Human Inside: MacKeeper and other Familiar Objects of Vulnerable Spaces

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 "Human Inside" by Arjun Srivatsa, 2015.

Inspired by the advertising strategy of MacKeeper, a security and maintenance utility that promotes its product in the most insecure areas of the web, I invited three artists—LaTurbo Avedon, Eltons Kūns and Giselle Zatonyl—to join me in making works that responds to the experience of encountering malicious objects in vulnerable spaces. The works and my curatorial statement are below.

The second result listed on Google when searching "MacKeeper" is MacKeeper.com, a site that sells a product named MacKeeper. The first result, however, is an Apple Discussions thread entitled "Do not install MacKeeper."

Apple users consistently criticize the cleaning, security, and optimization utility, claiming that it is a virus in the guise of antivirus software. Forums on Mac blogs feature long threads of horror stories[1] about the utility’s user experience, often stating that once downloaded, MacKeeper irrevocably slows down computers, forcing users to reformat their drives. Former PR Director Jeremiah Fowler said that his product and their robot logo became a "forum punching bag"[2] due to a black PR campaign run by an aggressive competitor. However, as years pass, MacKeeper’s bad reputation continues to develop as new critiques are published, painting the product as a malicious paywall scheme that enslaves users in a never-ending upgrade cycle.

"Good At It" by Eltons Kūns, 2015

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Flocking Behavior: TCF's music of the boids

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TCF, 85 CE 86 EE 4B B1 72 9B 0A AD 15 46 47 33 2C 30 (2015). Screenshot of audio composition as presented online as part of EBM (T).

You're a small triangle in flight across a screen, four pixels wide and eight pixels tall. Your lot in life is to be an (x,y) pair. Your velocity has a fixed range. After the chaos of your origin at a random point in this field, your path is wholly determined by the triangles flying closest to you, and your path influences them in turn.

You are both an instantiated object and a member of a flock, a class, a school. You follow three rules: separation, alignment, cohesion. These three rules collaborate to update your position—helping you avoid collision, target a collective goal, stay close to friends.

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"Body Anxiety:" Sabotaging Big Daddy Mainframe, via online exhibition

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Kate Durbin, HELLO, SELFIE! (2014). Screen capture from performance video filmed by Jessica Nicole Collins.

The online exhibition "Body Anxiety," curated by Jennifer Chan and Leah Schrager, opened Saturday at http://bodyanxiety.com/.

When, in 1991, the first cyberfeminist art group VNS Matrix called themselves "Saboteurs of Big Daddy Mainframe" their bold rhetoric seemed to herald a new feminist revolution. The online exhibition "Body Anxiety," curated by artists Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan, shows this revolution to be very much a work in progress. More than two decades of cyberfeminism have not been enough to successfully subvert traditional gender roles—not even in its own, online territory.

This is not to say that nothing has changed. The work of young female and gender-queer artists today is more accessible than that of their predecessors, and the desire for change is far more widespread. From Facebook to youtube, tumblr, instagram and beyond, people explore social relations and create their own media identities. In the wake of this, there has been a veritable flood of biographical works and highly vulnerable experiments with popular sexual imagery. Body Anxiety shows a broad selection of these and similar, often subtle, humorous works. The exhibition is not an attack on traditional gender roles, but a call to stay alert to the unrelenting appearance of old and new gender stereotypes in art. 

Chan and Schrager pose a sensitive question: why is the work of male artists still valued over that of female artists, even if they cover the same subject matter or work in similar styles and techniques? The curators highlight the issue by showing female artists who use their own bodies as subject matter. Nancy Leticia's video Fantasie Impromptu shows the artist playing a black piano in her underwear. She sits against a white curtain backdrop on a white fluffy pillow. In front of her on the music stand lies a red rose. The scene is utterly kitsch- tooth-enamel-cracking sweet. It is difficult to see this work as "female-empowering." Instead, the artist paints a soft porn stereotype that is at the same time painfully sweet and embarrassingly alluring to watch.

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Up in the AIR: How will tech residencies reshape Bay Area art?

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Image from Art+Tech: Virtual Reality, November 2014. (Photo: Codame).

Over the past year, San Francisco and the Bay Area have come to be defined in the national sphere by the think piece. In the constant stream of articles about gentrification, the Ellis Act evictions, artist displacement, and arts non profits closing left and right in response to the city's rising population and booming tech industry, it might be surprising to note that a number of tech companies are investing increasingly in artist residency programs. In fact, two of the biggest tech companies in the region—Facebook and Autodesk—maintain active residency programs. For companies without the infrastructure for such endeavors, local art and technology non-profit CODAME offers to pair tech companies with artists for individual projects through their "Adopt An Artist" program. While there is a lot of conversation (and concern) in the Bay Area regarding the tech industry's lack of support and philanthropy for the arts, the questions seem skewed towards trying to figure out how to cater to tech wealth, rather than thinking through art's role in the tech industry itself. This text surveys corporate residency programs in the Bay Area which exemplify how artists engage with this industry, and begins to sketch out possible implications—or potential—for the art infrastructure and its relationship with tech creativity.

Autodesk's Pier 9 Artist-in-Residence program is housed in the corporation's immense facility in Pier 9 along the waterfront in downtown San Francisco. Artists apply for four-month residencies at the space, which provides access to their workshop, a stipend, and the ability to work directly with the company's engineers on their projects. The program maintains a diverse pool of applicants who range from fashion designers to chefs, architects, and technologists as well as fine artists, who have access to Autodesk's high-end equipment, materials, and software, plus training and skillshare programs. Although it is not an explicit part of the program, the focus on "makers" over "fine artists" benefits Autodesk as well. The company launched Autodesk 123D in 2009 as free 3D modeling software designed for the general consumer, and they acquired the DIY info sharing website Instructables in 2011. The AIR program began at Instructables before their purchase by Autodesk, who developed it into a much larger initiative. All AIR residents are required to post their projects to the website, so there is a direct tie into the site's content. Envisioning how people create with their tools, or their competitor's tools, in a variety of scenarios is clearly a valuable asset to the company, especially as the mainstream culture moves into a maker culture.

Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop.

Autodesk's Pier 9 AIR Program Manager Vanessa Sigurdson describes the environment at Autodesk as an "office full of artists, not an office with artists" and they aim to have active interchange between the resident artists and engineers. Former resident artists Joseph DeLappe and Adrien Segal felt that the environment was very supportive and encouraging for visiting artists, with an "anything goes" atmosphere. DeLappe created rubber stamps for In Drones We Trust, while Segal used water consumption statistics to build a canyon-like bench. Both mentioned that the workshop helped to foster the company's culture of bustling, creative energy. Sigurdson referenced the Xerox PARC artist-in-residence (PAIR) program as an important inspiration for the residency, a project that similarly brought artists and technologists together in collaboration.

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Artist Profile: Emily Jones

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.


First Water to Tripoli Jupiter Woods London 2014

One recurring motif in your work of late has been your posters, sometimes A4 [letter-sized] but sometimes blown up larger, which usually depict one word or phrases, for example, "earth-cult," "sui iurus, or "we will protect the great river." These are presented in generic, unadorned fonts. Your press releases continue this aesthetic, combining these phrases to form a kind of poetry. Reading the text for your recent show at Jupiter Woods, in South London, we see couplings like "#archive #bank #invest / It is within our human capacity" and "how-to-disappear-in-the-anthropocene / the_love_that_sustains_all_matter.html."

Do these phrases create a taxonomy within your work? Do they give a clue to the way you form relations between different politics, geographies and affects? They have featured in a number of different exhibitions and projects over the last year. Might we say they form the skeleton, or the exoskeleton, of your practice?

The words are anchors or/and buoys in an operating system. When I employ them for the A4 page or a larger poster or banner they gesture towards an attempted isolation which I feel is terrifying for them&us. When words are large and isolated on the page they can be looked at for their surface forms and qualities (the curves and angles of the letters rather than the meaning the word points toward) They are also very poised, like templates, often in complete adherence to the prescriptions of google docs. They have to trust themselves to hold their form despite this uninvited and abrupt isolation. The individual poster is like a shield, armor, or veil. What lies beyond and before language as an orientation system?

 

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Palinopsia

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 Olsson, E. & Funk, P. (2009). "Agent-Based Monitoring using Case-Based Reasoning for Experience Reuse and Improved Quality." Journal of Quality in Maintenance Engineering, 15(2), 179-192.

"An Agent-based Legal Knowledge Acquisition Methodology for Agile Public Administration"1 is just one of the many hyper-dull papers on Agent-Based Modelling that require me to complete a course in antidepressants before reading. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors lend a certain numbness that cushions the deep boredom that comes with trying to come to grips with how logics at multiple scales work together to produce the performance of power in a world with computation at its center.

I have just finished writing a paper with Matthew Fuller from Goldsmiths (University of London2) about "Abstract Urbanism." This was my excuse for reading the aforementioned paper along with many other screeds, including Thomas C. Schelling's elaborately racist algorithm "Models of Segregation." Written in 1969—just four years after the Voting Rights Act gave a large percentage of African-Americans the right to vote--the paper posited a logic for interpreting micro/macro behaviours in segregated USA cities.3 Schelling's model worked by assigning black and white "agents" a space on a grid and a degree of happiness that is increased or decreased depending on the proximity they have to other black or white agents. Too little happiness, and they move toward their own type, creating discernible patterns of segregation.

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The Blank Canvas of Networked Capital, or, Another Look at the Whiteboard

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Image from dry-erase company ideapaint

When architects look at the built environment today, it can't help but be with profound misgivings. They're still working on projects, but the most ambitious designers are concentrating on building out, rather than building up, on moving people through interfaces rather than cities. Foundations and blueprints are replaced by schematics and entity relationship maps: architectures not of form, but of information. The fundamental unit of design isn't so much a site as it is a platform. And today, engineering a new society involves relentless ideation, a messianic vision, and— most crucially— a whiteboard.

"Whiteboarding," used as a verb, is a sort of lingua franca of the technologist— a new international style that reconstitutes the very assumptions of digital design, from interfaces and software diagrams to database structures. Though not new, this apparatus has recently become associated with a new kind of creative, a new type of thinker/tinkerer, and thus the whiteboard takes on new meaning vis-a-vis the economy, privilege, and power. Used and abused, it is a significant artifact of the present age of networked capital. If we were to construct a museum-like period room to represent the tech start-up of the new millennium, its walls would be whiteboards.

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Save the Date: Future-Proof, a Rhizome Benefit honoring Petra Cortright and Paul Chan & Badlands Unlimited

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Save the Date
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
for...
Future-Proof
A Rhizome Benefit Dinner
Honoring...
Petra Cortright and Paul Chan & Badlands Unlimited
at the New Museum
 
For end of year tax-deductible presale inquiries, email info@rhizome.org
 

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We Surpassed Our Kickstarter Goal for the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs. Thank You!

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Yesterday, we surpassed our goal of $20,000 in our first Kickstarter, to save and make playable the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs. We want to take a moment to say a sincere thank you to all those who donated, promoted on social media, and wrote about the campaign. Now, we'll get to work. We aim to have the games online, free for all to play in any browser, by April 2015. This will also be when we host a public event at the New Museum and an online exhibition celebrating Duncan's work, contextualizing it within feminist gaming history. Furthermore, we'll be commissioning articles and educational materials to deepen public awareness of these CD-ROMs and the broader history of women gamemakers.

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Artist Profile: Jennifer Chan

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.

Jennifer Chan. Tralier for the exhibition "Young Money" (Future Gallery, 2012).

I remember when I first saw the videos you were making in 2012 while you were at Syracuse, and I recall feeling as though you were imitating a "bro net art aesthetic" as a way to critique it. For example, the trailer for your exhibition "Young Money" (above) includes a shot of you holding cash, a rotating pizza, and a floating rendering of a bong. But now, ironically, that has actually become your signature style and when I see others making videos in that vein, I think they are copying you. How do you feel your video style came to be, and now that you've been immersed in it for some years, why do you use the formal elements that you do?

I want to defensively say "I wasn't copying art bros; they're copying me!" but I really don't think there is any originality after the internet and in some sense we subconsciously or directly retain emotional and aesthetic affects of everything we see. I wasn't thinking it was particularly "bro-ey" style that informed works like Young Money...Before I discovered "postinternet" art I was watching a lot of amateur YouTube videomakers like Wendy Vainity, Epic Mealtime, and random videos of boys performing pranks and dares, so there were some definite influences from vloggers and pro-am producers. I noticed that people actually enjoyed performing "bro" ironically, and I wanted to channel that parodic pleasure. It can't and won't be about youth and fantasy forever though. I'm currently working on a 15-minute video about equality that bastardizes film and documentary tropes...

Bad videomaking seemed sincere, effortless and convenient for the net. My older videos were inspired by fan culture on YouTube and could be lumped in with screen-recorded videos, unboxings, and reviews made by young videogamers. A direct aesthetic influence was my friend Daniel Waldman who made videos for fun with Windows Movie Maker and posted every one of them on YouTube without caring whether people thought it was art or not. 

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