Fair Exchange, featuring David Horvitz and Kyle McDonald

Posted by Taeyoon Choi | Thu Mar 29th 2012 12:35 a.m.

This is a story from the Fall of 2010 in New York City about friends who have influenced me greatly through artistic inspiration. All of the text was written between February 2~6, 2012 in the process of curating Fair Exchange at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center Bookstore, an exhibition which features two of them, David Horvitz and Kyle McDonald. I wish this writing can become a connection between two artists work and my intention in curating the exhibition. This text is work in progress.

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Participant drawing from Life Drawing class hosted by David Horvitz in collaboration with Adam Katz

October 15, 2011 Zuccotti Park
Early in the morning, as a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched uptown from Zuccotti Park, another line of people waited for the release of the iPhone 4S. Some of them had spent the night outside to secure their spot in the line. With a hint of confusion and irony, both groups gazed at one another. One group was rallying against, among many other things: corporate greed, bailouts of large banks, and the state’s reluctance and incompetence in dealing with the depressed economy. The other group was waiting to purchase the newest, the smallest, the fastest, and the best mobile phone. It would be unfair to distinguish the two groups as an opposite community; some of the protesters used their mobile phones and laptops to broadcast the action and some of the shoppers were tweeting about the events around OWS. Regardless of their level of participation and dedication in OWS or iPhone shopping, for a moment they were a “community of those who might tweet about some things in common.” A strange kind of antagonistic public space formed for a few minutes as one group made way for the other – some hostile, some friendly, and mostly simply confused.Around noon, The Public School New York was scheduled to give a talk about its’ future developments at the Mobility Shifts conference at New School University. The Public School New York Committee members, about ten persons and Sean Dockray, who started The Public School project in Los Angeles, rehearsed through the presentation. The event had only five audience members, including Sean’s daughter. It was a great discussion and time to reflect upon the project and collaboration. Following the conference, some of the attendees joined me as I lead the ‘March for/against Architecture’ near Wall Street. After the performance finished, I went on to Times Square, where a large number of people were gathering in conjunction with Occupy Times Square. Police surveillance was unusually dominant and the officers were alarmingly violent. As we gathered toward the Square, it was impossible to reach to the center as it was already occupied by many protesters. There was a mix of teenagers, Occupiers, and curious onlookers, an environment more festive than the other Occupy Wall Street protests. After going in and around the Square, I ran into David Horvitz and his friend Julianne. We decided to walk away from the Square: the police were forming lines and vacating the road, pushing people to the sidewalk. There was much confusion as to where exactly their enforcement begins and where one should be allowed to walk. We saw at least a dozen people get arrested for being on the wrong side of the street. Some of the confused bystanders and apparently non-threatening protesters were locked in the police bus and transported to the station. This sudden unfriendliness was confusing people, and they were booing at the police. As we waited for the bus, there were tourists and others who were criticizing protesters and showing signs of ridicule, especially the ones in large suburban cars who were stuck between the protest and the police. With nowhere to move, they were once again kept inside of their cars, looking at their iPhones.We took a bus down to Washington Square Park. Hundreds of people were waiting to hear Gayatri Spivak make a speech. Her much-anticipated speech begins, the People’s Mic follows each word; the speech goes on longer and people lose interest and attention, flashing the hand signal to move on. I said ‘These people have no patience!’ Hundreds of pizzas were delivered to Washington Square Park without a specific address or destination. These ‘Occu-pies’ were given free to all, helping people to keep occupying. We jumped from one pie to another, sampling everything possible. David made a mission for himself to taste all the pizzas that were delivered that night. As Spivak said, “…logistics are important, and pizzas are important. But the real demand is to win” By 11:45pm the police stated they would arrest anyone who stays overnight behind, and we were asked to leave the park. Some hardcore occupiers insisted in occupying the park. We left in fear of our unstable status in the States. We had coffee at Think Coffee and I ran into an artist who surgically implanted a camera on the back of his head. We exchanged greetings and promised to meet in near future. Julianne later sent me pictures from that night. Later in the evening, I found pictures of myself at the protests that friends posted on Facebook, and I also put some of my own online.

October 5, 2011 Foley Square, NYC
I joined the march of artists and writers that Sarah Resnick and friends organized. We were given beautiful screen printed posters that says ‘Money Talks Too Much’. Foley Square was full of energy and excitement as the union workers of public schools and city college joined in. It was a moment that the more organized labor unions vocalized their support for Occupy Wall Street. I ran into David Horvitz at the north entrance of Foley Square. David came with a large sketch pad; he had just left a drawing class. I had an apple from a farmer who was giving them away. We marched toward the center of Foley Square and made our way to the fountain. After glorious moments of shooting photos, we marched toward Wall Street. It was very crowded and it was unclear as to who was allowed on Wall Street: barricades surrounded the square. I got tired rather quickly and went to meet two friends in their Chinatown office, but David and others went onward with the march. At a street cafe on the Franklin Street, I tried to explain Occupy Wall Street to two of my graphic designer friends who had not been to it and did not take it seriously. One of them, a recently naturalized citizen, seemed unconvinced by the idea of protesting against Capitalism in the United States, and commented that while it is fucked up, it must be better than other countries. While we decided where to go for dinner, David texted me that he had gotten into Wall Street, and my friend got a twitter alert informing them of Steve Jobs’ death. They freaked out, shocked by their hero’s sudden death. I was surprised at the contrast between attachment to a figure like Jobs and disconnect to the social movement happening only a few blocks away. Later that evening, I found pictures from the day on Facebook. David sent a zipped folder of photographs from the day; one is of me holding a hand drawn poster that reads ‘Capital doesn’t love me back’.

October 23, 2001 Cupertino, CA
Steve Jobs was always a charismatic speaker, but it was around this times that the ritual of his keynote presentations and product launches became something of a cult following. A cynic would say it was as if the Jesus of Capitalism was preaching on selling indulgence. A fan would say it was a smart marketing meets art.Apple released iPod First Generation. It had a capacity of 5~10GB with Firewire connection and 10 hours of Battery life.

-from Ipodhistory.com

October 2009 Fair Exchange
‘Fair Exchange’ is a story I wrote about a man who did not find meaning in anything, so he bought everything: friends, titles, trust and more. In return, he came to have all the meanings he desired. He then sold those to other people who had none of it. It was written in a small studio on the intersection of Beaver Street and Broad Street, steps away from the Wall Street. I narrated the text with a slideshow of drawings in November at the NYU Barney Building Theater.

June 6th 2011 People Staring at Computers
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Watercolor by David Pierce (2012), based on Kyle McDonald's "People Staring at Computers" (2011)
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‘People Staring At Computers’ project hits viral, Kyle’s computers were confiscated and there was much worry and support for him and some criticism for the project. I thought it was his best project to date because it was critical and humorous and inventive. It made sense to me as more than just a one-line prank. I knew of Kyle’s previous ‘ Keytweeter’ project, in which he published every line of words that was typed into his computer for the whole year. He did block out a few words, such as personal and banking information, but otherwise everything was published as soon as he entered it. Keytweeter put his privacy and intimacy at risk, much like the ‘People Staring at Computers’ project, but it was the mirror opposite; the reversal of gaze became a powerful commentary on how we look and interact with computers and one another.

The project demonstrates the consumer’s worst nightmare: ‘the object stares back’ and we are confronted with the blank stare we pass on to the computer on almost daily basis. I think the popularization of iPhone and other smartphones has pushed the red button in the public consciousness and behavior changes in the public space. The tinker bell was inside our pocket, our friends were inside the phone, ready to call out any time, but also ready to inform each other about their status any time anywhere with anyone.

The sales of Apple products from 2000 to 2010 has increased from 10,000 million to more than 60,000 million and by 2011 the tablet PC market has been dominated by 75% with Mac products. With the introduction of the iPod in 2001, the most affordable product in the Apple line, consumers could easily be introduced to the Apple products and operating system. iTunes has become the primary way people purchase and organize music, and the lifetime’s worth of photographs can be organized with iPhoto. Because of its’ high commodity value and closed-source system with hardware and software Apple is only really common in the developed world and privileged class. Such limits in upgrade and maintenance made Apple products difficult to catch on in other countries, until iPhone.

People have started to spend more time with computers, and even more time with mobile phones. The surveys show that 91% of Americans own mobile phones and about 10% own iPhones. The past ten years have been a quantum leap in terms of our interaction with computers, and by extension our interactions with others via computer. With increasing development in the processing power of mobile computers and relevant development in software and applications, both young and urban populations and suburban and rural populations in wide age groups are increasingly more tied to the mobile connections. How this affects our environment and experience of life is something we know from first hand experience.

The mediation and connectivity has allowed us more accessibility to information and interaction with others over distance; in return, we often feel displaced from immediate surroundings and the community within reach. Is this displacement solely due to the mobile connections and mediation, or is it something that has been under works for a long time? We can read ‘Third Wave’ written by Alvin Toffler in 1980, which forecast the impact of the Internet and information industry on all aspects of human life. Now that the future has become the history, the extent of the past ten years on our interaction with computer is in unbeatable clarity. The field of Human Computer Interaction was coined around the same time as ‘Third Wave’ but only became popular in academic and commercial design fields (and, most importantly, in business) in the past ten years.

“People Staring At Computers” projects a future that is already happening in the present, when the machine begins to think for itself, watching us watch it without knowing it is watching us. The machine designed to be a passive tool for communication, computing, and archiving our information and tasks is staring back at us, and delivering our information to a faraway server. Like an old science fiction movie, scariness comes because we have these machines everywhere in our homes, and always carry them around, the most intimate object in daily life.

However, what is really interesting about Kyle’s project is not that a hacker installed a spyware in Mac Stores, but it’s seemingly easiness. It raises an important question: if one hacker with his program can monitor our behavior that easily, how else are we being monitored? What information is kept on our online life, and traded for purchase? It is not an Orwellian fear, but a realizing of the rhizomatic structure of the network, fueled by desire for consumption and human connection. Our gaze is returned back at us, returning the same exact gaze we put on the computers and mobile phones, the same gaze I have right now as I write this. It is like the first moment when a baby finds themselves on the mirror, the Lacanian discovery, that we are who we are according to the reflection on the computer. The question is not about the obvious critique of Big Brother’s control or Panoptic gaze, but rather it is about people looking at each other, checking their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, constantly publishing their lives online. The end result is this infinite loop of people staring at other people staring at machines (laptop computers), because these pictures were taken of people staring at pictures of others staring at the machine (cameras).

When people look at their computers, they often look in at other people’s lives. Social networking sites, constantly reincarnating on different platforms, have become more perceptive to people’s desires, of voyeuristic and exhibitionist desires, and deliver services that produce desires which were minor or nonexistent in the past. It is not only the desires that produce certain machines and invent their uses: the serious science of ‘user experience’ and ‘design strategy’ is employed to produce desires which are not yet in demand. The people’s desires have now become a desire demand for more desires.



When the ‘Keytweeter’ and ‘People Staring at Computers’ are juxtaposed as a series of work on privacy and representation, they are comparable to Dan Graham’s ‘Performer/Audience/Mirror’,1977. In this case, the instructions are the software, and the computers are the performers. One can question ‘People Staring At Computers’ as invading customers privacy and the private space of Apple Store, but as Steve Jobs clearly told us in a 2007 commercial for the grand opening of Apple retail stores, we are free to do whatever we want in store, to try the software and hardware, and make ourselves at home before purchasing the products. Since the welcoming environment of Apple stores has attracted many customers and also hackers like teenagers dancing inside of the store and uploading the video to Youtube, their interventions differ only from from Kyle’s in that his software captures unnoticed bystanders.

In Kyle’s project blog, there was a clear credit of who made the project and where the images were being stored; it wasn’t an anonymous hacker’s secret mission to get profile photos of customers. It is important to understand the ‘People Staring…’ project as an extension of voyeuristic desires that has inspired photographers to produce work that sits on the uncomfortable border between candid, honest portrayal of a society, and invasion of privacy. Set the ethics aside, and of course there is a fair amount of prankster nature in the project, but how different is it from a numberless tourist taking pictures of other tourists? Or the surveillance cameras at every corner of city blocks and elevators that constantly monitor us without our consent? Or the iPhone and iPad, which keep critical information, such as the location of the device owner, or the social networking sites that collect and trade personal information and social relations? The world in the age of social media and mobile computing is far away from a safe haven with privacy, and we sign up for it. We stand in lines for hours over night to purchase the latest gadget that will store our private data without our knowledge, and we willingly share our private moments with the wider web, through Facebook or Twitter or whatever that will dominate the market and public consciousness in near future. The difference the “People Staring…” project has caused is the unnerving realization that this is all possible and we are already part of it. The artist is, once again, similar to Dan Graham, telling us what we already know though we don’t realize we know it.

April 2011
There is a large hype about Apple’s policy toward customers privacy and location data that stirred the internet media and the public. Various sources claimed Apple collected data from customers phones, but Apple acknowledges in iPhones saving location data but not sending it to a central server. On the other side of the world, a South Korean lawyer successfully sues Apple for his iPhone holding private and location data without his consent. It is interesting to think that customers are okay with their location holding geographic information. It is like the machine remembers its life, although its owners might not. Again, this is not a Big Brother system of surveillance and gaze, but rhizomatic nodes and network of control and management, one mobile phones at a time.

“9. Does Apple currently provide any data collected from iPhones to third parties?
We provide anonymous crash logs from users that have opted in to third-party developers to help them debug their apps. Our iAds advertising system can use location as a factor in targeting ads. Location is not shared with any third party or ad unless the user explicitly approves giving the current location to the current ad (for example, to request the ad locate the Target store nearest them).” from Apple website.

From January to December of 2011. Anywhere but here.
I think it is fair to say this year, at least for me, I have spent too much time on Facebook and Twitter. From the closest relations to professional development, I got a lot of information through such social media sites. Most of the exciting things in the world—the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street—seemed to happen anywhere but here, and I could see everything from my MacBook Air laptop. I took up the terms Slacktivist and Facebook Revolutionary: given that all my activist friends were all on social media, it felt like being engaged with these media is the almost given duty of a contemporary revolutionary. I became “Friends” with people in Iran, people I had never met before through workshops between Tehran and New York City organized by Molly Kleiman and Ava Ansari, we were sharing so much information on daily basis. It felt like I was putting ideas out on the Internet before they had even fully crystallized, many of my projects were “published” online before they had fully been created. Sometimes it felt as though I was thinking in terms of 140 characters; the “Like” button on Facebook became the ultimate approval among the community of absence. I can’t even calculate how many hours were spent on those things. It was great to be in contact with others, but the sad part was because we were so present in those moments, so ubiquitously in the presence of others through mediation, we never really got to speak to each other, or to be meaningful when we were actually together. My closeness to certain people became confusing: if we were friends on Facebook, did it also mean we were friends in real life? I made friends with creative people I respected, famous artists, curators, activists, academics. Watching their updates and their friends’ reactions was sometimes entertaining and other times informing, but mostly simply annoying. I found it was most annoying to be in presence of others when you are actually quite distant from them, when you never had a conversation with them in real life. It was frightening to realize that some people are in the presence of your life, regardless of your decision. If you have ever been in a long distance relationship, Skyping, sometimes you will find yourself scrolling down Facebook’s pages. You will always notice each others’ blank stare at the screen, not really thrilled or bored, somewhere strangely between two extreme states, a perfect state of disengagement.

November 15th. 8PM. Brooklyn Bridge.
I spent the afternoon in Union Square with many students and protesters, with my sign “Who is our friend?” Jongchul shot beautiful photographs from that day, and I got some great pictures and interactions.

David had just gotten back from a cross country trip where he tweeted constantly about what he saw and was thinking. He bought an iPad 2 with grant money, and was going around with it, tweeting, taking pictures, and drawing. The two of us met with a few of his friends at the Brooklyn Bridge. In a memorable evening of collective energy, the 99% Bat Signal, and more, David pulled out his iPad, wrote “Take The Bridge,” and waved at cars driving by. The obvious irony of using an iPad as a protest sign cracked us up. We had pizza at a tourist attractions spot, and when we were done, the “Revolutionary Communist Party” was waiting in line to get into the pizza place.

The police looked at me and yelled out “I’m not your friend! I don’t even know your name.” I reached out to shake his hand and he refused.

October 30th 2-4PM. Life Drawing
I wore the sign “I am your friend” while David and Adam held the Life Drawing sessions at the OWS.

David’s work is impressive not for the things he does but for how he does them. He is at ease in doing something extraordinary and something very simple, things we already do, or we could do if we wanted to. He invites others to collaborate on his projects in a comfortable way; the participation can be arbitrary decision and their involvement may be limited to a certain degree, but the people leave the projects with a rewarding experience.

One example is his grand plan to pay back his student loans by asking friends across the world to send 58 cents at a time to Sallie Mae. "Fifty Eight Cents He will need to get 100,000 individual donations for the $58,412.10 to disappear. The seemingly impossible (and possibly unreasonable) task of paying back student loan for graduate school, especially for an arts education, is shared by many artists and creatives these days. Though it is the individual’s decision to attend such an expensive school, the project also raises questions about the symbolic value of M.F.A perceived in the field versus its’ actual use value. David asks people to participate in solving his own problem, one shared by many others. Friends and strangers alike collaborate on a simple task following his written instructions, whether screenshots of Word documents, images, or PDF documents arranged against a scenic background or a famous painting. This ease of his way of doing things is also apparent in beautiful still life photographs of fruits and books, often made as studio editions to pay for studio rent. Once I asked him if he would participate in a group exhibition based on theme or relationship with the curator. He responded by saying he usually says yes if somebody really wants to do something with him.

The way David interacts with participants online can be understood as an extension, or a reinterpretation, of mail artist like Ray Johnson. He channels the underground network of artists who exchanged mail in its most creative form, building on top of the other’s works. Secret conversations and communication became the art form, the transmission as the medium. For artists living in the age of the iPad 2 and Twitter, it is no surprise those tools have be used in a manner similar to mail art. Contemporary artists reach out to audiences in every corner of the world and speak of secret messages and public announcements, sometimes one or the other or both at the same time. Maybe it’s David’s beginnings of creative practice as a punk rock musician and zine maker, or just his easy-going personality, but his lack of pretentiousness and pseudo-artistic persona in return makes his work unpretentious.

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Life Drawing
The case of ‘Life Drawing’ at Occupy Wall Street was no less welcoming from other projects. I got an email from David and his collaborator on the project, Adam Katz that there will be a life drawing session under the ‘big red thing’; the Mark di Suervo Sculpture in Zuccotti Park. There were a few art students, friends, and strangers drawing the policemen on duty. David and Adam initiated a conversation with the officer, explaining the project and offering to stop if the officer felt uncomfortable. The male officer from the first day enjoyed the attention and posed for the crowd for few hours. Many occupiers, tourists and the curious went through the Sculpture and few joined in to draw. The artists prepared wooden panels and some dry drawing materials. Though some people drew other people, pigeons, the city, the participants mostly the participants exchanged gaze with the officer. We had a female officer for the second week of Life Drawing. At first she was alarmed by the idea of people drawing her, but was eventually convinced on the condition that her face was not photographed or otherwise represented. When we were told to leave the area because they had to extend the barricades, we moved on to the north end of the park and drew higher-ranking officers on duty. They seemed to get a kick out of it, and came near to see how they looked in charcoal and paper. The artists and participants were at ease engaging in casual conversation with the officers, asking where they were from and shift assignment, and also talking about friendship at work and gym memberships.

It is important to note the general hostility that the occupiers and supporters had toward the NYPD, and the the conservative population’s discontent as occupation continued with mixed messages about the reasons for and demands of the protest. There was much criticism on unnecessary use of force toward the protesters, and video documents spread rapidly across social media platforms, facilitated through ‘shares’ and ‘like’ buttons. A few weeks later, there was a critical incident in UC Davis when the police pepper sprayed a student who was clearly nonthreatening. Some in the media saw the Occupy Wall Street as an irrational and unnecessary outburst from angry extremists. In truth, it was far away from such categorization of a collective social movement; there was much of space opening up for unprecedented conversations, encounters and collaboration.

October, 2011
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Taeyoon Choi, My Friends, there is no Friend. Performance. 11.17.2011 Part of Speakers' Corners

“People have asked, so what are the demands? What are the demands all of these people are making? Either they say there are no demands and that leaves your critics confused, or they say the demands for social equality and economic justice are impossible demands. And the impossible demands, they say, are just not practical. If hope is an impossible demand, then we demand the impossible — that the right to shelter, food and employment are impossible demands, then we demand the impossible. If it is impossible to demand that those who profit from the recession redistribute their wealth and cease their greed, then yes, we demand the impossible.” – Judith Butler

“Don’t fall in love with yourselves, with the nice time we are having here. Carnivals come cheap—the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. Fall in love with hard and patient work—we are the beginning, not the end. Our basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world, we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives. There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions—questions not about what we do not want, but about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders we need? The XXth century alternatives obviously did not work.” – Slavoj Zizek.

“Michelle and I are saddened to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs. Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.
By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.” – President Barack Obama.

“Tonight, America lost a genius who will be remembered with Edison and Einstein, and whose ideas will shape the world for generations to come. Again and again over the last four decades, Steve Jobs saw the future and brought it to life long before most people could even see the horizon. And Steve’s passionate belief in the power of technology to transform the way we live brought us more than smart phones and iPads: it brought knowledge and power that is reshaping the face of civilization. In New York City’s government, everyone from street construction inspectors to NYPD detectives have harnessed Apple’s products to do their jobs more efficiently and intuitively. Tonight our City – a city that has always had such respect and admiration for creative genius – joins with people around the planet in remembering a great man and keeping Laurene and the rest of the Jobs family in our thoughts and prayers.” – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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