finagle the technology. It’s through experimentation that you learn how to do things with these systems. And just like the punk ethic, once you learn those first three chords you can start a band and you’ll learn the rest of them along the way. Once the reverence is defused, and it’s OK to break things and experiment, all these things become possible.
PH: I would also say there is a differentiation in dirty new media between an aesthetic and a capture of instability. There are the pleasures of the glitchy image but at the same time it’s very much about the underlying systems. It seems to me that they play off of one another and there is a certain tension there, and a healthy one.
RP: I believe there is also a tension in glitch in terms of constantly needing to move forward. This leads me to a question about Rosa Menkman, a significant artist and writer in the international glitch community. She’s written some very influential pieces such as The Glitch Moment(um) and the Glitch Studies Manifesto. Her writing critiques this tension while theorizing glitch, putting it into an art-historical perspective, perhaps encouraging its formalization. Is glitch now an actual genre, to be taught in art schools? What’s going on in Chicago seems very healthy because that’s where the locus of glitch is, but what happens when glitch is taught in all the other art schools around the world and everybody is imitating it?
JS: I think it becomes a powerful moment and I think it can be utilized very well in education, just in terms of giving students agency to break something and learn about its guts.
NB: But are you asking, what if glitch becomes a kind of Adobe Photoshop class? Here’s how you reproduce that exact artifact? Because that would be cool in its own sort of way if it happens, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that glitch art. You can perhaps draw a line between glitch artifacts and certain aesthetics and then glitch as a process, or as an ethic, as a practice, as an impetus for triggering these unexpected moments within systems for the plethora of reasons that artists like to do that. But glitch is not necessarily wedded to any particular aesthetic. Sure, if you search glitch art on Google, you get certain things that look the same, but that’s just because that’s what glitch art happens to look like now. But as technology and as systems change, and as the methods for exploiting those systems change, it will look, sound, taste, feel, and augment in totally different ways.
RP: So how do you feel about datamoshing, for example, which is working its way out into popular culture, where mainstream musicians, media artists are using glitch techniques straight out of the book.
PH: Kanye West’s Welcome to Heartbreak is the example most people think of. Datamoshing is used as a preset of a certain kind, which is OK, but it also means those problems were already solved. We know if we “hit” the header of a jpeg there are all kinds of things we can do. Once you go through the process, then it’s another effects module in a certain sense. But there is a point in which it’s all a surprise. Datamoshing is no longer a surprise for us, but it’s probably a surprise for nationwide television audiences. And even for them it’s going to eventually cease to be a surprise.
RP: Then what do you do in Chicago to stay on the edge, when everybody is practicing glitch?
NB: You can only stay on the edge if everybody is practicing glitch. The Kanye West example is a beautiful moment as initially I was upset because I felt co-opted, the pop culture aesthetic is going to destroy it. A lot of folks had that sort of sentiment and rhetoric. But the reality is that people are introduced to the aesthetic and look of glitch through that video and then are curious to know how to do that and then they fall down that rabbit hole. So more people join the conversation and like any conversation it gets better when more people join and there is more to talk about. And when everybody knows how to bend a jpeg, it means the general literacy level is up, the glitch literacy level is up. You can’t get into more complicated concepts, the next chapter, until everybody can have that conversation.
PH: And on the aesthetic side, it broadens the lexicons that people have to think about images, to think about media. It means that the aesthetics of punk, the aesthetics of noise creep in as something we should get used to. The popularization of glitch makes it possible to say, yes, we’re going to learn to live with the instability of technology, because we have to.
glitChicago: An Exhibition of Chicago Glitch Art, Ukranian Institute of Modern Art, with works by: Melissa Barron, Benjamin Berg aka Stallio, Nick Briz, jonCates, ChannelTWo, Joseph Yolk Chiocchi, Curt Cloninger, James Connolly, Kyle Evans, Paul Hertz, shawné michaelain Holloway, Nick Kegeyan, Jeff Kolar, A. Bill Miller, Pox Party, Rob Ray, Antonio Roberts, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, Jon Satrom, Lisa Slodki, Jason Soliday, Ben Syverson, I “heart” Presets, and OP3NR3PO.
Randall Packer is an artist, educator, and writer who critiques the unfolding media culture from his underground studio bunker in Washington, DC. Follow him at Reportage from the Aesthetic Edge.
First of 6 articles as part of the Piratbyrån and Friends exhibition at Furtherfield. Mariana Delgado Coordinator of El Proyecto Sonidero (Mexico), writes about the Polymarchs posters (1980-1990) by Jaime Ruelas. Translation by Tess Wheelwright.
Panther / Jaime Ruelas / Polymarchs. On How We Came To a World of Legend By Mariana Delgado, Coordinator of El Proyecto Sonidero I met José Luis Lugo in 2009, in the office above the Publicidades Panther print shop in Mexico City. We were introduced by Lupita La Cigarrita: sonidera, collaborator and number one follower of Sonido La Changa, el Rey de Reyes – the King of Kings. Later we learned from Lupita that José Luis had an important collection of sonidero event posters and flyers. Marco Ramírez, co-founder of El Proyecto Sonidero, grew enthusiastic.
As soon as we released the book Sonideros en las aceras, véngase la gozadera (roughly Sonideros on the Sidewalks: Bring on the Revelry) in 2012, we began to see what should come next. In 2013 we launched the Proyecto de Gráfica Sonidera, in association with Panther, and in collaboration with draftspeople, poster artists, graphic designers, graffiti writers, sign painters, printers, promoters, collectors and researchers.
We are taken back to the origins of the tropical sonidero movement, which began in the 60s with turntables and LPs – loudspeakers and tweeters set up in the streets, dances thrown in the barrio. Over time various sound systems are added, each with its own crew; soon the multicolored Aztec or robotic lights are streaming. The biggest parties feature close to 50 systems at once, working simultaneously for hundreds of thousands of people. Music is introduced and mixed the Mexican way. Equipment is fiddled with; beats are slowed. Bass rumbles out from walls of speakers. Followers take their places and multiply along with vernacular genres. Transsexual dance clubs form circles on the dance floor; here a family, there a group of insiders – la banda – make their way through the crowd. The mic starts up, amplifying the shout-outs that will circulate the continent on CD and DVD, through streaming, links, posts. From Peñon de los Baños aka Colombia Chiquita to Neza York; from the barrio Tepito aka Puerto Rico to Chimalwaukee, out to all the brothers in Illinois.
In this world, all hatched from La Sonora Matancera. Cumbia and salsa are the queens of a grand court of rhythms. The Virgin of Guadalupe reigns supreme; it’s her congregation. Changó, San Judas Tadeo, and the Santa Muerte share the power thereafter. Epic is important, and family, too. What begins as a passion for Cuba soon builds: music from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Buenos Aires, New York… The sonideros leave behind the established Mexican labels and their standardizing limitations, heading out on their own to comb the continent. They become vinyl diggers, import records, discover bands and musicians; they turn into promoters, create record companies and pirate labels, compile mixtapes to disseminate in the street markets and plazas, at parties and on commercial stands, through the internet.
In the margin within – those more notorious neighborhoods of the Distrito Federal – embroidered logo jackets circulate, lending publicity to the sonidos along with their cards, posters, flyers, banners. Nonetheless, fewer and fewer dance parties are thrown. The city government has issued a discretionary ban of sonidero events in public spaces, canceling even traditional dances like the anniversary celebrations of Tepito’s markets. In the outer margins, ringing the DF and beyond, painted walls announce upcoming events and sonido trailers take over the streets. The dances go on.
We aren’t as familiar with the electronic scene, headed by Polymarchs. Our inroad is through the graphic materials comprising the collection Panther has amassed since 1979, which he rightly considers his primary asset. It all began in the Zona Rosa, where he used to go to trade posters, leaflets, stickers. At thirteen he formed part of the Polymarchs crew, coiling cables. Later he became a publicist, promoter, producer. He never stopped his gathering; stacks of paper tower in the office. Hundreds of posters and dozens of original drawings from the golden age of Hi-NRG pass in front of the camera, as José Luis remembers key scenes and events from this world: when they brought Gloria Gaynor to Mexico for the first time, when Sylvester came, when they packed the World Trade Center.
We are introduced to the world of artists and designers who created an imaginary to suit the precursors of the genre: pharaonic, galactic, utopian, spectacular, and futuristic. Always epic. Tailored to the moment, to the experience of the fans. The posters of the electronic sonidero movement are unique in format, employing unexpected techniques and materials; they are distinct, painstaking, sensational, new. In contrast, the works of tropical sonidos follow in the typographic vein of Mexico’s Gráfica Popular – reminiscent of the wrestling, taking the freedoms of the tropics, whether with box cutter or in full pixel. In the world of disco, Hi-NRG, and techno, the graphics are like the sound system: cult objects, concepts, myth.
“Do you want to meet Jaime Ruelas?” asks José Luis. The master of ink drawing, creator of logos and illustrations as iconic as La Changa or Polymarchs themselves. Of course we do. We are his fans, and we are an army. We arrive nearly punctually to the interview, with photography, audio and video gear in tow. Nearly punctually, because Jaime is already waiting; the son of a watchmaker, he knows machines, design and sound from the inside. He also knows the history of Polymarchs well, and from the beginning. Polymarchs’s first gig took place in his apartment in Tlatelolco. Later, Jaime became the sonido’s first DJ, before switching his focus to images.
Like the sonidos thriving now in the capital, Polymarchs began in Puerto Ángel, on the Oaxaca coast, with a modest set-up – just a single Telefunken console and two baffles. The collective was formed by three siblings in 1975: Apolinar, Elisa and María de los Ángeles Silva Barrera. In 1978 they moved to Mexico City. Apolinar took charge of the sonido, and with Jaime Ruelas he discovered disco and Hi-NRG. The tenacity of Polymarches transcends mere selection of musical genres; the approach here is different. With tropical sonidos, the music, the equipment, the role of DJ and MC are the purview of one person, a single all-powerful figure operating from behind the console. Polymarchs is coming from somewhere else, assembling great towers of scaffolding, creating a spectacle, an experience, an environment. Neither DJ or MC, this is an entire machine. Polymarchs designs, produces and operates structures of light and sound as have never been seen before, radiant vessels that travel, carrying immense tech crews and companies of retro-futuristic dancers, from Tenochtitlan to outer space. There are explosions in the cosmos. On the floor all hands are up, cellphones by the thousands.
When Apolinar Silva and the Polymarchs team arrive at the Centro Cultural de España to give a conference in the context of the Proyecto de Gráfica Sonidera, the auditorium is brimming. Followers sport the distinctive t-shirts and jackets, hold up posters they’ve collected, wave cellphones. Apolinar is glowing; he is the supreme authority and, more than mythic, he is mystic. The audience takes the microphone to share their experiences. Like the time a Polymarchs event was organized in Mexico City’s Zócalo and what people thought was an earthquake turned out to be the earth shuddering under such dance. Below, in one of the exhibition spaces, Polymarchs set up a kind of black-light temple, aglow with, among many others, the visions we now share now with you.
The Proyecto de Gráfica Sonidera was an intensive program that resulted in records and research, specialized workshops and others for children, the painting of walls, the exhibition of graphic, photographic, and video material, and a series of talks along with book and documentary releases. We had the honor of including a drawing by Jaime Ruelas, and we kicked off with a dance party dedicated to Polymarchs… which was epic. There was a little boy who stole the dance floor, winning it against the odds from the more seasoned dancers.
All this was made possible thanks to many people and institutions. Shout-outs to the following generous collaborators: Marco Ramírez, José Luis Lugo, Javier Echavarría, Jaime Ruelas, Livia Radwanski, Mark Powell, Mirjam Wirz, Rocío Montoya, Tonatiuh Cabello, Diego Delgado, Alan Lazalde, Sonido Fajardo, Luis Sánchez, Héctor Rubí, Julio Díaz Corona, Sonido Leo, Christian Cañibe, Eduardo “Aníbal” Dueñas, Eleazar “Canuto” Escobar and the shop personnel of Publicidades Panther, Publicidades Lupano, Aisel Wicab, Citlali López Maldonado, Pedro Sánchez, Marisol Mendoza, Lupita La Cigarrita, Sonido Pío, Víctor Hernández, Edgar Ramírez, Laura Zárate, Griska Ramos, Mirna Roldán. Official respects to FONCA, to CONACULTA, to the Fundación Alumnos 47 and to the Centro Cultural de España.
Tatiana Bazzichelli is a researcher, networker and curator, working in the field of hacktivism and net culture. She is part of the transmediale festival team in Berlin, where she develops the reSource for transmedial culture, an ongoing distributed project of networking and research within the transmediale festival. She received a Ph.D. in Information and Media Studies from Aarhus University (DK), conducting research on disruptive art practices in the business of social media (title: Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking). Bazzichelli is also a Postdoc Researcher at the Centre for Digital Cultures /Leuphana University of Lüneburg (DE).
In light of absolute domination by market forces over all of our lives, and with the top-down orientated power systems’ bias towards business and the implementation of a consumer class. New ways of thinking around the problem is called for. There has been a dramatic shift of unethical companies such as BP funding art’s and technology projects, and mainstream museums and galleries in the UK.  Alongside this, those hoping to receive arts funding are told to be innovative and more entrepreneurial than they already are. What they really mean by ‘innovative and entrepreneurial’ is, get in line with the values of a corporate mentality, and not be contextual or critical in one’s art practice. This wholesale move towards business as it further dominates the content, ideas, societal context, and missions by artists and art collectives – is of deep concern for all who wish to explore freedoms of expression on their own terms and not inline with the state’s or a corporation’s set of diverting agendas.
Art activism in media art and transdiscilpnary arts culture has engaged with political and societal issues while under the gaze of neoliberalism quite successfully. However, what changes have occured that we can draw upon to say we have built real alternative values for others to work with? There are plenty of people from the dark side calling us to join them, like that eirie voice from the original Evil Dead movie.
I’m reminded of Thomas Frank’s insightful words in his article TED talks are lying to you, that those who urge us to “think different” almost never do so themselves.  And this is the nub, what will become us if we step over into their world and adapt our minds to their visions?
“To expect or even wish those who rule and those serving them to change, and challenge their own behaviours and seriously critique their own actions is as likely as winning the National Lottery, perhaps even less.”  (Garrett 2013)
So, this brings us Tatiana Bazzichelli who has been thinking about this stuff a lot. Her Proposition is that we need climb out of these oppositional loops in order to find different ways of being, and refocus on potential art strategies in relation to a broken economy. In her publication Networked Disruption: Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking, Bazzichelli puts forward the notion of disruptive business and it “becomes a means for describing immanent practices of hackers, artists, networkers and entrepreneurs”, and sheds “light on two different but related critical scenes: that of Californian tech culture and that of European net culture – with a specific focus on their multiple approaches towards business and political antagonism.”
Marc Garrett: In your book you examine a breadth of disruptive practices of networked art and hacking culture in California and Europe. You propose your main objective is to rethink the meaning of critical practices in art, hacktivism and social networking, analyzing them through business instead of being in opposition to it.
Could you explain how this would change situations and what it would bring to artists exploring disruption as part of their practice, networked art culture and the wider community, and what this may look like?
Tatiana Bazzichelli: I will begin answering your question by adding another one: Why do we need to rethink artistic and hacktivist oppositions in the context of social media and after the emergence of Web 2.0? This question is at the core of my book, and also the main link that connects together my previous book, Networking: The Net as Artwork (2006), and the following ones centered on the concept of networked disruption and disrupting business.
The idea of conscious participation in media practices is central to analyse the evolution and transformation of the concept of “networking” in the age of social media. My reflections are the consequence of a process of direct involvement within the activist (or rather “artivist”) scene in Italy since the mid-90s, and furthermore, they are based on the analysis of a more international fieldwork of practices between the Europen tradition of netculture, and the development of cyberculture in California. Practically all my books are to be thought of as subjective, and as consequences of a personal experience which aims to create connections between very diverse fields of action, applying the idea of networking both in theory and practice, and as a methodology of writing.
Between the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, many actions of media criticism were often very dialectical, and rooted on the idea of antagonism as radical opposition. I am for example thinking about what was (erroneously) called “the anti-globalization movement”, the protests in Seattle, Prague, Goteborg, Genoa, etc.: somehow it was easier to identify an “enemy”, for everyone to unite against the same power. Unfortunately this also meant that it was easier to identify the members of the movement(s) themselves, and many protests faced violent chains of repression by the authorities. In particular in Genoa, the Italian movement and its global counterparts were hit hard. My personal opinion is that the frontal opposition, the idea of assaulting the “red zone” during the protests, did not work at all: we basically played the game of the police. Without dismissing this experience, which was very important in itself and for the start of new activist projects, after Genoa 2001 I started searching for a new way of activism that was not black and white, and which would be harder to appropriate. This was also the reason why I started entering in contact with many projects in the queer, pink, and independent porn culture, which were combining ludic strategies and playful disruption beyond oppositional confrontation. I was trying to connect those to the concept of hacking – mixing the codes to create disturbance, to generate subliminal interventions, to give rise to paradoxes, fakes and pranks, as previous projects based on multiple identities, from Luther Blissett to Neoism and Monty Cantsin, had done before.
“In 1994, hundreds of European artists, activists and pranksters adopted and shared the same identity. They all called themselves Luther Blissett and set to raising hell in the cultural industry. It was a five year plan. They worked together to tell the world a great story, create a legend, give birth to a new kind of folk hero.” Luther Blissett.
But after 2004, which is also the time of the emergence of Web 2.0, the critical framework of art and hacktivism shifted: networking, a concept which had informed the Avant-garde since the 1960s, became a tool for a wider audience, and a pervasive business strategy. The ideas of openness, do it yourself, sharing, the “mottos” of the hacker culture in the 1990s, became the main rhetoric of the Web 2.0 companies based on the appropriation of “free culture”. This meant to me that also artistic and hacker practices needed to be recontextualised, since the concept of social networking became something completely different from its roots, and the business companies themselves were applying the concept of disruption as main business logic. Is it possible to oppose disruption with disruption?
In the era of immaterial economy and increasing flexibility, the act of responding with radical opposition no longer looks like an effective practice, since the risk is to simply feed the same machine replicating the capitalistic logic of competitiveness and power conflicts. In my opinion, and here I speak through my “artivist” experience, even the concept of the multitude as a model of resistance against the capitalist system – which runs at a theoretical level – is difficult to apply on a pragmatic level without having to recreate the traditional dynamics of the “power-contra power” conflict. The point is to try to figure out how to imagine new forms of participation that go beyond dualistic conflict – and that go beyond the creation of a hegemonic and holistic entity, although presented as a plural (the multitude, indeed). As a result, it is definitely necessary to reformulate the language, which enters the sphere of production and the political, as Paolo Virno states, but most of all, activists practices and critical strategies need to be rethought.
What my book Networked Disruption suggests is the act of performing within the capitalist framework, not against it, keeping the dialectic open through coexisting oppositions. The notion of disruptive business is useful for reflecting on different modalities of generating criticism, shedding light on contradictions and ambiguities both in capitalistic logics and in artistic and hacktivist strategies, while rethinking oppositional practices in the context of social networking. In this book the concept of the Art of Disrupting Business must be interpreted beyond categorical definitions, and as a new input for imagination. “Disruption” implies a multi-angled perspective and it is a two-way process, where business and the antagonism of business intertwine. Adopting a hacker’s strategy, hacktivists and artists take up the challenge of understanding how capitalism works, transforming it into a context for intervention and trying to alter business logics. Rethinking strategies and modalities of opposition implies that new forms of interventions and political awareness should be proposed without antagonising them, but rather by playing with them and disrupting them from the inside of the machine. The vision of a distributed network of practices, participations and relationships can only be fragmented, and based on multiple layers of imagination.
Today there are artists and activists who are inspired by a certain tradition of “disruption”, creating interventions from within, critically appropriating the business logics, stretching its limits, or proposing alternative models to it. Many of them are the case studies of my book, where I propose a constellation of social networking projects that challenge the notion of power and hegemony, and where social networking is not only technologically determined. Projects and experiences such as mail art, Neoism, The Church of the SubGenius, Luther Blissett, Anonymous, Anna Adamolo, Les Liens Invisibles, the Telekommunisten collective, The San Francisco Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, the early Burning Man Festival, the NoiseBridge hackerspace, and many others. Of course there are many more of these. Holes in the system are everywhere, ready to be performed and disrupted.
MG: There is a quote in the book that it says, “Innovation is rooted in Desire, not need. Desire is the motivation for behaviour. Desire leads to goals, and goals lead to motivation, the internal condition that gives rise to what we want to do, based on our goals, what can we do – based on the norms of behaviour – and what we will do – the actions that we voluntarily decide to undertake. Motivation is the ethos of goal-oriented behaviour, and a company’s ability to understand motivation directly contributes to the success of their products and services in the marketplace” (Manu, 2010, p. 3).
I’m wondering, coming from an activist background myself where do you think free culture fits into this dialogue, especially in respect as a critique of products and services in the marketplace, as well as social forms of emancipation?
TB: The quote you are referring to comes from a book entitled Disrupting Business: Desire, Innovation and the Re-design of Business (Alexander Manu, 2010). As we can read in the business literature, the concept of disruptive business is rooted in the idea of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation, a term coined in 1997 by Clayton Christensen, Professor at the Harvard Business School, is used in business contexts to describe innovations that introduces a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. In the business culture, disruption not only means rupture, but links to the idea of innovation and re-design of behavioural tendencies. Therefore performing disruption shows a process that interferes with business, whilst at the same time generating new forms of business. This mutual feedback loop is at the core of my analysis.
However in my book business is neither analysed through classical business school methodologies, nor seen as positive or negative, but it is a means for working consciously on political practices – and for raising questions on art and media criticism. In 2009 I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University where I was researching the reasons of the progressive commercialisation of networking contexts after the emergence of Web 2.0, through the development of hacker culture in the Silicon Valley. From the interviews that I conducted, and also via the close reading of the book From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner, it was evident that since the development of the early cyberculture hackers and members of the so-called “counterculture” have been trying to disrupt business via their practices, and in parallel, business corporations have been trying to do the same through technological innovation. Since the 1960´s, hackers and artists in California have been active agents in business innovation while at the same time also undermining business. This is also very evident today in the business context of Web 2.0 where many hackers are working at the core of business, while disrupting it – the Anonymous entity is one of the most successful examples of this.
In my book I compare what the concept of business disruption meant in the European context and in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. When I was interviewing computer engineer Lee Felsenstein he told me that in California hackers would refuse hegemony but not business. This is also why many of them have no problem in working for Google, which is actually employing the best hackers of the area. In Italy we always claimed that hacking is politics, and politics is an “attitude”, which informs your everyday life and lifestyle. What I discovered in the Silicon Valley is that libertarian practices are often linked with the refusal of the political, and this is the position of many members of the hacker culture in California. Therefore, what for me was the initial “problem”, the contamination of business and free culture, was not considered as such among the hackers that I met between San Francisco and Palo Alto.
This consideration leads me to create a model of analysis named the “disruptive feedback loop”, based on the idea of layering instead of cooptation – such an idea of “layering” rather than cooptation, was proposed by Fred Turner in the lecture “The Bohemian Factory: Burning Man, Google and the Countercultural Ethos of New Media Manufacturing” (2009), while discussing the social phenomenon of Burning Man. The idea of the “mutual feedback loop” between business and hacker culture is instead the result of a conversation in 2009 with Jacob Appelbaum, who at the time was an active member of NoiseBridge in San Francisco, when we were reflecting on the development of hacker spaces in California. In my disruptive loop model, artists and hackers use disruptive techniques of networking in the framework of social media and web-based services to generate new modalities for using technology, which, in some cases, are unpredictable and critical; business enterprises apply disruption as a form of innovation to create new markets and network values, which are also often unpredictable. Networked disruption is a place where the oppositions coexist, and it is a reconfiguration of practices into a structure of mutual feedback instead of opposition.
Here I propose disrupting business as an art practice: artists and hackers adopt viral and flexible strategies, as does contemporary networking business, and by provoking contradictions, paradoxes and incongruities, business logic is détourned. This model can be applied both in the analysis of business contexts of social networking and of critical practices generated by hackers and artists. For example, projects such as Anna Adamolo and Seppukoo reflect on the tensions between the open and closed nature of social media, stressing the limits of Facebook’s platform, and working on unpredictable consequences generated by a disruptive use of it. Paradoxically, to be critical of business we should learn from it.
The Telekommunisten collective explains this well, and it is not a coincidence that Dmytri Kleiner comes from a Neoist background: the experiences of Luther Blissett and Neoism made it hard to see any “truth”, they forced us to question and examine our identities. If you claim to have the truth, you will fail – someone else will proclaim the truth, and perhaps with much more strength and power than you. The Miscommunication Technologies by the Telekommunisten show that the enemy can eat you up and that the capitalist system has endlessly more resources to force its “truth” on you. We have to learn from business, understand how to be pervasive. My point is that we should stop looking for the enemy, because who is the enemy today when disruption and its opposition are feeding the same machine? The challenge is to unite where the system can’t get you, and you’re not playing into its hands, exposing contradictions, generating disturbance, to disrupt and perform the feedback loop at once. The challenge facing the art of disruptive business is to dissipate oppositions through a network of multiple, distributed, playful and disruptive practices.
MG: It was licensed under a peer Production License (http://p2pfoundation.net/Copyfarleft), similar to a Copyfarleft License (http://p2pfoundation.net/Peer_Production_License). Very different than a Creative Commons Licence, and drawn up by one of the artists you write about in the book Dmytri Kleiner. It feels relevant to be on the P2P Foundation wiki, however it would be useful know how it relates to the context of your publication?
TB: As it is stated on the P2P Foundation website, based on the text published in The Telekommunist Manifesto, “the Peer Production License is an example of the Copyfarleft type of license, in which only other commoners, cooperatives and nonprofits can share and re-use the material, but not commercial entities intent on making profit through the commons without explicit reciprocity”. The Peer Production License is a hack of the Creative Commons licenses. Where the Creative Commons is mostly used for sharing works non-commercially, the Peer Production License wants to contribute in expanding a non-capitalist economy, generating earnings that are shared equally. Commercial use is therefore encouraged for independent and collective/common-based users only, proposing a business logic that does not lead to a private appropriation of community-created value.
This logic is also at the core of the “Venture Communism” concept coined by Dmytri Kleiner in 2001, which proposes to allocate equally the collectively owned material wealth, and to create a peer-to-peer social commons as an alternative to venture capitalism.
I decided to release the Networked Disruption book under this license because I consider it a coherent intellectual gesture, and also a “business experiment”. From what Dmytri told me this is the first book released under this license after the Telekommunist Manifesto, and hopefully the use of such license, if increased, will be part of poking a small hole in the capitalist economy, generating value which is not going into few owners’ pockets, but is shared equally among the workers and producers. This is also the reason why all my publications exist both online and on paper and are freely downloadable from the web, because it would be contradictory to write about certain topics and then release my toughts under proprietary licenses. In this case, since the book is about disrupting business, I decided to apply a disrupting business license, and to my point of view this is what the Peer Production License is.
Bazzichelli’s investigation is a timely and necessary critique on how to free up networked forms of freedom of expression and its varied practice. At first, I was suspicious. Indeed, in a later publication on the subject co-edited by Tatiana Bazzichelli & Geoff Cox, called Disrupting Business: Art and Activism in Times of Financial Crisis; “Bifo” Berardi, in his article EMPTINESS says “Business is, in my opinion, the most despicable word in the vocabulary. Well, I will try to express it better: the meaning and implications of the word ‘business’ in contemporary culture and daily life, and the positive emphasis placed on this term, are the most telling symptoms of the abysmal alienation of our time.” On this I agree.
We are all emersed in the sea of neoliberalism and we are struggling to keep our heads above the water at various levels. Some are aware of it and are not dealing with it, most are unconscious of it and are drowning in it, and then there are those actively awake and exploring different and innovative ways to survive and hack ‘around, in between and through’ this deep totalising ocean.
Whether we like it or not, business unfortunately is the dominating regime controlling our interactions, and this includes our cultural, digital interfaces and social contexts. Bazzichelli asks us to stare into the monster’s face – what Bifo sees as a deep emptiness. She pulls out of the slimey depths a glimmer of hope and an advancement for playful and critically aware forms of artistic disruption. It is an academic and cultural hack and reminds me of Donna Haraway’s proposition in the mid 90s for Situated Knowledges. Haraway realised with other collaborators that it was a fantasy to think that the patriarch was going to somehow willingly hand over control and be enlightened to the idea that women scientists should be accepted as equal in history and academia.
“We seek not the knowledges ruled by phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the one true world) and disembodied vision. We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice – not partiality for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of the connections and the unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities, not isolated individuals.”  (Haraway 1996)
Her proposition is not suggesting that critical, ethical artists and pranksters give up and put down their tools and become business men and women instead. Using terms such as ‘disrupting business’ is not conforming or giving up the fight. It is a shift in strategy. She has successfully illustrated that there is a continual rise in imaginative experimentation where artistic hacking with the protocols, interfaces, code, data and surveillance is alive and well. It is about infiltration of these ideological defaults and the power systems that rely on them. Resistance is not futile, it is just changing direction from reliance for absolute desire (which lets face it is rarely fullfilled) from momentary tactics and momentary hacks, into informed hacking with socially aware and engaged strategies. She is asking for an intelligent response, a less macho way in dealing with the problem. This means building deeper relations with others through affinities and sharing critical knowledges while disrupting the business of neoliberalism. And most of all, carry on playing…
Featured image: Cardboard Soldier, 2009 exhibition T-Space Gallery Beijing. Joseph DeLappe.
Joseph DeLappe’s art projects have received much interest ranging from the art world, New York Times, Wired magazine, and publications such as Joystick Soldiers The Politics of Play in Military Video Games, the first anthology to examine the reciprocal relationship between militarism and video games. DeLappe is considered a pioneer of online gaming performance art. His art examines the conditions and processes of cultural information to provoke and critique the state of military influences on everyday culture and people’s lives.
DeLappe’s work includes the controversial game based, performance and intervention, Dead in Iraq 2006-2011. This involved him frequently visiting the US Army’s online recruitment game and propaganda tool America’s Army. Using the login name dead-in-iraq, he methodically typed in all of the names of U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq, co-opting the Army’s own technology challenging the official figures as a reminder to its players of the real consequences of war. He also directs the iraqimemorial.org project, an “ongoing web based exhibition and open call for proposed memorials to the many thousand of civilian casualties from the war in Iraq.”
Joseph DeLappe, “dead…whats your point?” dead-in-iraq screenshot 2006-2011.
“The players ask DeLappe to stop what he’s doing, but when he continues they shoot him or simply kick him out of the game. You can see the strong reactions from the other players as a proof that DeLappe’s performance are successful. He succeeds to break the game illusion, in the same way as Brecht “Verfremdungseffekt” breaks the illusion in drama.”  (Jansson)
Much of DeLappe’s work is known for challenging his own nation’s involvement with war. However, if we look at The Salt Satyagraha Online: Gandhi’s March to Dandi in Second Life 2008, his work reflects a wider context introducing his concerns on the human condition. Over the course of 26 days, from March 12 – April 6, 2008, using a treadmill customized for cyberspace, DeLappe reenacted Mahatma Gandhi’s famous 1930 Salt March. “The original 240-mile walk was made in protest of the British salt tax; my update of this seminal protest march took place at Eyebeam Art and Technology, NYC and in Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world.” 
On hearing about DeLappe’s The 1,000 Drones Project – A Participatory Memorial, I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to find out more and discuss his approach as well as how he intends to bring to light the lives lost by these unmanned Arial predators as an art project, and what this would look like.
Marc Garrett: Could you tell us why you felt it was necessary to do this project even though there is already much media attention out there relating to the use of drones in domestic, military and commercial culture?
Joseph DeLappe: There has indeed been much media attention surrounding the use of militarized drones as a part of US foreign policy. Our drone policies have received much attention yet, as with the coverage of civilian casualties from the Iraq war, the actual human costs of our drone strikes remains rather illusive. Through the work I am doing regarding drones that specifically focuses on memorializing civilian deaths I hope to actualize the estimates of civilian deaths and to call into question the moral issues surrounding such remote killings. You might say that drones have struck a nerve with me. There is something different about drones. They seem to perfectly combine aspects of our worst fantasies of digital technologies, interactivity, computer gaming and war. One might consider them a bit of a “gateway” weapon (the drug reference is of course intentional here). I suspect we have indeed opened a Pandora’s box leading to the further utilization of remote and robotized weaponry that will make our current drone usage seem quaint.
The above is “An ongoing series of image interventions downloading images of UAV’s (unmanned arial vehicles) in use by the United States Military, including: General Atomics MQ1-Predator Drone, MQ9 Reaper Drones and Global Hawk Drones from the top results of Google image searches. Each image is slightly adjusted to include the marking “COWARDLY” upon it’s fuselage. The saved images are uploaded to my website with basic titling information “Predator Drone”, “Reaper Drone”, “Global Hawk Drone” – with the intention of having these images begin to appear in searches for information and images on drones occurs online. The works are intended as a subtle intervention into the media stream of US military power.” DeLappe
I am working on several drone projects at the moment, including The “1,000 Drones Project – A Participatory Memorial”, and seek to draw attention to and creatively memorialize those innocents killed by drones. It invites the public to create a small scale, papercraft replica of a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle) – a drone. Participants are asked to write the name of a civilian drone casualty upon the wings of the aircraft.
This project is an adaptation of The 1,000 Cranes or “Senbazuru” tradition from Japan. This tradition holds that anyone who folds one thousand cranes will be granted a wish. Since World War II the tradition has been associated with the atomic attacks upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima – the folding of the cranes has become a wish for peace. 
MG: You are inviting participants to be a part of the project. In what capacity will they be taking part?
JD: The 1,000 Drones Project has been commissioned by the FSU Art Museum of the exhibition “Making Now – Art in Exchange”. The FSU Department for Art has for the past few months conducted a series of workshop events where the public is invited to make a small, paper drone from a provided template. The form is made directly from MQ1 Predator Drone plans found online. The drone shape is cut out, there are then five dotted lines denoting where to fold the paper – the result is a simple paper facsimile of a drone. Once the drone is created, the participant is invited to write the name of a civilian drone casualty along with their age at the time of death, upon the wings of the drone. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2004 and 2013, drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 2,536-3,577 people, of these, it is estimated that 411-884 civilians and 168-197 children have been killed. The list of civilian drone casualties comes from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. We are also using a list of drone casualties from Yemen found here: http://en.alkarama.org/documents/ALK_USA-Yemen_Drones_SRCTwHR_4June2013_Final_EN.pdf
At present we have a total of 464 persons identified as civilian drone casualties from Pakistan and Afghanistan. To complete the 1,000 drones, the remainder will be marked “unknown”.
The paper drones are to be strung together in groups of 18 per string, 55 strands will be hung in the center of the gallery to create an installation that will be triangular in shape. The making of the drones will continue with the opening of the exhibition in February until 1,000 are complete and installed.
MG: What will others learn or gain from this participation?
JD: This is difficult to pin down. My intention is that through the act of making a drone, followed by writing a name or “unknown” upon their creation that individual participants will in some small way actualize the loss of individual lives due to our drone attacks. The intent is to perhaps for some brief moment make real these deaths taking place in our name on the other side of the globe. The actions are decidedly low-tech as well – there is something important in this – the deaths become physical, perhaps drawn from the digital media stream, the digital process of the killings to a direct, physical act of making and remembering. I am very interested as well in the overall effect of the piece – to see 1,000 white paper drones hanging in space as a memorial will likely have a powerful impact. Numbers of civilians killed as reported through our media are all too often numbing and abstract – this piece will hopefully make real this abstract process of digitally remote killings.
MG: What is the lineage of this project?
JD: I’ve been working intensively over the past decade to creatively shed light on civilian and military casualties as a result of our ongoing “war on terror”. This includes “dead-in-iraq”, my intervention as a memorial and protest taking place within the America’s Army computer game and iraqimemorial.org, a crowd sourced project launched in 2007 inviting anyone to post concepts, imagined memorials to the many thousands of civilian casualties from the Iraq conflict.
Looking at DeLappe’s breadth of work informs us how detailed and complicated the subject is, and it equally reminds us how distant we all are from any quality debate about war and drone technology and the impacts these militarised technologies have on citizen’s lives. Thankfully, on the subject of drones the Internet is supplying us with different view points that mainstream news media fails to seriously investigate. Russia Today, reported that classified documents from the CIA could not “confirm the identity of about a quarter of the people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan during a period spanning from 2010 to 2011.” 
Kate Rich and Natalie Jeremijenko in 1997 as part of the then, anonymous Bureau of Inverse Technology were pioneers of the first art drone ‘The BIT Plane’. This work was featured in a group show at Furtherfield’s gallery, Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! in May 2013.  In an article in Mute magazine Rich wrote, “The morally disgusting asymmetry of drones relates not only to their deployment by the powerful against the weak, but also to the radical disparity of risk entailed in exposing the defenceless living to pilotless killing machines.”  This brings to mind how vulnerable we all are to the whims of the powerful. This feeling of fear will strike at the heart of any humanist not on the ‘right’ side of those wielding such awsome destruction without challenge, until its too late.
DeLappe’s art not only reflects the militaristic world we are living in he is directly engaged with it. His focus on his nation’s obsession with war echoes what James Hillman wrote in A Terrible Love of War, “Hypocrisy in America is not a sin but a necessity and a way of life. It makes possible armories of mass destruction side by side with the proliferation of churches, cults and charities. Hypocrisy holds the nation together so that it can preach, and practice what it does not preach.”  (Hillman 2004)
Many contemporary artists are working with and critiquing Bio-Technology, Nano-technology, engineering, issues on Climate Change, border controls, data-mining, surveillance, economic and political fluctuations, and the military. This is in line with the expansion of the networked society. Controversies and battles are taking place in a time of uncertainty, where the very technology and systems that have supported progress, through its worldwide channels of production and prosperity; are now the very same tools threatening the survival of our species, contributing to climate change and the emergence of the economic, global crisis, as well as a threat to our civil liberties. Art and critical thinking examining this complex and strange territory and its impacts on us and the planet are right up there in pushing forward a new kind of radical investigation as an art practice.
Joseph DeLappe’s next exhibition ‘Social Tactics’ will be from January 24 to April 27, 2014 Fresno State Center for Creativity and the Arts, in the US.
The artist and curator Art Clay was born in New York and lives in Basel. He is a specialist in the performance of self created works with the use of intermedia and has appeared at international festivals, on radio and television television in Europe, Asia and North America. His recent output focuses on large media based performative works and spectacles using mobile phone devices. He has received prizes for performance, theatre, new media art, music composition and curation. As an educator, he has taught media and interactive arts at various art schools and universities in Asia, Europe and North America including the University of the Arts in Zurich. He is the initiator and Artistic Director of the ‘Digital Art Weeks International’ and the Virtuale Switzerland.
Eva Kekou: Could you tell us about your work and what inspires you?
Arthur Clay: The question about inspiration has been posed to me before and most often in the moment when people first see the program that the Digital Art Weeks (DAW) is offering. As an artist I am very much inspired by the every day. I think it is important to be aware of the things around you and by so doing, my artwork seems to have more of a present day dialogue and the events I curate more to do what is actually going on in the society around me. So basically, everything and nothing and all the things in between inspire me. There are no rules, but with a lot of effort to try and come closer to things might be the one I apply the most.
On the one hand, I am a practicing artist and most of this work is concerned with sound. On the other hand, I believe that curation is an art in itself and requires a high level of creativity. It is easier for me to make an artwork in comparison to harmonizing a group of artworks. The two meet in the fact that I grounded the DAW projects in order to provide a platform for my own work and that of others, who think in like minded ways.
EK: You were the curator for the Augmented Reality exhibit “Window Zoos & Views” in collaboration with the participation of the School of Digital Media and Infocomm Techology from Singapore Polytechnic. On the project site, it mentions that the main element of the project was inspired by an image of a car driving down Singapore’s legendary Orchard Road. Could you tell us a bit more about this and the project?
AC: As DAW Director, I am confronted with the same situation each time we bring the festival: Representation and integration. By representation is meant that we have institutions both public and private that act as stakeholders and in turn expect a high level of visibility; talking about integration is much more complex, because there are many levels of integration that must be addressed. First off, the festival structure demands that we integrate local artists into the program along with the international artists participating. Integration of local artists can also mean or entail a high level of knowledge and skill transfer. We do all this during what we like to call the “Exploratory Phase”, which is basically entails dropping the DAW team into a unfamiliar city and making every effort to make it familiar. This includes becoming aware of the general culture the festival will address, how digital that culture is, the art and non art spaces that will become the stage of the festival, and of course trying to find out who is doing what in terms of arts and technology.
To get back to your question about the image of the car driving down the street, the most important element of integration is becoming aware of what is going on in the world of things in which the festival is to be presented. The car we are talking about was a car whose windshield was plastered with cartoon stickers. So, imagine you’re self-sitting at the wheel of that car driving down Singapore’s Orchard Road. It is a really surreal experience; the stickers take on a kind virtual elelment as it floats down Orchard road. The image sparked my imaginations and the AR Parade project was born, which was a very important part of the “Window Zoos and Views” exhibit. Basically, the AR Parade mimicked the effect of the stickers on the car window, but instead of a car windshield, we used an iPhone app to view the images. It was very cool, popular on the street and got a lot of clicks.
EK: There were various artists in the festival showing Augmented Reality art as installations. This included artists such as Tamiko Thiel (DEU), John Cleater (USA), Will Pappenheimer (USA), Lily & Honglei (CHN), Marc Skwarek (USA), Lalie S. Pascual (CHE), John Craig Freeman (USA), and Curious Minds (CHE). It must of have taken a lot of time and energy to organize this, especially the technological aspects of the project. How difficult was it to set all of this up?
AC: In one word: impossible. It is new area of technology, a new approach to curating art, and above all you are dealing with a non-art public – basically anyone who is on the street. That is a big challenge. Add to it the new type of management skills that such an international project work requires and I think you are close to the impossible that I am referring to. For such exhibitions, “Management 2.0” skills are a necessity. The artists, the tech people, and the curators and admins meet and work solely in virtual space. So there are no walls, no tables, and there is no going for coffee together after the meeting. It is a different world from all sides.
Another interesting aspect of this work is that you have to develop a feel for the city and develop a dialogue with it. For the Hong Kong show we did for SIGGRAPH Asia, Monika Rut and I spent about a week working on site, visiting the different areas of the city to check things out and to get a feeling for which works should go where and why. We travel with a lot of special equipment so that we can make tests on site and produce a mock up of the exhibition and test how the experience of viewing the exhibit will be. It is very inspiring but exhausting work and the dialog between Monika and I helped greatly in making all the decisions. Basically, we get to know the cities we are working in quite well and the kick back is, you get to know where the best coffee houses and local restaurants are.
EK: Why hold the DAW in Asia, and what kind of differences do you experience culturally when working in Asia compared to working in Europe?
AC: The DAW is at home in Asia and much of our curating has to do with having visitors get pro-active. This means that it is not just about looking at an artwork, it also entails actually touching the artworks in many cases. In Asia, the museum visitors are not that schooled in museum etiquette. They like to touch things and this is great for the kind of work we like to do. Things break, but it is kind of a “I Like” thing for us.
The other aspect to consider is that you have a language barrier, because no one is going to understand anything if it is not translated. Here, it is also important to know that the approach Europeans take in terms of explaining artworks, does not really come over so well in Asia. Things are often inspired by poetics of nature in Asia and are much less conceptual than works coming from Europa.
Last but not least, the role of size also plays a large part in Asian arts. When a dynasty was at its peek, it produced very large artworks, monuments etc. So size is historically a sign of wealth and prosperity in Asia. When a dynasty fell, they produced much smaller works. So the bigger the better, so to say. For a European artist this is completely meaningless, however, bigger artworks have more visibility. So when you are curating group exhibits in Asia that artists from diverse countries, it is a challenge to keep balance in terms of impact of the works.
EK: Getting back to There DAW AR Float Parade, which was the first of its kind and celebrated as the coming age for Augmented Reality art. Could you tell us more about this aspect of the festival’s project and how it turned out?
AC: Knowledge transfer plays a major role in getting a project like the AR Parade to work. The DAW has an “OutReach Program”. This is a program that invites creative leaders from around the world to hold workshops before or during the festival. The contents of the AR Parade in Singapore were the results of a workshop with the AR artist John Craig Freeman and the Curious Minds group. John Craig dealt with the technical details and the bootstrapping a group of twenty-five creative industry students from the Singapore Polytechnic. The members of the Curious Minds art group hung around, integrated the group into the DAW, taught the students about public interaction, and came up with how to go about actually making the AR Parade happen and come to life.
The proof of a good project for me is when it takes on its own life on after its initial presentation. After the Singapore DAW, the AR parade went to Hong Kong and in 2015 it will be shown marching down the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich as part of the Virtuale Switzerland festival – the world’s first festival “virtual biennale” that focuses solely on virtual artwork. For this we want to go a bit deeper into the creative industry world and see if we can act as modern alchemists and pick up on the float parade from New York and turn Miss Kitty into an artwork by shifting context from the real to the virtual.
Live- Performance “Beads are the Breath of the Landbridge “ with 1st Nations artists, Peter Morin. (DAW Singapore 2013)
EK: What is your view regarding the social contexts of the DAW?
AC: Basically, we are concerned about things and we make an effort to improve things that are within our reach to improve. For the festival in Taipei that will take place in 2015, we are really trying to make people aware of the role of creativity in general. Artists are highly creative people and the world really needs good ideas as well as a more social approach. We try to provide an answer to the question: “How is what we do of benefit to the society in which we are operating?” We think this should be more a question that businesses should be asking themselves. The future needs fewer companies who are “profit first, prosperity second” and more social entrepreneurships that embrace social needs as part of their business model.
EK: Could you tell us what themes and aims we can expect from of the DAW project in the future?
AC: We are off to Seoul, South Korea in 2014 and the theme there is “Creativity and Convergence”, which is a hot topic in Asia, because the government feels that innovation is intimately connected to being creative and thinking out of the box. I think they’re thinking of what makes the West tick and in an odd and ironic way to imitate – which is not exactly creative, but then again I have lot of respect for Asia and admire the work ethic of Asian people. So I think they will do well by addressing these themes. In 2015, we are off to Taipei and the theme (working title) there is “ImagiNation” and here we are trying to run a kind of “Skills-Festival” and platform creative businesses and the approaches that they have taken. It is a new approach and if you think about what Beuys said, “Everyone is an artists”, we might stretch it a bit and also say “everything is art.” At least this is the start and interestingly enough we are working with groups from the labor department in Taiwan, with knowledge transfer departments of universities, and with spin off and start up companies from Switzerland. It is very exciting and really what the DAW is about: creating a platform for research and experiments in social-cultural context.
Digital Art Weeks International
The DAW INTERNATIONAL’s is concerned in general with the bridge between the arts and sciences in cultural context with the application of digital technology in specific. Consisting of symposia, workshops and cultural events, the DAW program offers insight into current research and innovations in art and technology as well as illustrating resulting synergies, making artists aware of impulses in technology and scientists aware of the possibilities of application of technology in the arts.
The Virtuale Switzerland
The Virtuale Switzerland is a biennale for virtual arts. It focuses on the use of public space and mobile communication technologies, inventing “playful” new strategies to coax the public into the festival as “real” visitors with a unique experience of the virtual. The Virtuale Switzerland encompasses Artworks using Augmented Reality, Urban or Location Based Gaming, and Digital Heritage applications. It is interdisciplinary in nature, bridging areas such as art and technology, digital heritage and tourism, as well as digital culture and art mediation.
The end of boom and bust ended with the credit crunch. Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the Eurozone crisis has produced technocracy and poverty rather than democracy and wealth. Reactions to these failures of monetary policy are informed by technology as never before, from austerity being imposed thanks to an Excel spreadsheet bug to the rise of the anti-statist cryptographic currency of Bitcoin.
Against this backdrop of monetary failure and technological critique, _MON3Y AS AN 3RRROR | MON3Y.US is an ambitious online survey of net art depictions and critiques of money and its institutions curated by the pseudonymous curator “Vasily Zaitsev”. As well as the work from 70 or so artists invited to participate an open call for work increased the number of pieces in the show in total to around 200. I only consider the invited artists here, but the work in the open call section is well worth looking at as well.
The show web site has a simple HTML interface, starting with a single image and a pull-down menu of other works. Disable your pop-up blocker and you’re ready to start.
Miron Tee’s “Shame” is the image that fronts the show, an image of a dollar modified to show George Washington peering out nervously from behind the oval frame in the center.
Dominik Podsiadly’s “Joy to ide” starts the pull-down menu with a flowing grid of Euro signs on a blue background to the sound of “Ode To Joy” playing backwards. It’s an all-over, closed temporal loop of the kind that animated GIFs exemplify and encourage, the Euro falling forever.
Nuria Güell’s “How to expropriate money from the banks” is a more direct action based work of culture jamming explaining presented in a well laid out document in the style of HSBC’s First Direct brand.
Paolo Cirio’s “Loophole for All” makes offshore tax havens, those loopholes in taxation regimes that allow corporations and the super-rich to avoid repaying society, available to everyone through a web site interface.
Rafaël Rozendaal’s “Stagnation Means Decline” is a screenful of geometric pixel-art dollar bill stacks that fill the screen with their edges only to be obscured by new columns like an economic game of Life.
Filipe Matos’s “Crash” is an undulating animated monochrome concrete poetry American flag with the stars made from the letters of “me” and the stripes as “you”.
Adam Ferriss’s “paper$hredder” is a Vimeo video clip of American dollar bills speeding by faster and faster until they dissolve into a blur.
Aaron Koblin + Takashi Kawashima’s “Ten Thousand Cents” is a composite image of a hundred dollar bill crowdsourced by paying people a cent to paint each piece through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service.
Maximilian Roganov’s “When the Mao was small, he worked for CIA” is a looped animated GIF colour 3D scan of a dollar bill, polygonally glitched or possibly crumpled over time.
Dave Greber’s “Self Portrait With Dog” video is aptly titled, apparently taking place as the custom graphic on a Visa Mastercard.
Agente Doble | UAFC’s “Watermark will not appear on purchased artwork” is a million dollar blank artwork if you email them and purchase it, otherwise it’s just a url on a blank web page.
JUST DO IT’s “Fifty Euros Inside/Fifty Euros Outside” are animated GIF loops of fifty Euro notes pulsating as if to sound waves on an oscilloscope.
Mitch Posada’s “$$$” is a Flash video of Silicon Graphics-era-style VR models of skeletons exploding and morphing into their constituent polygons while texture mapped with Deutschmarks.
Emilio Vavarella’s “Money Complex” is a tube map-style world map with banknote-collage continents and a key for numeric labels that can be zoomed in on by moving the mouse to reveal their often incongruous labels. It’s one of the more complex works in the show art historically and conceptually.
Lorna Mills & Yoshi Sodeoka’s “Money2” is a Vimeo video loop collage of roughly extracted elements from videos of commodity fetishism, fire and death.
Fabien Zocco’s “Cloud” is a generative composition of black dollar signs scattered up over a yellow background over time like a plume of smoke.
Jasper Elings’s “Territory” is an animated GIF loop of a dollar bill flag blowing in the roughly simulated wind on a white background. It’s not the only such piece in the show.
Robert B. Lisek’s “FuckinGooglExperiment” is online statistical analysis code that tries to correlate the change in Google’s stock price with changes in their PR strategy. It also uses the excellent Fluxus livecoding environment.
Alfredo Salazar Caro | TMVRTX’s “How to make money on internet remix” is a tightly tiled video loop of a rotating stack of dollar bills in a lava-lite-like flow of colour psychedelia.
Anthony Antonellis’s “How to make money on the internet” is simply that rendered block of spinning virtual hundred dollar bills, plucked from the era of RenderWare and VRML.
Gustavo Romano’s “Pieza Privada #1” is another piece of net art for sale at a specific price, with a carefully described contract and application form.
Tom Galle’s “One Million Dollars For iPhone” is an app available on the iTunes Store that allows you to count a virtual million dollar wad on your iPhone.
Geraldine Juarez’s “Love Not Money” tracks the associations of various words with “death”, “love” and “money”. I had to Google this one: it’s a Processing visualisation of a personal stock market tracking the artist’s conceptual assets over six weeks. I love it.
Nick Kegeyan’s “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Romney Eat A Lot of Money)” is simple, direct and effective video burst of an American news interview subject morphing into a cloud of falling texture mapped dollar bills.
Dafna Ganani’s “Apple Dollar Explosion” is another descriptively titled piece, a Maya-looking apple texture mapped with a dollar bill spinning against a grey background then exploding into its constituent polygons.
Haydi Roket’s “$” takes a dollar bill portrait and literally deconstructs it by pixelating it in increasingly primitive ways, first as 4-bit grey patterns, then in monochrome ANSI characters, alternating to inverse video and changing the contrast to give a flickering effect.
Jennifer Chan’s “Infinite Debt” is a video of a twenty Euro not being dipped in batter and fried mixed in with a collage of clipart images and video on the cynical economics of contemporary art and consumerism.
Frère Reinert’s “Money as a waste of time” is a deliberate excercise in futility; a blurred, zoomed in silent video of the MacOS X SBOD on a white backdrop.
Cesar Escudero’s “Captura de pantalla 2013-03-08 a las 21.46.23” is a Mac OS X desktop image of a gas masked protester who appears to be reaching for a folder named “$$$$$$$”.
Jefta Hoekendijk’s “Money Is Data” is an animated GIF loop of a glitchily texture mapped virtual fifty Euro note in artificial colours.
V5MT’s “¥€$ or N0T” is a rap video or Designers republic album cover-style animation of monumental metal morphing currency symbols made from struts and spheres like newton’s cradles or molecular diagrams.
Addie Wagenknecht’s “How To Make $$$$$” is a grid of money counterfeiting video tutorials, which are apparently a genre. Playing all at the same time they become an all-over aesthetic rather than incitement to a crime.
Gusti Fink’s “infinite loop of money drowning in water oil” is a slow, monumental simulation of a platinum visa card sliding into dark liquid that the camera pans over as if it were a sinking ship.
Marco Cadioli’s “You are here” shows globe and landscape maps constructed of dollar bills, with a pin or map icon to show your place in the economy.
Keigo Hara’s “Making Of Fake Bills” is more halftoned (or possibly shape grammared) dollar bills.
Ellectra Radikal’s “Disolved €uro” is a flickering autotraced, find edged and glitched animated zoom into a hundred Euro note that renders it spatial and architectural.
Paul Hertz’s “5,000,000$” it the purest glitch art piece in the show, rows of corrupted and miscoloured banknote imagery that looks like nothing so much as classic street art.
Aoto Oouchi’s “It’s all good” is an uncanny New Aesthetic 3d rendering of liquid or possibly mirrored texture mapped banknotes pouring from a wall.
Kim Laughton’s “Landscape” is a rendered and collaged landscape of banknotes, resembling nineteenth century engravings of dramatic landscapes thanks to the inconography and texture of its source material.
Andrey Keske’s “Tell Me What You Want” is a search engine-style text box prompt that shows the economic coercion inherent in neoliberal use of technology by only allowing you to finish one word beginning with “M”.
A Bill Miller’s “3xpl0d3m0n3y” combines a grainy analogue glitch aesthetic explosion of a dollar bill into waveform stripes into a black space of drifting Matrix-green dollar signs.
Martin Kohout’s “Watching $100 Note Unveiling Video” has a ChatRoulette look, with the unseen unveiling causing a small smile to break out on the depicted viewer’s otherwise affectless face.
Marc Stumpel’s “pH0r 7|-|3 L0\/3 0Ph /\/\0|\|3’/” is a glitched and colourised monochrome television popular music performance from the age of mass media. Again I had to Google it but the song is ‘For the love of money’ by The O’Jays.
Benjamin Berg’s “$(0x24)” (the hexadecimal number that represents the dollar sign in ASCII) is a colourful and stripy glitch animation that resembles test cards, 8 and 16 bit graphics, and even woodcut as it breaks down.
LaTurbo Avedon’s “$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$” is an ambient modern html5 animtion of the avatar-artist reclining on money texture-mapped couches floating up and down a Google image search page for the word “millions”.
Nicolas Sassoon’s “BILL” is a flickering green screen terminal or slow scan TV-style rendering of a 500 Euro note that plays with the visual language of digital images: the letters and stars are highly pixellated but the backdrop to them is a smooth gradient.
Curt Cloninger’s “i want KANDY” loops images of a dancing sniper camouflaged figure montaged with dollar bills and fruit over a more slowly changing background collage of the american flag, a dollar bill, and fruit making a post MTV-styleguide image of the military-economic-entertainment complex.
Systaime’s “ʞooqǝɔɐɟ Dollars” video portrays a world where curvily rendered dollar bills rain over an amateur video of tourists at a beach with a sky of quickly cycling Facebook pages.
Erica Lapadat-Janzen’s “Money Troubles” is a PhotoShop Pop Dada montage of exploitatively normative female beauty and monetary and drug excess that subverts the imagery of the fashion pages.
Milos Rajkovic’s “Mind Wheel” is a wonderfully Gilliamesque collaged animation depicting a mental wage labourer.
Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion’s “Cutting Grass” depicts the pointless and trivial labour that video games such as “The Legend Of Zelda force players to engage in for unrealistic rewards such as gold coins and rubies so they can get on with their quest.
Rozita Fogelman’s “From Oakland w/Love” is a point-and-click kaleidoscopic archtitectural portrait of gentrified Bay Area architecture.
Georges Jacotey’s “am I enough political now” is a Chatroulettish video selfie of an augmented reality Euro flag and symbol drawing and dancing session.
Δεριζαματζορ Προμπλεμ Ιναυστραλια’s “Major Problem” is a rendering of a stack of dollar bills as seen through heat haze or under water, rippling and undulating against a white background.
Lars Hulst’s “0 €uro” is a rendering of a zero Euro note.
Nick Briz’s “a return to secularism” is a video documentary of twenty dollar bills being printed with the words “a return to secularism” flashing over it, framed by a repeated loop of the words “in God we trust” being crossed out on a dollar bill where they were added in the 1950s.
Jon Cates’s “MØN3¥-Δ$-3ɌɌɌØɌ” is a Classic Mac monochrome bitmap or fax aesthetic PDF essay for the show and an exposure of the print on demand economics of that essay in the same style.
León David Cobo’s “Conversation With Machine” has a 1990s broadcast graphic feel, showing the soundwaves of the feedback of a conversation with Siri asking it for money in Euro blue and yellow.
Guayayo Coco’s “Money | GLıɫcʜ ᴬᴺᴰ GLıɫɫɛʀ” is a video of a journey through a VRML-style virtual environment of discrete polygonal objects texture mapped with dollar bills, corporate logos and more abstract patterns with a radio channel-surfing soundtrack.
Vince Mckelvie’s “MONEY” is a reactive interactive deconstruction of a hundred dollar bill into a grid that reacts to the viewers’ mouse movement, revealing pulsating colours behind. It’s a good example of how suitable html5 is for this kind of thing.
Ciro Múseres’s “YOU HAVE WON” is a classic net.art style HTML bomb of overlaid text and links with content from financial web sites such as Barclays, Halifax and Santander that continuously adds and removes layers in different shades red, black, blue and green text to make new compositions.
Adam Braffman’s “Money Loading” is an animated GIF of the frame of a 100 dollar bill with a “Loading…” speech bubble in the centre. It makes the show’s themes of absent and delayed wealth more obviously explicit.
Rollin Leonard’s “Portrait of a NetArtist” is an two-frame animated GIF of the artist naked in the bath with bundles of fake hundred dollar bills with which they are lighting their cigar.
Thomas Cheneseau’s “100€ sequence” is a grid of glitched sections of a hundred Euro note that moires with colour as you scroll it. There’s a link to the facebook album that constitutes the actual work, and it works much better as a clickable album than as a static single image.
Yemima Fink’s “This is not money” is an abstract postmodernist collage of graphical quotations from the counterfeit-resisting elements of banknotes that is both witty and a very effective defamiliarisation of the iconography of banknotes and the power that they represent.
Mathieu St-Pierre’s “Untitiled” is a glitched jpeg of a dollar bill that in its straightforward application of glitch aesthetics makes the most direct link between them and the economic “glitch” of 2008.
Kamilia Kard’s “Amazon VIP girls” is the lone tumblr in the show, with an aesthetic that is either post-internet or pre-Google depending on how old you are applied to the supposedly perfect clothing models used by web sites.
José Irion Neto’s “Untitled” is a glitched banknote that turns JPEG artefacts into Klimt patterns.
There are definite historical trends and formal themes within the included work. Polygonal, texture-mapped, 90s-style VR-style objects that spin or explode. Net art and functional web sites that track or create financial and legal entities and transactions. Looped animations of textures, rendered flags, or video detournements. The imagery of accumulation, consumption, and destruction, always ironically. Imagery and symbols presented in simple loops fast or slow for contemplation. Graphs and maps of real and imagined economic signifiers.
In terms of genre, _MON3Y AS AN 3RRROR | MON3Y.US includes classic VR and video art, more modern GIF loops, textual and institutional net.art, glitch art, even some New Aesthetic. The language of computer graphics, texture mapping and polygons, allows the imagery of banknotes to be defamiliarised and deconstructed. Less often, personal experience and iconography displace the cultural imagery of wealth, consumption and debt.
This historical, formal and genre coverage of the variety of artworks included in the show comprehensively illustrates the chosen theme of “money and error”. This creates its own genre and lineage for the included artworks, which gain by comparison to their newly identified peers. They also contribute to the social and economic critique of the show. It’s a very successful balancing act, which the simple interface and presentational strategy of the show’s curation are key to achieving.
_MON3Y AS AN 3RRROR | MON3Y.US is an almost overwhelmingly successful in its comprehensive review of net art’s critical depiction of and engagement with money. By taking a technologically simple but historically, conceptually and logistically ambitious approach to net.curation for net.art it demonstrates the effectiveness and lasting value of net art’s contributions in this area and the power of online thematic curation to draw together and contextualise this value without giving in to the often perceived need for offline institutional underwriting.
“It emerged from the forest behind the Collins house one evening in May and zeroed in on Sandy, the family’s 50-pound Labrador mix. As two of Collins’ children watched from the doorway, the cougar chased Sandy around the house and cornered her by the back deck.Clamping its jaws around the dog’s neck, the cougar dragged Sandy 50 yards into the woods. There it gnawed on her head and shoulder, buried the rest for later, and stretched out for a long nap.” 
In an inspired moment, we decide to drive a semi-trailer truck up a steep hill. This sort of interaction comes naturally in “Grand Theft Auto V” (GTA V) and it perhaps makes up for all the early driving games where leaving the road resulted in losing the race or the destruction of the vehicle. Leaving the road, leaving the story and leaving the rational is encouraged in GTA V. The Grand Theft Auto series of games are all loosely based on American cities: Liberty City on New York City, Los Santos on Los Angeles, San Fierro on San Francisco, Las Venturas on Las Vegas and Vice City on Miami. In a truly American dream, nearly all space in these cities is traversable by automobile. Running over more than a few pedestrians, or a single police officer, brings on a police chase, but driving over the line and into the wild is encouraged. It is necessary to complete a few of the scripted, trite, missions in order to acquire cash or unlock characters, but the game seems to invite and reward more creative explorations of space.
We have a large truck and intend to drive it up a very steep hill. We flip the radio station from the station that had been playing when we hijacked the truck to another station. The trucker we just flung to the ground has become an angry, red dot on our mini-map. “Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre is now on the radio as we cross the sidewalk and begin our ascent. We need to avoid the trucker, still chasing his truck as we pull out from our lane and position the semi at the base of the hill. Most drivers run from their vehicles when carjacked but others chase after our character and pull him out of the vehicle for a physical confrontation. Some truck drivers and others in the rural areas outside the GTA V city of Los Santos are armed.
The truck moves slowly up the incline, over the grass, as we avoid trees growing on the side of the hill. The Xbox game controller vibrates in relation to the terrain—haptic feedback letting us know we have left the road. We only make it halfway up the hill before gravity is pulling us back down. We attempt to swerve back and forth to get some traction but the truck reacts to being sideways on an incline in the same way it might outside the game space, it topples over sideways and slowly slides down the hill.
With a press of the Y button, we exit the vehicle and jump away without harm. Vehicles in GTA V cannot be righted so the truck is now useless and our semi-trailer truck ascent has ended all too quickly. We decide to attach a sticky explosive to the side of the truck and move further up the hill so we can detonate it remotely. In a moment only possible in a game space, perhaps only in this particular game space, we ignite the explosive and, as we watch the flaming wreck of the truck slide down across the sidewalk and into traffic, pedestrians fleeing in all directions, we are attacked and immediately killed by a cougar, whose approaching mini-map red dot we had failed to notice.
Cougars make the less developed areas of GTA V more dangerous to explore on foot. While it is possible to get mugged in the city , it seems much more likely to encounter a cougar attack outside the city than a criminal attack inside the city. The cougars in GTA V do not limit their attacks to playable characters: “I saw a cougar killing another person. I walked up to it, but then I changed my mind and ran off to the other direction. Heard a scream, looked at my left, and saw some poor smug being attacked and mauled.” 
This video shows a cougar running through the streets of a rural town, taking down pedestrians. 
“Three years have passed since Wes Collins moved his family into their house in the woods. Until the cougar attack in May, they enjoyed the parade of wildlife from their back door. Now the four children, ages 8 to 14, are not allowed to play alone outside. Collins bought a can of pepper spray, and he cleared trails out back “to make our presence known,” he said. Collins said he likes wildlife, but he values the safety of his children more. He’d like to see Washington rescind its new ban on hunting cougars with hounds. `You either control the population of cougars or start killing humans,’ Collins said. `There’s not enough room for both of us to survive.'” 
Jessie Arbogast was attacked by a 7-foot, 250-pound bull shark on July 6, 2001 and lost his arm and enough blood that he was left with anoxic brain injury. The dramatic rescue, with Arbogast’s uncle attacking the shark, dragging it to shore and retrieving Arbogast’s severed arm, set off months of shark-related coverage in the twenty-four-hour news cycle. Later and far away, in the Bahamas, an american tourist was attacked by another shark. A few weeks later, near the site of the attack on Arbogast, a surfer was bitten by yet another shark. Each event fed into the shark-focused coverage. Time magazine’s cover from June 30, 2001 proclaimed the summer of 2001 as the “Season of the Shark”. The cover featured a close up of shark’s jaws seen simultaneously from above and below the water. Two additional fatal shark attacks and constantly-repeated helicopter footage of shark swarms off the coast of Florida kept the focus on the dangers lurking in the water, until the morning of September 11, 2001, when this imagined danger became a less exciting story.
The attack of Jessie Arbogast is often cited as the beginning of the “Summer of the Shark.” However, six days earlier, in the London’s Daily Mail, Christopher Hudson presaged the media circus of Summer 2001 in a book review titled “Summer of the Shark.”  The review focused on two books about “a series of fatal shark attacks in a cluster of Eastern seaboard towns south of New York, complete with panic-stricken holidaymakers, attempts to hush up the danger, bill-posted rewards, and scientists joining the hunt to track down the killer.” The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were the basis of Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” and the subsequent, first, blockbuster film of the same name in 1975. Unlike the summer of 2001, the Jersey Shore attacks were confined to a small area and a period of two weeks. Prior to this, it was thought that sharks did not attack humans or even come close to swimmers. This was changed on July 12, 1916, when, after two attacks along the Atlantic coast, an approximately eight-foot long shark swam up Matawan Creek. There, it killed eleven-year-old Lester Stillwell and injured one of the men attempting to rescue Stillwell’s body, resulting in his death from blood loss. Thirty minutes later and a half-mile away, fourteen-year-old Joseph Dunn was pulled from a swimming ladder as he attempted to exit the water. He was rescued by friends and survived. 
We are riding a stolen jet ski out into the open ocean. The waves beneath us are beautifully rendered but seem separate from the space, as if by a sheet of glass. Although the jet ski reacts to the waves and we can even jump over them, the illusion is not completely convincing. We have not read anything about GTA V yet and we do not know what to expect as we head out from the city to see at what point the world ends. We vaguely hope the well-rendered materials will fade out to reveal bright green polygons, the triangular structures familiar to those lucky enough to have played Atari’s “Battlezone” (1980) or “Star Wars” (1983) on original, and intensely beautiful, vector monitors. We remember this fade from reality to polygons, however, as a cinematic device from the movie “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999) and it is unlikely to appear in a game like GTA V. If the Grand Theft Auto series has progressed in any way, it is in the visual details constructing a convincing reality that makes up the game space and a move towards, if not realism, then a seamless and convincing virtual world.
As we move outward over the rolling waves, we can not expect them to disappear, leaving the mathematical structure of the GTA V world. We must, however, expect our outward vector to end. All game spaces, even a space as open as that of GTA V, must have an endpoint. While some games generate terrain as the player moves forward, they must still have some sort of end, if only a limit based on how extensively code can describe a world. As noted by Markus “notch” Persson, the developer of “Minecraft” (2009):
“First of all, let me clarify some things about the ‘infinite’ maps: They’re not infinite, but there’s no hard limit either. It’ll just get buggier and buggier the further out you are. Terrain is generated, saved and loaded, and (kind of) rendered in chunks of 16*16*128 blocks. These chunks have an offset value that is a 32 bit integer roughly in the range negative two billion to positive two billion. If you go outside that range (about 25% of the distance from where you are now to the sun), loading and saving chunks will start overwriting old chunks. At a 16/th of that distance, things that use integers for block positions, such as using items and pathfinding, will start overflowing and acting weird…We’re probably not going to fix these bugs until it becomes common for players to experience them while playing legitimately. My gut feeling is that nobody ever has so far, and nobody will. Walking that far will take a very long time. Besides, the bugs add mystery and charisma to the Far Lands.” 
We know we have reached of the GTA V world, not because we hit an invisible wall, as in previous GTA games, but because our stolen jet ski cuts out and begins to sink. The open ocean is no longer a space that provides waves for jumping. The default camera view in GTA V is third-person, meaning our camera floats above and behind the character. Ours now looks small, wet and very far from the beaches of Los Santos, completely isolated. We have not yet noticed the red threat dot on our mini-map). We decide to begin swimming back, fairly confident that our character can swim for an unlimited amount of time, like previous versions of GTA. It looks to be a long, boring slog back to shore when we finally notice the red dot, close by and headed for our character. We turn in a circle, sweeping the camera around the horizon, and and see only open ocean. Similar to “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” (2004), characters in GTA V can swim under the water, opening an engaging but dangerous space for game activity. This world is murky, visibility is limited to a few hundred feet, and air runs out quickly. We dive under but do not immediately notice the shark. Still, we suspect the dot presents a serious danger. We begin swimming quickly but the red dot is getting closer. We swivel the camera in front of the character, trying to see the danger while also acting as cinematographer. The shark passes behind our actor and dives down. It is too late for swimming. The angle switches so that we are watching the character from above. The shark erupts from beneath him. Gaping jaws grab his torso and the shark shakes from side to side. He screams and blood pours out as our screen fades to the gray monochrome that GTA V employs to indicate that our virtual life has ended.
There remains some question about whether sharks appeared in Rockstar Games’ previous “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” (2002), in which swimming was impossible. There are videos  that show sharks spotted via sniper rifle from a boat in the waters around Vice City. People also claim to have been attacked by sharks in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”. They describe their character as having been bitten or stabbed to death while swimming. Others dismiss this as a myth, chalking up the deaths to players letting their oxygen level deplete to the point of death. Any video of sharks in previous games could be due to user modification of PC versions of the game. The appearance of unconfirmed urban legends and possible easter eggs are not new to video games  but the existence of controversy over whether sharks exist in a medium in which video screen capture and game edits are possible is a testament to the immersive and mutable reality of the GTA universe. 
Similar to the shark in the film Jaws, and unlike sharks outside media space, the sharks in GTA V can appear anywhere in the ocean and will always attack swimmers. There is no doubt about their existence in GTA V as Rockstar Games released a Jaws-like screenshot (above) when promoting the game. Their placement and the way they function as artificial life only in relation to the player underscores the cinematic basis of this space. A realistic artificial life algorithm would have the sharks looking for food and likely ignoring any humans in the water. Instead, shark attack is inevitable at the end of the world and the attack becomes a scene in which a player, unlike a viewer, has some agency. While we were unarmed and surprised, sharks can be killed with a knife. The attack takes place as an interactive event somewhere between a static cutscene and the open world of the majority of the game. Other wildlife, like the deer, appear more randomly in the game landscape and run from the player, or attack quickly and without cinematic build up, like the mountain lions which prowl the hills around Los Santos.
While the previous “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” had a large, rural space, the vehicles in the game were much more sensitive to vertical drops. In GTA V it is possible to drive a truck from a large cliff, crash, roll, return to all four wheels and continue. It reminds us of our early game experience with Hitmaker’s “Crazy Taxi” (1999), in which it was possible to drive the taxi cab under water, across hills and through train tunnels, with a screaming passenger in the back. GTA V’s cars will not drive underwater and when we are not careful, we end up sitting underwater, our experience of speed at an ignoble end. The drive for speed combined with the joy of hills and mountains, and experiencing those vertical spaces on ATVs, motorcycles, trucks, standard cars, luxury convertibles and even bicycles is incredibly compelling. As Paul Virilio writes of the Amerian 1960s lust, “To succeed is to reach the power of greater speed, to have the impression of escaping the unanimity of civic training.” 
Bounding over the hills in a more appropriate truck, one with large wheels and (we imagine) huge virtual shock absorbers, we delight in the incredibly large and ever changing vertical space. In addition to cougars, the rural spaces have deer and, occasionally, herds of deer. When we find a herd, high on the hilltop, they bolt and we follow them, not running them down, but not avoiding that possibility. We are moving quickly over the space, surrounded by a herd of animals, completely satisfied to move forward through the space. The experience is not a simulation of any possible natural world but instead reminds us again of cinema. In a scene from “Jurassic Park” (1993), combining blue screen, three dimensional animation and live action, three characters discovered a herd of dinosaurs, flocking as they sprint over the terrain. The dinosaurs turned towards the camera and the characters also began running, surrounded and trying to avoid being trampled. A Tyrannosaurus rex erupts from a copse of trees and takes down a smaller dinosaur. In GTA V we are both the possible danger and the characters moving with the herd, driving quickly across the landscape, a tight grip on the vibrating controller. As Soraya Murray describes her experience in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”, “…though the bobbling image and rumbling controller in no way replicates the ‘actual’ feeling…the visual language effectively conveys the exhilarating rush in largely cinematic terms.”
Each time we find a vehicle suited for off-road driving, we worry that it will eventually wreck completely. GTA vehicles show aesthetic damage when they collide with objects, people or animals and further collision results in the loss of doors, the car hood and tires. Wheels will eventually bend inward and outward, slowing the car. Finally, a car will catch fire and explode after too many falls or collisions. The spaces we seek out are fairly far from the roads, and the police, and these spaces do not present many vehicles to carjack once our primary vehicle explodes. Losing our truck could result in the death of our character or, much worse, require a hasty exit and a long walk back to a road where a new car can be found. Nothing feels more alien to GTA V than hiking through the woods. The slow speed of trudging back to developed areas (or running, requiring constant button mashing and staying within the characters maximum endurance) is coupled with the danger of cougars, or simply falling off a cliff. While a vehicle can survive a ridiculous drop that does not match physics in the outside world, a character cannot.
There are good and bad deaths to be found in the GTA V game space. While there is no way to lose at GTA V, watching our character stumble over a cliff and bounce down a ravine feels closest to a loss. Driving into an unexpected and high speed collision with an object that cannot be destroyed by the car, and the subsequent ejection of the character, who takes flight for a short while before himself colliding with an immovable object, feels much more like victory. From the slow dread of our jet ski going under the water, and the sinking recognition that we are about to relive a movie scene, to an instant death by cougar, to leaving the vehicle via the windshield in a scene resembling a seatbelt safety video, GTA V, and the entire Grand Theft Auto series, relies on slapstick humor but more so on an intense desire for the active yet vicarious violence possible at the repeated end of the character’s life. In a doubling of the condition Steven Shaviro, referring to the attraction of death and dismemberment in horror cinema, calls “vertiginously passive fascination,” we connect with the character and in GTA V we desire and can attain death, over and over again. We seek the moment at which the game takes over and time slows down and we, and our character, meet an incredibly violent end. We are seduced by the promise of the destruction of the vehicle we were driving, our own virtual carnage, a spectacular end. “I’m taken on a wild ride through a series of thrills and shocks, pulled repeatedly to the brink of an unbearable and impossible consummation.”
The experience Shaviro describes above, based on watching George Romero’s “Living Dead” trilogy, moves to a strange space between directing and suffering, indulging in and being removed from the violent physics of GTA V. Shaviro discusses the use of “special effects” in horror as “grotesque visual effects and…affective and physiological effects on the viewer.” Our character’s head smashes into the side of a boulder and there is instantly blood. The algorithms driving the game have already calculated this impact and that the character will not survive. We lose control and watch passively. This changes the camera mode to slow motion, presumably because the game developers, borrowing from horror cinema, know we want to prolong this moment. The character’s neck snaps and the body, still in motion, crumples before it smashes into the cliff face. Previously we were connected to the character, he was driving the car as we were driving the car, together. As his neck snaps, our connection is broken and he becomes a ragdoll. Ragdoll physics, a phrase that describes exactly what it is, take over and what was our character, and is now an abject body in the scene we constructed, spins wildly across the game space. The scene is not scripted, what transpires is based on what objects exist in the vector the ragdoll character moves through. Any unmoving object impacts this body and it flails in a new direction. Any moveable object skitters away until finally the body comes to a rest. Rockstar Games has selected the perfect phrase for this end and it has remained consistent across the GTA series. A word appears across the now completely gray monochrome screen in burgandy: WASTED.
This review was written with substantial input from Channel TWo collaborator Oskar Westbridge.