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Addictive Behaviours: Interview with Artist Annie Abrahams

Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett of Furtherfield interview artist Annie Abrahams

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, operant conditioning techniques and related to 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.

Beyond (spectacle) - Episode II - begin and end by Annie Abrahams and Igor Štromajer.
Beyond (spectacle) – Episode II – begin and end by Annie Abrahams and Igor Štromajer.

“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?

'Angry Women' by Annie Abrahams, 2011. (From photograph by Michael Szpakowski).
‘Angry Women’ by Annie Abrahams, 2011. (From photograph by Michael Szpakowski).

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 :

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.

Community as situation: Prec(ar)ious Collectives in Athens

Walking off the Akadimias district and onto the steps leading up towards the entrance of building number 23, I am greeted by a large hall with high red ceilings. The hall is covered with lavish white and black dot marble, and there is a large staircase acting as a guide to the top floors of the manor-like building. This was the home for the Diplomatic Centre of the Third Reich, designed in 1923 by Vassillis Tsagris, and used until 2011 by the Foreign Press Correspondent Union after the Second World War. Since then it has stood derelict and dusty, but for one week, in parallel to the opening of documenta 14, it played temporary host to the artist-in-residence programme of Palais de Tokyo, alongside with Foundation Fluxum/Flux Laboratory, bearing the name Prec(ar)ious Collectives. Six visual artists in residence at Pavillon Neuflize OBC and eight contemporary Greek choreographers envision and fabricate a hybrid space whereby an experimental notion of a community is executed as a situation rather than as a subject. The visual artists and performers involved congregated together in Athens and on site for a two-week workshop in March in order to produce the works. The title, Prec(ar)ious Collectives, is a linguistic amalgamation of the adjectives ‘precarious’ and ‘precious’, implying the state of the collective that performs together.

Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos‘ – Dusk and Dawn Look Just The Same (Riot Tourism)

The opening façade echoes with the humming and reverberated sound of Manolis Daskalakis-LemosDusk and Dawn Look Just The Same (Riot Tourism), guiding us towards its installation room. The video installation stands above a mountain of blue powder in a room sectioned off with construction tape. The short sequence of about a minute and a half displays a group of hooded figures, dressed identically. As the soundtrack’s volume begins to escalate, the group progresses from walking to running on the uncannily void and ghostly streets of Athens. A city always bustling with noise is now at its most quiet and pubescent state of the day – dawn. The hooded figures run together and – even though it is in a disordered manner – command your attention and pensiveness until they all reach Omonia Square. The work demonstrates a resistance to a status quo which may be aligned with the political engagement within the city. This is not, however, done in an expected reactionary manner, but instead in a way that promotes uprising through the creation of a meditative state. One cannot help but watch Lemos’ work a couple of times more before leaving it behind and only then noticing the thundering beneath their feet.

Taloi HaviniUntitled

This historic building has a basement and is the temporary home of Taloi Havini‘s performative work. The large-scale installation occupying four rooms consists of PVC vinyls, seemingly discarded or hung from the low ceiling. These PVC vinyls are lit by dispersed and differently coloured strings of light, some are red, others are purple and others are cream. The performance is underway and its performers dress themselves with the PVC vinyl and the lights and jolt their bodies vigorously to the rhythm of the thundering – sometimes in sync, sometimes not. The dark basement is transformed into a cavern of rhythmic delight alluding to a ritual where its power lies in the gathering of people.

Wataru TominagaUntitled

As one inspects the garments of Wataru Tominaga and those who wear them, this synthesis of the PVC, the space and the performers as a gathering appears to be a motif. Tominaga created the garments during a preliminary workshop, with great care and appreciation of how he and others were to utilise them during Prec(ar)ious Collectives. Originally presented on mannequins before being worn and performed, the garments boast vivid colours and patterns, some of them containing animalistic features such as feathers or fur. Those who wear Tominaga’s work perform in such a way as to invent a new form of communication between themselves and their observers. They move and conjoin like animals, sometimes hiding underneath the fabric and at times evoking the traditional Japanese ‘snake dance’. The performance, being in a transitional space between the ground floor and the first floor, naturally spreads itself upstairs whereby the performers not only continue to wear the garments in obscure ways, but additionally interact with Yu Ji‘s agave plants and other objects.

Yu Ji, Lycabettus Tongue, Oliv Oliv and This is Good For You!

Yu Ji‘s work, Lycabettus Tongue, Oliv Oliv and This is Good For You! Are formed by the use of displaced agave plants, half-fragmented found mirrors and lights. The agave plants interlock with various architectural patterns of the building such as stair banisters, whilst the mirrors and round-ball lights are positioned in ways offering various points of view for observation and appreciation of space. The work revitalizes the architecture of the building denoting its historical vitality and the synergy of the encompassing works into a haunting existence rather than an abandoned one. Here, haunting is used not for means of negative connotations but instead as a form of aloof yet introspective sensation, exasperated further with Lola Gonzàlez‘s video installation in the next room.

Lola GonzàlezNow my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw

Lola Gonzàlez‘s Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw begins with its protagonists split into groups and observing the city of Athens from various points at the top of the hills. The groups begins to move, run and hop together towards a direction down the hill, whilst a chorus of droning voices begin to chant and harmonise. As the groups get closer and closer to the city, Gonzalez transforms the image into a complete inversion, like one you may find in negative photography. The chanting becomes louder as the three groups get closer and closer to their meeting point within the city – the exact space where the video is being showed. They are finally shown entering the building and making their way up the stairs to the room where they vocalize in unison until they fade away from our view. Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw alludes to an atmosphere in which the power of gathering together evokes a community whose intention is situated between an uncertain balance of peril and strength. It is the same kind of uncertainty that one finds when exploring the top floor of the building only to discover Thomas Teurlai‘s room of machines and looped functions.

Thomas TeurlaiScore for bodies and machines

On the top floor, there are still the remnants of neglect, rooms empty of anything but the garbage that piled up over the building’s six years of desertion. Thomas Teurlai‘s Score for bodies and machines consists of a room installation of two printers used by the performers to scan different parts of their bodies. These scans are then plastered on the wall whilst the fluorescent lights constantly trickle on and off. The two performers are attempting to archive as much of the movement involved in their choreography as possible. The looped function of copying and the crackle of its repetitive working-noises do not clash with the choreography but instead drive its energy.

Indeed, it may be the encounter between the building, the communal working spirit of the performers and the result of this effort that defines this rejuvenating energy as a fruitful rebirth of the building’s utility.

To find out more, read Chloe Stavrou’s recent interview with Fabien Danesi of Prec(ar)ious Collectives.

Interview with Fabien Danesi of Prec(ar)ious Collectives

CS: Tell us a little bit about how the collaboration between Palais de Tokyo’s residency Pavilion Neuflize OBC and Fluxum/Flux Laboratory came about. Did this directly contribute to the hybrid of visual/dance performance art or was it the artists’ call?

FD: During two years, the Pavillon Neuflize OBC has worked with the National Opera of Paris for projects at the crossroads between contemporary art and choreography. We wanted to develop this perspective which is a kind of tradition in the history of the Pavilion (created in 2001), if we remember that our institution has a long interest for transdisciplinarity. So the hybridization between visual art and performance wasn’t the artists’ call. On the contrary, we asked them to step aside for collaborating with choreographers. It was really experimental for them.

CS: Neither Palais de Tokyo or Fluxum/Flux Laboratory are situated in Greece. What was the reason for its inception to take place in Athens? Was it because of the traffic Athens would see due to documenta 14 or was it a suggestion by Andonis Foniadakis, the choreographic director?

FD: Since its creation, Fluxum/Flux Laboratory has developed many dance projects in Greece. And it’s due to its founder, Cynthia Odier, that Ange Leccia and myself met Andonis Foniadakis. We started the dialog with Andonis right at the moment of his nomination as the Ballet Director of the Greek National Opera, o Athens appeared quickly as the perfect place for our collaboration. We decided just afterwards to take advantage of the presence of documenta 14 in the city.

CS: The result is quite impressive – specifically since, and correct me if I’m wrong – the work produced was created in only two weeks in March. How did you find the process of working and creating collaboratively in addition to being in an unfamiliar city?

FD: The residents came to Athens for the first time in November 2016. During the first week, we had met the choreographers and dancers but also people who are engaged in the artistic life of the city. We tried to understand and use the pulse of this specific urban energy. We visited some sites for the exhibition and began to question the relevance of our own presence here. The conversations with the choreographers permitted us to create a strong link with Athens and not feel like tourists. We came back for a three-week workshop in March, just before the opening of our show. Between these two stays, we discussed a lot and had decided to start from our situation with the desire to move away from an artificial subject. The notion of the collective seemed a good way of taking charge of what we tried to do – especially because the Pavilion tries every year to create a specific group that gives a specific form to its structure.

CS: Prec(ar)ious Collectives feels like it could be quite nomadic as it is in an unfamiliar environment; however nomadic does not mean it feels odd or out of place – in fact it felt quite the opposite. As a curator, how did you approach Athens and stay conscious of the context(s) surrounding it?

FD: The fact that we didn’t exhibit in a white cube or an artistic space helped us. When we decided to occupy this abandoned building on Akadimias Street, I was sure that we would be related strongly to the city and its history. The context wasn’t outside of the walls – it was here, with us. Of course, we were all conscious that we needed to stay in relation to what was happening in the city. That’s why nobody arrived with their work completed and done. The materials and the main elements of the creations were an artistic answer to this particular context.

CS: I am very curious about the building. I understand it used to be the Diplomatic Centre for the Third Reich during the Second World War. How did you become aware of its existence, and did your decision to curate Prec(ar)ious Collectives have anything to do with the building’s history? If not, what was the reason for selecting this building?

FD: In January 2017, the director of the Pavilion Ange Leccia was in Athens to present some of his work. He visited the exhibition organized by Locus Athens in this space and it impressed him quite a bit. We wanted to work in an abandoned site for underlining the economical and cultural situation in Greece. And Akadimias Street 23 seemed perfect. We didn’t choose it for its history, even if these multiple layers added some density to our proposal. For sure, the different atmospheres of the rooms immediately gave us the possibility to create dialogs between the works while preserving the integrity of each. So, it was a question of ambience in the sense of the architectural conditions aiding the experience of the audience.

Image credit: Stylianos Tsatsos

CS: I found that a continuous theme within the exhibition was not only the creation of a utopic community, but also an ambience that generates a state of limbo – of transition. Was this a reference to the state of Athens or to the state of artistic production or work?

FD: The notion of limbo is stimulating. And it insists on our «spectral approach». It means that we have tried to give life to this abandoned building. And some installations can be described as floating. In Manolis Daskalakis-Lemos and Lola Gonzalez’s videos, for example, there is the idea of apparition. And even with Taloi Havini’s huge ephemeral camp, we can feel a sort of «in-between» space, archaic and futurist, protective and dangerous. Maybe it was a re-transcription of our impressions about Athens, so appealing and full of energy, but at the same time, so undermined by the political situation.

CS: As a final note, what is the next step for Prec(ar)ious Collectives after its brief residency in Athens? Are there any plans to simulate the experience, albeit differently, again in another context or place?

FD: There won’t be another step for Prec(ar)ious Collectives as a group exhibition. It was really the result of a one-month workshop. But it happens for the best that some encounters initiated in the Pavilion can be developed after the time of the residency.

CS: And any future projects that you will be a part of?

FD: On my side, I will develop a curatorial project next year in Los Angeles in the frame of FLAX residency. Titled The Dialectic of the Stars, I will organize several evenings in different institutions which will permit artists? to drift in the city from one site to another for catching some contradictory parts of the L.A. atmosphere. The idea is to mix French artists and Los Angeles-based artists and to trace a political and poetical constellation.

To find out more read Chloe Stavrou’s recent review: Community Situation: Prec(ar)ious Collectives and documenta 14

Art Takes on Ethics

Feature image:
Trust Me, I’m an Artist: Jennifer Willet and Kira O’Reilly, Be-wildered, 2017. Photo: Nora S. Vaage

Trust Me, I’m an Artist is an exhibition organized in cooperation with the Waag Society at Zone2Source’s Het Glazen Huis in Amstelpark, in the outskirts of Amsterdam. It is a culmination of a Creative Europe-funded project, aiming to explore ethical complexities of artistic engagements with emerging (bio)technologies and medicine. The explorations in the exhibition have taken place through a play on the format of ‘the ethics committee’. In university contexts, particularly within medicine and the natural sciences, researchers need to submit their proposals to ethics committees to check whether their proposed projects comply with the relevant ethical guidelines, and to point to any issues the researchers hadn’t thought of. In the last couple of decades, as artists have increasingly taken part in institutional settings, even becoming residents in scientific labs, they too have sometimes been faced with these committees. The Trust Me, I’m an Artist project has included a handful of artists’ proposals to ethics committees, performed in front of an audience. Some of the exhibited pieces are documentation from those events, and are aesthetically somewhat unfulfilled. As thought-provocations, however, they still work.

Martin O'Brien, Tast of Flesh - Bite Me I'm Yours, 2015
Martin O’Brien, Taste of Flesh – Bite Me I’m Yours, 2015

Het Glazen Huis is, indeed, made mostly from glass, which creates the effect that the park outside enters into the exhibition room. For this exhibition it seems fitting, as the artworks deal, in various ways, with living things. While one of the pieces, Špela Petrič‘s Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, focuses directly on plants (more on that later), the only direct conversation with the green exterior is a pile of soil, generously run through with green specks of glitter, crowned by a striking headpiece topped with tall green feathers, which seems to mirror a fern plant of about the same height on the other side of the glass wall. The soil/hat construct is paired with a strange frock, constructed from old labcoats, but with frills and a cut resembling a 17th century garment, and far from white. The front and back of the coat is decked with transparent orbs, resembling snow globes. Each of them contains a different set of microbes, placed there through various acts of swabbing the environment or asking artist colleagues for donations in the form of mucus.

The frock and the soil concoction are the remnants of a performance by Jennifer Willet and Kira O’Reilly, which took place at the Waag Society the night before the exhibition opening. Willet was wearing the repurposed labcoats, O’Reilly the green headgear and a sparkling green dress inspired by drag and camp aesthetics. For much of the three-hour event, they talked about trust: what does it mean to trust? Do these artists trust themselves? O’Reilly stated that she is not sure she even values trust that much. They shared stories about their previous work, toasted with champagne, and interspersed their conversation, gradually, with elements of a “project proposal”.

O’Reilly, with Willet’s help, coated her arms in whisked eggs, as a base for green glitter. She showed examples of previous performances she had done using such glitter, often in the nude and sometimes involving fertilized chicken eggs. An hour into the performance, Willet revealed that her garment had been buried in soil at a conference, where people were encouraged to do stuff to the soil over the week: composting, urinating, etc, which explained the coat’s uneven, brownish tint. Only towards the end of the performance did she tell us that the globes were repurposed bowls made into “petri dishes”, filled with agar and ready to serve as a growth medium for various microorganisms. She then swabbed the jacket, swiping it onto the agar in one of the bowls, then swabbed O’Reilly’s nose. Willet proposes to wear another coat in the laboratory for a year, exposing it to various microorganisms, and to also wear it at home around her twin daughters, reflecting on how we large mammals serve in any case as carriers for all sorts of microbes. The ethics committee considered this a risky and unlikely aspiration, and did not think she would be allowed to go through with it. They did, however, encourage her to consult with them in developing her idea. A similar response was given to O’Reilly, who wants to cover a pine tree in Finland in glitter, reflecting on how her use of glitter is contributing to plastic pollution, and to work with a dead farmed salmon that she would get directly from a fish farm in Norway. At the end of the performance, O’Reilly unfolded a plastic sheet, spread three bags of soil onto the plastic, poured a bowl of glitter on top, and mixed it with her hands in a languid, beautiful way. She fetched a gutted whole salmon from a fridge, sprinkling glitter on it as well. Both of them, thus, did part of what they are proposing to do for their project already during the “ethics consultation”, challenging the format. But they reflected at the close that the opportunity to think extensively on the ethics of their ideas was rewarding and important.

Martin O’Brien‘s Taste of Flesh – Bite Me I’m Yours is also documentation of a performance, which he did in London at Space c/o the White Building, in April 2015. His performance was an exploration of endurance, pain, and the overstepping of intimate boundaries. Working with his own body, O’Brien seems to have embraced the facts of living with a genetic disorder, Cystic Fibrosis, to the full. The disease causes him to produce a lot of mucus, and be short of breath.

Over a number of hours, he did a series of actions; chaining himself, biting people, being bitten, coughing up mucus, crawling around in a way that was inspired by the zombie as metaphor for being sick. He played with the fear that interaction will result in contagion, and with S&M paraphernalia and the limits between pain and pleasure. In the exhibition we see the performance on a projection taking up a whole wall, and five small, parallel video screens showing different parts of the performance. Remnants of the paraphernalia he used are exhibited on a plinth. The films in part convey the intensity and some-time repulsion that the performance must have inspired.

Špela Petrič, Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, 2015
Špela Petrič, Confronting Vegetal Otherness: Skotopoiesis, 2015

Petrič’s work Skotopoiesis is less explicit, and perhaps less provocative to most. In the exhibition, we see a photograph of a field of cress, with the outline of a human shadow making the center cress paler than the rest. By standing in front of the field, preventing the light from falling onto the same spot for 19 hours a day, three days on end, she created a visible imprint of her body, through cress that grew to be longer and paler than the neighboring plants that got direct sunlight.

Plants do not follow same rules of agency as animals. We cannot easily relate to them, although some, such as trees, seem to have more presence and individuality. Grass, on the other hand, is impossible to think of as single entity. Often, as part of the ethics procedure, researchers are asked if they can use plants rather than animals, as current perceptions of what is ethical tend to exclude plants from our ethical consideration. Petrič wanted to challenge the committee with something anti-spectacular, where it would be difficult to see ethical issues. Through existing with plants, trying to conform to their timescale and mode of existence, but also modifying them through her very presence, she entered into a pensive engagement not just with the plants themselves, but with the ethics of our coexistence with them. This seems quite a timely, as recent studies show plants to have more sensations, reactions, and even abilities of communication, than has previously been thought. Given this, our disregard for the life of plants may be seen as a great ethical challenge.

Artist Gina Czarnecki and scientist John Hunt, in the piece Heirloom, created masks in the shape of Czarnecki’s two daughters’ faces, grown from their skin cells over glass casts. This, too, is shown on several video screens, as documentation of the actual installation of the bioreactors in which the masks were grown. The artist wanted to preserve her daughters’ youthful likenesses, and the idea led to the development of a new, simple set-up for three-dimensional cell growth. One of the tricky ethical issues here is that of the ownership of a child’s cells. As the girls’ parent, Czarnecki could herself consent to using their cells in this way. They were happy to participate at the time, but does this kind of artistic, experimental use constitute “informed consent”? At the opening, Czarnecki observed that her daughters, moving into their mid-teens in the three or so years since their skin samples were taken, had become less comfortable with being on display in this way.

The videos show fascinating glimpses of the process, footage of the masks inside the bioreactors, flashing shots of the daughters’ faces, and narrations by the key actors. At one point in the video, Hunt describes how he and two of his fellow researchers both came into the lab because they were worried about the skin cells being contaminated. Without having anything to do there, they sat together and watched over them. A rare admittance of the personal bonds that can be formed with cell cultures, and reasons for action that are far from the rational.

Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2017. Photo: Anna Dumitriu
Howard Boland, Cellular Propeller, 2017

Howard Boland‘s Cellular Propeller is represented in the exhibition through a few sculptural elements and photos. The project started as part of his long-time engagement with synthetic biology, and his ambition was to work with living, moving cells, attached to inorganic structures, to play with the old idea that “If it moves, it is alive”. Originally he hoped to use heart cells from new-born rats, but this proved difficult. Instead, he ended up using his own sperm cells, which are much more easily available, and share the ability to move. He created coin-sized, wheel-shaped plastic scaffolds that the sperm cells can ideally attach to, serving as “propellers” to literally,move the human cells, although this does not happen in a predictable way. In the exhibition, we saw reproduced the little plastic scaffolds, but not with the cells “in action”.

With the change from heart cells to sperm, the connotations of the piece changed slightly; while the question of “what is living” remains, reproduction, birth and movement still being central to the piece, the use of sperm also brings in ideas about pleasure and the surplus production of cells through recreational sex. Through repurposing sperm cells for the mechanical task of moving these wheels, Boland shifts the discussion towards life without the basic “meaning” that reproduction conveys.

“Controlled Commodity” by Anna Dumitriu features a dress from 1941, also exhibited on a headless mannequin, and mended with patches containing gene-edited E. coli bacteria. An example of wartime austerity, the dress is CC41 – controlled commodity 41. Dumitriu stresses the fact that 1941 was the first year that penicillin was used, and unlike clothing, this was not a controlled commodity. Overuse of antibiotics over many years has led to the current crisis, with more and more bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotics we commonly use.

Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist
Anna Dumitriu, Controlled Commodity, 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist

Through participation in the Future and Emerging Art and Technology program, Dumitriu was an artist in residence in an Israeli lab, and worked with the much-hyped, much-discussed CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The use of CRISPR for gene editing is currently being presented as a much easier way to insert or remove genetic information. In this case, Dumitriu used it to remove a gene for antibiotics resistance.

When she had to create a repair fragment to patch the bacteria back together, she used the phrase ‘make do and mend’, an explicit reference to WWII history. Dumitriu grew the CRISPRed bacteria on silk, sterilized them, and sewed the E. coli patches onto the (somewhat moth-eaten) dress. In addition to the dress, she is displaying the plasmid created using CRISPR in a little glass vase, only covered with aluminum foil – and without having asked permission. In an identical glass vessel, little paper circles contain all the antibiotics in commercial use.

The piece is rich, complex, and daring. In editing the genome of E. coli bacteria to remove an ampicillin antibiotic resistance gene, Dumitriu is proposing a potential solution to the pervasive problem of antibiotics resistance, which might also be ethically problematic: such suggested solutions being “around the corner” might lead to less focus on discovering new antibiotics, or the sense that continued over-use can be maintained. Also, her insistence on exhibiting plasmids in the gallery is not high-risk (as far as we know, plasmids need some sort of shock effect to be taken up by bacteria), but it does seem a somewhat unnecessary exposure. Dumitriu’s CRISPR work will be discussed in a Trust Me… event at the British Science Festival in Brighton in September.

Open Care – Inheritance, by Erich Berger and Mari Keto, imagines a personal responsibility for nuclear waste, in the form of radioactive family jewellery that goes from generation to generation, in the hope that you might one day wear it. The jewellery is kept in a radiation-proof container, and for each generation that takes over its care, it can be tested to see if the radioactivity has gone down to a safe level, so that “the jewellery can finally be brought into use and fulfill its promise of wealth and identity or if it has to be stored away until the next generation” (quote from the exhibition catalogue). The jewellery box and low-tech tools to check its radioactivity are exhibited behind a glass wall. This thought experiment suggests that the unimaginably long timespans that it takes for radioactivity to subsist can be broken down into spans of time that we can relate to. The personal nature of such family jewellery creates an emotional narrative of very personal responsibility for the waste we produce.

The artistic license seems to be to challenge, stretch, and provoke, and indeed, the artworks in this exhibition both challenge and stretch our views on what responsibility means. So, can we trust what these artists are up to? One never knows, but through engaging in these extended conversations with the public and hand-picked committees, they do give us new grounds for reflection on ethics, trust, and responsibility in science, in society at large, and in art.

Note: I saw this exhibition during the opening, and some elements were still not up and running.

Speculating the Smart Metropolis in Hello, City!

As part of transmediale’s opening night in Berlin, audiences were sat in front of three large screens and taken on a journey through the abstract infrastructures of the imminent ‘smart city’. Liam Young, a self-proclaimed speculative architect, narrated the voyage whilst beside him, Aneek Thapar designed live sonic soundscapes complementing the performance. For Young, the smart city is a space where contemporary anxieties are not only unearthed but increasingly multiplied. The smart city manufactures users out of citizens, crafting an expanse whereby the hegemonic grip of super-production evolves into a threateningly subversive entity. According to Young, speculative architecture is one of the methods of combating the city’s supremacy – moulding the networks within a smart city to facilitate our human needs within a physical realm. It is a means of becoming active agents in amending the future.

Courtesy of transmediale and the artist, 2016

Speculative architecture as a term is relatively new, however the concept’s origins date back to the 1970s Italian leftist avant-garde. Back then it was called ‘Radical Architecture’, a term initiated by SUPERSTUDIO’s conceptual speculation regarding the structures of architecture. SUPERSTUDIO’s methods were transcendental as they favoured the superiority of mental construction over the estranged act of building. The founders of the group, Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, acknowledged modernist architecture as reductive to man’s ability of living a free life since its core foundations were built on putative methods of indoctrinating society into a pointless culture of consumption. The development of The Continuous Monument was a declaration to end all monuments since the structure itself was designed to cover the expanse of the world. Its function was to form ‘a single continuous environment of the world that would remain unchanged by technology, culture and other forms of imperialism’ as stated by SUPERSTUDIO itself. A function sufficiently egalitarian, and in some respects utopic, The Continuous Monument, much like Tatlin’s Third International in the 1920s, was never intended to be built, but instead to uncover the notion of total possibility and arbitrariness. Likewise, Young’s performative smart city does not purpose itself around applicable techniques of construction – it creates scenarios of possibility exploring the autonomous infrastructures that lie between the premeditated present and the predicted future. Hello City! intends to transpire the idea that computation, networks and the anomalies that surround them are no longer a finite set of instructions, but instead constitute an original approach to exploring and facilitating speculative thought through imagined urban fictions.


Liam Young’s real-time cinematic narration cruises us like a ‘driverless vessel’ through the smart city beyond the physical spectrum. The smart city becomes an omnipresent regulator of our existence, as it feeds on the data we wilfully relinquish. Our digital footprint re-routes the city, traversing us into what Young calls ‘human machines of the algorithm’. His narrative positions human beings as ‘machines of post-human production’ within what he names a ‘DELTA City’. As an envisioned dystopia which creates perversions between the past, present and future, Hello City! is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s post-modern narrative in Cat’s Cradle. San Lorenzo, the setting for Vonnegut’s book, is on the brink of an apocalypse – the people’s only conjectural saviour would be their deluded but devoted faith to ‘Bokononism’, a superficial religion created to make life bearable for the island’s ill-fated inhabitants. Moreover, the substance ‘Ice-9’, a technological advancement, is exploited far from its original purpose of military use, leading to looming disaster. Both Bokononism and the existence of Ice-9 resonate Young’s narrative as they explore the submissive loss of free will and the consequences of allowing the future to be dictated by uncontainable entities. In Hello City! the metropolis becomes despotic and even more complex as it is designed by algorithms feeding on information instead of the endurances and sensitivities of the human body.

Like software constructed by networks, the future landscape will be a convoluted labyrinth for physical beings. Motion within the city will be ordained by a form of digital dérive structured by self-regulated and sovereign systems. Young’s video navigates us through blueprint structures simulating the connections within networks thus proclaiming the voyage as unbridled by our own corporal bodies. The body is no longer dominant. He introduces us to Lena, the world’s first facial recognition image, originally a cover from a 1972 Playboy magazine. Furthermore, he makes references to Internet sensation Hatsune Miku as a ‘digital ghost in the smart city’ whilst the three screens project and repeat the phrase ‘to keep everybody smiling’ ten times. We may speculate that for Young, the smart city has the potential to function like Alpha 60, a sentient computer system in Godard’s film Alphaville, controlling emotions, desires and actions of the inhabitants in the ‘Outlands’. As Young dictates ‘the City, looks down on the Earth’ – it becomes a geological tool and engages the speculative architect to remain relevant within the ever-changing landscape of that space.

In a preceding interview, Young refers to the speculative architect as a ‘curator’, ‘editor’ and ‘urban strategist’ attempting to decentralise power structures from conventional and conformist architectural thought. In 2014, Young’s think tank ‘Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today’ envisaged and undertook a project titled New City. New City is a series of photorealistic animated shorts featuring the cities of tomorrow; one is The City in the Sea, another is Keeping Up Appearances and the last is Edgelands. Too often, these works are projected and interpreted with the foreseeable frowning of rising consumerism concurrent with the dissolute development of technological super structures. Without a doubt, the supposition that technology is alienating us from our identities as citizens of a city is undeniable and exhaustively linked to the creation of super consumers and social media. Nonetheless, New Cities is more than just about that – comparable to the architectural intrusions of SUPERSTUDIO, the narrative of Cat’s Cradle and Alphaville,New City underlines the impending subsequent loss of human liberty with the advent emergence of the smart city whilst Hello City! injects the audience in within it.

Young’s notion of the smart city is consolidated within a Post-Anthropocene existence. Without any dispute, our world will inevitably divulge a post-anthropocene reality, but until that critical moment arrives, acts of speculation, such as speculative architecture, only exist within the hypothesis of potentiality. In fact, throughout Hello City! speculation cannot be positioned as either a positive or negative entity – it appears to lie within a neutral area of hybridity and experimentation. The narrative of Hello City! is purely speculative and thus exceedingly experimental. Like much of SUPERSTUDIO’s existence, antithetical notions of egalitarianism and cynicism run throughout Hello City! triggering perpetual seclusion of the audience’s contemplations. Conflicting positions reveal an ambivalence resulting to escalated concerns towards the act of execution. Speculative architecture itself is a purely narrative process designed on a fictitious future that is not formulated and so the eternal battle between theory and practice will always occur. Uncertainties raise an issue of pragmatism and whether speculation, evidently in architecture, is commendable. Seeing as speculation for the future is, in its most basic form, an act of research, it is regarded as the most pragmatic practise when taking into consideration any future endeavours. As the performance draws to an end, Young declares that ‘In the future everything will be smart, connected and made all better’ and then indicates towards the contradicting existence of Detroit subcultures that the future map will be unable to locate. A message loaded with properties that are paradoxical and thus ambiguous in their intent, Hello City! occupies itself with inner contradictions that only create the possibility for plural futures, a functional commons for the infrastructure of tomorrow.

The Personal & the Politics of Language: Digital Colonialism & Annie Abrahams’ (E)stranger

Gretta Louw reviews Abrahams’ book from estranger to e-stranger: Living in between languages, and finds that not only does it demonstrate a brilliant history in performance art, but, it is also a sharp and poetic critique about language and everyday culture.


Annie Abrahams is a widely acknowledged pioneer of the networked performance genre. Landmark telematic works like One the Puppet of the Other (2007), performed with Nicolas Frespech and screened live at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, or her online performance series Angry Women have solidified her position as one of the most innovative net performance artists, who looks not just at the technology itself but digs deeper to discover the ways in which it impacts human behaviour and communication. Even in the present moment, when online performativity is gaining considerable traction (consider the buzz around Amalia Ulman’s recent Instagram project, for example), Abrahams’ work feels rather unique. The strategy is one of contradiction; an intimacy or emotionality of concept and content, juxtaposed against – or, more accurately, mediated through – the technical, the digital, the screen and the network to which it is a portal. Her recent work, however, is shifting towards a more direct interpersonal and internal investigation that is to a great extent nevertheless formed by the forces of digitalisation and cultural globalisation.

(E)stranger is the title that Abrahams gave to her research project at CONA in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and which led to the subsequent exhibition, Mie Lahkoo Pomagate? (can you help me?) at Axioma. The project is an examination of the shaky, uncertain terrain of being a foreigner in a new land; the unknowingness and helplessness, when one doesn’t speak the language well or at all. Abrahams approaches this topic from an autobiographical perspective, relating this experiment – a residency about language and foreignness in Slovenia. A country with which she was not familiar and a language that she does not speak – regressing with her childhood and young adulthood experiences of suddenly being, linguistically speaking, a fish out of water. This experience took her back to when she went to high school and realised with a shock that, she spoke a dialect but not the standard Dutch of her classmates, and then this situation arose again later when she moved to France and had to learn French as a young adult.

There are emotional and psychological aspects here that are significant and poignant – and ‘extremely’ often overlooked. The way one speaks and articulates oneself is so often equated with intelligence and authority – and thus the foreigner, the newcomer, the language student, is immediately at a disadvantage in the social hierarchy and power distribution. Then, there are the emotional aspects and characteristics requisite for learning a language; one must be willing to make oneself vulnerable, to make mistakes. This is a drain on energy, strength, and confidence that is rarely if ever acknowledged in the current discourse around the EU, migration, asylum seekers, and – that dangerous word – assimilation. Abrahams lays her own experiences, struggles, and frustrations bare in a completely matter-of-fact way, prompting a re-thinking of these commonly held perceptions and exploring the ways that language pervade seemingly all aspects of thought, self, and relationships.

Of course this theme is all the more acute in a world that is increasingly dominated by if not the actual reality of a complete, coherent, and functioning network, then at least the illusion of one. In a world where, supposedly, we can all communicate with one another, there is increasing pressure to do so. Being connected, being ‘influential’ online, representing and presenting oneself online, branding, image – these are factors that are becoming virtues in and of themselves. Silicon Valley moguls like Mark Zuckerberg have spent the last five or six years carefully constructing a language in which online sharing, openness, and connectivity are aligned explicitly with morality. Just one of the many highly problematic issues that this rhetoric tries to disguise is the inherent imperialism of the entire mainstream web 2.0 movement.

Abrahams’ book from estranger to e-stranger: Living in between languages is the analogue pendant to the blog,, that she began working on as a way to gather and present her research, thoughts, and documentation from performances and experiments during her residency at CONA in April 2014 and beyond. Her musings on, for instance, the effect dubbing films and tv programs from English into the local language, or simply screening the English original – how this seems to impact the population’s general fluency in English – raise significant questions about the globalisation of culture. And the internet is arguably even more influential than tv and cinema were/are because of the way it pervades every aspect of contemporary life.

This leads one irrevocably to consider the digital colonialism of today’s internet; the overwhelming dominance of western, northern, mainstream, urban, and mostly english-speaking people/systems/cultural and power structures. [1] Abrahams highlights the way that this bleeds into other areas of work, society, and cultural production, for example, through her citation of Mladen Stilinovic’s piece An Artist Who Cannot Speak English is No Artist (1994). In a recent blog post, Abrahams further reveals the systematic inequity of linguistic imperialism and (usually English speakers’) monolingualism, when she delves into the language politics of the EU and its diplomacy and parliament [].

Mladen Stilinović English: An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist, flag, 1992.
Mladen Stilinović English: An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist, flag, 1992.

from estranger to e-stranger is an almost dadaist, associative, yet powerful interrogation of the accepted wisdoms, the supposed logic of language, and the power structures that it is routinely co-opted into enforcing. It is a consciously political act that Abrahams publishes her sometimes scattered text snippets – at turns associative or dissociative – in a wild mix of languages, still mostly English, but unfiltered, unedited, imperfect. A rebellion against the lengths to which non-native speakers are expected to go to disguise their linguistic idiosyncrasies (lest these imperfections be perceived as the result of imperfect thinking, logic, intelligence). And yet there is an ambivalence in Abrahams’ intimations about the internet that reflect the true complexity of this cultural and technological phenomena of digitalisation. Reading the book, one feels a keen criticism that is justifiably being levelled at the utopian web 2.0 rhetoric of democratisation, connection etc, but there are also moments of, perhaps, idealism, as when Abrahams asks “Is the internet my mother of tongues? a place where we are all nomads, where being a stranger to the other is the status quo.”

Abrahams’ project is timely, especially now that we are all (supposedly) living in an infinitely connected, post-cultural/post-national, online society, we are literally “living between languages”. The book is an excellent resource, because it is not a coherent, textual presentation of a thesis; of one way of thinking. It is, like the true face of the internet, a collection, a sample, of various thoughts, opinions, ideas, and examples from the past. One can read from estranger to e-stranger cover to cover, but even better is to dip in and out, and or to follow the links and different pages present, and be diverted to read another text that is mentioned, to return, to have an inspiration of one’s own and to follow that. But to keep coming back. There is more than enough food for thought here to sustain repeated readings.

PORNTUBES: Reveals All @Disruption Network Lab, Berlin

Featured image: Nishant Shah, Roy Klabin, Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, PG Macioti and Liad Kantorowicz

Finally I had the pleasure to attend to a session of the Disruption Network Lab. Physically, let’s say. Even though this was the first time I’ve managed to be in Berlin for one of its events, I’ve been a compulsory virtual follower, watching the videos of their fully recorded sessions. This is a hint for anyone who would like to watch all the previous keynotes and talks.

Tatiana Bazzichelli, Director and Curator of Disruption Network Lab. Image by Maria Silvano.
Tatiana Bazzichelli, Director and Curator of Disruption Network Lab. Image by Maria Silvano.

With its first edition in April, Disruption Network Lab is an ongoing platform of events and research on art, hacktivism and disruption, held at Studio 1 of Kunstquartier Bethanien, in partnership with Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, in Berlin. On 31st of October it has held its 5th session, PORNTUBES: Sharing the Explicit. Aiming to discuss the role of porntubes in the sex and porn industry it gathered porn practitioners, entrepreneurs, sex work activists and researchers, to engage in a debate on the intertwining of porn with the Internet.

Pornography has always been a pioneer in using new technologies for its distribution and promotion. Internet, by allowing anonymous access to porn from the comfort of everyone’s home it seemed to be the ultimate tool for the porn industry’s expansion, to say the least. As pointed by Roy Klabin during the talk, 38,5% of the time we spend on the Internet is spent watching porn. As in many other spheres, it also seemed to be the beginning of a new era of labour liberation with an apparent decentralisation from the big porn production houses. This has allowed the blossoming of new small and independent companies with their own place in the market. But if cyberspace once seemed to offer a possibility to escape the tentacular control and exploitation exercised by the corporative monopolies, it is now known that the rebellion of the cybernetic innovators – creators of porntubes and new online sex tools – seems to be purely a coup d’etat.


Carmen Rivera, a Mistress and Fetish-SM-performer
Carmen Rivera, a Mistress and Fetish-SM-performer

The opening keynote was by Carmen Rivera, a Mistress and Fetish-SM-performer, with a long history in the porn industry business, with an experience of the migration of porn from cinema to VHS and later to the Internet and then onto the porntubes. In conversation with Gaia Novati, a net activist and indie porn researcher, Carmen tells us her personal and professional story and immediately gives a better understanding on how porntubes – such as Redtube, X-Hamster or Youporn – have an ambiguous influence in the porn industry. Once perceived as a democratic tool allowing small porn producers to expand their radius of audience-reach, Rivera explains how much of a perverse tool of exploitation it has become and one that small producers have become too dependent on.

The fast pace of the Internet creates a lot of pressure to satisfy the hunger of porn consumers. As has become virtually infinite “fast-porn” is closely aligned with the capitalist paradigm of production, putting a bigger focus on quantity rather than quality. As the Internet leaves no space for durability — one day you’re in, the next day you’re out — careers become frail, the work of these companies are highly precarious and the concept of the “porn-star” is a short lived mirage.

Carmen Rivera and Gaia Novati. Image by Maria Silvano.
Carmen Rivera and Gaia Novati. Image by Maria Silvano.

Rivera also highlights how online piracy has become virtually unavoidable resulting in gigantic losses to the porn industry. As producers see their films ending up on porntubes free of access, lawsuits don’t come as a viable solution but as financial black holes for any small or even medium companies. Even though the future doesn’t seem bright, Rivera doesn’t quit. Her battle cry: we need to create a bigger awareness of the pestilent system that controls the online porn industry. New tools of disruption need to be found to fight against these new power asymmetries established through the domination of cybernetic capital.

Image by Maria Silvano.
Image by Maria Silvano.


After the keynote, the discussion shifted to examining new tools of online sex work such as the project PiggyBankGirls, self-proclaimed as the first erotic crowdfunding for girls. Unfortunately, Sascha Schoonen, CEO of the project, wasn’t able to attend. Instead a short promo video was presented introducing the project, giving some tongue-in-cheek examples on how girls could profit from this crowdsourcing tool.

Women upload videos pitching their ideas or projects – financing a shelter for stray animals, the payment of tuition fees, a trip to Japan, – and then share online porn performances in exchange for support from “occasional sugar daddies”. Although one wonders if this isn’t just a euphemism – a sanitised version, let’s say – of already existing tools used by women who need money, regardless of them making public how they intend to spend money Nevertheless, it is true that the actual exploitative system needs to be dismantled, workers should be getting a bigger share for their labour and PiggyBankGirls poses as one more tool to do so, however this project also left many unanswered questions. Who are actually the women who can profit out of it? PiggyBankGirls promo tries to make this form of sex labour sound “cute”, easy and accessible. However, is just another tool for established porn actresses to diversify their means of income?


The panel, moderated by Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, socio-antrophologist and geographer of sexualities, included abstracts showing a wide array of perspectives on the issue of porntubes and online sex work. The researcher Nishant Shah opened the panel with a wonderful talk ranging from porn consumerism to porn politics and how porn is influencing our digital identities. In a porn-consuming society, from establishing clear distinctions between “love” and “porn”, respectively meaningful and perverse, desirable and visceral desire, porn seems to be contingent on the morals of the spectator – as it only exists through the spectator it has also become a tool of puritan regulation. From Facebook teams of censorship and sanitisation of the virtual space to websites such as it is possible to understand that the concept of porn becomes itself a regulator of our sexual expressions, defining the line that separates decency from indecency. Paving the way to the pathologization of porn practices but yet dictating the meaning of authentic sexual performances, as the only visceral forms of sexual performances available, Shah pointed out how pornography, as a cultural and digital artefact, works in the regulation of our societies and in the production of our identities. Giving the example of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after suffering from bullying for exposing her sexual body online, Shah shows how new forms of “porn” take place in the digital, from doxxing to unintended porn being perceived as such, enabling new forms of violence – let’s say porn-shaming.

Also focusing on porn consumerism, Roy Klabin, investigative documentarist/filmmaker, goes back to the discussion initiated with Carmen Rivera on porntubes VS porn producers and how producers make money. According to Roy, MindGeek, the company that owns most of the porntubes – from Youporn to Redtube – has been one of the main entities responsible of the destruction of the porn industry. By creating piracy websites holding gigantic libraries of free access to porn and making revenue out of the advertisement, resulting in huge losses for the porn companies which at the same time had become dependent on the tubes to advertise their work. Roy makes an appeal to porn producers to diversify their strategies: from webcams to virtual reality, the porn industry needs to be one step ahead of the contemporary systems of digital exploitation.

Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, Liad Kantorowicz, MG Macioti. Image by Maria Silvano.
Francesco Warbear Macarone Palmieri, Liad Kantorowicz, MG Macioti. Image by Maria Silvano.

PG Macioti, a researcher and sex workers rights advocate and activist, together with Liad Kantorowicz, performer and sex workers’ activist, presented an overview on how the Internet has reshaped sex work – from sustainability to work conditions – listing some of the outcomes, pros and cons, of the extension of sex work to the virtual spaces. Online sex work, namely erotic webcam work, has enabled a proliferation of sex work by offering safe, independent and anonymous services. On the other hand with the insertion of sex work on the capitalist mode of production, just like in many other forms of digital labour it has rendered a bigger alienation to the workers – who work mainly alone and, also due to stigma, don’t share any contact with fellow colleagues – resulting in a more and more precarious labour, with sex workers being paid by minute, having to pay for their own means of production and usually paying a big share of their income to the middleman webcam services host agency.

Liad Kantorowicz - Image from video of the live performance WATCH ME WORK
Liad Kantorowicz – Image from video of the live performance WATCH ME WORK

Overall, the Internet has enabled a multiplication of narratives on sex work but the power asymmetries between the online corporations and workers results in a growing exploitation and precariousness. The transversal message to all participants seems to urge for disruptive tools for online sex work, tools of self-empowerment and emancipation within the digital paradigm. Quoting the Xenofeminism manifesto by Laboria Cubonics, “the real emancipatory potential of technology remains unrealised” and the Disruption Network Lab might be the much needed spark for this revolution.


The PORNTUBES event couldn’t have had a better ending with a party held in the legendary KitKatClubnacht, a sex & techno club that is open since 1994, famous for both its music selection and its sexually uninhibited parties. It seems an exciting idea, to say the least, to bring all together researchers, porn entrepreneurs and activists to this incredible venue after an intense afternoon discussing the porntubes.

Concluding the series of conference events of Disruption Network Labs during 2015, the next event will be STUNTS: Distributed, Playful and Disrupted, taking place on the 12th of December, at the Studio 1 of Kunstquartier Bethanien, and the direct link is: This time the discussion will focus on political stunts as an imaginative and artistic practice, combining hacking and disruption in order to generate criticism of the status quo. As the immense dragnet of state-surveillance extends it becomes imperative to understand which are the available tools of obfuscation, how it is (still) possible to hack the system and which tools of political resistance can be deployed Disruption Network Lab wraps the year with a tempting offer, inviting artists, hackers, mythmakers, hoaxers, critical thinkers and disrupters to present practices of mixing the codes, creating disturbance, subliminal interventions, giving raise to paradoxes, fakes and pranks.

Guido Segni’s A quiet desert failure

The new project by Guido Segni is so monumental in scope and so multitudinous in its implications that it can be a bit slippery to get a handle on it in a meaningful way. A quiet desert failure is one of those ideas that is deceptively simple on the surface but look closer and you quickly find yourself falling down a rabbit-hole of tangential thoughts, references, and connections. Segni summarises the project as an “ongoing algorithmic performance” in which a custom bot programmed by the artist “traverses the datascape of Google Maps in order to fill a Tumblr blog and its datacenters with a remapped representation of the whole Sahara Desert, one post at a time, every 30 minutes.”1

Opening the Tumblr page that forms the core component of A quiet desert failure it is hard not to get lost in the visual romanticism of it. The page is a patchwork of soft beiges, mauves, creams, and threads of pale terracotta that look like arteries or bronchia. At least this morning it was. Since the bot posts every 30 minutes around the clock, the page on other days is dominated by yellows, reds, myriad grey tones. Every now and then the eye is captured by tiny remnants of human intervention; something that looks like a road, or a small settlement; a lone, white building being bleached by the sun. The distance of the satellite, and thus our vicarious view, from the actual terrain (not to mention the climate, people, politics, and more) renders everything safely, sensuously fuzzy; in a word, beautiful. Perhaps dangerously so.

As is the nature of social media platforms that prescribe and mediate our experience of the content we access through them, actually following the A quiet desert failure Tumblr account and encountering each post individually through the template of the Tumblr dashboard provides a totally different layer to the work. On the one hand this mode allows the occasional stunningly perfect compositions to come to the fore – see image below – some of these individual ‘frames’ feel almost too perfect to have been lifted at random by an aesthetically indifferent bot. Of course with the sheer scope of visual information being scoured, packaged, and disseminated here there are bound to be some that hit the aesthetic jackpot. Viewed individually, some of these gorgeous images feel like the next generation of automated-process artworks – a link to the automatic drawing machines of, say, Jean Tinguely. Although one could also construct a lineage back to Duchamp’s readymades.

Segni encourages us to invest our aesthetic sensibility in the work. On his personal website, the artist has installed on his homepage a version of A quiet desert failure that features a series of animated digital scribbles overlaid over a screenshot of the desert images the bot trawls for. Then there is the page which combines floating, overlapping, translucent Google Maps captures with an eery, alternately bass-heavy then shrill, atmospheric soundtrack by Fabio Angeli and Lorenzo Del Grande. The attention to detail is noteworthy here; from the automatically transforming URL in the browser bar to the hat tip to themes around “big data” in the real time updating of the number of bytes of data that have been dispersed through the project, Segni pushes the limits of the digital medium, bending and subverting the standardised platforms at every turn.

But this is not art about an aesthetic. A quiet desert failure did begin after the term New Aesthetic came to prominence in 2012, and the visual components of the work do – at least superficially – fit into that genre, or ideology. Thankfully, however, this project goes much further than just reflecting on the aesthetic influence of “modern network culture”2 and rehashing the problematically anthropocentric humanism of questions about the way machines ‘see’. Segni’s monumental work takes us to the heart of some of the most critical issues facing our increasingly networked society and the cultural impact of digitalisation.

The Sahara Desert is the largest non-polar desert in the world covering nearly 5000 km across northern Africa from the Atlantic ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east, and ranging from the Mediterranean Sea in the north almost 2000 km south towards central Africa. The notoriously inhospitable climate conditions combine with political unrest, poverty, and post-colonial power struggles across the dozen or so countries across the Sahara Desert to make it surely one of the most difficult areas for foreigners to traverse. And yet, through the ‘wonders’ of network technologies, global internet corporations, server farms, and satellites, we can have a level of access to even the most problematic, war-torn, and infrastructure-poor parts of the planet that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.

A quiet desert failure, through the sheer scope of the piece, which will take – at a rate of one image posted every 30 minutes – 50 years to complete, draws attention to the vast amounts of data that are being created and stored through networked technologies. From there, it’s only a short step to wondering about the amount of material, infrastructure, and machinery required to maintain – and, indeed, expand – such data hoarding. Earlier this month a collaboration between private companies, NASA, and the International Space Station was announced that plans to launch around 150 new satellites into space in order to provide daily updating global earth images from space3. The California-based company leading the project, Planet Labs, forecasts uses as varied as farmers tracking crops to international aid agencies planning emergency responses after natural disasters. While it is encouraging that Planet Labs publishes a code of ethics4 on their website laying out their concerns regarding privacy, space debris, and sustainability, there is precious little detail available and governments are, it seems, hopelessly out of date in terms of regulating, monitoring, or otherwise ensuring that private organisations with such enormous access to potentially sensitive information are acting in a manner that is in the public interest.

The choice of the Sahara Desert is significant. The artist, in fact, calls an understanding of the reasons behind this choice “key to interpret[ing] the work”. Desertification – the process by which an area becomes a desert – involves the rapid depletion of plant life and soil erosion, usually caused by a combination of drought and overexploitation of vegetation by humans.5 A quiet desert failure suggests “a kind of desertification taking place in a Tumblr archive and [across] the Internet.”6 For Segni, Tumblr, more even than Instagram or any of the other digitally fenced user generated content reichs colonising whatever is left of the ‘free internet’, is symbolic of the danger facing today’s Internet – “with it’s tons of posts, images, and video shared across its highways and doomed to oblivion. Remember Geocities?”7

From this point of view, the project takes on a rather melancholic aspect. A half-decade-long, stately and beautiful funeral march. An achingly slow last salute to a state of the internet that doesn’t yet know it is walking dead; that goes for the technology, the posts that will be lost, the interior lives of teenagers, artists, nerds, people who would claim that “my Tumblr is what the inside of my head looks like”8 – a whole social structure backed by a particular digital architecture, power structure, and socio-political agenda.

a quiet desrt failre
a quiet desrt failre

The performative aspect of A quiet desert failure lies in the expectation of its inherent breakdown and decay. Over the 50 year duration of the performance – not a randomly selected timeframe, but determined by Tumblr’s policy regulating how many posts a user can make in a day – it is likely that one or more of the technological building blocks upon which the project rests will be retired. In this way we see that the performance is multi-layered; not just the algorithm, but also the programming of the algorithm, and not just that but the programming of all the algorithms across all the various platforms and net-based services incorporated, and not just those but also all the users, and how they use the services available to them (or don’t), and how all of the above interact with new services yet to be created, and future users, and how they perform online, and basically all of the whole web of interconnections between human and non-human “actants” (as defined by Actor- network theory) that come together to make up the system of network, digital, and telecommunications technologies as we know them.

Perhaps the best piece I know that explains this performativity in technology is the two-minute video New Zealand-based artist Luke Munn made for my Net Work Compendium – a curated collection of works documenting the breadth of networked performance practices. The piece is a recording of code that displays the following text, one word at a time, each word visible for exactly one second: “This is a performance. One word per second. Perfectly timed, perfectly executed. All day, every day. One line after another. Command upon endless command. Each statement tirelessly completed. Zero one, zero one. Slave to the master. Such was the promise. But exhaustion is inevitable. This memory fills up. Fragmented and leaking. This processor slows down. Each cycle steals lifecycle. This word milliseconds late. That loop fractionally delayed. Things get lost, corrupted. Objects become jagged, frozen. The CPU is oblivious to all this. Locked away, hermetically sealed, completely focused. This performance is always perfect.”

Guido Segni’s A quiet desert failure is, contrary to its rather bombastic scale, a finely attuned and sensitively implemented work about technology and our relationship to it, obsolescence (planned and otherwise), and the fragility of culture (notice I do not write “digital” culture) during this phase of rapid digitalisation. The work has been released as part of The Wrong – New Digital Art Biennale, in an online pavilion curated by Filippo Lorenzin and Kamilia Kard,

Set of rules, online interactions and feminism: Interview with Angela Washko

Angela Washko is an artist, writer and facilitator devoted to creating new forums of discussions in spaces most hostile towards feminism. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Since 2012, Washko has also been facilitating The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, her most known project: it’s a series of actions taken within the virtual space of World of Warcraft (“WoW”), an online video game set in a fantasy universe in which people play as orcs, knights and wizards. Her research is focused on the social relations between the gamers, with great attention towards on how these relate with feminism and women, who are becoming more and more numerous between the players of this game. Washko investigates also how design elements of the game influence the relationships of the people who inhabit it; it’s a social study on a community expanding more and more widely, and acts within a limited set of rules designed by video game producers.

Angela Washko, "The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft", 2012, Screenshot
Angela Washko, “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft”, 2012, Screenshot

Filippo Lorenzin: I’ve read in some your previous interviews that you started playing WoW in 2006, so we can say you’re a veteran gamer. In the same interviews you pointed out many important elements linking to some of my own research. First of all, the fact you didn’t hesitate to make a parallel between IRL public spaces and online public spaces makes me think you’re part of a generation (as me) that doesn’t care of this division. You create situations and opportunities to let people discuss: it’s as if you meant online gaming as a social activity, rather than a set of rules designed by programmers in which people interact as NPCs (“Non-Player Characters”). What do you think?

Angela Washko: I wouldn’t say that I don’t make a distinction between online and offline space… rather, that these spaces are so integrated and much less separate than the outdated “it’s online/digital therefore it’s not real” model. Online gaming is a very general term and they each have a specific way of operating with contexts that have particular ways of allowing players to communicate to each other. Some of those games are designed to institute high degrees of collaboration in order to get to the most difficult content. World of Warcraft falls into this category. This coercive collaboration breeds a social/chat structure which makes the game as much of a social space as a play space.

My work in WoW is about analyzing the user’s social culture created within the otherwise fantasy oriented landscape and talking to players about the way that it’s developed. So of course there are thousands of things I could have focused on within WoW (and in The World of Warcraft Psychogeographical Association I focus more on exploring the landscape free from quest suggestion/utility and drift about exploring), but for The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft I was driven to work the way I did due to the treatment of women by the community within the space once players establish their self-identified gender behind the screen. At least on the servers I was playing on.

Screenshot of World of Warcraft Psychgeographical Association - Helsinki Drift
Angela Washko, World of Warcraft Psychgeographical Association – Helsinki Drift 2014, Screenshot

FL: Your use of WoW mechanics in order to raise questions about sexuality and identity makes me think of situationist approaches. As they wanted to create new urbanism refecting the grounded needs and identities of the people, and your actions seem to lead to the creation of a new gaming system, based on players/people who aware of the characteristics of the game and their results in the definition of their identities. Am I wrong?

AW: I guess in WoW I was wondering why the politics of everyday life outside the screen had to govern the rules of this otherwise epic and otherwise not-human-like landscape. I wondered why women were excluded or treated as though they were inherently unskilled (naturally/biologically non-gamers) and at the same time were rewarded for being willing to be abstractly sexualized in guild hierarchies and elsewhere. After being asked to “get back in the kitchen and make [insert player name here] a sandwich” enough times, I stopped playing for a bit. And then I returned, determined to figure out why this was an ubiquitous approach to talking to women in the game space. So I wanted it to be in a place where we could openly discuss and potentially become more considerate about communal language to the point that it could become a much more inclusive space for everyone, and maybe a more diverse social space than we all curate for ourselves in our everyday (physical space) life. Why did our identities outside the screen still have to govern how we are treated as orcs and trolls and whatnot? This game still holds onto a lot of the qualities of the avatar-hidden web 1.0 persona…

Screenshot of a performance of The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral
Angela Washko, “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft”, 2013, Screenshot

FL: Debord wrote that “the construction of situations begins on the other side of the modern collapse of the idea of the theatre. It is easy to see to what extent the very principle of the theatre – non-intervention – is attached to the alienation of the old world. Inversely, we see how the most valid of revolutionary cultural explorations have sought to break the spectator’s psychological identification with the hero, so as to incite this spectator into activity by provoking his capacities to revolutionize his own life. The situation is thus made to be lived by its constructors.”.

As you can see, it looks like he’s describing your work and I’m really curious to know your opinion.

AW: Well, I have thought about this work (and the psychogeographical work that came slightly later) as definitely linked to Debord and Situationism. I think I became tired of just being able to show the injustices women face everyday. Just prior to the WoW work, I was making videos from replaying single player RPGs from 1992-2003ish showing only women’s storylines and the ways women were represented. I think the work shocked the gallery audiences who saw it because they weren’t gamers and instead of making them think about why the ways in which “women are supposed to act” are embedded in all of our cultural artifacts – it made audiences ask me why anyone would play video games? This frustrated me because I hated the 90s stereotypes that existed about gamers being delinquent and lazy and so I wanted to have conversations in game spaces themselves among the communities that I was involved in rather than just taking from games and then putting them into an art context to be exoticized by art audiences. This is changing a lot as more people identify as gamers and more academics realize the massive amount of people that play games and the cultural importance of games themselves. But I wanted to be able to create a space for discussion with the playerbase itself directly and make that the work rather than making some kind of insightful commentary – to give voice to the community itself to let it speak for itself (regardless of my point of view on the matters discussed) and at the same time try to make sense of how it ended up the way that it did.

FL: The players are being involved in discussions about sexuality and identity. Could you tell your art and cultural references? I can see a lot of ’60s and ’70s approaches…

AW: Oh yes – I mean artists like Valie Export, Adrian Piper, Lynn Hershman, Sophie Calle and the Guerrilla Girls of course, in terms of performance and visibility of women and feminism/feminist activism but in terms of public/media intervention and social practice I think of people like Paper Tiger TV, The Yes Men, The Center for Post Natural History, The Institute for Applied Autonomy, Dara Greenwald, Ant Farm, Kristoffer Orum and Anders Bojen.

I also feel very indebted to remix/appropriation artists like Craig Baldwin who have reclaimed what can be used and how we can rethink existing pop cultural material as sites of intervention for artwork. I also feel like I’m even more influenced by diaristic women writers– particularly Phoebe Gloeckner, Kathleen Blee (sociologist), Elfriede Jelinek, Chris Kraus, Kathy Acker…

Screenshot of a performance of The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral
Angela Washko, “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft”, 2013, Screenshot

FL: Though question: do you think artists have (or “must have”) a social role? And if they take a stand, what should be their goals?

AW: I think for me interesting artists have a social role! I don’t think that all artists have to make socially engaged work or have to have some kind of service responsibility. I think what was appealing to me about pursuing art as a context for the things I aspire to do is that it is so broad! I mean you have so many “art worlds”, this is a really broad question! So I would say no, but I think artists are in a unique position to have so much flexibility in what you’re permitted to do in your work. In a sociology context, my work would require so much paperwork it would be impossible to get every player I talk to in WoW for my research to sign the necessary papers outside of the game space!  So art affords me the flexibility, spontaneity and responsiveness to context to experiment, and really get in there in a way that other fields don’t. So I have found for someone interested in looking at why women are treated the way that they are in fields that are ephemeral and difficult to document, and wanting to have direct discussions about it…art seems to be the field for me to do it in.

Angela Washko, "The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft", 2013, Screenshot
Angela Washko, “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft”, 2013, Screenshot

FL: What did you learn from your projects?

AW: Things that I learned which I think will be beneficial for me in the future:

– Be responsible and respectful to everyone you work with.

– Be flexible and responsive. Recalibrate your expectations and be prepared to be wrong about every assumption you’ve already made.

– Think about power. Remember that by being able to capitalize on what you collect, you are in a position of power – make efforts to put yourself in positions of vulnerability. Acknowledge whether or not what you are doing is exploitative. Make everything you do available to all participants who are interested.

– Be clear about what you are doing with the people involved. Be upfront with your participants.

FL: As you previously stated, feminism is a really important element of your research. Did you notice any change between 2010 and now? I’m especially referring to how feminists are portrayed by society, the opportunities in which you can debate and share ideas with somekind of new wave of young artists and critical thinkers who are also deeply involved in these discussions.

AW: When I first started the project, “feminism” was the worst possible word you could say in WoW. Everyone went crazy – feminists were widely described as man-hating whores, flat-chested ugly bitches, women with hairy armpits and worse. But I’ve definitely noticed over time with more mainstream visibility and more writing and a younger generation of artists and celebrities identifying proudly as feminists…the discussions about feminism have become much more complex in WoW and there are many more perspectives and a lot more people self-identifying that way in the space.

Outside of WoW, it seems like more and more women are identifying as feminists and a lot of young writers are really making space for feminism in mainstream media. However, I think it’s been quite polarizing and alienating as well. More and more Men’s Rights Activist groups and nearly militarized manosphere communities are popping up. So with the growth of feminism we also have the growth and visibility of self-identified counter-feminist movements. I think the fact that feminism is a part of mainstream media vocabulary in a way that is a bit more dimensional is definitely positive. The ideas of what a feminist and what a woman can be/do are shifting and evolving and that’s exciting to see.

Screenshot of a performance of The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral
Angela Washko, “The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft”, 2012, Screenshot

FL: Products like WoW are designed for a masculine audience but looks like it’s not so evident for most of them. With your actions you push other players to discover this aspect, so I wonder if you would define your research as critical art, and or an art that helps others to see the reality behind what the system teaches them).

AW: I would definitely call my work critical art in regard to what you’re proposing! I think in all of my work I am looking at systems and trying to reveal the way they work, using an approach that is accessible to wider audiences than the systems typically reach. I like to approach cultural artifacts by exploring and then dissecting them and then translating/excavating those findings from the site and sharing them as widely as I can.

Choose Your Muse Interview: Lynn Hershman Leeson

Featured image: External Transformations: Roberta’s Construction Chart, No. 1,from the series Roberta Breitmore, 1974–78


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.

Lynn Hershman Leeson artist and filmmaker, who over the last three decades, has been internationally acclaimed for her pioneering use of new technologies and her investigations of issues that are now recognized as key to the working of our society: identity in a time of consumerism, privacy in a era of surveillance, interfacing of humans and machines, and the relationship between real and virtual worlds. Her work was featured in “A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance” at the Tate Modern London in 2012 and a retrospective and catalogue are being planned for 2015 at the Zentrum fur Kunst Und Medientechnologie, Germany. Modern Art Oxford is hosting a major solo exhibition of her work Origins of a Species, Part 2, and it’s open until 9 August 2015.

Lynn Hershman Leeson released the ground-breaking documentary !Women Art Revolution in 2011. It has been screened at major museums internationally and named by the Museum of Modern Art as one of the three best documentaries of the year.

The image above is from !Women Art Revolution, which introduces the Guerilla Girls who draw attention to injustice and under-representation across artistic platforms and institutions. Several members discuss their origin story and modus operandi, including “the penis countdown. !Women Art Revolution won the first prize in 2012 at the festival in Montreal on Films on Art.

She also wrote, directed, produced and edited the feature films Strange Culture, Conceiving Ada, and Teknolust. All featured Tilda Swinton and were showcased at the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival before being distributed internationally. After her retrospective, at CIVIC RADAR in December 2014, a bumper catalogue consiosting of 450 pages will be published in Oct 2015. Featuring writing by Peter Weibel, Laura Poitras, Tilda Swinton, Kristine Stiles, B Ruby Rich, Hou Hanru, Andreas Beitin, Peggy Phelan, Pamela Lee, Jeffrey Schnapp, kyle Stephan and Ingeborg Reichle. Civic Radar is now at Diechterhallen Falkenberg till November 19, 2015.

Start of Interview.

Marc Garrett: Could you tell us who has inspired you the most in your work and why?

Lynn Hershman Leeson: What has inspired me are people who work with courage to do original work that has a political and authentic ethic. These include, to name a few only, it seems a bit strange because naming them isolates these artists from the context of their contributions. But I have been inspired by Lee Miller, Mayakovsky, Tinguely, early Automata and so many more like Thomas Edison, Jules Etienne Marrey, even Cezanne. Early on I educated myself by copying works to get a sense of how particular artists formulated their language – the way Rembrandt used light, Leonardo’s draftsmanship and parallels he found between technology and science, Gauguin’s color reversals, Brecht, Breton and Duchamp’s ironic and iconic archetypal identities, Tadeauz Kantor, and Grotowsky’s extension of the frame.

Also younger artists (nearly everyone is) like Rafael Lezano Hemmer, particularly the work he is doing now in using facial recognition to locate kidnapped victims, Amy Siegal’s Providence, Janet Biggs, Annika Yi, Nonny de la Pena, Tania Bruguera, Ricardo Dominguez, and many many more.

Lee Miller photographed women in fire masks in wartime London in 1944. [Source: Telegraph/Lee Miller Archives]
Lee Miller photographed women in fire masks in wartime London in 1944. [Source: Telegraph/Lee Miller Archives]
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, "Sandbox, Relational Architecture 17", 2010. Glow Festival, Santa Monica, USA. Photo by: Antimodular Research.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Sandbox, Relational Architecture 17”, 2010. Glow Festival, Santa Monica, USA. Photo by: Antimodular Research.

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

LHL: I think these examples added to my conceptual dimensional and historical overview which has been reflected in my practice. There are direct links also, like how the breathing machines and suicide machines relate to Tinguely, or how Roberta relates to Duchamp and Breton. But these are obvious and on the surface. The deeper perspectives embed themselves into the structure and architecture of the work. Political references like Civil Rights and The Feminist Movement are part of the core of the time I lived through and the resulting collage that is my work.

Breathing Machine. 1965. Lynn Hershman
Breathing Machine. 1965. Lynn Hershman

MG: How different is your work from your influences and what do you think the reasons for this are?

LHL: I think we all work in the time frame we are born into, and if we are lucky use the materials or invent the technologies to give presence and voice to the political gestures of that era. We cannot produce work from another era other than what we inhabit and really have to be in tune with the global framing of the tools and language invented during our life time.

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? How would that happen?

LHL: Of course I would open up the process and systemic repressions, which would hopefully result in eradicating censorship, and the making more transparent the capitalistic underpinnings that are polluting access, value and visibility. In the 70’s, I did the first prison art project in San Quentin, and many early public art works geared toward social change, and it just required fortitude and clarity that resulted in breaking down systems of perceived values.

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

LHL: Well, hearing about Steve Kurtz’s predicament and the unfairness of it caused me to make the film Strange Culture.  I personally experienced exclusion and rejection – as did many women, and that inspired !Women Art Revolution. I think work comes out of awareness of the situations of one’s time.

Steve Kurtz’s nightmare began on May 11, 2004, when he awoke to find his wife Hope dead of a heart attack. Police responding to his distressed 911 call became suspicious of scientific paraphernalia in his house (materials for an art project on genetically modified food) and contacted the FBI. Soon his world was turned upside down. Only hours after his wife’s tragic death he was suddenly a murder suspect, an accused bioterrorist, and a pariah to all but his closest friends.

The film is told through a unique blend of interviews, documentary footage, and reconstructed scenes starring Tilda Swinton, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Peter Coyote, Hershman’s critically-acclaimed film is a sophisticated, look at how the traumatic events of 9/11 altered American society and undermined its long-held values. [1]

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?

LHL: Stay true to your vision, forge ahead no matter what the obstacles are and keep your sense of humor.

Three images from, Origins of the Species (Part 2). Lynn Hershman Leeson. Modern Art Oxford. 29 May — 9 August 2015.
Three images from, Origins of the Species (Part 2). Lynn Hershman Leeson. Modern Art Oxford. 29 May — 9 August 2015.

“Ms. Hershman Leeson continues to use art as an advance warning system in new work, developed with scientists, that focuses on, and participates in, the phenomenon of genetic manipulation. The show’s most recent piece is an installation of wallpaper made from images of hybrid animals, plants, and human limbs created through DNA manipulation, regenerative medicine and 3-D bio-printing. It looks great in the gallery, and like much of this artist’s work, it takes both ethics and aesthetics in ungraspable directions.”[2]

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?

LHL: The Art and Technology show in MdM at Salzburg, my exhibition and catalogue for The Burden of Guilt. The Electronic Super Highway and catalogue coming up at Whitechapel next year. Recommendations for catalogues: !War Graphic Novel, Marshal McLuhan, Rebecca Solnet’s River of Shadows, Edweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild, Kristine Stiles: States of Mind,  Peter Weibel: The Global Contemporary and the Rise of the New Art World,  and so many others. I also think for instance that James Watson’s Double Helix is beautifully written. So many possibilities for educating one’s self exist.

Dead Reckoning – Ellie Harrison and The Art of Austerity

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.

Toytown by Ellie Harrison
Toytown by Ellie Harrison

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.

"High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison's Zombie Walk" event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz
“High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison’s Zombie Walk” event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz

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’.

"High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison's Zombie Walk" event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz
“High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison’s Zombie Walk” event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz

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.

"High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison's Zombie Walk" event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz
“High Street Casualties: Ellie Harrison’s Zombie Walk” event at Ort Gallery on 11 April 2015, photograph by Marcin Sz

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…

Gordon Dalton is an artist, curator and writer based in Cardiff. He is currently coordinating the inaugural Plymouth Art Weekender

Choose Your Muse Interview: Igor Štromajer

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.

Since 1989, Igor Štromajer aka Intima has shown his media art work at more than a 130 exhibitions, festivals and biennials in 60 countries. His work has been exhibited and presented at the transmediale, ISEA, EMAF, SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica Futurelab, V2_, IMPAKT, CYNETART, Manifesta, FILE, Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Hamburg Kunsthalle, ARCO, Microwave, Banff Centre, Les Rencontres Internationales and in numerous other galleries and museums worldwide. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MNCA Reina Sofía in Madrid, Moderna galerija in Ljubljana, Computer Fine Arts in New York, and UGM.

Available as:
PDF file 0sn-3iexfemiat.pdf (2.7 MB, 206 A4 pages)
EPUB file 0sn-3iexfemiat.epub (884 kB); Open eBook Publication Structure (Kobo etc)
mobi file (994 kB); Kindle (3 files: mobi, apnx, mbp)

Marc Garrett: Could you tell us who has inspired you the most in your work and why?

Igor Štromajer:Ajda Likar, Aleksandra Domanović, Alexei Shulgin, Ana Isaković, Andy Warhol, Angela Washko, Anne Magle, Anne Roquigny, Annie Abrahams, Annika Scharm, Antonin Artaud, Aphra Tesla, Bertolt Brecht, Bojana Kunst, Brane Zorman, Brigitte Lahaie, Carolee Schneemann, Chantal Michel, Charlotte Steibenhoff, Curt Cloninger, Diamanda Galás, Dirk Paesmans, Dragan Živadinov, Falk Grieffenhagen, Florian Schneider, Fritz Hilpert, Gabriel Delgado-López, Georges Bataille, Gertrude Stein, Gianna Michaels, Gina Spalmare, Gretta Louw, Henning Schmitz, Ida Hiršenfelder, Immanuel Kant, Italo Calvino, Ivan Jani Novak, James Joyce, Jerzy Grotowski, Jim Punk, Joan Heemskerk, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Cage, John Lennon, Jorg Immendorff, Josephine Bosma, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, Karl Marx, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kazimir Malevich, Lars von Trier, Laurie Anderson, Laurie Bellanca, Lucille Calmel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Luka Prinčič, Marcel Duchamp, Margarida Carvalho, Maria Winterhalter, Marie-Sophie Morel, Marina Tsvetaeva, Marisa Olson, Marjana Harcet, Marko Peljhan, Martine Neddam, Matjaž Berger, Minu Kjuder, Morena Fortuna, Nam June Paik, Nana Milčinski, Netochka Nezvanova, Nika Ločniškar, Olia Lialina, Peter Luining, Philip Glass, Ralf Hütter, Robert Görl, Robert Sakrowski, Robert Wilson, Robin Dunbar, Ronnie Sluik, Sergei Eisenstein, Simone de Beauvoir, Srečko Kosovel, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Stanley Kubrick, Suvi Solkio, Thor Magnusson, Ulrike Susanne Ottensen, Varvara Stepanova, Vesna Jevnikar, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vlado Gotvan Repnik,Vsevolod Meyerhold, Vuk Ćosić, Yevgeny Vakhtangov.

MG: How have they influenced your own practice?

IŠ: ×›lëśßwp^Ů ßc W Ýc}=ďnău ÝŐľ ďnÝB+Îč×Ö÷©÷ Ăč Đ6Ő€P íŐ¦§]s[)m}=ăk{›u ¬¦ °•÷ é–ŁnŘ ß 3 {ˇóĺö 3 Žw´ů}óî] Í{Áť‡ Ó›}dH dA P‹° •÷˝ărůµ U흼 =îÇÉč 駝s™Ý ´Ë5˘şĄ Ű•Ż ěďu pŔ ‚Řw] bűÝ« ď}7» ú9f×Sî “•!«+q ą^őI[}vÝr«ĺn÷ Ľ ÓŰŰ Ż7Ş5g4Ť 0őÝc%ž ›Ź{ zM” ¬¦ °•÷ žl” v:i* p 4®Ú Ws›VęÖ’Fť«M˝ď{Ó¸sëÁäzç} zŻsS§NůŚńŞ%z=t{Ĺź4$ ˇ@ čТ€H) P]e †´B Ćťë®I ďwNë »DîŮ Î2P € Ă@ˇˇ ’Š ¨ iˇ+[ŔĆ 0 ŽŞ…_©2ô†YCHâAĐ ůđ ‰R!h ¨––‚)”˘!i ĆÓI KXµ …\d äPŔ t©’¤6‘ Kď ń˛ ‚ I \l ”Q,Ať „ň [ Because I have nothing to say and I’m saying it. The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. ] ÉBÜÍ%TD IQNŔ – ¦”bbJv•M € Ä ˛-•H6•J Đspś“ Đť°Ł Ä gl @a Ä Ä cÍ‹˛ˇJ ! cĚäŠGČÄTDM L@PĐÄ ! D&Ĺ9Ť d¦¨§ó„ĚÓQ 튚 ÉC Ô$M Ö=ě ŢĘS÷…O‚ üś ^cFoŃŚ îpPÄ I@Rb bĂHhX™b 4¤i$”dwŰ ž$ .‰˘ ăóy LJSAT QI 7Ž –j(” :Ę‚jż oděG ę®h Ňáo Ăłg K÷ţk D% 9(ö¤řÜ Ľ9B Jí6ő¸n Tvôiő}@8„EO ¬¦ °•÷ bŻý!Ćńě BlÁé [řŤeÚ ‡ »Â ő˙2ľ p6Ř?¨6 Óű;7 ú3 Ś«˛ ŕ8ó ĘŐ@Ř‚˘ĹŞNÎ ž$n:vAňá Ý f ąŮ0 WżÝđ” Ł •ŻŮ vőtĽ Ďg«út’´ž W¦Ś] 0§ń–3¦é×F= ]iᆠ• „ü ¬¦ °•÷ ˙®k ŢyÚŢâ ţ ĂóJUţŮ ä …˛” 9Ů ţ˝Ó{ Ě›9ôĚŕ Š¸·fˇµÁP¸ş Dşź ´ľtÜŢ ŻŇĽ· 瀝,& ëÄŔ´DőJň% &–<VĐlŃ fű.Q |đjË DľŠ ×zr|-ú=÷8 BµÂ muŃ xĹžK ” yáüŃťdÚ°T ş ÖötË śîzl ÂI \o˝‡Ă ˇ n+„’ ¬¦ °•÷ 3 z Ŕˇ™ Úp ‘ZpĽHťĂż‹~ Ę,Ńů Šr!CćX Ěď{† –Ćľ E5‡0 Éž@ss 3 łá” 3Ďk¨nŃ×ĆëŁ ;=Š”t-ŻÓAd% [ Đ@{×űX2E , Y ŕ

Could you share with us some examples?

IŠ: ´Ą˙ pÇꯗ ž^Çš ´źw ey€©× ś˙…Ă@{ˇ\wě„á Łźhµ h÷ýŞ38ŕ 4(â‰yD @úD ®ÜÓŽŢ}” .. óDm ˙YĎă ]. B ÍT6¨S Hh…og“mS~ÍÖθŐZ» ŔťŢ¦Ř7 aŔ ”€Ł ÚKîýŚ‚ óíŃđ?Ą.±{ răö ”±D6á=ˇ Ă×Ö ď7Aą CŰś˙K ŰË&hË`Çĺ – ééërm ćÇ1ý mźŰiţIÇż–:(ěč“~śpó; žč ¦ë 0§ń–3¦é×F= Miᆠ¬¦ °•÷ ƱÝŃ |lŤé ˘ 3 OĆ VW° )»VępŇ› nŹÇŃť E—`Qt &ëú!=JŁ±`>EL ŹK Ô2 ¬¦ °•÷ CT N ö´HU ĂÎ cŽ ńű…a Q ¬¦ °•÷ QŕAĐ- ś Ý} Š*†Ľfٟʉ ŔŽ O”‡ž j xkĚ宋$w5]Ś»˙Ö]Ń€ Ôá~‹<A¸ěÂrD „»’† ( ”ń Nşţç [µ`.Ő1X¨Ź(ßżo]ťV š Ě, …ÖÜ A˙ ł Í 0§ń–3¦é×F= ]iᆠâ.Ůs_ p!VSf|r0 ě E ó÷ ·Vľ ;ń < ¬¦ °•÷ q T~ň3Ű…üTs Ínű·?Ş ©aKŠ1ŰĄkĚmąĎ;·? Ž Ź J,6 -ľŇH°¦Y˙7y= =Q _™Z Můě Uů÷I˙˙+÷…ś{÷ *Ű…¦¬ţ¬A@n8•Š •°Çč©hD ˙áď Ë Ý @=*˙ IuvÇ tčCúN™Ŕalĺ÷ ÷ě(pr °éĄ¦sÎ%¬¦ŕ «X6 ű¬ $P•M(Ô÷Ĺi%wńB [ For example, I don’t want it to be essentially the same – I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel. ] Ĺ1OŮŔ „6S§R4 Jú`Y¬ ÷ č«. 幀)H 28ł†Ve€@.]qT* ľ H} ¦wč¸s† Ŕ˝U}µ ô d7u•Ý’Ž H1ÓÔ z°Zý C €Z¸¦në szë Ö +° ˙˙¬˙g‹˙íö ”Ţ * úx ‚Ë®÷6l°) & b•*^ ŞTˇ@4@ Š»˙I˙>! BK °9 č Í Ő˙@®¬ń z° Ź önď» >Ş •:” ¦ś¬ RF ‚* ę¨ eR€ p€ _•”Nę ˙ű¸h) “$ŮŔ ÎBwA¬ ú ‚ĹZ`ˇHTĘ°R ť•ťA¤zçM÷ •)É ô0 ¦ îIű ®¦˙ú÷yĄ›PĐşŕŐ – »´ [RY 1Ńđ ´˛ > 3˙? } Ő” Š ’ ” fE9 ”Őnş^>Hn˙©° Ě˙JHŽş =§ÝĂ »=nMŹ€ ÷ µH Đ$K”i P ”™É 9Îos„Xô…ó ¬Ó›Pđ}7n 7 ›SOü‰ T ť)ťśďsďŤ ¬HRSc ÷ŔĆńěŐ:ëcŻ°.Ý !ůIi Ćş˘ ‚•9ú‚ ,ˇR €©]VŘ Ű• gÁ” ő™ÓŮ˝)ˇÍŐQ î©ö¨t ˇv@î@c J®‚Aä‹ß ‘j2Ű]nJ› ˘Ů…ĽŁIu•iP ^P ĆQ«I0=Ű$ń Č NtF´«@’¤ ‚z Ŕ…6 ă[ë žĂÄ îßbK Š˝śĺ ’DíŁ“ I î˘ CÁB5b ¦ÓÎ÷˘HfŞťăSęž+ßBž©ă{Ô wTw)b!ěiA¨W$ ®Xˇ– Mčp Úľc 4‡¬^ \妯 Ždzč –A H “b•lS ď ďůÍ@dsŰMP Š¬Ü”óC¬4w čĘä[Le ›}ds}ď ť ďJĹĉ°lďĹP{î ň{Şné «” &ç ś]!{ 6•µëu„H\-=Ż{3 bhŢ%F}d +Ą Śp hsmYI Ö]”Ó+ š «pŠ} 5ťŃ–é¨×pĚuä3 ĦÓ_ëóÝ=Wv´Đ§ Ý Ö×ő Žw” ŽB4ÝĐŐŘ AÉM Uˇ4DD ¸¦bÍ Ť w† ťQÄ â÷‹daÝ»––r ˛2Đ%Ŕ[I Đ Ä P}r§{z‘• cË› ×†Ş ´ °ůy TÄű*Â@^•N !ůsL z0lÉ}dIÖÝÄpJ €äíĐ Q Ś6 %Ľź÷$lv€Gócą(Ě •° ˇq¦Ŕ÷˛kčăÇ ÷§ť7 N!g ˛Mí =

MG: How different is your work different from your influences and what are the reasons for this?

IŠ: íş9č ĆW„oő lĘ pŽ3ćhŹ+¬r-ţ-AµÖ MńúćŐ6 ¬¦ °•÷ ’ ŚścՀŦ5Qe‘ďť*â@ť†v Őý vŮ ĺ ęJó]s ±1Śu @yŤ .1ş6dnµ yź]ŽuôŤ -ŻNE\± Ë9Ť}Ű č>†zž úŁř G6 𫡏 ‰ 5Ď9?:’E·xýćđ) \^Ł×ĺ(‡Bq }rM RQÓ›6 ę4_uvB´ lŰ6áH‡ { Š¬râ ´ [ Therefore I have no special message. I wish I did. It would be great if I had one. ] Qłë ©űiŇšpý–—`s§ !“9“Ř ‡łRˇ˘OÚy™9ľŻ bčw ă- -pń÷b ´ŽŇ VT oP»Őč„ ‰ ÎŘ`lăß űW §7ŞŘË caŔbýVťŘ ż‘„ć d% AK RPĐQ C ĐK, T´S Ó0T CL SăËDЉ(¨Ş*iHMŘŕ+vf?1™=QŮý̧5× +Bé:&ĘË ügŃc’µĄ (`° ‹ Ćő˝ţ9łXü ôĘČX µň ‚’Äí ¬¦ °•÷ ‰ëľ ś ň٠ߢVJfg‡!} ˛_ 2“9(ĄK! % yńNąvg ×áäěČ éżOX N ¬™ů¨ }‘« šŮ¨ óá nńxăĹ Ţo ®( ‚ Ó Oů‹Łk c ą¦( qT°€qWc 3 ćp

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?

IŠ: üć»w+űe7 Ö®» y»ËăĺăTA© A¨ŽŇ‚i LY `B ż ™{d ]( !äßŰăËmńl›Y9Űí¬í3a5T @T o uf čT> 3 ^ =–vŮQ E˘¸…t0Ë î„Îy Ş{,žX×TU [ Yes. Nothing. ] ÜwŢńg&XhűÍ-…] !)+ÝĚVŕ ®ćŢĽ ¬¦ °•÷ YągŃ ]ݔ⠥@6<‹tr ¬¦ °•÷ ©±¨ Ŕ»&RŐÖQ ”% —ĆŁ{ ¬¦ °•÷ ë~ ._ć şřk ş÷© ,°–śÇoĂ›ű ýď˝ç _´p+ŚÖđ5 śZőXßÇ ň>KqĚé˙ ܇ Ę,| ©‘ ü,ź± 9»1Áµ y(m$ tÉ’ ĚÂM©Ç u˛č¨z }´s÷ĺż^

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

IŠ: Ń´j qď OĐîť% ßŰűxËýż OçżěoÓíŮËĚ˙ ő3?ôoŐĺÜ 4ň2Ëe Űą“Űżž äżôÝ ˙fAş]Ď ]Ů8ĘZ ‡“ľ _¦÷\9Á· WŰ©:jiď Ů\3ĂŮ o$ý\S|vy´ćîý úy…›¬Żę} 6m”ˇ> ‰—Đ7 Ő.™ ţľĎ§ę_WćĆw.& Ŕ·§ ~Đ 1ć ‘ ĚÇ« ¬(`¤ gőđĘĺv ţÍ ¤‚¨Ź éOŁ [ She said: “Make your own art. Do not expect me to do it for you.” ] S=•üĎVz˙ Ľ‚;z‡—xľ€J,?HóŹg¦ ľ˙ňö3ůvFĐľˇŰIa RřG A =qż?AĘ˘Ř v€D·öĂXŠ! ÷äŁ\u@U ‘ KŽ‚żB„ ŔŮQ.c‹ }9€×éĺŠ÷ů(8×Sł·¬ Y+ćĽĘ> ¨mű8°@‰%ó5 ŃĹXoňOźŔ y˙Môu ®^Dxrő áĂgwý l¬au%}‰Ě: ˙ ßČ HGPŇŃ—Dď×Ď ĎdJ› } ‘Ń@ Bu_č ôuKŘăĂóŘ ×ŠŇ(xşµ»ŐŞČ: b \[ŽAü”űđé´{ emsó|Ń‚xăö9 x: ˇoťŞřĺńta ŞĺŹË ÖŰĽŰ (:Šké í ‡Udl=Tż ‚: 3 ó]5č¦×Hsśww· ľ‰0ů t®Üqčř đ1X úI2¦ $Ýj& 3ÁśIëďą {uŐÝ

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?

IŠ: °§s© ;źĆÝČ ÉůąÚ- ď]™@ Ľat•Îňc}ľ o,ú˛đ ÷Žă ÷sýqŐ«AŻ7őúWB 3 ‘ Ľ Öůxńľ ¬¦ °•÷ _µÎ ·k y·8[ ä®î¦<8}Ť4ť űfÖY †‡tŕ m۵đ [ Make love, not art. ] ź©Xrôw»´sŘîćî ¬¦ °•÷ ‡Ó‹ăHŰ˝tn ňtë+O ća¬7 TvÇĄ ż,ľ} ř[« Č< ľn

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?

IŠ: With pleasure.

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is the key text for the understanding of everything., curated by Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan, is the exhibition everyone would have to see in details.
Still remember Cornelia Sollfrank’s Net Art Generator? Here it is:
And if you already forgot everything about Jonas Lund’s exhibition in MAMA – The Fear Of Missing Out, 2013 – you need to refresh your memory:

DISCLOSURE: Old Words Made New

King’s College Graduate Students & Erica Scourti

Old Words Made New.

Ethical knowledge, sacred spaces, forgotten histories and challenging predispositions.

Furtherfield is pleased to present the excellent cross cultural project DISCLOSURE: Old Words Made New. We have collaborated with Medieval Studies Graduate Students from King’s College London, and artist Erica Scourti to reversion a contemporary representation on the subject of medieval social lives, based on the theme of ‘ethical knowledge’ through Old English. With a combination of works in the Finsbury Park surroundings, sound installations, collaborative writing, and performance.

The project is part of Colm Cille’s Spiral project, a collaboration between Difference Exchange, King’s College London and Furtherfield, and takes place alongside a commission by artist Erica Scourti. It relates to a series of contemporary art and literature commissions and dialogues rethinking the legacy of 6th Century Irish monk Colm Cille, or St Columba, that unfolds across Ireland and the UK, starting and ending in Derry-Londonderry for City of Culture 2013.

+ More about the Project

About The Event

Come and add an Old English phrase to the Wordhoard painted onto the walls of Furtherfield Gallery!

Help us create a visual hoard of words, received from scholars all over the world, which will show the extent of the current study of Old English. Explore the memories of our site-specific work at Bradwell-on-Sea, a church built in 654 by St Cedd, by watching our recording of the event. Walk through Finsbury Park listening to the sounds of Old English poetry and meditating on trees that bleed.

Kings College Students taking part are: Carl Kears, Kathryn Maude, Hana Videen, Victoria Walker, Rebecca Hardie, Francesca Allfrey.
Kings College Students taking part are: Carl Kears, Kathryn Maude, Hana Videen, Victoria Walker, Rebecca Hardie, Francesca Allfrey.

For the event, Erica Scourti will present another iteration of her video postcard project, currently existing as a series of empty, annotated videos on her Instagram profile. As a one-off, the full set of over 100 videos emailed out to friends, family and online contacts over the summer period will be screened, the only time they will be shown publicly. Also, the metadata the recipients provided for each video will form the basis of a sound piece that will play throughout the afternoon.

More about DISCLOSURE: Old Words Made New

The project has explored new ways to understand and interpret the language and social contexts of a time where Christianity was at its early phase of using its people through networks around the UK, whilst pagan culture was still thriving.

The question posed to the King’s College students was “If we existed in a contemporary society where the Internet could no longer be trusted because of systems of networked surveillance, what would be the different ways in which we could communicate?”

In July 2013 they showcased their findings at a live public event at the historic Bradwell-on-Sea Church, which is now being held at Furtherfield.

Bradwell-on-Sea Church
Bradwell-on-Sea Church

A warm thanks to Kings College lecturers Professor Clare Lees, Dr Joshua Davies, Dr James Paz for collaborating.

Other Colm Cille’s Spiral projects have taken place across the UK and Ireland as part of Derry-Londonderry City of Culture and can be explored at


Furtherfield Gallery
McKenzie Pavilion, Finsbury Park
London N4 2NQ
T: +44 (0)20 8802 2827

Visiting information

Furtherfield Gallery is supported by Haringey Council and Arts Council England.

Performing Home: Art, Activism and Affections

Featured image: PAH graphic resources

Over the last few years there has been a keen interest in discussing the notion of public space; demonstrations, camps, collaborative projects, artistic interventions, community projects, social activism are just a few names that exemplify the different forms of engagement that deal with the complexities of it. Despite their different aims and impact most of these actions have given evidence of the need to re-appropriate the public space; through collective and networked practices individuals, groups and organizations ‘challenge the conventional notion of public and the making of space’[1]. Although the liveness and even virality of these events, projects or actions hinder any prediction about its midterm effects or endurance, the fact is that there is an emerging legacy that is already dismantling certain assumed thoughts about ‘the public’.

The retiree Hüseyin Çetinel’s initiative of painting a public stairway with rainbow hues in his neighbourhood in Istanbul has been the last case involving cultural transformation, virality and social activism. After he painted the local stairs to ‘make people smile’ and ‘not as a form of activism’ the municipal cleaning service painted over the stairs in dull grey provoking a chain reaction that mobilized citizens to paint stairways throughout the city. Local communities and social movements appropriated this beautiful participatory action as a form of protest after Çetinel’s stairway became viral in the social media. This example shows the intricacies of the public space and its expanded performativity. As Gus Hosein Executive Director of Privacy International argues ‘there is a confusion as to what is public space is and how it relates to our personal and private space’ in a social context where the emergence of the use of social media and surveillance as well as the appropriations of the space by private corporations and social movements and individuals are constantly questioning its boundaries[2].

Istambul Stairways. Image from InEnArt.
Istambul Stairways. Image from InEnArt.

From my point of view, some of these actions that play in-between the social, political and artistic might be considered re-enactments of the public space as they aim to reconstruct the term itself by applying alternative procedures and by generating at the same time transductive pedagogies. However, in order to give a comprehensive understanding of the implications of the public space and its controversies it is essential to rethink the notion of the private space. Traditionally, home has been recognized as the physical private space; home is the main representative of the private sphere that encompasses the domestic and intimate. According to Joanne Hollows, ‘the distinction between the public and the private has been a key means of organizing both space and time’[3] and consequently to promote a clear functional division.

This traditional perspective has been questioned and altered due to some current issues and events that are noticeably interconnected with those of the public space; an increasing number of evictions and homeless peoples, housing policies, escraches[4] in front of the houses of politicians, the appearance of ghost neighbourhoods due to real estate speculation, home as an alternative space for performance practice and community development, among others. Thus, home might be conceived as a container of individuals and actions, as a social product or instrument, as topographical placement or as a relational structure. Home entangles interesting layers of analysis that might serve to establish new relational and yet responsive parameters to understand both the private and public space. Some of the following examples that perform between art, activism and affections corroborate the significance of home; as Blunt and Dowling state ‘home is not separated from public, political worlds but it constituted through them: the domestic is created through the extra-domestic and viceversa’[5].

Where is home?

In Barcelona, the city where I live there have been noticeable factors that have stressed the importance of home as a topic of interest. Probably the most significant case is the increasing number of evictions―over 350.000 in the last four years―as many families cannot afford their rent or mortgage after losing their jobs (the unemployment rate is 26.3%). Beyond the personal implications and devastating effects that evictions have on families, they also indicate that home is not anymore our secure space or refuge; on the contrary, if the individual does not respond to the production and consumption requirements is physically displaced to the streets. Consequently, many citizens are trying to find shelter back again in the public space.

If the 70s Richard Sennett announced the decay of the public space by the emergence of an ‘unbalanced personal life and empty public life’[6], the related problems with housing have provoked the reactivation of the public space at many levels. At the same time, there is an increasing culture of the debt that ties together individuals and financial institutions in long-term relationships. As Hardt and Negri explain ‘Being in debt is becoming today the general condition of social life. It is nearly impossible to live without incurring debts—a student loan for school, a mortgage for the house, a loan for the car, another for doctor bills, and so on. The social safety net has passed from a system of welfare to one of debtfare, as loans become the primary’ means to meet social needs’[7].

These ideas can be exemplified by the actions of PAH (The Platform of People Affected by Mortgage Debt), an activist group of citizens that stops evictions through demonstrations and guerrilla media actions in the streets and that also helps struggling borrowers to negotiate with banks and promotes social housing[8]. This organized group of citizens has been awarded this year the Citizen Award by the European Union for denouncing abusive clauses in the Spanish mortgage law and battling social exclusion. PAH has received the support of the collective Enmedio that generates actions in the midst of art, social activism and media. For example, their photographic campaign ‘We are not numbers’ consisted in the design of a collection of postcards each one containing a portrait of a person that was affected by the mortgage debt by a local bank entity. The postcards were delivered in front of the bank’s main building for people to write a message. The written postcards were then stuck in the front door main door turning numbers into a collage of human struggle. PAH and Enmedio actions become highly effective thanks to their media impact and their virality in the social media. Invisible individuals isolated in their struggle, find alternatives through an assemblage of support that connects the public and private space and that is also mediated by informative and constitutive tools that the virtual space offers. As Paolo Gerbaudo claims ‘social media have been chiefly responsible for the construction of a choreography of assembly as a process of symbolic construction of public space which facilitates and guides the physical assembling of highly dispersed and individualized constituency’[9].

Image of 'We Are Not Numbers' by Enmedio Collective.
Image of ‘We Are Not Numbers’ by Enmedio Collective.

Processes of speculation, gentrification and eviction can be found in many western cities as well as different kinds of collectives and groups working for human rights advocacy. This is also the case of the Brooklyn based collective Not an Alternative has also carried out different guerrilla actions concerned with the problem of housing and eviction such as their series of workshops and media actions of ‘Occupy Real State’ or ‘Occupy Sandy’.

Occupied Real Estate (rough) from Not An Alternative, on Vimeo.
Occupied Real Estate (rough) from Not An Alternative, on Vimeo.

Many of the actions that these collectives promote might be understood as DIY activism as they are based on the empowerment and the development of skills. In this regard, it is interesting to observe how DIY that traditionally has been related to activities in the domestic space serves as a strategy to protect it and to trigger new forms of protest in the public space while enhancing the creation of an expanded family (or at least a sense of togetherness) through the social media.

Despite these actions, the public space is still home for many individuals. In the UK, different associations are concerned about the impact that the implementation of the bedroom tax might have, especially in London where the number of rough sleepers rises every year with an increase of the 62% since 2010-2011. The scenario is not different in many other European cities where beyond these worrying numbers there is also an increasing number of regulations and policies that difficult the life in the public space. As Suzannah Young stresses, ‘homeless people often need to use public space to survive, but are regularly driven off those spaces to satisfy commercial or even state interests’. Public space is often only open to ‘those who engage in permitted behaviour, frequently associated with consumption’[10]. The increasing number of quasi-public spaces―’spaces that are legally private but are a part of the public domain, such as shopping malls, campuses, sports grounds’ and so forth― questions again the boundaries of the private and public space, especially when ‘some EU cities use the criminal justice system to punish people living on the streets for doing things they do in order to survive, such as sleeping, eating and begging’[11]. All these policies have clear implications in the use of space and it is potential possibilities. The fact that the public space becomes home involves the reconsideration of the uses of the public space and the understanding of it through the eyes of the people that fully inhabit it. The London collective The SockMob run the Unseen Tours, alternative city tours guided by a group of homeless. Their embodied knowledge appears as a key aspect to develop these DIY versions of the city while promoting relationships between the homeless and the tour participants.

The London collective SockMob.
The London collective SockMob.

Where is home? In which ways access to spaces gives us opportunities and rights as individuals? In which ways all these site-specific initiatives that often have a transnational reach re-construct the notions of private and public space? How these DIY and media actions are generating new forms of visual arts activism? Despite the fact that these queries might need further analysis, I believe that the qualities of space becomes visible and tangible through these interactive and responsive actions with the spaces. Recently, an international group of activists, visual artists and scholars have published a handbook in which their consider these forms of activism militant research. According to them, ‘militant research involves participation by conviction, where researchers play a role in the actions and share the goals, strategies, and experience of their comrades because of their own committed beliefs and not simply because this conduct is an expedient way to get their data. The outcomes of the research are shaped in a way that can serve as a useful tool for the activist group, either to reflect on structure and process, or to assess the success of particular tactics’[12]. Hence, the idea of some hands-on, the acquisition of skills and the performance of theory appear as key aspects to disentangle and analyse the qualities of the space.

Clandestine Publics [13]

From an artistic perspective home has been crucial in many historical periods of dictatorship to construct an underground scene of the arts; in many of these cases, the evidence of artistic practice appears through testimonials and documentation (photographs, fanzines, recordings, etc.). Again different forms of media help to make the clandestine public, crossing the sphere of the private into the public realm. Thus, the importance of documentation enhances different temporalities of reception and impact in the public realm. In this regard, a differed presentation of the artistic works triggers a reconsideration of the attributes of the spaces too. Currently, homes serve as a basic space for artists to present their work; in the case of music, this is a widely known practice in the US that is becoming more and more common in other countries and other art forms. Homes serve as a personal curatorial space for fine arts artists through the open studio festivals too; artists make their private space open for others as a strategy to show their work publicly. At the same time, in some artistic disciplines self-curation through digital portfolios is becoming increasingly used to showcase artworks. One way or another, home remains often the main space for creativity, production and curation through and expanded DIY conception of their profession.

Home becomes even more crucial in a context marked by the arts cuts and the economic crisis. In this regard, there are initiatives that see an opportunity in the relationship between the public and private space not only to exhibit or perform art but also to trigger a counter-performative form of showing works. This is the case of the domestic festivals that try to challenge the concepts of cultural enterprise and institution by proposing home as a legitimate space of the artistic experience. Friends, neighbours and acquaintances offer a room or a space in their house for artists to perform there (examples can be found in different cities such as Santiago de Chile, Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, etc.). At the same time, the format wishes to transform the spatial and affective relationships that citizens have with the space, by inverting the spatial dichotomy between the public and the private. Hence, the idea goes beyond to a practical solution to have a space to perform as it also aims to give visibility to performing practices that have not been yet legitimized by the public sphere and they are in danger to remain in a sort of clandestinity (as they are not part of the current cultural market). In this regard, there is also a sense of evicted or homeless art that is trying to produce a social context of experience and articulation beyond the immediate effects of the power that governs at many level the public sphere. These kinds of initiatives generate ‘an activity that undermines the exclusion by letting occur, at the very boundary which separates the public from the “secret”’, an articulation which challenges the prevailing framework of representation and legitimation’[14].

The intersection between art, activism and affections help to explain the multiple and complex questions that configure the notion of home. With these examples I just wanted to stress the importance of home in the discourses that address the concepts of public space/public sphere/publicly. Thus homes ‘are thereby metaphorical gateways to geopolitical contestation that may simultaneously signify the nation, the neighbourhood or just one’s streets’[15]. From a transnational perspective, home seems to pose the crucial questions that connect us with what is happening inside, outside and in-between the spaces and gives us a different perspective to analyse current artistic and social practices that engage with our mode of action, production and identity.

I guess this is all from my home.

A Life in AdWords, Algorithms & Data Exhaust. An interview with Erica Scourti.

Erica Scourti’s work addresses the mediation of personal and collective experience through language and technology in the net-worked regime of contemporary culture. Using autobiographical source material, as well as found text collected from the internet displaced into social space, her work explores communication, and particularly the mediated intimacy engendered by a digital paradigm.

The variable status and job of the artist is humorously fore-grounded in her work, assuming alternating between the role activist, ‘always-on’ freelancer, healer of social bonds and a self-obsessed documenter of quotidian experience.


Millions are blissfully unaware of the technological forces at work behind the scenes when we use social network platforms, mobile phones and search engines. The Web is bulging with information. What lies behind the content of the systems we use everyday are algorithms, designed to mine and sort through all the influx of diverse data. The byproduct of this mass online activity is described by marketing companies as data exhaust and seen as a deluge of passively produced data. All kinds of groups have vested interests in the collection and analysis of the this data quietly collected while users pursue their online activities and interests; with companies wanting to gain more insight into our web behaviours so that they can sell more products, government agencies observing attitudes around austerity cuts, and carrying out anti-terrorism surveillance.

Felix Stalder and Konrad Becker, editors of Deep Search: The Politics of Search Beyond Google,[1] ask whether our autonomies are at risk as we constantly adapt and tailor our interactions to the demands of surveillance and manipulation through social sorting. We consciously and unconsciously collide with the algorithm as it affects every field of human endeavour. Deep Search illuminates the politics and power play that surround the development and use of search engines.

But, what can we learn from other explorers and their own real-life adventures in a world where a battle of consciousness between human and machine is fought out daily?

Artist Erica Scourti spent months of her life in this hazy twilight zone. I was intrigued to know more about her strange adventure and the chronicling of a life within the ad-triggering keywords of the “free” Internet marketing economy.

Marc Garrett: In March 2012, you began the long Internet based, networked art project called Life in AdWords, in which you wrote and emailed a daily diary to your Gmail account and performed regular webcams where you read out to the video lists suggested keywords. These links as you say are “clusters of relevant ads, making visible the way we and our personal information are the product in the ‘free’ Internet economy.”

Firstly, what were the reasons behind what seems to be a very demanding project?

Erica Scourti: Simply put, I wanted to make visible in a literal and banal way how algorithms are being deployed by Google to translate our personal information – in this case, the private correspondence of email content – into consumer profiles, which advertisers pay to access. It’s pretty widespread knowledge by now that this data ends up refining the profile marketers have of us, hence being able to target us more effectively and efficiently; just as in Carlotta Schoolman and Richard Serra’s 1973 video TV Delivers People,[2] which argues that the function of TV is to deliver viewers to advertisers, we could say the same about at least parts of the internet; we are the commodities delivered to the advertisers, which keep the Web 2.0 economy ‘free’. The self as commodity is foregrounded in this project, a notion eerily echoed by the authors who coined the term ‘experience economy’, who are now promoting the idea of the transformation economy in which, as they gleefully state, “the customer is the product!”, whose essential desire is to be changed. The notion of transformation and self-betterment, and how it relates to female experience especially within our networked paradigm is something I’m really interested in.

Television Delivers People, Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman, 1973, 05:55, U.S., color, sound
Television Delivers People, Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman, 1973, 05:55, U.S., color, sound

As Eli Pariser has pointed out with his notion of filter bubbles, the increasingly personalised web employs algorithms to invisibly edit what we see, so that our Google searches and Facebook news feeds reflect back what we are already interested in, creating a kind of solipsistic feedback loop. Life in AdWords plays on this solipsism, since it’s based on me talking to myself (writing a diary), then emailing it to myself and then repeating to the mirror-like webcam a Gmail version of me. This mirror-fascination also implies a highly narcissistic aspect, which echoes the preoccupation with self-performance that the social media stage seems to engender; but narcissism is also one of the accusations often leveled at women’s mediated self-presentation in particular, despite, as Sarah Gram notes in a great piece on the selfie, [3] it being nothing less than what capital requires of them.

Girl with a Pearl Earring and a Silver Camera. Digital mashup after Johannes Vermeer, attributed to Mitchell Grafton. c.2012. [4]
Girl with a Pearl Earring and a Silver Camera. Digital mashup after Johannes Vermeer, attributed to Mitchell Grafton. c.2012. [4]

And as this project is a form of autobiography and diary-writing, it could also be seen as both narcissistic and as asserting the importance of personal experience and emotions in the construction of a humanist, unified subject. Instead, I wanted to experiment with a way of writing a life story that operated somewhere between software and self, so that, as Donna Harraway says “it is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine”. Part of the humour of the project arises from the dissonance between the staged realism of the webcam (and my real cat/ hangover/ bad hair) with the syntactically awkward, machinic language, which undermines any notion that this diary is the expression of any authentic subject.

The demanding aspect of it is something I was interested in too, since it calls up the notion of endurance as a virtue, and therefore as a value-enhancer, which many artworks – from mind-boggingly labour intensive supercut-style videos to sculptures made from millions of pins (or whatever) – trade on. You just can’t help but ask ‘wow…how long did that take?!’ – as if the time, labour and effort, i.e. the endurance, necessarily confer value. So there is a parallel between a certain kind of ‘age of austerity’ rhetoric that valorises resilience and endurance and artworks that trade on a similar kind of doggedness – like Life in AdWords does.

And finally – it made me laugh. Some of the text was so dumb, and funny, it amused me to think of these algorithms dutifully labouring away to come up with key-phrases like ‘Yo Mamma jokes’ and ‘weird pants’.

MG: It ran until 20th January 2013, and ended due to system changes in the Gmail ad settings. How many videos did you produce and were you glad when it all had finally ended?

ES: Not sure how many I made – but I was 6 weeks short of the intended year, so definitely over 300. Actually I was infuriated and somewhat depressed when it ended without warning and in a moment of panic I even thought about somehow cheating it out to the end; but working with a system that is beyond your control (i.e. Google) necessarily involves handing over some of your authorial agency. So instead I embraced the unexpected ending and threw a kind of send-off party plus performance in my bedroom/ studio to mark it.

But this question of agency is obviously crucial in the discussion of technology and runs through the project in various ways, beyond its unintended termination. At the level of the overall structure, it involves following a simple instruction (to write and process the diaries every day and do the webcam recording) which could be seen as the enactment of a procedure that echoes the operation of a software program carrying out automated scripts. And on the level of the texts, while all the language used in the project was generated and created by the software, I also was exercising a certain amount of control over which sections of the diary I favoured and editing the resulting lists, a move which seemingly reasserts my own authorial agency.

Thus the texts are more composed and manipulated than they first appear, but of course the viewer has no way of knowing what was edited out and why; they have to take it on faith that the texts they hear are the ‘real’ ones for that diary.

MG: During this period you recorded daily interactions of the ongoing experience onto webcam. As you went through the process of viewing the constant Google algorithms, I am wondering what kind of effect it had on your state of mind as you directly experienced thousands of different brands being promoted whilst handing over the content once again, verbally to the live camera?

ES: I’m not sure what effect it had on my state of mind, though considering the amount of concerned friends that got in touch after viewing the videos, Google certainly thought I was mostly stressed, anxious and depressed. Maybe it’s just easier to market things to a negative mind state.

But also, the recurrence of these terms was no coincidence; early film theorist Tom Gunning has argued that Charlie Chaplin’s bodily movement in Modern Times [5] ‘makes it clear that the modern body is one subject to nervous breakdown when the efficiency demanded of it fails,’ and compares his jerky, mechanical gestures with the machines of his era.

So I was interested in if and how you could do something similar for the contemporary body; how can we envisage it and its efficiency failures in relation to the technology of today when our machines are opaque and unreadable, if we can see them at all. Maybe what they ‘look like’ is code (a type of language), so it would entail some kind of breakdown communicated through language rather than bodily gestures – though the deadpan delivery certainly evokes a machinic ‘computer says no’ type of affectlessness.

Also, Franco Berardi has spoken of the super-speedy fatigued denizen of today’s infoworld, for whom “acceleration is the beginning of panic and panic is the beginning of depression”. In a sense this recurrent theme of stress and anxiety disavows the idea of the efficient, ever-ready, always-on subject of neo-liberalism – and yet the project as a whole kind of sneakily joins the club too, since it obeys the imperative of productivity by turning a diary (personal life, non-work) into a ‘project’ (i.e. work).

As mentioned earlier in terms of the ‘transformation economy’, I’m really interested in this idea of efficiency also as it manifests in rhetorics of self-betterment, and its relation to the neo-liberal promotion of self-responsibility (if you’re poor, it’s your fault….). Diaries and journal writing – as well as meditation, yoga, therapy, self-help etc – are often championed in everything from cognitive fitness to management literature as excellent ways of becoming more ‘efficient’. The underlying belief seems to be that by unloading all the crap that weighs you down, from emotional blockages to unhelpful romantic attachments to an overly-busy mind, you’d get an ‘optimised you’. Why this is necessarily a good thing – apart from the elusive promise of ‘happiness’ of course – is never really discussed.

Tiqquun’s notion of the Young Girl, the model consumer-citizen, is interesting in this regard – taking good care of oneself reframed as a form of subservience which maintains the value and usefulness of our bodies and minds to capital. Their idea that the Young Girl (not actually a gendered concept in their estimation) “advances like a living engine, directed by, and directing herself toward the Spectacle” also points to the irony beneath what appears to be a very humanist/ individualist inflection to these discourses of self-realisation: they could also be read as a latent desire to become somehow more ‘machine-like’, as if we could therapise/ meditate/ journal/ jog away our mind-junk with the swiftness and ease of emptying the computer’s trash, thereby becoming more productive.

And yet I’m clearly complicit in this, as I write diaries, meditate, do yoga and obsess over my bad time management, as Life in AdWords makes clear both in the recurrence of all these activities in the texts and obviously in its structure as a daily journal project.

MG: Robert Jackson in his article Algorithms and Control discusses in his conclusion that even though “use of dominant representations to control and exploit the energies of a population is, of course, nothing new”, when masses of people respond and say yes to this “particular reduced/reductive version of reality”, as an act of investment it “is the first step in a loss of autonomy and an abdication of what I would posit is a human obligation to retain a higher degree of idiosyncratic self-developed world-view.” Alex Galloway also explores this issue in his book Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, where he argues that the Internet is riddled with controls and that what Foucault termed as “political technologies” as well as his concepts around biopower and biopolitics are significant.

Life in AdWords, seems to express the above contexts with a personal approach on the matter. Drawing upon an artistic narrative as the audience views your gradual decline into boredom and feelings of banality. The viewer can relate to these conditions and perhaps ask themselves similar questions as they go through the similar experiences. Thus, through performance and a play on personal sacrifice on a human level, it elucidates the frustrations on the constant, noise and domination of these protocols and algorithms and how they may effect our behaviours.

With this in mind, what have you learnt from your own experience, and how do you see others regaining some form of conscious independence from this state of sublimation?

ES: I found Galloways’ explanation of Foucault’s notions of biopower to be some of the most interesting parts of that book – as he puts it “demographics and user statistics are more important than real names and real identities”, so it’s not ‘you’ according to your Amazon purchase history, but more ‘you’ according to Amazon’s ‘suggestions’ (often scarily accurate in my experience). Which is where the algorithms come in; they do the number-crunching to be able to predict what you might buy, and hence who you are, not because anyone cares about you particularly, but because where you fit in a demographic (a person who is interested in art, technology, etc..) is useful information and creates new possibilities for control.

Regaining conscious independence… hmm. I found it interesting that during the project, the people I explained it to would often report back to me on what keywords their emails had produced, and what adverts came up on Facebook, as they hadn’t really noticed before – so perhaps in these cases it made people more conscious of the exchange taking place in the ‘free’ web economy. Others took up AdBlocker in response, which is one way of gaining distance – by opting out. However, the info each of us generates is still useful, since even if you aren’t seeing the ads, your choices and interactions are still being parsed and thus help delineate a particular user group of citizen-consumers.

Despite this, my feeling is that opting out – if it’s even possible – can be a way of pretending none of this stuff is happening. I’m generally more interested in finding ways of working with the logic of the system, in this case the use of algorithms to sell things back to us, and making it overly obvious or visible. Geert Lovink asked whether its possible for artists to adopt an “amoral position and see control as an environment one can navigate through instead of merely condemn it as a tool in the hands of authorities” and his suggestion of using Google to do the ‘work’ of dissemination for you, in spreading your meme/ word/ image, is one I’ve thought about, particularly in other works (especially Woman Nature Alone). This approach entails hijacking the process by which Google’s algorithms organise the hierarchy of visibility to one’s own ends – a ‘natural language’ hack, as Lovink puts it.

In contrast, Life in AdWords makes visible the working of the algorithmic system more on the level of the language it produces. It also employs humour, and laughter has been one of the main responses people have had when watching the videos, for a number of reasons. The frequent dumbness of the language and/ or the juxtapositions (‘Where is God?’, ‘Eating Disorder Program’); the flattening out of all difference between objects/ feelings/ places (e.g. work-related stress, cat food, God, Krakow); and the lack of shame the software exhibits in enumerating bodily and mental malfunctions (blood in poop, wet bed, fear of vomiting) are all quite amusing in and of themselves.

That shameless aspect also echoes the over-sharing and ‘too much information’ tendencies the web (especially social media) seems to encourage, which Rob Horning has written about in his excellent blog, Marginal Utility. It also foregrounds that whatever the algorithms can do, what they still can’t do is emulate the codes of behaviour governing human interaction – including knowing when to shut up about your ‘issues’.

The frequent allusions to these bodily and mental blockages also point to the limits of the productivity imperative – a refusal to perform enacted through minor breakdowns – while bringing it back to an embodied subject, who despite her immersion in networked space is still a body with messy, inefficient feelings, needs and urges. And the comically limited portrait the keywords paint maybe suggests that despite the best efforts of Web 2.0 companies, we still are not quite reducible to a list of consumer preferences and lifestyles.

MG: What are you up to at the monment?

ES: Amongst other things I’m doing a residency with Field Broadcast (artists Rebecca Birch and Rob Smith) called Domestic Pursuits, a project which ‘considers the domestic contexts of broadcast reception and the infrastructure that enables its transmission.’

And I’m working on some drawings plus a video involving Skype meditation with members of the Insight Timer meditation app community, for A Small Hiccup, curated by George Vasey and opening 24th May at Grand Union, Birmingham- the video is being shown online tommorrow.

Also I’m attempting and mostly failing at the moment to write my dissertation for the MRes in Moving Image Art I’m doing at Central St Martins and LUX.

Extra Reference Material

Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalisation. Martin Feuz, Matthew Fuller, and Felix Stalder.

Live Performance. KONRAD BECKER (aka Monoton) featuring SELA 3 themes from “OPERATIONS” (15 min.). Published on Jul 9, 2012. YouTube.

About Erica Scourti

Erica Scourti was born in Athens, Greece in 1980 and now lives in London. After a year studying Chemistry at UCL, an art and fashion foundation and a year of Fine Art Textiles at Goldsmiths, she completed her BA in Fine Art at Middlesex University in 2003 and is currently enrolled on a Research degree (Masters) in Moving Image Art at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design, run in conjunction with LUX. Her area of research is the figure of the female fool in performative video works.

She works with video, drawing and text, and her work has been screened internationally at museums like the Museo Reine Sofia, Kunstmuseum Bonn and Jeu de Paume Museum, as well as festivals such as the Recontres Internationales, interfilm Berlin, ZEBRA Film Festival, Antimatter, Impakt, MediaArt Friesland, 700IS as well as extensively in the UK, where she won Best Video at Radical Reels Film Competition; recent screenings include Video Salon Art Prize, Exeter Phoenix, Bureau Gallery, Tyneside Cinema and Sheffield Fringe Festival.

Her work has also been published in anthologies of moving image work like Best of Purescreen (vols 1, 2 and 3) and The Centre of Attention Biannual magazine.

more info –

Jennifer Chan Interview: Interpassivity & Internet Pop Culture

Some have proposed Jennifer Chan to be part of what has been termed as the post-internet era. But, this is an inadequate representation of the spirit, criticality and adventure at play in her work. Chan’s awareness and use of the Internet reflects a way of life, that situates its networks as a primary resource. Chan lives amongst various worlds and engages in different shades of being; a self-described ‘amateur cultural critic’, a net artist, a media artist, and academic. Her work exists both online and in physical realms, it is always present and contemporary. This is because her work lives in a world where the scripting of official art definitions loses its power. People have exploited technology to facilitate new behaviours where the artist or art amateur redefine what art is on their own terms. We are now in a post-art context. It reflects a very real, societal shift. Mainstream art culture no longer owns the consciousness of art, Chan and others like her are pulling it apart.


Marc Garrett: In your video Interpassivity a kind of docu-performance made for the exhibition REALCORE, you’re in a park spraying a brown cardboard box, silver. As you go through the process of walking around the box whilst spraying it, you comment on the object’s formal aspects. But, what you mainly discuss are your own personal views about contemporary art. It then becomes apparent that the box is a prop for the performance, enabling the subject to be explored.

Alongside your interpretations of the work my own thoughts on the subject feel as though they are included in the conversation. I know as a viewer, that the artist is not aware of my thoughts on the matter. However, it feels like there is space for me to be a part of the conversation. Not literally through a feedback system or interaction, but as an individual considering your personal questions. The artwork knows I am experiencing it, it knows that a consciousness out there is somehow engaging with its dialogue.

It is clear you are in tune with the feeling of dysfunction. You say, “I need to spit out some creative truth”. On hearing this, I was not sure whether this was a parady, irony or an expression of despair, or all these. You also say “contemporary art is removed from our everyday feelings”. As you express these words I begin the view the box as a symbol of contemporary art as a centralized, institutional monolith? So, before I unwittingly place my own meanings onto the work could you tell us what it means to you?

Interpassivity. Jennifer Chan 2011 - View video
Interpassivity. Jennifer Chan 2011 – View video

Jennifer Chan: Interpassivity is the instance of something cueing an audience to feel a certain way, such as canned laughter to stand in for humoured social reaction to jokes in a sitcom– even when it’s not funny. I titled it that because I felt like another art student trying to convince herself or the viewer what she made is art. I feel embarrassed about this self-aware but privileged complaining. A few people have found this work online and screened it, but I’m still mortified to watch it with them.

I made that video because I think a lot of contemporary art is sterile, mannered and removed from emotion. I wasn’t thinking of Donald Judd at that point but I could see the box standing in as a poor attempt at work, like his work. What I was working on (or seven years of art education) had little to do with what was happening in my life. (So to answer your question, yes, it is despair) Using my flipcam and talking over it was immediate for recording those ideas. It’s also a big trope of Canadian video art… a breathy voiceover conveys something serious and personal.

re: REALCORE. The title came about as a play on the idea of “real life”, or face-to-face life away from keyboard. Likewise, users would say “irl”(in real life), or “so real~” in Facebook comment threads to joke about the divide between online/offline contexts. The curator David Hanes felt the video was important to contextualize my use of sincerity and clichés, I was not being ironic in my intention. Arielle Gavin and Jaakko Pallasvuo thought it was questionably ironic and an emotive perspective on the Internet as a form of new sincerity.

I later found that someone wrote a paper by someone who coined “realcore” as a kind of amateur user-generated porn, which is a cool double-meaning. The “interpassivity” video was used to promote the show online but I showed my kitschy found footage videos on twisted pizza box plinths for the show. This was my fuck-you to geometric minimalism and boring white plinths, but I suppose it resulted in a different take of it…

A Pizza Box Plinth. Jennifer Chan. VSVSVS Toronto. March 16 2012.
A Pizza Box Plinth. Jennifer Chan. VSVSVS Toronto. March 16 2012.

MG: In one of your recent videos “Grey Matter” when watching it felt like I was immediately pulled into a remixed world of teenage celebrity, products and brands, dripping in an orgasmic noise of techno-capitalism. Most of it is found footage, images, video and sound remixed into an edited compilation. Running through the video in between the high octane fuelled cuts and glitches, are messages to the Internet user who chances upon the video. These messages feel like they are from an individual voice but also of a multitude – caught up in a constant state of mediated folk hedonism.

What intentions lie behind this work as an artistic explorer of the entertainment culture you have remixed?

JC: Grey Matter is a first person account on feeling politically inactive online while having access to a wealth of information. I wanted to use remix in a confessional manner, so I combined obscure nostalgic media with embarrassing statements. The video begins with sped up footage of early 3D simulator ride called “Millennium Bug”. Y2K was the first technological “crisis” I recalled with clarity when I was growing up. The rest of the video includes cynical commentary on online spaces I’ve engaged with in the past year. (shopping on and lurking people on OkCupid) “Little Prince” is compressed 25 times and sped up by 400%. I included old profile pics and some summary text from my OkCupid profile–I thought it was quite telling about how I wanted to be seen online and irl. I think it’s possible to feel mutually exclusive feelings at the same time, or maybe the experience of being active on different social networks produces a kind of schizophrenia. Collaging Internet pop culture is a way to appreciate it-as artifacts-in a complex light, and to be critical of it by acting out within its language.

Jennifer Chan. Grey Matter. Featured at Transmediale 2013. Back When Pluto Was A Planet
Jennifer Chan. Grey Matter. Featured at Transmediale 2013. Back When Pluto Was A Planet

MG: What do you find fascinating about popular culture on the Internet?

JC: Anything minuscule has the potential to be popular amongst disparate users and they form vernaculars to talk about their interest in that. I find that desire relatable. That is what I think of as “community” online. It’s based on human interest and media fandom. Justin Bieber is made into something of a scapegoat for the first world’s shortcomings; people who like his image/music idolize him, and people who hate him are waiting for him to crack. Both are forms of fanaticism (one based on affinity; the other on hate-watching something.) Supercuts of Justin Bieber hairflips, object crushing fetishists, disease forums, long threads debating a detail…etc. I like the solipsism and intensity of all that.

MG: Can you share with us some of your critical insights and personal pleasures on this subject?

JC: Pop culture is paradoxical and audiences selectively enjoy it. (like  teens dancing to hip hop with irreverence to its violent or sexist content.) Consuming and sampling pop allows people to indulge into its meanings, and through this there is a reconsideration of what “the masses” find important. Like the use of “users”, “masses” is what cultural studies calls everyone or everyone except-you. But every “user” has a specific relationship with interfaces and platforms, so they aren’t so homogenous.

Pop culture is also political. There was a time when more people voted for American Idol than the US elections, and if 10,000 people showed up to the 2012 cat video festival, entertainment is generally more seductive than current affairs–until there is a gatekeeping emergency (like mainstream media not covering the early days of Occupy). In terms of “internet pop culture”, perhaps traffic with social networking has overtaken porn and gambling online, but social news is also a kind of entertainment.

Jennifer Chan. factum/mirage (2010). Edited and looped one-off webcam performances for the masturbating population on Chat Roulette, which are screenrecorded as video documentation.
Jennifer Chan. factum/mirage (2010). Edited and looped one-off webcam performances for the masturbating population on Chat Roulette, which are screenrecorded as video documentation.

MG: Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied in their book Digital Folklore they celebrate everyday people’s use of personal computers with “glittering star backgrounds, photos of cute kittens and rainbow gradients”. They value the non-professionalism and amateur spirit that has come about from millions of people enjoying the Internet since it started. There is a difference now, the Internet masses have been shifted and prodded into large web 2.0 frameworks such as Facebook, and an abundance of personal web projects have been lost since.

And, like them do you find reassurance or a personal connection with the Internet Amateurs of the world?

JC: In context of new media art, it’s probably more accurate to think of amateurs as people who don’t self-identify as artists or technicians. What non-artists do with software and video appears facile, sincere, and intuitive. I make amateur-looking work to dialogue with that.. I like to say something dumb to say something serious. Something that’s made simplistically and filled with kitschy references can be packaged as critique that also appeals to non-art audiences.

I caught the tail end of the homepage-o-sphere/webring 1.0 period. Non-artists made personal websites out of a genuine interest in something. tumblr and pinterest is used in a same way today–to collect indiscriminately. Like 2.0 frameworks, the early internet also had free webpage hosting that users relied on (Geocities and Lycos). Personal website design isn’t over either; net artists still make them or bind together to create their own sites (like I think I have an idea of what you mean though; it was less commercial and there weren’t as many distinct “most-visited” places online.

I made a lot of gothy dark art on DeviantArt before I knew about contemporary art, and my sensibility towards Photoshop was more romantic and impulsive without the baggage of art education. Maybe this “revival” cult of amateur-looking digital folklore happened because I/we exoticize that kind of amateur production. Web vernaculars have also become stylized and this aesthetic is shared with seapunks and filmmakers. Artists need to adapt to that.

MG: What do you feel is still alive and open for everyday online expression and play, in respect of what Lialina and Espenschied perceive as Digital Folklore?

JC: I think a lot of emerging artists have a greater awareness of obsolescence and upgrade culture than we give them credit for–while still complacent to the socialization structures on Facebook. Many seem more interested in navigating these networks to question their inner control mechanisms than overthrowing them or innovating new ones. It can be simple things like friending as many users as possible, looping webcam feeds, archiving and re-uploading banned content on different platforms, having an anonymous/alternate personas/using multiple accounts…etc. People like glitchr and Ian Aleksander Adams are always looking for ways to use a system against its intended functions in the same way jodi did all the cheat moves in max payne CHEATS ONLY. I admire glitch practices for that.

There’s also the possibility for re-appropriating anything to rebrand or critique particular communities. I think Angela Washko and Jaakko Pallasvuo are doing this in a compelling way that covers a large territory between art and Internet culture.

MG: So, what are you working on at the moment?

JC: <–for some reason this sounds less perverted than if I were an old guy doing this to teen girls but its really just as perverse–>

I’m observing what young adult/teen boys do on YouTube: bulking up, performing dares, talking about how to pick up a White/Asian girls etc. I’m also making a video about Asian guys (both diasporic, Asian American, and more specifically, Korean and Taiwanese men) and their interpretations of mediated masculinity. There is something disturbingly tantalizing in terms of how they have learned to look at the webcam as if they are boy band stars yet they are not fully grown men. A lot of this is informed by growing up in Hong Kong, and knowing that fashion and romance, is inspired by many “neighbouring” cultural media from Japan, Korea and Taiwan even though American/British influence is also prominent in the club scene.

(also view main image on top of web page)
(also view main image on top of web page)

Here are two images from my late installation that will foreshadow this interest. It’s chat text over layered on modified fashion and makeup adverts targeted at Korean and Chinese men, and printed onto micro-fibred bedding. I feel like they’re treated as pleasant freak shows on tumblr but this imagery is a banal, idealized kind of masculinity in Asia. I think western facial features are really common amongst these popular images of Asian-ness, and most would tend to read it as aspiring to western culture, though the hyperfemme “doll” look or metro-masculinity has been a regional style since the 90s.


Chan’s work reflects an emerging condition described by Zizek as “interpassivity” in which our engagement with interactive experience has lost traction and is replaced with “its shadowy and much more uncanny supplement/double “interpassivity””[1], a “Fetish between structure and humanism”[ibid]. We are pulled into a paradox, where ‘interaction and passivity’ are joined together as spectacle of constant mediation. Millions have joined online centralized, megastructures such as Facebook, and this is not a black and white situation. Many are coerced from social and consumer pressures into the state of being seen as interacting. As the futuristic time machine streams onwards at high-speed, agency slouches into a spurious and distant dream. Others and the same are enjoying the flow for the sake of self expression within these scripted frameworks.

Chan’s work critiques, plays with, and exploits this networked, social intervention, as well as her viewers’ desires. Her imaginative palette revivifies questions about agency, passivity, sexuality, privacy, individuality, behaviour, networked consumption and its production. These remixed artworks have much material to work with, as the endless ether of everyday noise is uploaded and distributed through blogs and social networking sites; then returned into the ether as cut-ups where a transforming culture is engaged in its own mutation.

Its noise engages us whether we enjoy it or not, in the medium of “interpassivity”, and we all find ourselves caught within this spectacular enticement driven by the Netopticon. “On a holiday trip, it is quite common to feel a superego compulsion to enjoy, one “must have fun” — one feels guilty if one doesn’t enjoy it.”[ibid]

Jennifer Chan

Selected Projects by Chan

Heavy MetaVernacular video after the popularization of the internet
SELF-LOVE A non-consensual exhibition of emerging net art
New Insularity Peer backpatting. A screening of works by friends and users whose works I admire.


Feeling VideoThe affective appeal of antisocial video
Trivial Pursuits Distracting “new media art”

‘Training for a Better World’ by Annie Abrahams

First off, some claims, some general, some particular. I’m going to use these to speak about the work under consideration and in turn call upon that work to support the claims. A kind of virtuous critical circle.

General: works of art are not messages but objects. They don’t say things nor ask questions, nor assert, nor investigate. Neither do they as objects have messages somehow encoded or embedded within them. To assert otherwise is a massive category error.

As objects they may of course be brought in evidence, copied, become conversation pieces, be described well, be described badly, be described perversely, be seen, be half seen, be missed, be lost, be found, be written about, point to things, be compared and many other things, some of which have not yet been imagined.

Further, artworks are fuzzily-bordered and not necessarily of a physical or temporal piece – the object is not simply the object (and ‘the object’ might not be physical but words, a concept, a sound recording, a protocol) but everything that accretes as a result of it – commentary, jokes, other artworks made in response. If mathematical terminology wasn’t so regularly and toe-curlingly abused in the arts, we might refer to them as manifolds, not necessarily connected.

Even the historical is not immune. There’s a reaching back in time where an established work is transformed retrospectively by homage – ‘Las Meninas’ an obvious case in point.

Also: the work of art is finite – it was born and it will, one day, cease to exist (and it will be forgotten, or there will be no-one to remember it). Everything changes, everything dies.

This implies, too, that although the individual author matters, as product of a unique formation and a unique set of locations in time and space, every artwork is socially authored.

Particular: Abraham’s work represents a new conjunction of technology, collaboration and performance as a generator of moving image. It has precursors (freely acknowledged, indeed celebrated) but it is qualitatively new. The moving image work comes in two flavours, fresh and preserved, both with their own particular and delicious savour. Abrahams conducts live performances on the internet. These performances occur singly, as pieces in themselves, or form part of the programme of events accompanying exhibitions. The moving image pieces in this show are all derivations of this kind of performative event. Except derivation has an air of the hierarchical and the types of piece form no hierarchy any more than fresh or smoked salmon do.

A final general claim: writing about art is not a science but itself an art. Sometimes the brush will be delicate and sometimes broad. There is no recipe or rules or template. One can be too delicate – sometimes confusion is good, particularly in the matter of the affective. Crude thinking sometimes gets us further, paralleling, not dissecting, the richnesses of work. There are some mysteries one should leave as such.

OK. Onwards and upwards…

Performative is currently a much used, some might say overused, word. One quite common usage is to suggest that a work contains visible or at least trackable traces of its own making, a kind of archaeological or sedimentary record, and that perhaps this might have been to varying degrees intentional.

Of course it’s arguable any work of art is performative in this way and that it’s quite hard to erase the trail behind you whether what you make is time based or photographic, sculpted or made with hand applied pigment of one sort or another. Continuous looking and thinking about art for any length of time, especially allied to making stuff oneself, whether dabbling or something more serious, hones an increasing sensitivity to these questions. And this matters; particularly when it comes to over-nice distinctions between close relatives such as the still and moving photographic image and esoteric arguments about how time is differently present or presented in each of these and in other further flung practices too. The new scholasticism feeds on ever finer such distinctions.

So it’s a relief to come across work, which is genuinely performative, enough so that even someone undrenched in theory can see it, can get it and can be delighted and exalted by it. Furthermore work that smells unmistakably of the human, that abuts the high and the low, the crude and subtle, that blurs boundaries, that borrows and echoes the work of others not with the pinched expression of someone with a theoretical framework but in a spirit of ‘why?’ and ‘let’s play’ – the two childish precursors of grown up science and art.

Annie Abrahams’ show at the Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon in Sète is a graceful and elegant dog’s dinner of a show. Physically it’s odd, exiled to the upper floor (still a generous space) whilst Catherine Gfeller, someone altogether more easily glossed and hence exhausted (though not without merit) gets the more conventional downstairs galleries (and attracted the lion’s share of the press on the opening night.)

Said upper floor comes in two instalments – a lovely hangar type space, where a game of golf seems distinctly possible, with a kind of tail leading off it, a long thin corridor which fattens a little towards its farther end maybe 100 metres away.

The layout of the show utilises this peculiarity nicely. In the big room a very large two projection installation, Angry Women, spans one corner and takes up a considerable portion of the two adjacent walls.

In the far corner, diagonally opposite, a monitor, with two chairs and two sets of headphones, of which more later.

Leaving the larger space, two more monitor based pieces at junctions where it’s possible for an individual to sit and others to pass. Five chairs arranged in a circle with copies of two books of interviews on each (one with Abrahams, and one with a selection of other cultural figures) and highlighter pens. In the middle of the circle, a pile of blankets. A larger wall piece of rough and ready cardboard placards with texts (“mutuellement vulnérable”, “euphorie communicative”, many others) in various hands.

At the far end, a number of framed photo and images based pieces plus a work consisting of a single photograph and headphone delivered audio (it’s a snapshot – snapshot size, snapshot aesthetic – of husband and wife volunteer fire fighters. The audio is manipulated audio of texts on the subject of fear read by them. Let’s not try and place all this into any sort of context yet. Let’s set out our stall, enumerate, account, describe.)

A final deft touch is the symbolic linking of the two areas by a ribbon of text occupying the 15 or so centimetres above the floor, skirting board height, the topic of which appears to be mental illness (and all elegantly lettered except for one point where a letter had been omitted and is inserted with a caret symbol.)

Most of the pieces employ texts or performances – both gestural and textual – by others – often created according to some seed question or protocol. The texts often come from questions posed on the internet but sometimes from workshop or outreach type (type –this is to tentatively and provisionally locate the thing – it’s outreach Jim, but not as we know it) activity.

The performers in the moving image pieces are geographically dispersed but brought together at a single time by webcams and some custom software that Abrahams has used on a number of occasions where the web-cammed-in participants occupy a space in a rectangular grid (aficionados of seventies UK quiz shows such as Blankety Blank will get it immediately).

There’s a fragility, a delicacy, a tentative hold on existence, a testing of our belief, about these works that so many works of fine art – as opposed to design – have. The sense that what we have incorporates the idiosyncrasies, indeed the weaknesses of the support materials and media, into a final object (the same sense as when an artist wilfully uses something manifestly not intended for art, or allows mistakes to stand, or omits, or makes all too evident repairs; this is not new. Think pentimenti, or the hasty addition of an extra panel of canvas or paper to take account of expanding ambition or vision, or the aestheticized unevenness of Japanese tea-ware.) This sense of object-hood rather than message or statement is key. An objecthood which in retrospect could not have been other, but equally could not have been proposed, foreseen, except in its protocols of playfulness.

The pixellation, dropout, glitching, concomitant upon the pushing of the current state of the network to its limits in the multi participant pieces (and this reminds one of how flicker and roll and a general fuzziness become now part of the Acconci piece Abrahams draws upon in her Theme Song After Acconci – which reasons of space preclude too much detail about here – suffice it to say Abrahams honours, compresses, feminizes, satirises and intensifies the original. If Acconci could have had access to a “better” technology, one where the speed was constant, where no flicker or roll appeared, would he have then felt it served his purpose better? Did what he saw even look fuzzy or worn to him? Probably yes, compared with the film standards of the day, as does Abraham’s work compared with high end digital video [and even the current, rather good, quality of You Tube].)

To offer participants a protocol is paradoxically both to assert and to cede control, to know and to not know how things will turn out (an analogy is the use of chance in the works of Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, where the mechanisms make the generality of the sound, its broad texture, predictable but any particular instance impossible to predict or even fully imagine [but all, please note, a matter of degree because the finer the grain, the greater the level of magnification, the more we can find such uncertainty in anything unfolding over time – it’s a question of our norms – what is the difference between the Stockhausen piano pieces where the performer can choose the order of segments and a Mozart sonata where the tempo may be quite widely varied? – in principle, none])

The piece Pourquoi avons-nous des difficultés à ouvrir un ordinateur et en changer le disque dur? plays on a single monitor with the screen divided into two areas. In each we see, sometimes with difficulty and ambiguously, parts of a computer, screws, connections and hands.

We hear two voices, one that of Abrahams and the other her co-performer, discussant, what have you, Eliza Fantozzi, speaking in French. In the version at Sète there are English subtitles which even for non English speakers provide a kind of functionality, meaning, in that the words tend to be positioned on a line from left to right according to who is speaking. When both speak suggestive gaps appear, though these cannot be read definitively).

The subtitles are in a strange (for a native English speaker) near-English (the title, for example, is translated as “Why do we have difficulties to open a computer and change its hard disk?”).

This is, it must be said, cute, amusing and engaging and it underscores the altogether naughty childlike quality of the entire interchange. The characters (for I think one should mistrust the assumption, however tempting, that we have here unmediated access to the actual participants) are playful – amused and amusing. At the same time they ruthlessly anatomise the roots of their difficulties with technology (but the performativity avoids being on–message in any sense and makes for something strange, complex and even uncomfortable. At one point Fantozzi complains of the lack of colour variety inside the machine and starts painting the components with nail varnish to “create a much merrier circuit” – Je crée un circuit beaucoup plus gai).

Later Abrahams lays into a ribbon connector with a pair of scissors and then starts apparently fringing it with regular cuts half way across … There is an association of the decorative, the playful and a rejection of the serious which is somewhat too close to many gender stereotypes to be entirely comfortable. (The piece was originally performed on international women’s day 2011) And yet, and yet – the end result is complex, for there is a steeliness to the play and a self respect and assertiveness. Perhaps (I don’t know. I don’t think there is a definitive answer. I don’t think close reading or theory can bring us it either) it is the very truthfulness, the richness of the incorporation of the world as it is and not as we might like it to be from which this springs.

Before we get to the physically largest and most imposing presence in the show we’ll look at its neighbour, comprising two chairs, a monitor and two sets of headphones.

Double Blind (Love) is a record of a 264 minute telematic performance by Annie Abrahams and the US artist Curt Cloninger which took place on November the 29th 2009. Annie Abrahams was in the Living Room (Espace de création contemporaine) Montpellier, France and Cloninger in the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, Asheville, North Carolina, US.

Both wore blindfolds for the entire duration of the performance, which was a joint telematic musical (and I use the word advisedly; though Abrahams describes Cloninger as a musician she appears to reject the description for herself. I think she is mistaken) performance taking the form of an improvisation, largely vocal but with some keyboard input from Cloninger, around a short musical cell from the track Until the End of the World by U2. The section in question has a repetition of the word “love” for its sole lyrical content and occurs just over midway through the song. It would perhaps ordinarily be described as a chorus but in fact appears only once in the song (although it continues as a backing vocal throughout the next verse), one of the first of many tiny idiosyncrasies on our pathway, peculiarities which add cumulative spice and interest to the project. I’d always found U2 banal and full of bombast but going to the song, under the circumstances of researching this piece, with necessarily open eyes and ears was a small epiphany, one of a number occasioned by a systematic engagement with Abraham’s work.

It’s worth noting that much of the structure of this piece came originally from Cloninger. In the previous year he had performed a number of pieces under the title “pop mantra” where in a live situation he repeated a similar pop music cell for a period of hours (“usually blindfolded”).

Cloninger had also video documented these performances though at this point this is documentation and lives no independent life of its own.

Let’s take a look at these proto ‘Double Blinds’. There is as yet no suggestion of interchange, of development. Although this is clearly a more obvious option with two performers, conscious development is not impossible in a solo performance. It does however appear to be consciously excluded. In an echo of the process or systems driven works of the seventies, Cloninger sets something in motion and allows it to unfold. He attempts to repeat the phrase many times. Presumably his arms start to ache and his voice to tire. This trial of endurance becomes a principal motor of the pieces. What does this evoke? For me, and you might share this, there are the dance marathons of the twenties, the notion of sport, especially individual sport, of pitting oneself against oneself; there is ritual repetition – Sufi whirling, or that carrying out of repetitive, gruelling and apparently pointless tasks sanctified in some Buddhist traditions; the pilgrimage; there is a kind of practical prayer through ritual, suffering or self-abnegation.

The motoric unwinding and associated characteristics obtain in Double Blind, too. What is new, what comes from Abrahams, is the telematic – the fact of separation by an ocean and the fact of collaboration. Indeed there is an inbuilt sharper contradiction as the collaboration separated by so much physical distance is of the peculiar intimacy that attends musical partnership, improvisatory or not. (A couple of years before Abrahams had performed a telematic kiss for three hours with the US artist Mark River.)

Despite Abraham’s denial the finished performance falls entirely within the established parameters of the musical. Precedents such as the work of Meredith Monk could be cited for Abraham’s compelling vocalisations – song, whisper, shout, scream, cry of pleasure, cry of pain – whose musico-dramatic logic and sensitivity to her performing partner, this listener at least, finds totally satisfying. It’s a touching partnership, with both performers bringing a fierce commitment to the task in hand but also each bearing different gifts – Cloninger, a formed musical sensibility supported by conventional skills and Abrahams a kind of discovery/invention of improvisation (indeed of music) ab ovo.

Thousands of years in 4 and half hours.

There is a formal challenge and satisfaction too, common to both Abraham’s and Cloninger’s concerns – how much transcendence can be mined, discovered, invented, from the small, the insignificant? Can it be exhausted before we are exhausted and what does the transfiguration brought about by the attempt suggest about us as human beings?

Two performers. Two chairs for two spectators only. Likewise, two sets of headphones.


Opposite, stretching luxuriantly out, is the exhibition’s jewel in the crown – Angry Women, created by Abrahams and twenty two other women of many nationalities, speaking about anger; acting out, demonstrating, reflecting, on anger, on webcams from their different individual locations and in their native tongues, with the images being sent to the 3X4 grid, in a format that Abrahams has made her own. Because of the limits of even current streaming technology it was necessary to conduct two separate performances (separated by an interval of a couple of months). The length of each performance was determined by a protocol where a minute’s silence by all participants signalled the end. This resulted in pieces of differing lengths which lack of synchronisation adds another layer of fragile grace to the final projections, projected large on adjacent walls around the corner joining them with sound from the left images fed to the right speaker and vice versa.

The effect is visceral – we face what feels like a wave of humanity, not so much in numbers, although 23 is impressive, but in the infinite malleability of the face, hands and of gesture and expression and of how these things can occupy the frame. Sometimes that frame will resemble a Giacometti portrait, with the subject appearing to recede into what seems to be endlessly deep space. At others red lips or an open mouth, sensual and terrifying by turns, occupy the whole of the space – and furthermore each cell is constantly in flux (because these are living, breathing unpredictable human beings). There is something both of portraiture and of the dance at work, and a species of found poetry too, which the moving image work has in common with the collaborative texts at the other end of the exhibition. The combination of iron control, planning, foresight (the grid, the protocols) with a letting go and a trust elsewhere – the phased lengths, the blank space for the person who didn’t turn up, the performative possibilities – makes for something of great richness.

Additionally it’s clear that those of the performers who have previous experience are consciously playing with and against their fellows – gestures are mirrored, sounds echoed, the fiction of looking elsewhere (to the side, or above) in the grid is impressively deployed.

The angry women turn out to be at one and the same time very particular –unique – women and women in general too; the women in general turn out to be human beings in general (and general en masse because each so particular) and the human beings in general turn out to live in this, one, our, very particular, world – that mysterious, frightening and wonderful place.

In keeping with the cheering on of lack of clarity, of mess, of crudity I’ve espoused so far in this piece (and will continue so to do, here and elsewhere) I want to say we need to take the exhibition (and the world) as a whole. Offering us the video and the still image pieces and audio means we cannot but think of them together (we can choose to artificially isolate pieces but we cannot undo our knowledge of that whole). So to the extent that I have selected topics here I have done violence to Abraham’s art, which has no message, is not confined to any one medium, collaborates in multiple ways, borrows, steals (and gives) and presents us with a set of marvellous and mysterious objects which afford us a spectrum of entirely new pathways to the world, to seeing it, talking and thinking about it, ourselves, after we have gone to the bar or got on the train north to Paris and thence homewards, happy and somehow a little changed.

Training for a Better World – Annie Abrahams

Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon, Sète, France
28/10/2011 to 01/01/2012

The Digital and Analogue Subversion of monochrom

The activist initiatives of this art group from Vienna seem fascinating due to its art-tech philosophy, and it puts a smile on my face due to its pop attitude. In May 2011, Günther Friesinger, one of the creators of monochrom, gave a lecture to Media Art Histories students of the Donau Universität, which inspired me to arrange an interview with him. The first question I asked was about establishing monochrom. Günther explained that “monochrom came into being in 1993 as a fanzine for cyberculture, science, theory, cultural studies and the archaeology of pop culture in everyday life. Its collage format is reminiscent of both the early DIY fanzines of the punk and new wave underground and the art books of figures such as Dieter Roth, Martin Kippenberger and others. For a while now, monochrom has been venturing further than publishing alone and has been responsibly influencing people’s minds via film production, performances and festivals. If you are in Vienna in autumn by chance, look at the paraflows festival – one of the main projects run by monochrom.

Natascha Fuchs: How much has monochrom’s aims changed since 1993?

Günther Friesinger: We didn’t really develop a concept back then; monochrom has evolved. In the beginning, there was only the idea of publishing a fanzine – lots of other things resulted from that. At some point, we started doing performances. In the Internet’s primordial age, we developed a robot that could be controlled via the web, and so we began entering the art scene. Our first exhibition was in 1998 in the Secession, Vienna. Unfortunately, they didn’t have Internet access back then, so our little robot stood in a corner, immobile. The people visiting the exhibition back then still considered it interesting enough to some extent, but many things back then didn’t work the way we’d have liked them to work.

NF: Art, technology and philosophy – are they equal for monochrom? What is the starting point for monochrom’s particular initiatives?

GF: We are a political group that gives statements through different means, those of art in all its varieties. I think it is important for us to find a fitting medium for the right story. This is something that specifically characterises us as a group. There are many different actions implicated by that, such as writing plays, making a movie, producing a music CD or writing a book. Normally, people try to achieve excellence in one medium. With us, it’s the other way round. That’s why we’re active in so many different areas.

NF: Which historical background concerning the relationship of philosophy, art and technology is especially meaningful for you?

GF: A difficult question. I think that Guy Debord and the Situationists are those one could consider most fitting. Certainly also some parts of Fluxus are of relevance.

NF: To which media theoreticians do you refer in your practice?

GF: I think that as a theorist, artist and curator in media art, net art, digital art and culture, it is important to confront oneself with theorists like Kittler, Luhmann, Flusser, McLuhan, Rheingold and many more. However, it is not the case that we refer to one theorist or another in all our works. I think that this system of self-affirmation through referral is quite interesting – but I think that for myself, monochrom and for our audience, there is a value added by self-generated theories for our projects and the discourses they cause.


NF: What are international projects of monochrom? And what is the difference between monochrom audiences in Vienna and abroad?

GF: There are too many of those to be listed here. Since our big USA tour of 2005 we produce most of our projects bilingually in German and English, or only in English, in order to be able to have an international impact. Of course, many members of monchrom live and work in Vienna, and we also produce projects in Vienna, but our main focus is on our international presence. One of the big international projects, running since 2007 in San Francisco, is the Arse Elektronika: a conference on pornography, sci-fi, games and the development of technology. I would say that with the San Franciscans we’ve found the ideal community for such a conference.

NF: You call yourself “edu-hacker”. Why that and how is it connected with your studying and teaching experience?

GF: I have always loved reading, learning and continuing to further myself intellectually. I really enjoyed my studies and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and skills with my students. Universities are, in my book, places where it is possible to acquire knowledge, to reflect upon it, places of discussion and freedom. Because of the process of universities becoming more like schools, among other things caused by the Bologna Accords, those in my opinion are important areas that enable students to become self-reliant, critical people are struck from the curriculum. I’m trying to counteract this in my classes, trying to cause rifts in the school-like system, by using other methods of transmitting knowledge, using a great deal of humorous elements, and by always meeting the students eye to eye as equals.

NF: What is philosophical society in contemporary Austria now?

GF: Alive and kicking as always, I’d say 😉 One of the exciting things is that exactly now there are a lot of young, fascinating philosophers out there. The topics that I mostly concern myself with are, however, copyright, intellectual property, culture, art, media and technology.

NF: Is paraflows one of your biggest current projects? What’s the concept of this festival? Is it independent from monochrom activities?

GF: paraflows is surely one of the biggest projects that I am working on at the moment, apart from monochrom. monochrom helped to start and grow the festival in the first two years, as monochrom has done with many other projects worldwide. „paraflows – festival for digital art and culture“ has been established in the last seven years as a new annual festival situated between the Ars Elektronika and the Steirischer Herbst. It serves as both a platform for the young, local scene of digital art and culture and as an interface to international and renowned media art.

NF: How is monochrom activity is financed?

GF: We do get occasional subsidies for some projects, we get money from performances, the sale of our publications and sometimes the sale of a work of art, and recently we have also acquired crowdfunding. I’d say, however, that around 80% of the projects we do are not financed in any way and are purely done because we have fun doing them.

NF: Do your own curatorial projects serve in some way as a research method for you?

GF: I take the liberty that I only curate projects that I am very interested in myself. That is to say, projects where I have a very strong urge to explore the topic, to read, write and of course also to do research. That is probably the reason why I try to achieve a publication for each project that I curate, in order to give those who are interested in it some sort of preliminary report, a possibility to expand upon.

NF: Is activism capable to envision the future or does it just reflect, react on what is and has happened?

GF: It is getting increasingly difficult to be subversive. monochrom is fundamentally critical of the bourgeois world view. We examine it from a distance, dissociating ourselves from it. The question is: How do we get out? Our current late-capitalist aims for transgressions. That is to say that capitalism requires transgressions as a principle. Viennese Actionism, the most relevant cultural statement in Austria for the last hundred years, was doomed to fail at a certain point, because in the 60ies Austria still had a society based on discipline. One of the central strong points of monochrom: Finding the right story for the right medium could be a opportunity to deal with this situaltion.

NF: Which publications about monochrom you would recommend to read?

monochrom’s ISS. In space no one can hear you complain about your job. (2012)

monochrom’s Zeigerpointer. The wonderful world of absence (2011)

Urban Hacking. Cultural Jamming Strategies in the Risky Spaces of Modernity (2011)

monochrom #26-34: Ye Olde Self-Referentiality (2010)

Do Androids Sleep with Electric Sheep? (2009)

Pr0nnovation?: Pornography and Technological Innovation (2008)

Other information:


paraflows festival:

(c) Natascha Fuchs is an independent expert in cultural projects management and international public relations, graduate of the University of Manchester (Cultural Management) in 2008. She has been living in Vienna, Austria, studying History of Media Arts at the Donau-Universität and collaborating with sound:frame Festival for audio:visual expressions, since her move from Moscow, Russia in 2011. In Russia she was related to MediaArtLab and Media Forum — the special program of the Moscow International Film festival dedicated to media arts, experimental films and digital context with more than 10 years history. As a researcher and practitioner, she works in a variety of topics and participates in different international projects focused on media arts, cinema and sound. Columnist and writer for several online magazines.

Post-Static: Realtime Performances by jonCates and Jon Satrom

Featured image: Jon Satrom (left) and jonCates at Intuit, Sept. 20, 2012 (right). image: Shawne Michaelain Holloway

Post-Static: Realtime Performances by jonCates and Jon Satrom @ Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago). September 20, 2012. Programmed by Christy LeMaster

Deliver Me from Nowhere

“Alchemy; the science of understanding the structure of matter, breaking it down, then reconstructing it as something else. It can even make gold from lead. But Alchemy is a science, so it must follow the natural laws: To create, something of equal value must be lost. This is the principle of Equivalent Exchange. But on that night, I learned the value of some things can’t be measured on a simple scale.”[1]

In 1966, Bell Laboratories scientists and engineers collaborated with artists to construct several performance-based installations under the title 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering. Works included Variations VII by John Cage and performance engineer Cecil Coker, in which a sound system pulled sounds from radio, telephone lines, microphones and musical instruments, and Carriage Discreteness by Yvonne Rainer and performance engineer Per Biorn, a dance event controlled by walkie-talkie and TEEM (theatre electronic environment modular system). Critic Lucy Lippard was wrote that the event was filled with technical problems and that the artists involved allowed the technology to take precedence over the art. She pointed out that no theatre people took part in the event and suggested that while this event did not offer a specific design for a new approach to theatre, it revealed the possibility that new approaches to theatre might be born from the combination of art and technology:

A new theater might well begin as a non-verbal phenomenon and work back towards words from a different angle. Departing from Samuel Beckett’s highly verbal, single-image emphasis, it could move into an area of perceptual experience alone, its tools a more primitive use of sight and non-linguistic sound. Such a theater would not necessarily be the amorphous carnival of psychedelic fame but could be as rigorously controlled as any other.[2]

She also observed that it was often impossible to understand the relationship between the technology and the events it triggered without reading the program, mentioning one such missed connection in Open Score, by Robert Rauschenberg and performance engineer Jim McGee. In this piece, tennis rackets were wired such that each impact of the ball on a racket turned off one light in the performance hall. Lippard wrote that this connection was not noticeable and thus the conceptual framework of the piece was lost to the audience.

To artists working at the intersection of art and technology more than forty years after this event, it is disturbing to note that the same issues Lippard pointed out —the subjugation of concept to technology, the failure of the technology itself and the lack of a radical approach to the intersection— are still all too present in many works taking place in the worlds of new media art [3]

. None of these were issues for jonCates or Jon Satrom as each presented a performance intersecting with the exhibition “Ex-Static: George Kagan’s Radios” at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, IL. Their performances serve as examples of new media employed as a tactic in support of art rather than “new media art” as a condition represented by infatuation with expensive devices. Instead of yet another demo of “cool” tech, the audience experienced a rigorously controlled blast of chaos.


jonCates performing. gif: Alfredo Salazar-Caro
jonCates performing. gif: Alfredo Salazar-Caro

The lights go down completely and we are illuminated by a large amorphous video projection behind a table stacked with equipment. The video is black and white as is the video monitor facing us from the table. jonCates moves between the back and front of the table, with purpose. While the equipment stack is familiar, multiple mixers and cases, this is no DJ set. Much closer is the image of a few men in long sleeves and ties tending to tables full of equipment for John Cage’s “Variations VII”. With several nondescript devices on and adjusted, the air around us has become alive with a noisy drone that, by this date and to this audience, is very familiar (parallels extend back to sonic attacks from Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter with Throbbing Gristle) but now the sound is comforting, an aural field that is neither alien nor distracting.

A droning, machine sound, or the droning machine sound, has become a ridiculously common element of a contemporary “experimental” sound and video work. It is thus all the more surprising to be instantly drawn into jonCates’ audio, to take pleasure in it and to lose track of time completely. We are watching him control the mixer and occasionally speak into the microphone that is set in front of a conspicuous security camera. Again, jonCates uses the most expected situation —the camera faces upward toward the video projection screen, creating a counter-clockwise tilting feedback loop. And again, we are not distracted by this, it is familiar yet beautifully framed and we are drawn in. We have been invited to a field constructed by a tactician expertly employing simple situations.

The raw quality of both the droning audio and the feedback loop combine with jonCates’ humble appearance to remove the expectation of a spectacle and we return to the real situation with questions: who is this man and what is he going to do? He keeps speaking into the microphone, his eyes look desperate, and, despite seeing him perform a similar (although much less engaging) performance at the 2011 festival, we are surprised as we realize, as it is nearly two-thirds complete, what he is doing: giving a lecture.

jonCates has been speaking for some time but only a few echoed fragments are reaching out beyond the drone. It has been an incantation without purpose, a repetition of the meaningless words one says when one is presenting something to an audience. Finally, jonCates drops the distortion and the volume on the droning sound and his voice becomes clearer. It is obvious that some communication is going to happen and everyone shifts slightly as we strain to remember how to listen to a voice. Are we here to see another performance or hear something important?. The voice is not strong and it has no authority. It is perfectly ordinary, slightly academic with a hint of vulnerability. It’s the voice of a mad scientist who has begun to understand that his experiments may be his undoing. At this point the piece could collapse and jonCates has not propped himself up with his technology. Instead, he’s used it to lead us to key moments and obliterating everything else. Still, he seems not so much frightened as curious to see where this will end, if what he needs to say can be given a short lifespan in this space. This is where performance lives —in the unfolding present. And jonCates says:

“…and I thought [?] … I thought [?] about how I should remix something in realtime for you that I should reflect upon the past, I should reflect upon [?] …patterns so I thought that I should probably do this as a remix and render it in realtime for you but then I found … from 1997…and it was sitting right next to the first tape … it was sitting right next to the first tape, had the same title as the first one, that also said “Flow” and right next to it had another a label that said “Remix” and I thought ‘I already made that piece’ [sampled voice droning: ‘oceanic waves upon waves upon waves upon waves’] and that’s almost too good to be true so I put the tape called ‘remix’ into the VCR, not this VCR. I had to buy a new VCR that VCR broke and … called ‘remix’ .. rendered in realtime for you … and I watched it, and almost [? ] [?] decide … I had already … [sampled voice droning: ‘we can stay in the spell of the laser lights’] … and I’ve been thinking about these things … [sampled voice droning: ‘we are all together … in the time space continuum of … of … of …’ and the drone continues.]”[4]


“The peculiarity of the time bounce, as he mulled it over, was that the resumption of the earlier state of being not only set physical objects back to their former positions, it actually wiped out the events of the lost hour. Like daylight saving indeed! With the lost hour unhappened, even memories of the time were obliterated…They might be reliving a given moment for the fifth time, the fiftieth, the five millionth, and never notice it!”[5]

“A representation is the occasion when something is re-presented, when something from the past is shown again —something that once was, now is. For representation it is not an imitation or description of a past event, a representation denies time. It abolishes that difference between yesterday and today. It takes yesterday’s action and makes it live again in every one of its aspects —including it’s immediacy. In other words, a representation is what it claims to be —a making present.”[6]

Jon Satrom: Prepared Laptop

Screen capture from Jon Satrom's performance
Screen capture from Jon Satrom’s performance

“For every organ-machine, an energy-machine: all the time, flows and interruptions. Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus. And rest assured that it works: Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and is capable of explaining the process theoretically. Something is produced: the effects of a machine, not mere metaphors.”[8]

Radio Buttons

Radio gif from Jon Satrom's performance
Radio gif from Jon Satrom’s performance

They are called radio buttons because on old car radios you pushed one button and the other popped out. The performances of jonCates and Jon Satrom were developed as an intersection with the exhibition Ex-Static: George Kagan’s Radios at Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, on display until January 5, 2013, curated by Erik Peterson and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford.

“In the wee, wee hours your mind get hazy / Radio relay towers lead me to my baby / The radio’s jammed up with talk show stations / Its just talk, talk, talk, talk, till you lose your patience”[9]


jonCates makes Dirty New Media Art, Noise Musics and Computer Glitchcraft. His experimental New Media Art projects are presented internationally in exhibitions and events from Berlin to Beijing, Cairo to Chicago, Madrid to Mexico City and widely available online. His writings on Media Art Histories also appear online and in print publications, as in recent books from Gestalten, The Penn State University Press and Unsorted Books. He is the Chair of the Film, Video, New Media & Animation department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago:

Jon Satrom undermines interfaces, problematizes presets, and bends data. He spends his days fixing things and making things work. He spends his evenings breaking things and searching for the unique blips inherent to the systems he explores and exploits. By over-clocking everyday digital tools, Satrom kludges abandonware, funware, necroware, and artware into extended-dirty-glitchy-systems for performance, execution, and collaboration. His time-based works have been enjoyed on screens of all sizes; his Prepared Desktop has been performed in many localizations. Satrom organizes, develops, and performs with I ♥ PRESETS, poxparty, GLI.TC/H, in addition to other initiatives with talented dirty new-media comrades.

Tweets in Space: An interview with Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern

“Tweets in Space beams Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support extraterrestrial life. By engaging the millions of voices in the Twitterverse and dispatching them into the larger Universe, Tweets in Space activates a potent conversation about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders or understanding.”

Marc Garrett: Could you explain to our readers what ‘Tweets In Space’ is?

Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern: Tweets in Space is an art project — a networked performance event — which beams your Twitter messages to a nearby exoplanet that might support human-like, biological life. Anyone with an Internet connection can Tweet with the hashtag #tweetsinspace during the performance time, and their messages will be included in our shotgun blast to the stars. The performance is on September 21st, 20:30 – 21:00 Mountain Time (3:30 AM BST / London time).

MG: What was the motivation behind your current collaboration?

SK and NS: We found inspiration from various sources. First, in NASA’s Kepler mission, whose purpose is to discover planets in the “habitable” or “Goldilocks” zone. The project has found over 2000 exoplanets thus far, all of which are “not too hot, not too cold, but just right” for life as we know it. Scientists now estimate that there are at least 500 million planets like this in the Milky Way alone. Our conclusion: extraterrestrial life is almost certainly out there.

The newly discovered planet is depicted in this artist's conception, showing the host star as part of a triple-star system. Image credit: Carnegie Institution / UCSC. [1]
The newly discovered planet is depicted in this artist’s conception, showing the host star as part of a triple-star system. Image credit: Carnegie Institution / UCSC. [1]

“The latest discovery is at least 4.5 times bigger in size than Earth. Reportedly, the planet exists 22 lightyears away from Earth and it orbits its star every 28 days. The planet is known to lie, in what is being referred to as the star’s habitable zone. A habitable zone is a place where the existing conditions are just perfect for life sustenance. Astronomers, according to this report also suspect that the GJ667Cc may have been made out of earth-like rock, instead of gas.” [ibid]

Another source of great inspiration is how we use social media here on Earth. This is our second, large-scale, Internet-initiated collaboration. In 2009, we amplified the power structures and personalities on Wikipedia, and questioned how knowledge is formed on the world’s most-often used encyclopedia – and thus the web and world at large. Now, we are turning to the zeitgeist of information and ideas, feelings and facts, news and tidbits, on Twitter. The project focuses on and magnifies the supposed shallowness of 140-character messages, alongside the potential depth of all of them – what we say in online conversation, as a people.

We are directing our gaze, or rather tweets, via a high-powered radio telescope, towards GJ667Cc – one of the top candidates for alien life. It is part of a triple-star system, has a mass that is about 4 times that of Earth, and orbits a dwarf star at close range. GJ667Cc most certainly has liquid water, an essential component for the kind of life found on our own planet.

MG: Right from its early years when Jagadish Chandra Bose [2], pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics – science, technology and art have had strong crossovers. And it might be worth mentioning here that Bose was not only well versed as a physicist, biologist, botanist and archaeologist, he was also an early writer of science fiction. [3] Which, brings us back to ‘Tweets In Space’, wherein lies themes relating to science fiction, radio broadcasting (commercial, independent and pirate), wireless technology of the everyday via our computers, and ‘of course’ the Internet.

J.C. Bose at the Royal Institution, London, 1897.[3]
J.C. Bose at the Royal Institution, London, 1897.[3]

But, what I want to pin down here is, where do you feel you fit in historically and artistically with other past and contemporary artists, whose creative art works also involved explorations through electromagnetic waves?

Scot Kildall: The work of JC Bose is incredible and what strikes me is that he eschewed the single-inventor capitalist lifestyle in favor of his own experiments. Isn’t this the narrative that artists (often) take and linked back in many ways to the open-source/sharing movement, rather than the litigious patent-based corporation? And it mirrors in many ways the reception of electromagnetic radiation as well. You can’t really “own” the airwaves. Anyone who is listening can pick up the signal. This comes back, as you point out, to the internet. Twitter is now, one of the vehicles, and, ironically entirely owned by a benevolent* corporation.

Nathaniel Stern: (Agreeing with Scott) and we can’t forget of course Nam June Paik, who played with naturally occurring and non-signal based electromagnetic fields to interfere with analogical signals (as well as the actual hardware) of tube televisions, and more. And of course, there have been other transmission artists, explored in depth by free103point9, among others. I think, like them and others, we are messing with the media, amplifying (figuratively and metaphorically) and intervening, pushing the boundaries of DIY and cultural ethico-aesthetic questions…

1963, Nam June Paik réalise Zen devant la tv.
1963, Nam June Paik réalise Zen devant la tv.

MG: What is especially interesting is that all the tweets submitted by the public are unfiltered. How important is it to you that people’s own messages are not censored when going into space?

SK and NS: Absolutely. Tweets in Space is by no means the first project to transmit cosmic messages with METI technologies (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Our fellow earthlings have sent songs by the Beatles, photos of ourselves shopping at supermarkets, images of national flags, and even a gold record inscribed with human forms – controversially, where the man has genitals and the woman doesn’t. These slices of hand-picked content exhibit what a select few believe to be important, but ignore, or willfully exclude, our varied and collective modes of thinking and being.

Tweets in Space is “one small step” with alien communications, in that it is open to anyone with an Internet connection. It thus represents millions of voices rather than a self-selected few. More than that, our project is a dialog. There have been, very recently, a small number of projects that similarly “democratize the universe” but none are like ours: uncurated, unmediated thoughts and responses from a cooperative public. We can speak, rebut, and conclude, and nothing is left out. Our transmission will contain the good, the bad, and the provocative, the proclamations, the responses, and the commentary, together, a “giant leap” for all of humankind – as well as our soon-to-be friends.

Part of the radio-wave transmission prototype delivery system devised by engineering students for the Tweets In Space project. (Photo by Nathaniel Stern)
Part of the radio-wave transmission prototype delivery system devised by engineering students for the Tweets In Space project. (Photo by Nathaniel Stern)

Furthermore, by limiting the event to a small window of only 30 minutes, we are encouraging all our participants to speak then respond, conversing with one another in real-time, through networked space. We are not just sending lone tweets, but beaming a part of the entire dialogical Twitterverse, as it creates and amplifies meaning. Tweets in Space is more than a “public performance” – it “performs a public.”

MG: Now, you will be transmitting real-time tweets toward the exoplanet GJ667Cc, which is 22 light-years away. How long will it all take to get there?

SK and NS: Well, first off, we’re collecting all of the tweets in real time, but only sending them out later in October. The main reason for this is that we have to wait for the planets to align – literally. We want line of sight with GJ667Cc from where our dish is. The added bonus of time, however, is that this will allow us to really flesh out how we send the messages in a bundle. We want to include a kind of Rosetta Stone, where we will not only send binary ASCII codes of text in our signal, but also analog images of the text itself. We additionally intend to choose the most frequently used nouns in all the tweets from our database, then give a kind of “key” for each. If “dog” is common, for example, we can transmit: 1. an analog image of a dog, like a composite signal from a VCR; 2. a text image of the word “dog” in the same format; and 3. the binary ASCII code for the word dog.

In terms of time/distance, when speaking in light years, these are the same thing. A light year is the distance light can travel in one year of Earth time (about 9.4605284 × 10 to the 15 meters). Since radio travels at the speed of light, a big dish on GJ667Cc will pick up the signal in 22 years. We should start listening for a response in 44 – though it may take them a while to get back to us…

MG: Will the code used for the project be open source, and if so, when and where can people expect to use it?

SK and NS: Yes it is! The most useful part of our code is the #collector, which saves real-time tweets to a database, that can then be used for live projections or web sites, or accessed and sorted later via all kinds of info. The problem is that it’s not really user friendly or out of the box – folks need a suped up server (VPN), and to plug into a few other open source wares. The main portion of the backend we used is actually already available at, and then we plugged that into Drupal, among other things. For now, we’re telling interested parties to contact our coder, Chris Butzen, if they want to use our implementation. And we hope to do public distribution on if we are able to package it in a more usable format in the next 6 months.

MG: Are there any messages collected so far, grabbing your attention?

We’ve had thousands of tweets so far – even while just testing the ware in preparation for the performance. We’re anticipating a lot of participation! The tweets we’ve seen have ranged from variations on “hello [other] world” and “don’t eat us,” to political activism and negative commentary, to a whole surreal narrative of about 30 tweets per day over the last 3 months.

Furtherfield's first Tweet in Space.
Furtherfield’s first Tweet in Space.

go to tweet aliens to add your own words…

Some of our favorite tweets have been those that question how to make our own world better. These speak to both the hope of space age-ike technology, as well as the hope in collective dialog – both of which our project tries to amplify. Such tweeters ask about the alien planet’s renewable energy sources, tax structures, education, art, and more.

We imagine the 30-minute performance will see a much more potent discussion about such things, and hope your readers will participate. The final transmission will be archived permanently on our site once we’ve prepared it for launch.

How to Take Part.

As part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico (ISEA2012). We will collect your tweets and transmit them into deep space via a high-powered radio messaging system. Our soon-to-be alien friends might receive unmediated thoughts and responses about politics, philosophy, pop culture, dinner, dancing cats and everything in between. By engaging the millions of voices in the Twitterverse and dispatching them into the larger Universe, Tweets in Space activates a potent conversation about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders or understanding.

Watch the stream LIVE here –

Industrial landscapes of the future/past: DataisNature and the work of Paul Prudence

Featured image: Still from performance of Structure M-11

You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons. Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing. – Kahlil Gibran

Algorithms only really come alive in the temporal time-frames that they move through. Their existence depends on being able to move freely along time’s arrow, unfolding and expanding out in to the universe, or reversing themselves backwards into a finite point. Every form and structure that the universe creates is the result of a single step along that pathway and we’re only ever observing it at a single moment. Those geological steps can take millions of years to unfold and we can only ever really look back and see the steps that happened before we chose to observe them. Computational algorithms break down that slow dripping of nature’s possibilities and allow us to become time-travellers, stepping into any point that we choose to.

Paul Prudence is a performer and installation artist who works with computational, algorithmic and generative environments, developing ways to reflect his interest in patterns, nature and the mid-way point between scientific research and artistic pursuit. The outputs from this research are near cinematic, audio-visual events. Prudence’s creative work, and his blog, Dataisnature (kept since October 2004), explores a number of creative potentials as well as documentating the creative and scientific research work of others that he finds of interest. As the blog’s bio states:

“Dataisnature’s interest in process is far and wide reaching – it may also include posts on visual music, parametric architecture, computational archaeology, psychogeography and cartography, experimental musical notational, utopian constructs, visionary divination systems and counter cultural systems.”

Paul himself feels Dataisnature, and his other blogs, are by their very nature ordering systems, trying to create some kind of structure on information. “Yes, it’s true [that they are ordering systems], but the ordering is sometimes a little bit oblique. I am not interested in ordering systems such as categories or tags, for example, as each blog post has the potential to generate many of its own categories.”

The blog and perhaps all blogs, shouldn’t be an end in themselves then? Should they be a starting point for a deeper investigation? “Well, I’m more interested in substrate and sedimentary structuring – specific fields existing in layers and sometimes overlapping and interacting rhizomatically.”

Blogging for Paul and many bloggers who don’t operate within the ‘monetization of blogging’ sphere that has grown up in the past few years could almost be considered a documentation and ordering process for the creative process. The process and interaction between the theory and the blog as textual artefact becomes quite complex. As does the theory and creative output of the blogger. Paul would argue that this isn’t always something that can be even as straightforward as theory to practice though.

“The posts at Dataisnature are not confined to theoretical relationships between art and science projects, but also take into account metaphorical ones. I never wanted the posts to be so pinned down that they disable the opportunity to make entirely new connections at any level.”

So the chance to see what happens inbetween strict disciplines and an openness to the potentials that may arise out of relaxing the barriers? Shouldn’t that be the way that everything else that is ‘not of academia’ operates anyway? And for that matter, outside of the possibilities of arts/science/research funding.

“I applied the term ‘recreational research’ to Dataisnature in its early days,” Paul explains. “This is still to some degree important – the notion that research doesn’t have to be tied down by the prospect of peer review or academic formatting. This kind of interdisciplinary research can be highly addictive – its the new sport of the internet age. It can generate blogs that become chaotic repositories of interconnectedness – linearity becomes infected with cut-up and collage. In my own mind I have an idea of what Dataisnature is trying to say but I get people approaching me with completely different, and amusing theories of what they believe the blog is about.”

In digital arts (or let us call it digital creativity, to avoid the complexity of art versus design versus technology) the breakdown between the equipment used and the research of the creator has become almost at times indistinguishable. A painter is often only one step away from being a chemist, a sculptor closer to an engineer than a painter. The tools used define and form some of the output. Digital creativity only makes this more implicit. So when using technologies and researching, the scientist and the creative often walk hand-in-hand towards the finished artefact. As Prudence says: “Collaboration among artists and scientists exists through time as well as space.”

“A great part of an artist’s task is to be a researcher. It’s important to remember that any idea you have has already been tackled in the past with a different (want to avoid the term lesser) technology.”

The blogging process offers a chance to gather information and allow some of the artist’s own influences and present interests to manifest themselves into a rough-hewn structure. “For me, blogging facilitates a medium for an archaeology of aesthetics, technology and conceptuality. All this fragmented information is gathered then reconstituted, and fed back into the artistic practice. Of course my personal work blog is more about supplying supplementary material to anyone interested in my work.”

Taking an arguably typical example of Paul Prudence’s work, for example Structure-M11, the sense of a becoming and developing is in the way it attempts to reconnect with what (for want of a better phrase) could possibly be called our lost industrial heritage.

Looking through Prudence’s flickr stream documenting the research trip, there are numerous industrial landscapes empty of human life, where only the machines have been allowed to remain, static and poised, ready to begin work again. If only someone would employ them. These machines perform simple tasks, but they do it elegantly, time after time after time, never complaining and never asking for any recognition. Perhaps that’s why it is so easy to abandon them? And these machines are not only a monument to the way we discard unwanted technologies, they also reflect the changing fortunes of the town as it has moved from production-based economy to one centred mainly on tourism and smaller businesses. It is fitting in a way that the soundscapes and visuals that Prudence has brought to life from these landscapes have such a contemporary, sci-fi industrial feel to them. As though the clean, slick lines and geometric perfection had emerged, phoenix-like, from the unbearably hot, oil soaked environments of the factories and the monotonous repetition of working within them.


The soundtrack that accompanies the performance was made from field recordings at the site. From these, Prudence generated real-time visuals that reflected some of the sonic activations and echoes throughout these landscapes. The final pieces look like ‘robotic origami contraptions.’ The steady throb and crash of the audio reflects the repetition of the machine and its operator’s lives while also suggesting some of the dehumanising effects working in a factory can have on a person. There’s also the beauty, of course, if you shift your own perception a few degrees away from the machines, there is always a window looking out at a natural landscape. And those same slick, geometric shapes of the machines begin to reflect some of the elegance of the world of nature. Nature, like humanity, loves to repeat itself infinitely until something breaks that pattern. Isn’t that a fundamental part of mutation and evolution? Structure-M11 seems to be constantly mutating and growing new rhizomes, but nothing complete ever emerges. Paul Prudence’s work isn’t here to save us from the monotony of the machines though, its task is to remind us of how important nature is to our lives, no matter how entangled in the machine those lives may begin to feel.

Prudence’s interest in the natural spaces emerges from his own theory-based interests. As he says, “My interest in generative systems and procedural-based methodologies in art lead to a way of seeing landscape formations and geological artefacts as a result of ‘earth-based’ computations.”

“The pattern recognition part of the brain draws analogies between spatio-temporal systems found in nature and ones found in computational domains – they share similar patterns. I began to think of the forms found in natural spaces more and more in terms of the aeolian protocols, metamorphic algorithms and hydrodynamic computations that created them.”

“Some of these pan-computational routines run their course over millions of years, some are over in a microsecond, yet the patterns generated can be amazingly similar. I like the fact that when I go walking in mountains my mind switches to [the] subject of process, computation and doWhile() loops inspired by the geological formations I come across.”

This connection and flowing from one space to the other, gives the viewer the feeling that they recognise the shapes and patterns from something they’ve seen before. Attending a performance of Prudence’s work might make you feel as though you’ve been to one already. But it’s just the reconnection of interconnection that you’d be experiencing. And that’s always a good place to start, when experiencing any artwork, isn’t it?

Upcoming gigs/workshops

21 Sept 2012
Scopitone Festival, Nantes, France.

24 Sept 2012
Immerge @ SHO-ZYG, London

17-25 October 2012
VVVV Visual Music Workshops at at Playgrounds 2012, National Taipei University of Art, Taipei & National Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan

Prank sombody with the fake Windows 10 upgrade screen which never ends. Open the site in a web browser and go full screen with the F11 key.

Women, Art & Technology: A Conversation with Amy Alexander

This conversation follows in a series of interviews with women who work at the intersection of art and technology. Amy Alexander’s work as an artist, performer, musician, and professorapproaches art and technology from a performing arts perspective, often examining intersections of art and popular culture.

Amy Alexander is an artist and researcher working in audiovisual performance and digital media art.  She has worked under a number of pseudonyms including VJ Übergeek and Cue P. Doll. Coming from a background in film and music, she learned programming and began making time and process-based art on the Internet in the mid-1990’s with the Multi-Cultural Recycler and Amy has performed and exhibited on the Internet, in clubs and on the street as well as in festivals and museums. Her work has appeared at venues ranging from the Whitney Museum and Ars Electronica to Minneapolis‚ First Avenue nightclub. She has written and lectured on software art and audiovisual performance, and she has served as a reviewer for festivals and commissions for new media art and computer music. She is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego. During summer/fall of 2012, Amy is Artist-in-residence at iotaCenter in Los Angeles.

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer:  You’ve taken on many roles as an artist, musician, performer, coder, organizer, professor.  How would you explain what you do to the “average Joe” who has not idea what a code artist is? 

Amy Alexander:  I usually don’t try to explain to people what a code artist is. I generally just tell them about the types of projects I or my students do,  (“museum installation,” “club performance,” etc.) and what some of them are about. Then I explain that it’s done by writing software, building electronics, making videos, etc. But the point is more about the projects, not about how specifically they are made.

I also think talking about code-as-art is both less necessary and less difficult than it was five or ten years ago. What motivated me and a lot of other code artists back then was a concern that algorithms had a cultural impact that wasn’t well-recognized. Nowadays, people are familiar with the idea that Google sorts your search results in a particular way, websites you visit develop demographic profiles of you, etc. – they’re already concerned about algorithms. So I think it frees up both artists and audiences to focus on other aspects of the work. Of course, there are definitely some situations in which focusing on algorithms-as-art is important. Just like photographers sometimes focus on the nature of photographs, video artists on video, etc.

RBE:  You’ve worked as yourself, as well as other performers such as Cue P. Doll and Übergeek. Can you describe the differences between some of your characters, and how do you see identity as a key element in your body of work?

AA:  Some of the online characters just evolved. I tend to anthropomorphize things, and I like to break into characters; I’ve just always done those things. So in some cases when I’m developing a project from a particular perspective, a character emerges who personifies that perspective. For example, The Original (1998) website was a collection of projects in which grandiose attempts to opportunistically plagiarize from the Internet always turned out to be transparent. So the character of Plagiarist emerged as the proud proprietor of this site and creator of all its projects – and the only person who couldn’t see the futility of the plagiarisms.

Screenshot of from sometime in 1999.
Screenshot of from sometime in 1999.

Übergeek is different, since I physically go out and perform as her. She’s both a theatrical character and actual club performer – in varying proportions depending on the context of the show. The theatrical character is a geeky rockstar wannabe. That opens up space for Übergeek to exaggeratedly escape the physical restrictions of performing on a computer –  by waving around an “air mouse,” dancing on a DDR pad, etc. The club performer comes from my growing up performing music. I’d never thought about it, but the zone musicians go into to perform is really like playing a character. You have to become someone else. A few years ago I heard Steve Schick explain that when he has to perform a difficult piece of music, he imagines he’s someone else – and that other guy can play the piece. Eventually I realized that any performance of any kind I’d done that I’d been remotely satisfied with, whether music, VJ show, or performance art – I’d mentally become some other person. Going into character is really important, even if the character is just, “the performer.” It can be easy to forget the crossovers between performing arts and visual arts,  but there’s a lot we can learn from one another.

Übergeek by Amy Alexander
Übergeek performs CyberSpaceLand by Amy Alexander

RBE: Do you think this happens to us when we interact online, that we become performers?  (Some people believe for instance that Facebook is really a performance of ourselves, not our real selves) Do you see any intersections of performance in “online” vs “physical/ in person” interactions? (I realize this gets into an entirely different question, the idea of intentional performance and unintentional, but perhaps you see an overlap?) 

AA: I think there’s an overlap, but there’s also an overlap between the kind of “performances” we do online and those we do in “real life.” I don’t buy the dichotomy that the physical world is real/true and the online world is fake. We perform different sides of ourselves in different real life situations –  work, friends, family, large group, small group, etc. Sometimes we perform more consciously than others. On the other hand, sometimes we feel less inhibited in online interactions, so we behave more naturally.

That’s not to say there’s no difference between online and offline interactions – but then again, these differences didn’t just suddenly emerge when the Internet came along. Think back to when people sometimes had pen pals by snail mail, for example. The relationships could be friendly, intimate, or performative. When things like immediacy and nonverbal communication disappear, that invites a different kind of behavior – be it more natural, more performative, or a combination.

RBE: What connections do you see between identity, code, and performance? 

AA: I guess I’ve responded to identity & performance in the question above. As for code & performance: people have pointed out that code parallels musical notation, in that both are executable languages. If you think about scores by people like John Cage, where scores could actually be diagrams or verbal instructions to the performers, the connection between performance and instruction set becomes even clearer. This is interesting historically and theoretically, but for many of us who use code in performance, the connection becomes self-evident in practice. Code launches processes and actions, and performance *is* processes and actions, and there’s a back and forth between the performer and software. It’s not that much different for me performing software than performing a musical instrument; if I play violin, I finger, bow, pluck in various ways to get various sounds. You can think of the violin as interface, the notes and gestures as parameters, or whatever. But to be honest, trying to create precise analogies is a recipe for disaster. The point is, you perform both of them, and you have to learn how to do it. The difference with software is, you build your own instrument; that’s both a blessing and a curse. So you try to balance playability with flexibility, and so on. Because of my experience playing music, I keep trying to build ones that will accommodate clumsy performers like me!

RBE: Do you see all code as being “performed”? (Or perhaps is saying code is executable the same as saying code is performed?) 

AA: It depends on which sense of the word “performed” you’re using. In the sense that means to do some sort of process – like to perform your job duties – yes. You can think of data as nouns and algorithms as action verbs. You “run” code, and though the physical metaphor might be an exaggeration, in general, some sort of an action happens. So in that sense, the processor is performing the code.

But in the other sense of the word – intentional performance, performing arts, performance art, etc. – running code is innately no more of a performance than breathing. People like John Cage have made interesting performances out of breathing, and people like Alex McLean have made interesting performances out of running code. But it’s not that way on its own, except in the Cagean sense of it being performance if you think of it that way. I think that’s interesting, but I’m personally more interested in code’s cultural, rather than formal, implications. In other words, I’m not so excited that processes are dynamic and self-repeating for their own sake. I’m more interested if, for example, that means we have increasing difficulty finding unpopular or obscure information online, because the popular perspectives have formed an algorithmic echo chamber.

performance by Amy Alexander
Übergeek performs CyberSpaceLand by Amy Alexander (photo by Accent TV)

RBE: Your newest work is using audiovisuals, performance, solar energy, and the history of dance in cinema. How did you arrive at this combination of ideas? 

AA: The project is Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells. It’s an audiovisual performance – a collaboration with Annina Rüst, with algorithmic sound design by Cristyn Magnus. There’s really two parts to the project: the projection system, and the content and performances that we develop for it.  The system is a disco ball where some of the mirrors have been replaced by solar cells. The cells power the motor that turns the ball. We project video onto the ball instead of colored light. The result is, reflected, fragmented video images move around the room. Since the video projections  “solar”-power the ball, the speed at which the images move around the room varies with the brightness of the images.

Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells
Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells performed at Calit2. (photo by John Hanaceck, Calit2 UC San Diego) 

The way this all came about was I’d been interested in the philosophy behind hybrid cars and various other things – that when we “waste” energy, we might actually be creating it. I kept wondering if this idea could be applied to media somehow, and I kept trying various experiments with video: could the talking heads on cable news power an LED? etc. Never quite found the right outlet for this idea, though. At some point, Annina and I came across a disco ball, and we noticed the similarity between its mirrors and small solar cells. Then the idea of projecting videos onto it hit us, and it all came together as a “media-powered” system. Of course, that was just the general idea. After Annina built the initial prototype of ball, it took many hours working with it the studio for the “instrument” to reveal itself – i.e. how exactly does a video-powered disco ball become useful visually and performatively? Figuring that part out was just elbow grease – but getting from rough idea to what-is-this-really always is for me; I have to get my hands on things and play with them.

The content framework we’re working with for at least our initial round of performances is “the history of dancing ‘at’ cameras.” Since it’s a disco ball, we envisioned performing it at community dance parties, etc., and so people dancing seemed like the obvious thing to project. We started from the idea of projecting the people at the party onto it live –  but we realized we also wanted to expand beyond that. Again, the elbow grease process: I’d try different clips of people dancing on YouTube, old movies, TV shows. Eventually a connection emerged between early cinema clips and contemporary YouTube clips. In both cases, people dance pretty much like vaudeville performers, directly for the audience – as opposed to cinematic narrative style, in which the viewer is a fly on the wall. In the dancing “at” cameras style, there’s a more direct, intimate connection between dancer and audience. We’ve written some things about this on the Discotrope blog – and I’ll probably write more there soon. Another thing we became interested in is how representation (gender, physical, etc.)  does and doesn’t change from early movie camera demos and Hollywood films to YouTube, where people are generally self-cast and self-directed. And I’m really interested in the relationship between all of this and the muddy space between exhibitionism, voyeurism, and surveillance. That’s a theme that’s run through a number of my projects, and dancing at cameras certainly exemplifies that murkiness.

Of course, a lot of the dancing at cameras perspective relates to film history in general – cinema’s origins in theatre and vaudeville, the development of montage, etc. So it’s interesting to see it return with YouTube. Teresa Rizzo has written a really interesting article related to this called, YouTube: The New Cinema of Attractions.

Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells
Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells production still.

RBE: When you say “people dancing at cameras” I immediately thought of surveillance cameras. Is your disco ball a type of surveillance camera? 

AA: I’m really interested in the blurring between surveillance, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. The Multi-Cultural Recycler, SVEN, and CyberSpaceLand all hit on that theme in one way or another; this time it’s cinematic dancers. The cinema/YouTube performers who appear in Discotrope all knew they were on camera, so overtly it’s more about exhibitionism and voyeurism. Glamorous 1950’s female burlesque dancers did their strip tease acts for the camera; sixty years later, not-so-glamorous scantily-clad men proudly stomped through the Single Ladies dance on YouTube. One group does work-for-hire within the Hollywood studio system; the other does what they want. Does that make one voyeurism and the other exhibitionism, or is it more complicated than that? in some cases, we see the performers much differently than they probably saw themselves. Does that make it surveillance? I think it’s all very muddy, and that’s what I find interesting.

The flip side is that there are people in some of Discotrope’s YouTube videos doing things like dancing in Walmart, which gives the video a surveillance camera look even though it’s obviously not surveillance (in the traditional sense, at least.) People turn the tables on surveillance video and make their own production numbers in surveilled/controlled areas  – for fun and as a type of resistance. That’s one of my favorite parts of Discotrope. Then we get to recreate those Walmart spaces in the big Discotrope projection. It makes it even more like an old Hollywood production number, and it makes it weirdly immersive. This is fun for us, because Walmarts are not the kind of thing normal people like to recreate immersively. 🙂

RBE: For this piece you are creating something for other people to perform with. Are there any differences for you in creating work that you will perform vs. others performing? 

AA: Ah, those pesky multiple senses of “performance” again!. 🙂  I do the visual performances for Discotrope, so for now I’m primarily building the software system for myself to perform. So far Annina is the only other person who performs with the software. Like anything, it’d require some tweaking to be distributed for more general use, though I’ve tried to make it not too terrible in that regard. 🙂 More challenging/interesting might be for performers to get the feel for moving the ball – like anything, it takes practice to get proficient.

But perhaps you’re talking about performers in terms of the audience who can dance to Discotrope, or the parts of the show where audience members can dance on camera interactively. In this case, they’re both performer and audience at the same time. That’s an interesting challenge, because in designing the show, we have to think about them in both ways.

RBE: You are starting a residency at the iotaCenter in Los Angeles, what will you be working on there?   

AA: It’ll be mainly exploratory/preliminary research; things will likely be changing/developing as I go along. But my general plan is to explore two threads: gestural and spatial cinematic performance. In performing CyberSpaceLand over the years, I found myself unconsciously developing certain gestural/structural performance techniques that were much different than what I’d consciously designed for the piece. That spawned some ideas about gesture, time and space that I’m going to try to take further. The spatial thread grew out of some things we’ve played with in Discotrope in terms of deconstructing cinematic narrative in a 360 degree space. I’ll be exploring these spatial cinema ideas both in regards to Discotrope and as broader research.

iotaCenter’s a great place for doing research in abstract / formal and experimental cinema, visual performance history, etc. They’ve got a terrific collection of films and texts. I’m hoping to also use the opportunity to get together with other experimental cinema and visual performance folks in LA. It’d be great to organize some fun/intellectually-stimulating/breathtakingly-earthshattering  screening/performance events.

RBE: This interview is going to be part of a series of interviews with women working in art and technology. What do you consider to be important today about being a woman working in art & technology? Do you think it is still useful to discuss the female voice as a separate voice in the field?  

AA: It’s a tricky subject, because we both need to hear women’s voices and avoid tokenizing or homogenizing them. Women artists working with technology do tend to have different perspectives than men, and there are far fewer of us. So often when the dominant themes emerge, they tend to be the “masculine” themes by virtue of sheer numbers. A corollary is that often women artists feel pressured to focus on gender issues or certain types of social issues. Again, it’s a problem of critical mass and self-perpetuating themes. Since a fair number of women are already involved with those topics and many women’s interests overlap there, they have momentum. But this ends up discouraging women from discussing or  doing work on other topics they’re interested in, So, while we need to talk about shared experiences among women in art and technology, we also need to recognize that they have a diverse range of work and perspectives.

RBE: How have you seen perceptions of gender change through the years either in teaching, performing, or working as an artist? 

AA: It’s interesting to think that the first programmers were women, and that at the time it was considered clerical work. (See Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls” by Brenda Frink.)

As men started to fill programming jobs, the perception of programming shifted. It became something “technical”  that was somehow inherently “man’s work,” even though it had been clerical “women’s work” only a few decades earlier. I’ve seen something similar happen as a female computing artist. I think there are more of us now – at least we don’t seem to be the novelty we were ten or fifteen years ago. And I’ve seen a shift in attitudes and perception among undergraduate computing arts students: by now both the men and women have grown up playing video games and doing a variety of Internet activities that might have seemed like “boys-with-toys” pastimes a decade ago. So their perceptions of what they’re learning to do as computer artists is a little more open and less gendered. But unfortunately, there are still circular perceptions in all age groups that whatever technical work women are doing can’t be too serious by virtue of the fact that a woman did it. It would seem to parallel the current political debate in the US about the pay gap between women and men. There are always arguments that women’s jobs aren’t as demanding, and they usually end up with someone saying, “I can’t believe we’re still talking about this in 2012!” So on one hand, the more things change, the more they stay the same. On the other hand, as more women computing artists emerge, we’ll hopefully soon achieve sufficient critical mass for world domination. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

De-familiarizing the familiar: The ‘lele’ Method: Interview with Dragana Zarevska & Jasna Dimitrovska

Dragana Zarevska and Jasna Dimitrovska are visual and performing artists, cultural workers and activists from Macedonia, who also, often work together under the artistic pseudonym Ephemerki. While at the same time loving and teasing the rigidity of academism, they like decoding magic, making it transparent, go behind Wizard of Oz’s curtain and put his pants down. The name of the duo is a funny derivate of Bapchorki (band of few grannies who used to sing Macedonian traditional songs in a rustic nasal style). It suggests that Ephemerki are their ephemeral version, or at least, the ones doing the ephemeral part of tradition. Their work is driven from and inspired by Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Deleuze and Guattari, Agamben, and other contemporary thinkers and practitioners within arts, technology, society. 

The Lele method is their latest performance (a performative event for a bunch of people, as they like to call it) and so far was performed at AKTO 6, Festival for Contemporary art in Bitola and Kondenz & Locomotion, Performing arts festivals organized in Skopje and Belgrade. Here is the story behind the project.

Darko Aleksovski: ‘Lele’ (Мac: леле) is a word that has profound significance in the Macedonian language. It is a universal word that can be used in different contexts and can imply several different emotional states. Can you describe what was the inspiration for this project dedicated to the word ‘lele’? What is the subjective meaning of this word for you?

Dragana Zarevska/ Jasna Dimitrovska: The particular situations this word implies and the problems it addresses might sound quite confusing for the non-Macedonian readers, but, if any of them have visited, or will visit our country, it’ll be deadly surprising how many “leles” per minute one hears around. The word “lele” is totally devoid of meaning, but it is being used to emphasize certain emotions, wondering, shock, great happiness and similar. It is just a shout out, like…the French “oh-la-la” for instance, the Bulgarian “ma-leeeh” or like the Serbian “yoooooy”. The project is being titled “The Lele Method”, directly and totally driven from the local obsession with lele and its possible application.

For us, this word sometimes depicts the shortly shaken numbness and the apathy of our current socio-political constellations, but only with a shout, and then again – everything goes on as usual.

Darko Aleksovski: What is the ‘lele method’? Considering the performative act of the ‘lele’ word, and its everyday use in Macedonian speech, do you think that a method like this can still function as relevant? Can the ‘lele method’ be appropriated by anyone, or it is just a method that you as an artist use?

Dragana Zarevska/ Jasna Dimitrovska: Sure. It can be appropriated by anyone, but it is still a joke. You will certainly do without it as a method. Using it will not bring anything to your life what you’ve not had before. This is how we define it: Lele is one of the most frequently used words in Macedonia… people usually use it when they do not understand how and why something occurred, and immediately after it is being said out loud, Lele helps people criticize any phenomenon, constructively, and with a high dose of expertise. Try it. If you do not succeed, your libidoless academism automatically returns to you within minutes.

These instructions can help a lot in experiencing this useless experience through this useless method. But, stating the obvious with The Lele Method is what we enjoy the most. We give people what they already have, like selling snow to Eskimos.

Recently, in an interview we gave for the Canadian .dpi Magazine we discussed some particular effects we achieved by performing Lele. Nobody is aware of performing it daily here in Macedonia, and while we were preparing the performance out of it/about it, we realized the power of defamiliarization. You perform something which is being performed daily in a constant automatization. By naming a method Lele and putting it on a stamp, we gave the word a particular relevance and a different form. We made it “unfamiliar” and “difficult”, and by that, we prolonged the process of perception of that word. By trying to remove the automatism of perception, we got a new perspective of a word, of a problem. This technique has been used in the literary criticism of Russian formalism to differentiate prose from poetry, but we use it to differentiate and to delay perception. As Russian formalist critic Viktor Borisovich Shklovski has said in his well-known essay “Art as Device,” – the purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.

Darko Aleksovski: You have presented this project two times so far – as a performance accompanied by the printed version of the scheme of the ‘lele method’. How much performance is a necessary medium for this project?

Dragana Zarevska/ Jasna Dimitrovska: We’ve shown the performance at this year’s Akto Festival for Contemporary Art during August (Bitola/Macedonia), and at the Kondenz & Locomotion curatorially joint festivals for performing arts organized in Skopje and Belgrade during October. We must admit we entertain ourselves a lot during the performance because people enter the room and they perceive it as some irrelevant and boring employees who put a stamp on everyone’s hand at the venue’s door. Then, they look at the stamped hand/arm and shout “Leeeeeh-leeeeeh!” because that’s being engraved on our stamps.

During the performance we are dressed in our Lele uniforms which are extremely office-like and conservative, our faces are shit-serious, and inside the room there are printed materials (scattered leaflets on the tables, or printed panels on the wall) with diagrams on them explaining the empirical part of the Lele Method. The concept behind the Lele Method is being driven by our love and respect towards Giorgio Agamben’s work and his ideas on experience shown in his work Infancy and History. The experience is ending where language begins. Kids have the real experience until they start articulating and verbalizing things up. Giorgio Agamben says that we, modern humans can no longer access experience. The Lele Method is an attempt to get an experience instantly and effectively. The existence of this scientific method is only symbolic, because it is just mocking the academia and the naive ones simultaneously, as – all of the work we did/do by far. 

Much of this performance auto-perpetuated, it is happening by itself. Performance is always a necessity. It is better for us to be aware of it, because we all perform all the time. This performance is all about being aware that we perform something of which we usually forget, but is actually performable – something automatized like the word Lele.

Darko Aleksovski: The project was very well received by the audience, other artists and critics. Does it have another aspect of it, that is directed as a critique towards the whole Macedonian art system?

Dragana Zarevska/ Jasna Dimitrovska: Thank you for this notion. Actually it was fantastic how great it was received. Our work can often be seen as an overlap between theory, movement, process and production. The contextualization of these things shapes the performative events we present that test and deconstruct different versions of reality and its geography, directly related to awareness of the possibilities of language. We criticize language/es through language. 

Darko Aleksovski: Do you see ‘lele’ differently, now that you have made a project out of it?

Dragana Zarevska/ Jasna Dimitrovska: Yes we do. We got de-familiarized with it (by getting hiper-familiarized), while, at the same time we started to think of it as of our own word, which is pretty selfish. We totally “adopted” it. Other people who came to our performances also tell us they experience it a bit differently than before, one friend said “Whenever I say Lele I think of you!”. We know this might sound weird and vain, but it seems we assimilated it as our own piece of art, and the truth is – it is so not ours, it is everyone’s. We surely assimilated the illusion of having it as ours though.

more about the artists: zarevska [at], yasna.dimitrovska [at]

Moving Forest 500 Slogans workshops

AKA the castle

Furtherfield presents Moving Forest 500 Slogans workshop at Victoria & Albert Museum.

Join AKA the Castle for up to 5 slogan workshop sessions, December 2nd-4th at the V&A, as part of Moving Forest London 2012 initiative.

The Moving Forest 500 slogans workshop invites writers, artists, performers, theatre practitioners, soundists, noisers, singers (of all genres), scholars and folks to come together to contribute their readings of the 500 slogans written by Dr Matthew Fuller alongside Graham Harwood’s 12 hour rendering of the final 12 minutes of Kurosawa’s film version of Macbeth, Spider Web Castle.

Read, recite, sing, shout, scream, murmur, memorize and burn the slogans and plot the 500 slogans as the main thread through the 5 acts of MOVING FOREST.

Moving Forest is a 12 hour, five act, visual, sonic, digital, electronic and urban performance collectively realized by AKA the Castle, a temporal performance troupe bringing together visual artists, writers, soundists, silk threaders, codedecoders, macromikro, boombox mass, mobile agents, wifi fielders and urbanites. 12 hours of sonic, coded action map an imaginary Castle and camouflage forest revolt onto a given modern day metropolis.

We welcome public participation in Moving Forest 500 slogans workshops.
By participating, you join AKA the Castle’s collective reading and planning towards staging Moving Forest 12 hour performance in London summer 2012.

Please sign up below to take part in one or more workshop sessions.
Friday 02 December, 6-9pm
Saturday 03 December, 11-1pm
Saturday 03 December, 2-4:30pm
Sunday 04 December, 11-1pm
Sunday 04 December, 2-4:30pm
All workshops will take place in Seminar Room 1, Sackler Centre, V&A.

To sign up to one or more sessions please write to
or select your session on the 500 slogans wiki

Free workshop admission.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Seminar Room 1, Sackler Centre
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

Additional workshop activity at SPACE as part of Moving Forest London 2012 initiative
More info:

More information about Moving Forest:

The partners for Moving Forest London workshop development are MA Interactive Media & Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London, Furtherfield, SPACE, Digital Programmes,V&A.

Free and Open For All: Interview with Jake Harries

The first interview with Jake Harries, took place on one of Furtherfield’s Radio broadcasts on Resonance FM, earlier this March 2011. Fascinated by the historical context that came out of the radio discussion, we asked Jake for a second interview, this time it took place via email.

Jake Harries has been making music in Sheffield since the 1980s and is a sound artist, musician/producer, composer and field recordist with a strong interest in media art and the practical use of Open Source audio-visual software. He was a member of electronic funk band Chakk which is best known for building Sheffield’s first large recording studio, FON Studios, in the mid 1980s. He is currently one of “freestyle techno” trio Heights of Abraham and The Apt Gets, a band which uses guitars and only Open Source software on recycled computers to create songs from spam emails. He is Digital Arts Programme Manager at open access media lab, Access Space, and the current curator of the LOSS Linux Open Source Sound a website dedicated to music made with FLOSS.

Marc Garrett: Lets talk a bit about your own history first. You were in a band in the 80s called Chakk, could you tell us a bit about that?

Jake Harries: Chakk was based in Sheffield during the mid 80s and we are best known for building a heavily used facility, FON Studio, Sheffield’s first large commercial recording studio. Chakk made “industrial funk” music, a mix of funk base lines and drums with influences ranging from punk to soul to free jazz and electronica. Our music was aimed squarely at the dance floor. We believed that technology, in this case the recording studio, was the most important instrument a band could have both creatively and financially.

MG: So, you are part of the electro music history of Sheffield with bands like Cabaret Voltaire & The Human League in the late 70s – 80s?

JH: Yes, but the band itself didn’t have too much commercial success, a couple of indie chart top 10s and a couple of low 50s in the main UK chart, so few people remember us now. People are more likely to remember FON Studio.

Sheffield's musical gathering. Including members of Pulp, Warp Records, Chakk, Longpigs...
Sheffield’s musical gathering. Including members of Pulp, Warp Records, Chakk, Longpigs…

Recently a documentary has been made, called The Beat Is Law, about Sheffield music at that time, so perhaps there will be a bit more interest in the band.

On 12th November 2009, Director Eve Wood joined Pulp’s Russell Senior and Jake Harries from Chakk for a chat following a screening of The Beat is the Law Part One.
On 12th November 2009, Director Eve Wood joined Pulp’s Russell Senior and Jake Harries from Chakk for a chat following a screening of The Beat is the Law Part One.

MG: Open Source software is freely downloadable from the Internet for free and Linux is the most widely used Open Source operating system. How long have you been using Linux operating systems and Open Source?

JH: I had heard of Linux before, of course, but I came across music applications which were developed only for Linux in 2002-3 while searching for new software tools. These intrigued me sufficiently to install the operating system on a pc which I had fixed where I was working at the time.

MG: Do you feel that artists, techies and others are choosing Free and Open Source resources for reasons which connect with ethical and environmental issues and concerns?

JH: Well, I’d like to integrate into this answer the general themes of openness and transparency. FLOSS is akin to an encyclopedia of how to make things in the software realm because all the code is available for anyone to download and develop; closed, proprietary software is like a “sealed box” which it is illegal to prise open.

But it goes a bit deeper than that: in the world we are living in now the “sealed box” is increasingly becoming the mode of choice for all kinds of products, most of which, because they are designed to be superseded, have built in obsolescence. When something goes wrong with a product, you are unable to fix it yourself because you can’t get inside it, and even if you could you can’t find out how to fix it. If it is out of warranty, either you pay a lot of money to get it fixed or you throw it away; then you buy a new one! (Which is what the market wants you to do…)

So, it feels very much as if we are surrounded by technology we are not encouraged to understand and products with a limited life span: the obvious environmental concern is, “what happens to my ‘sealed box’ when I throw it away?”

Using a Linux operating system can increase the useful life of a computer by several years, and perhaps, if you can hack into them, other products too. So it is great if both hardware and software are open.

We also know that sharing knowledge is generally considered to be a good thing as it allows people to build on what has already been discovered. Being able to give the people in workshops the software they have been learning to use because it is FLOSS, rather than them having to pay several hundred pounds because it is only available on a commercial license, is great and often the idea of this kind of freedom takes a while for people to get used to if they’ve not come across it before.

MG: Why is it important as a creative practitioner to be using Open Source?

JH: Well, personally, I have realised that what I’m interested in is freedom, not just as a hypothetical, but the practical reality, finding out how to achieve some of it and if it is possible to sustain it. Free & Open Source operating systems and software are one way of stepping out side of the constant pressures of the commercial market places which dominate our culture.

We tried this in Chakk in the 80s with FON Studio, attempting not only to personally own the means of producing our music, the studio (allowing us to be outside the corporate system of production), but also to be able to explore our creativity in the way we wanted to. In the case of Chakk it didn’t work out. We had, rather cheekily, persuaded a giant corporate (MCA Records, owned by Universal) to bank roll it all and they found ways of scuppering our plan by making our product conform to their idea of the market place: transforming it into something “radio friendly” and bland, taking the energy and urgency out of the music. We were quite a politicised band and that energy was essential to our musical integrity.

However, when MCA dropped us we had a recording studio which could help nurture new music without too much external pressure, and this led to records produced there by local acts fulfilling their potential and going into the charts.

I think it is important for artists to have certain freedoms, to have ownership over the means with which they create their work. The fact that FLOSS allows you the user the potential of customising the tools you use and to distribute them freely via the web or other means is quite profound. And one of the real benefits of using FLOSS as a creative practitioner are the use of open standards and formats.

MG: OK, let’s move onto your own band: The Apt Gets. Now, since The Human League & Cabaret Voltaire, a whole generation has experienced the arrival of the Internet. Your group seems to reflect this aspect of contemporary, networked culture – a kind of Open Source rock band. Could you tell us about this band The Apt Gets, how you all got started and why?

JH: It began with workshops I was leading for musicians on FLOSS audio tools in 2007. The idea of an “open source rock band” came up – at the time we didn’t think there was one so a couple of the workshoppers and myself formed one. The Internet was the main source of inspiration really: we used recycled computers with Linux we’d downloaded, as well as guitars and vocals. I’m interested in re-purposing junk as raw material for creative processes and decided to re-use some of my spam emails as lyrics. We all hate spam, but re-contextualising it like this is fun, as is introducing a song by saying, “Here’s a classic Nigerian email asking for your bank details”. The themes of spam emails are generally things like greed & money, status & sex appeal as well as “meds”, so there’s more to them than you might think.

MG: Now, I personally know why, but others who are not as familiar with Linux and Open Source Operating systems, will not immediately know this. The naming of your band’s name – it’s specific to installing software. Could you tell us more about that?

JH: On a Debian Linux based operating system one can install software from the internet using an application called apt. One could type apt-get install the-name-of-the-software into the command line and apt will get the software from what is called a repository on the Internet, where the software is stored for download. We thought that if you called someone an Apt Get it could be interpreted as an insult meaning something like, clever bastard. So, that’s why we named the band The Apt Gets.

MG: How long has your research project with FLOSS been going?

JH: The research project started in 2007. Ever since I began to use FLOSS I’ve been interested in the practical realities of using it, particularly as an every day set of tools, as an ordinary computer user would use it: for instance, when I do work on the arts programme at Access Space I don’t use anything else. So, it made sense to discover how a number of non-Linux using musicians would find using FLOSS audio tools – if I was being an advocate for FLOSS I ought to look at it from the new user’s angle and discover how far they could go and what kind of time scale they need.

MG: And the web site address is?


MG: How easy is it for someone with little or no experience of Open Source software and Linux based operating systems to install it?

JH: It is quite easy nowadays. A Linux distribution like Ubuntu has an easy to follow installer which allows you to create a dual boot if you want it, that is, keeping your Windows system as well so you have the choice of both.

MG: At Access Space in Sheffield, you are curator and researcher of LOSS (Linux Open Source Sound) a website dedicated to music made with FLOSS – which is basically LOSS with the letter ‘F’ added, meaning ‘Free Linux Open Source Sound’ – FLOSS!

JH: Yeah! Free is the word! It is a repository for music made with FLOSS tools and released under a Creative Commons license. You can freely download and upload tracks. Initially it was based around two projects, a physical CD issued in 2006 curated by Ed Carter, and LOSS Livecode, a mini conference and gig curated by Alex McLean and Jim Prevett based around the international livecoding community. The website is at

MG: What is Access Space and what is different about them as a group?

JH: Access Space is an open access media lab, based in central Sheffield. It uses reused and donated computer technology to provide Internet access and Open Source creative tools, free of charge, five days a week. It started in 2000 and has become the longest running free Internet project in the UK.

We recycle computers, put on art exhibitions, creative workshops and sonic art events. We’re currently developing a DIY Lab, modelled on MIT’s FabLab or fabrication laboratory. This will be an interface between the physical and digital domains where new kinds of creative activity can be developed.

MG: What operating systems would you suggest to newbies coming to Linux for the first time?

JH: Ubuntu or its derivative, Linux Mint, are both very user friendly for everyday use. For audio try Ubuntu Studio, 64 Studio or Pure:dyne.

MG: And regarding yourself, what are you using?

JH: I have set up eight Ubuntu Studio pcs for use in audio and video workshops at Access Space; and I use Pure:dyne live DVDs if I’m out and demonstrating on other people’s pcs. For everyday use, again Ubuntu Studio with a few additional applications like OpenOffice.

MG: Thank you for a fascinating conversation.

JH: It was a pleasure…

Extra info:

Open Access All Areas: an Interview with James Wallbank about Access Space by Charlotte Frost

Ubuntu Studio 11.04 release.

64 Studio Ltd. produces bespoke GNU/Linux distributions which are compatible with official Debian and Ubuntu releases.

Puredyne is the USB-bootable GNU/Linux operating system for creative multimedia.

Pure:dyne Discussion, interview by Marc Garrett & Netbehaviour list Community 2008.

The Electronic Man: A Global Performance.

“You Are Now the Electronic Man” are the words that appear before even opening the website for The Electronic Man, a project initiated by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico of Art is Open Source (AOS) and FakePress. And by becoming part of The Electronic Man, sharing your emotions as they become linked through QR Codes and help to build the frame of The Electronic Man, you are participating in a real time global performance.

This real time global performance relates to conceptual experiments by AOS and FakePress, in remixing reality and creating new sensual experiences with technology. The email interview took place after their recent exhibition at Furtherfield’s gallery in London, called REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY!, which happened during February, March 2011, and during their current project The Electronic Man. We discuss AOS’s ideas and intentions, regarding their activities of performance and use of technology, and their methods of engagement with anthropology and biology.

Start of Interview:

Renee : The Electronic Man is quite an ambitious project. What inspired you to begin building the Electronic Man?
Salvator and Oriana: The Electronic Man is actually a very simple project (if quite a difficult one in terms of “making it happen”) as it is a direct poetic interpretation of a theory by Marshall McLuhan that goes by the same name. We decided to take the famous statement by Marshall McLuhan quite literally and transform it into something that is really happening in the world: “Electronic man like pre-literate man, ablates or outers the whole man. His information environment is his own central nervous system.”

What we wanted to do was to make our statement for the centennial of McLuhan’s birth, but to avoid the form of the “conference presentation” for it, and to show in a powerful way how the ideas expressed by McLuhan are really taking place in the world which we experience every day. So we decided to produce a performance, a global performance.

With the wonderful support of Derrick de Kerckhove, and of the MediaDuemila magazine (and the Associazione Amici di Media Duemila and the Osservatorio Tuttimedia, and the Department of Communication and Social Research of Rome’s University “La Sapienza”, who were organizing the official event for the centennial in Rome, under the fundamental guidance of Maria Pia Rossignaud) we were able to make it happen and everyone involved was really happy to include this experience in the official celebrations.

Renee Carmichael: I find the methodology behind this project really interesting. From what I understand it’s about going beyond the analogue vs. digital debate and really going in between and just experiencing and experimenting. Do you think this methodology is important to use in today’s world? How and why might this be so?

Salvatore and Oriana: We are living in a really complex scenario, complex, fast and ever changing. Digital technologies and networks are starting to pervade our analogue reality, transforming it and opening up entirely new possibilities. There are forms of (digital) interaction that are starting to be widely accessible from physical space. These forms of interaction are really peculiar as they allow for a transformation of (physical) reality, making it interactive, reinventing it, remixing it, and adding content to it. The world itself becomes a performance and a very specific form of performance: involving remixes, mashups, recontextualizations and reenactments as its main practices. This has drastic effects, not only as our reality multiplies and reshapes, but also attitudes, perceptions, skills, knowledge and approaches of the people involved change. In this process methodologies, practices and theories remix as well, bringing forth various possible scenarios, in which collaboration practices emerge as the only viable way to perform significant actions.

AOS performing at the opening night of REFF - REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY! show at Furtherfield Feb 2011.  Image by Pau Ros.
AOS performing at the opening night of REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY! show at Furtherfield Feb 2011. Image by Pau Ros.

So, in this scenario, “life, the world and everything” is turning into a multipliable, performative environment in which the only way to, actually, perform in a significant way is to collaborate across cultures, skills, theories and methodologies. This brings forth a change to our sensorial environment, meaning that when ubiquitous technologies are involved, we instantly gain new senses, new sensorialities and sensibilities. Just like with the mobile phone, when it doesn’t catch the network, we move, naturally and without thinking about it, to a place that has better network coverage, in a way that is neurologically similar to the way in which we move our hand away from fire when we feel the heat: it is a real sensibility, an additional sense.

Mixing these two aspects (the forming of a multilayered, collaborative, read-write reality, and the emergence of these new senses), describes a situation that is almost exactly the one presented in the question: experimentation, as in performance and as in science, this new science that traverses disciplines, theories and approaches; and experience, meaning you are actually able to build a new experience of the world that is sensorial and, most important of all, writable.

This is also a good description of the shape that the term “conflict” is assuming: a continuous process of movement and traversal, in which you transform a part of reality (as in augmented reality) adding new meaning and imaginaries to it, in a performative action that unites activism, art, science, design and communication, and that transforms and is transformed really fast, at the pace of the evolution of technologies and networks.

The Electronic Man at ADD Festival photos by Giulia Leporatti.
The Electronic Man at ADD Festival photos by Giulia Leporatti.

Renee: I read that this project can help us experience and reflect on our place in the world through the external. Do you think the relationship between the individual and the external takes a new shape throughout this project? How might it be understood in the larger ideas and theories of the Electronic Man?  
Salvatore and Oriana: The Electronic Man is about the observation and exemplification of something that is already happening in the world. It speaks about interconnection and our renewed perception of space, time, body and relationships. Technologies helped us reshape these concepts completely. We are never in a single place now; we are everywhere, anytime and with lots of people all at the same time, using multiple identities, both voluntarily (mobile phones, ubiquitous networks..) and involuntarily (CCTV, social networks spying on us..). So all these definitions change radically: private and public space, gender, relationship, message, privacy, work and free time. We wanted to make this change explicit. In this change: public and private completely restructure! This is also why we decided to use the “emotional” dimension as a narrative: emotions are thought to be a private, intimate part of our lives, but now they are the object of public observation through what we do in the digital realms, for the new forms of economies that are developing, focusing on attention, reputation, awareness and more.

Renee: Although the Electronic Man allows us to experience sensually, it still creates finite points of data through the connections between a place and an emotion. What do you think is the relationship between the sensual impact of the project and the data it produces? How does the data fit into the idea of creating a new ‘global digital sense of our bodies’?
Salvatore and Oriana: This is a very complicated question! We chose this approach as a starting point. We are using a classification of emotions which is very basic (designed by Plutchik in 1980) it works really well across different languages (we are currently using 29 languages for our performances, to address as much of the world as possible). But this point that is described in the question (freeing the modalities of data, augmenting the degrees of freedom which we can express) is one of the focal points for expansion in the next steps. There are solutions and approaches which we are finding suitable to confront these issues with, and they are all related to adding degrees of freedom in what you “release to the public”: transforming artworks into free frameworks for expression that can be freely used by people. This transformation from artwork to framework is something that is happening all over, and it has to do with P2P culture and free software. This is why we release all the software and hardware (and methodologies) we use in our performances under free licenses: because the next step of each performance is made by the people taking the tools in their own hands and creating their own forms of expression and action, their own additional layers of the world.

Renee: In a related note, this new form of being that the Electronic Man creates cannot be completely separated from the world and systems it exists in already. It seems that the questions that often arise around this project are in terms of how it can be used within other appropriations. How do you see the future of this project in terms of the various appropriations that it may have and in terms of your own intentions for the project?

Squatting Supermakets 2009.
Squatting Supermakets 2009.

Salvatore and Oriana: As we said: we’re always in beta version. These processes are nomadic, temporary, and unstable. Ideas, software tools, concepts, hardware, practices and approaches are in a continuous state of remix: each time we speak to anyone, or even as we’re writing this, the performance changes and upgrades to the next version. For example we can look at the recent augmented reality interventions that have been taking place all over the world and, just a few days ago at the Venice Biennale: there has been a very fertile discussion building up during the last two years, on the idea that these technologies allow you to “squat” reality, and add new meanings and new degrees of freedom to it. This is why we created a project called Squatting Supermarkets a couple of years ago. This discussion is producing actions: appropriations, performances, re-usage of terms, words, sentences, new forms of activism, and new forms of art. We’re really happy that this is taking place, and we see all this as a wider form of performance in which everyone interested can be involved.                                                                              

Renee: I can’t help but see a relationship between The Electronic Man and a sort of modern day Frankenstein. Would you like to comment on this relationship?

Salvatore and Oriana: We will answer this question using an answer that our dear friend prof. Massimo Canevacci gave to a question during a TV show in Italy: “This is a wonderful question, and I am deeply convinced that western cultures produced these really heavy mythologies around Frankenstein, the Golem, and arriving to a movie, a very nice one, like Blade Runner, taken from a novel by Philip Dick.

I am certain that this system, this dualism between technology and body, between organic and inorganic, between nature and culture, is finally over, in a liberating way. There are researches in which the concept of cyborg constitutes a perspective that is capable of liberating enormous possibilities. Therefore our bodies become progressively more entangled with technology all over literature, technology, anthropology, and biology.

Thus I sincerely hope that this enormous mythology, this terrifying myth of the Frankenstein, will finally end, once and for all, and will peacefully retire; and that new forms of cyborg will emerge and free themselves, to produce new free forms of expression.

Renee: Finally, any further issues, ideas, thoughts you would like to add?

Salvatore and Oriana: Yes!

The Electronic Man is a global performance! And it becomes useful if lots of people participate (and, by the way, participate by doing even simple things such as attaching some of the Electronic Man stickers around and sending us a picture, and you’ll find yourself and your work advertised whenever we exhibit the work: for example at the MACRO museum in Rome there is a full wall dedicated to the people that are helping us out, including their bios, pictures and links) But, most of all, it becomes useful if lots of people actively grab technologies, methodologies and concepts and actively build their own performative world, possibly sharing the results with everyone else.

So we strongly invite everyone out there to request the software, (it will be published on our sites as soon as we have some time to prepare a proper sharing mechanism, but you all can have it before that by simply asking) and to imagine other disruptive ways of using technologies to create free, accessible, inclusive spaces for communication and expression.

We will support you all in that as much as we can.

The Electronic Man at ADD Festival, MACRO Testaccio, Rome contemporary art museum, view video on Youtube.

We Are Alive: NetAudio Festival London 2011.

Featured image: Radion at NetAudio London festival 2011.

NetAudio London Festival, 13th – 15th May 2011.
A three day festival that explores music environments in the digital age of networked technologies.

Marc Garrett interviews Andi Studer of NetAudio London, about their latest Festival at the Roundhouse and other venues in London, from Friday 13th – 15th May 2011. Showcasing work of artists who use digital and network technologies to explore new boundaries in music and sonic art, their festivals encourage participation in all forms: interactive sound art installations, conferences, workshops, collaborative online broadcasting and headline shows. This year promises to be a special event, headlined by the legendary Nurse With Wound and many more – read on.


Marc Garrett: This seems like an amazing festival. Not just because it’s context relates to my own background and Furtherfield’s own connected communities and its history in exploring an engagement of contemporary, networked creativity which was once perhaps, considered to be at the edge of art. But now, it does seem as if a new passion is alive and kicking, representing what exists across the genres of art, technology and social change.

The Netaudio London festival began its life in 2006, why did you chose to set up such a dynamic and involving festival, and who are your influences?

Andi Studer: The first Netaudio London grew out of a general passion for electronic music, combined with the recognition of a booming netlabel scene distributing new music with CC licenses for free download. Culturally it spanned the three fields of club culture, avant-garde music and net-politics. During the research phase, we came across of string of European festival projects with the same scope and decided to align with them, so after Netaudio Berne and Cologne, in 2005, London took it’s turn in 2006. Over 3 days we presented more than forty acts in club as well as gig settings; we hosted cultural discussions, organised a knowledge fair around digital music distribution and premiered an the audio installation by Si_COMM, S.E.T.I and N-Spaces… good old days!

MG: What do you feel is important about the Netaudio festival and how does the current one relate to contemporary culture?

AS: Netaudio aims to play an active role in the ongoing process of exploring how technologies, and particularly the Internet, shape our lives. Within this vast field, we focus our work on sonic culture, music and sound art, but reach out to wider aspects such as politics and protest or collaborative creativity.

Whereas in 2005/06 much of the cultural discussion was driven by an incredible optimism about new communication and distribution channels, this year’s festival may pick up on something best described as ‘cyber realism’. The festival, and particularly the conference,  building on our 2010 research project, presents a strong case for individuals taking action. And in process of so doing, we are interested to explore what emerging digital tools they use to create new sound art/music, as well as in the social and political endeavours related to their creative work.  

Video Interviews: Perspectives on Digital Music. 21-07-2010. Netaudio London and Sound and Music present a collection of 12 interviews with leading practitioners operating in the field of new music, digital media and sonic art.
Video Interviews: Perspectives on Digital Music. 21-07-2010. Netaudio London and Sound and Music present a collection of 12 interviews with leading practitioners operating in the field of new music, digital media and sonic art.

MG: Why chose to include those who have a history in net art, critically engaged thinkers invlolved in networked culture, and many who have been and are part of the (new) media art generation?

AS: We recognise a continuation of creative and socially aware work, enabled by network technologies. Including emerging as well as established projects, some dating from well before the WWW time, allows us to show this continuation and hopefully furthers the wider understanding of these different elements/groups. Whilst there are clear differences between them, there are also many overlaps and we hope that the inclusion of as many as possible in the debate and the wider festival allows for an exploration and greater understanding of these overlaps, and differences.

MG: Your festival includes a visiting member from UK Uncut who will be discussing with others at the Conference and Workshops, regarding the proposed theme of ‘politics and protest; creativity and collaboration; digital futures and analogue survivals.’ They have made headline news regarding their activities challenging the government’s ongoing cuts, and have been actively involved across the country targeting corporate tax dodgers and the banks who caused the financial crisis.

UK Uncut protest at Brixton NatWest Bank 26th Feb 2011.
UK Uncut protest at Brixton NatWest Bank 26th Feb 2011.

Do you think that UK Uncut’s own perceptions and its activism reflect the festival audience’s general interests and feelings on the matter, across the board?

AS: The participation of UK Uncut is confirmed, but the speaker is to be announced. Whilst some festival audience members may be sympathetic with UK Uncut’s perceptions and activism, others may not. Similarly, whilst members of the festival programming board may have sympathies with UK Uncut’s cause, the festival as such does not necessarily share the same cause with UK Uncut. The reason for inviting UK Uncut was their very successful work as a technology savvy protest movement, as well as their exploration of new forms of protest, particularly sit-ins involving poetry readings and the singing of songs. We are interested to find out more about how they use technology and music/sound in their cause. Presented in a panel with Jeremy Gilbert, Mark Fisher and Anthony Iles, we hope to show how their work sits within the incredible role music had and continues to have in social, political and economic protest. 

MG: Nurse With Wound is headlining the festival and they are legendary in the underground music scene. Spanning a career of 30 years plus, under the curatorial guide of Stapleton who has seen NWW collaborate with a highly respected troop of free thinkers including David Tibet (Current 93), William Bennett (Whitehouse) and Andrew McKenzie (Hafler Trio). Many artists who have been working with technology and similar experimental genres, are influenced by those of industrial and avant garde music scene, such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Virgin Prunes, This Heat and NWW, so it seems fitting to have them in the festival, with their peers and of course, an equally interesting selection of younger sound artists and musical explorers.

Nurse With Wound at Netaudio London festival 2011.
Nurse With Wound at Netaudio London festival 2011.

It may say seem like the perfect decision now, but how did you come to the idea of asking Nurse With Wound and what are the links with the other aspects of the festival?

AS: To have Nurse With Wound headlining our festival is a dream come true. Their achievements in anarchic, experimental, DIY, post-industrial music is unparalleled, and it is possible to find many of their approaches in the current new music produced by emerging musicians. This is something we hope to draw on in the rest of the festival.

At KOKO we will also present a newly commissioned live collaboration between Bruce Gilbert (ex-Wire) and Mika Vainio (ex-Pan Sonic). This opportunity to present new work came about though the direct continuation of an ongoing enquiry into collaborative creativity, as featured on one of the three conference panels. This is definitely also a strong theme in the work of Radian, the opening act at KOKO.

Mika Vainio, currently based in Berlin, was one half of the minimal electronic duo Pan Sonic from Finland, (the other half was Ilpo Väisänen). Before starting Pan Sonic in beginning of the 90's Mika Vainio has played electronics and drums as part of the early Finnish industrial and noise scene.
Mika Vainio, currently based in Berlin, was one half of the minimal electronic duo Pan Sonic from Finland, (the other half was Ilpo Väisänen). Before starting Pan Sonic in beginning of the 90’s Mika Vainio has played electronics and drums as part of the early Finnish industrial and noise scene.

I’d urge anyone who is coming to see NWW at KOKO, to join us at the Roundhouse for the afternoon programme, particularly the conference, but also with the Open Platform stage, we hope to showcase some glimpses of the NWW legacy.

It may be worth mentioning the broadcast strand of the festival here too. Enabled by the Roundhouse Studio facilities and with creative input from Ed Baxter of Resonance104.4fm we are able to feed the festival back to the online domain for the first time. Throughout the afternoon of the 15th May, we will present a live web-zine, thereby leading an enquiry into the future of broadcasting. As part of this we will present three new pieces of work by the commissioned artists: Stefan Blomeier, VHS HEAD, and Liliane Lijn, the latter presenting an online adaptation of her Power Game project.

As part of the festival Broadcast strand, Liliane Lijn will present a new online adaptation of Power Game.
As part of the festival Broadcast strand, Liliane Lijn will present a new online adaptation of Power Game.

MG: This interesting development warrants investigation, not only because there is an an influx of new interest from a much larger informed and adventurous audience across the board but also because it represents an obvious, cultural dynamic at work. Reflecting a ‘real’ contemporary interest for something different to happen, beyond the remit of normative, art world restraints and its usual, hermetically sealed approaches. We will definitely be there ourselves. To experience what promises to be an engaging and critical conference, but also to explore and enjoy the other varied live events and projects.

Extra Information:

The Conference – will bring together theorists, practitioners, activists and academics to address a challenging set of themes in 21st-century culture, featuring speakers including Matthew Herbert and Cecelia Wee: politics and protest; creativity and collaboration; digital futures and analogue survivals.

Sound Art – In partnership with Call&  Response Netaudio presents an event of 8-channel immersive audio-works. The dynamic and varied explorations of the nine prolific artists brought together by Call&  Response highlights the vibrant and diverse field of contemporary sound art. Also there’s the Sonic Maze, an immersive series of sound art installations set in the Roundhouse Studios.

Broadcast – Using the format of a live webzine, Netaudio Broadcast will explore the future of broadcasting with a series of video and radio features. Netaudio Broadcast is co-curated with Ed Baxter of Resonance104.4fm.

Live Music – Starting at cafe OTO on 13th with Robert Piotrowicz ( and Valerio Tricoli, continuing at Apiary with the runsounds hosted late night event; and the main live show of the festival, a rare live appearance from Steve Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound (, a special commission performance by Bruce Gilbert (ex-Wire) and Mika Vainio (ex-Pan Sonic) and Radian.

The 2011 Netaudio London festival supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and by the Austrian Cultural Forum London. It is presented in partnership with The Wire, ResonanceFM and and supported by the Roundhouse and many more.

Art is Open Source (IT)

Italian artist duo Art is Open Source (AOS) will be working as Artists in Residence at Furtherfield Gallery and lab space in February 2011. During the four week residency Salvatore and Oriana will work on the development of their latest project REFF: the invasion of ordinary reality to reinvent a new one using a fake institution, a book, an urban performance and an augmented reality drug.

The residency will result in a final exhibition, REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY!, showcasing a live, glitch performance, an urban intervention and a virtual entity by artists featured in the new REFF book: Garrett Lynch (Ir), Rebar Group (US) and xname (It) alongside a real-time interactive map that describes the life of REFF all over the world: 60 authors, artists, designers, architects, hackers, journalists, activists; dozens of actions; a live and real-time stream of information collectively produced by a worldwide community of re-inventors.

In the three weeks prior to the exhibition opening AOS will run workshops with students to use the augmented reality application. The students’ interventions will form part of the urban performances which will populate the gallery during the 4 week exhibition.

”The use of communication technologies and invasive practices for the reinvention of reality is crucial for student movements in this difficult moment. We would like to get the students involved in the REFF experiments by providing them with access to those technologies that can work as effective forms of critical and alternative communication.  Students in UK and in Italy will have access to all the cross-medial CMS used to build the REFF book which will
enable them to create their own QRCodes and Fiducial markers that they can then stick around the city to disseminate information integrated within their communication across the web and the city.”
Art is Open Source

More information about the exhibition and workshops
For more about Art is Open Source and Fake Press:

Events related to this residency:
REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY! at Furtherfield Gallery, 25 February – 26 March 2011.
REFF – REMIX THE WORLD! REINVENT REALITY! Opening Event at Furtherfield Gallery, 25 February 2011, 6:30-9pm


The four day event at the Showroom collated a series of practitioners, artists, theorists and historians, to examine, test and explore ideas stemming from cybernetics and information theory and more specifically the idea of feedback.

Described as an ‘experimental cross-disciplinary research project’, Signal : Noise was a fusion of talks, lectures, performances, screenings and debates that made diverse contemporary evaluations of the legacy of cybernetics using an inter-disciplinary approach. It tackled subjects as seemingly diverse as economic theory; urbanism and the arrival of the motor car in London; game theory; linguistics; media-performance art from the 1970’s; and the problematic legacies of the recent UK arts funding system on artists – all viewed using the concepts and terminologies of cybernetics and systems.

'Signal: Noise', The Showroom, 2011, photograph Takako Hasegawa
‘Signal: Noise’, The Showroom, 2011, photograph Takako Hasegawa

Signal : Noise, in part, played out like a small conference, mainly set in The Showroom Gallery space with one wall covered with a network diagram drawing by Stephen Willats, and fly posted theoretical systems diagrams from his recently re-published 1973 book, or maybe manual, ‘The Artist as Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour’.

Fig 4. Model of an existing artist-audience relationship. Pg 28, The Artist as an Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour. 1973. Stephen Willats. 
Fig 4. Model of an existing artist-audience relationship. Pg 28, The Artist as an Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour. 1973. Stephen Willats. 

This visual reference served as a backdrop to the proceedings and served as an on going reminder that despite the deep theoretical and historical base being presented and discussed in its many forms, Signal : Noise was ultimately attempting to re ignite debates, and help reset the ideas of cybernetics and systems into a contemporary context of practical application. Willats’ book describes his process as an ‘investigation by the artist into the processes, procedures and models’ of the ‘Art Environment’ using ‘cybernetics as a research tool’.

The first night introductory presentations by Charlie Gere and Steve Rushton provided an overview of many ideas explored throughout the weekend. Artist and writer Steve Rushton on ‘How Media Masters Reality’ used an array of examples, from conceptual and media architecture group Ant Farm using pioneering ideas of investigating media feedback, through to the 500 millions votes (!) on US TV programme American Idol; the latter an example of how contemporary applications of media feedback loops are now often conceptually embedded into the core of television productions, and in turn, are now part of the audiences expectations and involvement.

Ant Farm’s 1975 work ‘The Eternal Frame’, screened later during the weekend, along with Gary Hill’s Why Do Things Always Get in a Muddle (Come on Petunia), based on Gregory Bateson’s Metalogues.

Ant Farm’s 1975 work ‘The Eternal Frame’, screened later during the weekend, was their carefully staged, somewhat trashy live ‘re enactment’ of the 8mm film footage of the Kennedy assassination, complete with a drag version of Jackie Kennedy and sunglass wearing suited security. This film sequence is familiar today, but in 1975 it had yet to reach the public domain.  Working to a tightly choreographed moment derived from a bootleg of the 29 seconds of 8mm film, Ant Farm’s grotesque mimicry of the assassination was performed as an ongoing loop, complete with car driving around the block (interestingly, the random people watching in the street in 1975 took photographs like they were at a theme park).

Ant Farm. The Eternal Frame (1975).
Ant Farm. The Eternal Frame (1975).
Ant Farm. The Eternal Frame (1975).

Despite being conceived in the mid ‘70s media environment of portable video and cassettes, the documentation of Ant Farm’s performance resonated with something surprisingly familiar and contemporary in our era of the internet, social media and rolling 24 hour news, and what Rushton termed our “society of self performance”.

Rushton’s historical threads from the origins of Cybernetics and to the Whole Earth Catalogue and the WELL served as a excellent base for the oncoming proceedings of the weekend, and showed that the arrival of the contemporary mass information network in the form of the internet, has habituated it’s millions of users into a kind of cybernetic practice based on input, observation, control, intervention, response, feedback, and adaptation but without necessarily using or being aware of its lexicon.

Nearby, in the Cockpit Theatre, was ‘Closed Circuit’ a performative work by Rod Dickinson (along with Rushton), which consisted of two actors staged and dressed, in a precise duplication of a set for political announcements; wooden lecterns, curtained background, complete with an array of flags – but all carefully neutralized by the removal of logos and national flags identities into plain white.

Live performance of Closed Circuit, Rod Dickinson in collaboration with Steve Rushton.
Live performance of Closed Circuit, Rod Dickinson in collaboration with Steve Rushton.

What followed was a series of political speeches utilizing the familiar language and tone of grandeur and crisis, delivered by the actors in the style of a world leader address.  What they delivered, was a carefully sequenced remixed script derived from political speeches over the past 50 years; Margaret Thatcher; Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan; Tony Blair; Yasser Arafat and others. All the details from each specific event they were referring to had been carefully edited out. The only way to differentiate one world leader, country or event from another, were the large projected auto cues for the actors, situated behind the audience at the rear of the theatre. Each one gave the full scrolling speech text and also the year and original context for each leaders’ delivery. Looking towards the stage, it sounded like a single coherent speech, but eluding any specific meaning, isolating the language of threat and authoritarian political control, leaving us just the husk of political presentation and the transparency of the format itself.

Ideas explored in Stephen Willats’ network drawing were expanded further during his talk in the final morning session of Signal : Noise, where he gave a refreshing clarion call to abandon ‘last century thinking’ during his prescient and timely discussion. His seminal works have persistently and methodically challenged the process, structure and meaning of art making and display. Willats made his earliest system diagrams in the late 1950’s, and was the first artist to make the artwork itself a map of communication. But maybe it is this century, rather than our last, that will connect with his provocations to the hierarchical, highly codified, object obsessed ‘Art Environment’, as he terms it, to see that ‘object based thinking is still a hangover from last century attitudes’.

Willats was an early reference for emerging net art and media art in the mid 90’s, with artists then clutching for any art historical roots that gave the field of networked and computer based practice some practical grounding.

'Signal: Noise', The Showroom, 2011, photograph Takako Hasegawa
‘Signal: Noise’, The Showroom, 2011, photograph Takako Hasegawa

This in-conversation with Emily Pethick surveyed his own personal development and immersion in Cybernetics in its differing stages, a short history lesson, moving from Norbert Weiner to Gregory Bateson and Gordon Pask, but always resolutely en route to the practical issues in the present and what Willats defines as the artist as an ‘instigator of transformation’.

In parallel to Willats, was a presentation and discussion hosted by Emma Smith and Sophie Hope which began to interrogate the legacy of a the New Labour arts commissioning process. It discussed how the criteria for successful funding was intrinsically linked to a social agenda, audience and location set by government policy.  Discussions followed about how the arts commissioning process may turn out to have skewed a generation of artists practice, as they slowly lost control of their own output, became tagged with being an ‘artist facilitator’, and began conceiving works to fit in with the criteria of funding bodies, with each funder slowly extending their own prospective reaches. All this supported by an immense drive to build ‘Cultural Industries’ into mechanisms for regeneration.

Seeing this placed against Willats, whose ongoing practice could initially seem in tune with the past decades cultural policies and its overtly prescribed socially engaged agenda, in fact served to show how contrasting, distinct and rich his rigourous thoughtful approach is by comparison.

All this made for a timely discussion. With the approaching withdrawal and decimation of arts funding in the UK, Signal : Noise could prove to be a prescient event. With presentations, workshops and panels by Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt of Dexter Sinister, Charlie Gere, Matthew Fuller, Marina Vishmidt and others, the interdisciplinary approach of Signal : Noise worked well despite its fairly dense timetable.

Using the gallery as a discursive space, with theorists and writers set within context of practice, is a good base for the next event in this on going series. What it maybe didn’t allow for, which is easily rectified, is a more unpredictable agenda, and more intervention by the ‘audience’. The whole event could function more as a real feedback working system, an adaptable structure that potentially allows for input from its participants (both presenters and audience) letting things move in unexpected directions both on line and offline, leaving a physicalised network as a residue after the event. With the decision to include food and beer in the ticket price (great dumplings, fresh vegetables and miso soup), there is potential here to expand this type of event even further.

With the on coming cultural landscape in the UK moving into un-chartered territory, it is potentially events like Signal : Noise which might begin to unearth and test new ideas and ignite debate within a less rigid format than a ‘curated’ show. In the future this type of event may even re-claim the word ‘radicalise’ from its current narrow, negative media usage, and re-purpose it for artists who decide to reject art market values, in favour of a exploring new ways of working within the emerging (and significantly less funded) ‘Art Environment’.

Extra info & links:

Signal : Noise. The project was led by Steve Rushton, Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey), Marina Vishmidt, Rod Dickinson and Emily Pethick.

The Artist as an Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour. 1973. Stephen Willats.

Closed Circuit, Rod Dickinson in collaboration with Steve Rushton.

Dr Charlie Gere. Reader in New Media Research. Department: Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts.


The Eternal Frame by T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm: Doug Hall, Chip Lord, Doug Michels, Jody Procter. 1975, 23:50 min, b&w and color, sound.

Emma Smith. Social practice that is both research and production based and responds to site-specific issues.

Sophie Hope’s work inspects the uncertain relationships between art and society.

Cyberspace Is Our Land: 20 Digital Years Plus

20 Digital Years Plus
Station Rose
Nurnberg 2010
ISBN 9783869841113

“Twenty Digital Years Plus” is a softback book that presents and contextualises the art of Station Rose (Elisa Rose and Gary Danner) from 1988 to the present. Its gatefold cover conceals both a CD and a DVD which provide audio and video to complement the static images and texts, and carries an endorsement from Bruce Sterling on the back cover.

The book starts with a series of essays before presenting an illustrated history of Station Rose. Those essays approach Station Rose from some refreshing and unexpected angles to make a convincing claim for their art historical interest.

Twenty Digital Years Plus, a softback book that presents and contextualises the art of Station Rose (Elisa Rose and Gary Danner) from 1988 to the present

Peter Noever writes in the book’s preface that “Media art is both an art form and a way of life for Station Rose”, a claim that the evidence of the book more than supports and that I think is key to why Station Rose’s art is so interesting. The book functions as a mid-career retrospective, and Noever suitably sets the themes of achievement and continuity.

Vitus H. Weh’s essay explains how Station Rose got their name and puts their LoginCabin project into the context of German post-cold-war architecture and the sociology of the Wild West. We are a long way from the early 90s view of the Internet as a new frontier, but despite its critics that view was not uniquely tied to American society and provided a liberating impetus to individuals who didn’t always subscribe to the Californian Ideology.

Hans Diebner’s critique of net art and activism brings a thought-provoking scientific, techno-art historical and philosophical critical literacy to bear on Station Rose and the artists and activists that he contrasts them with. Diebner weaves together diverse conceptual strands into a coherent critical case without any resort to jargon, and it’s worth thinking through how his case affects our view of net art in general as well as Station Rose’s position within its history.

Didi Neidhart’s interview with Rose and Danner provides context for and insights into how the pair create and conceptualise their work, and how their art and music relate. Station Rose emerge as the product of cultural engagement and lived history rather than academic fashion.

Gabriel Horn writes from a curator’s point of view about the future shock of working with Station Rose in 1991, in contrast to working with them in 1999 when they are part of an intermedia exhibition.

a softback book that presents and contextualises the art of Station Rose (Elisa Rose and Gary Danner) from 1988 to the present, an illustrated history of Station Rose.

The bulk of the book is an illustrated history of Station Rose. They started out in 1988 as a multimedia lab in Vienna complete with 16-bit Amiga computer. In November 1988 they went online for the first time at the Sampling conference they held in Vienna, having already adopted the technology and concepts of sampling into their art and performance. Since then their work has taken the form of CD-ROMs, live streaming media, live multimedia performance, Internet homepages, CDs and vinyl with Sony records, books, TV shows, multimedia installation, webcasting, lecturing, teaching, and a shed.

Station Rose also create memes, or language, such as the statement quoted by Bruce Sterling on the back cover that “Cyberspace is Our Land”, the much needed identification of the “Digital Bohemian Lifestyle” and the increasingly paradigmatic condition of being “private://public”. Even in an age when the concept of multimedia has largely been absorbed by the Internet their work crosses and assembles different media.

Much of Station Rose’s digital art has the not quite glitch aesthetic of overlayed pixellated form in shallow depth that any serious history of digital art needs to account for. But the cubicles, huts, pillows and panels of their installation work have the same aesthetic. Station Rose’s work is in itself a history of digital art over the last two decades. And this digital art is always in dialogue with physical performance and physical structures, the virtual in dialog with the real to illuminate each other.

Neidhardt's interview, Station Rose's work, history of digital art over the last two decades,

In Neidhardt’s interview, Danner says of Station Rose that “We are quickly bored with things as soon as they become mainstream.” Boredom with the content and products of digital media is the friend of the scheduled obsolescence and cultural amnesia of market mass media. But boredom with the form of and the means of creating digital media can also serve to motivate the creation of successive alternatives to it.

Over the last 20 years the Internet and digital media have gone from being a novelty to being socially and economically pervasive. This rate of change, and the constant promotion of different visions of what the Internet is for by different institutions, mean that our relationship with the Internet has come to be in plain sight. Artists can usefully depict and help us conceptualise that relationship, particularly those artists who can use the digital media that has been drawn into the Internet and become no small part of its operation.

Station Rose, the art in the age of digital media

Station Rose are such artists. Their art has the quality of being both the product and producer of lived experience in the age of digital media. It refracts the logistics and glitches of the Internet through the prism of contemporary art’s deceptively low-fi rummage sale aesthetics to present them as objects of contemplation. When digital media was new this served to make them accessible to an unfamiliar public. Now that digital media are pervasive to the point of invisibility, this serves to make them visible again as objects of contemplation and to afford the viewer a critical distance from them.

20 Digital Years Plus is an engrossing, thought-provoking presentation of the ongoing development of Station Rose that makes clear the value of their constantly enquiring relationship to ever changing technology.

(With thanks to @MarkRHancock)

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