First Look: Poetry as Practice

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In this online exhibition, six poets approach internet language as a bodily, social, and material process. 

New poetry works will be published every Monday through April 6, 2015. Co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look exhibition series; curated by Harry Burke.

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Self-Portraits in Abject Time: Review of Paul Kneale at Evelyn Yard

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 Paul Kneale, "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions", exhibition view at Evelyn Yard

For Paul Kneale's show "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions" at Evelyn Yard, the gallery windows have been blacked out and emblazoned with the artist's name. Approaching the space feels like walking up to a monogrammed stretch limousine where tinted windows conceal luxury objects. Surprisingly, once inside, the works look cheap and fragile.

The exterior treatment of the gallery is echoed by the monochrome page design and white text of Kneale's concurrent residency on the publishing platform dreamingofstreaming.com, a visual link that reinforces the work's existence on and off-line, between different types of screen. Seven hyperlinks are listed on the website beneath the title "~~~~***PAUL KNEALE__888^NEW ABJECT___2015," taking the user to pages hosted on the classified ad site Craigslist. Together, these posts constitute Kneale's written response to Julia Kristeva's 1980 text Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.

For Kristeva, abjection was a state of mental and physical disgust provoked by indeterminate subject-object/self-other relations felt, for example, at the point of contact between one's lips and the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk. It was a condition, she wrote, without "a definable object." Kneale's response proposes a "new abjection”: the disgust arising from engagement with cultural products and services that have recognizably changed in the wake of Web 2.0.

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Towards a Theory of the Dick Pic (NSFW)

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1.

Preliminary Materials

At this very moment, countless dicks compete for your attention. Some archived and waiting to be accessed through the same internet search tools you use to find new restaurants, some directed at you personally through the same applications through which you tell your family you are doing just fine. Surely, in your 5-block radius, someone is in the process of organizing his, her, or their junk for a photo, and someone has, to their disdain or delight, on a phone or computer that looks remarkably like yours, just laid their eyes on one.

Despite its omnipresence, the dick pic is remarkably under-theorized. Besides the click-bait paradigm of pathologizing individual senders (albeit sometimes deservedly), the aesthetics, history, and (yes) cultural significance of dick pics has yet to be worked out. But I'm taking up the task today. With a bit of panic and a lot of excitement about debasing my philosophical heroes, I will attempt to place the dick pic at the intersection of anatomical and juridical photography, the #selfie, pornography, and finally, the global brand.[1]

2.

Photo Forensis

Even while the Tumblr Critique My Dick Pic urges its users to think beyond size (and, crucially, beyond gender), it seems essential to remember that measurements—size, width, length, girth, whatever—are some of the dick pic's primary obsessions. Consider how many include a lighter or pencil for scale—or, most literally, are framed against a measuring tape (as in a mug shot). This desperation to quantify persists despite the reams of seemingly excellent advice that sex partners couldn't care less, and the intuitive or experiential evidence that some particularly endowed forms do not function during sex. Size seems inherent to the dick pic's peculiar forensics.

Why the obsession with measurements? In the now-familiar narrative, photography served the essential modernist drive to link vision and truth. Allan Sekula's seminal text "The Body and The Archive," essential for discussing our collective compendium of single body parts, traces photography's perceived truth-function to its mobilization by the police. Indeed, the interpretive conventions of the photograph were established within phrenology and physiognomy, two disciplines bent on interpreting the body's "truths" through its measurements, most often to diagnose criminal or medical pathologies. Of course, during a period of European colonial expansion and in the midst of the emergence of Darwin's theory of evolution, the "truths" photography exposed were often classist, racist, and sexist fictions intended to legitimate class, racial, and gender differences "on organic ground."[2]

Two architects of the medical and criminological image serve as instructive examples for the dick pic's hermeneutics. In the late 1800s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon invented a schema for identifying suspected criminals that required their photo archived according to 11 measurements of their body—identification made possible through calculated comparison. Embedding each new photo in this expanding archive, Bertillon called for what Sekula described as "a massive campaign of inscription, a transformation of the body's signs into a text." That dick pics are, on some level, streams of textual 1s and 0s makes this inscription literal.

Around the same time, as Sekula tells it, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, invented the composite photograph as a tool to determine a generic criminal type. Galton would take a series of photos on one piece of film and underexpose each according to the ratio of photos in the series so that, he argued, only the visual similarities would emerge. Here, the process called for by Bertillon is inverted: the archive is embedded in the photograph. Galton's methodology is a disturbing precursor of the algorithmic tools that construct our every photo, separating the signal from the noise according to predictive data generated by prior images. Each dick pic, then, bears the marks of all others that came before.[3]

Dick pics suggest that masculinity as we know it was a product of modernity's visual regime. Not only did modernity seek "a biologization of existing class relations," pathologizing the proletariat, as Sekula wrote, but a biologization of existing gender relations as well. It's not that modernity created the demand for a visual basis for masculinity—for centuries, at-birth gender assignments have violently enforced a binary schema on a continuum of genital cues. What modernism added to the farce of gender was the absurd idea that masculinity could exist as a rational quality on a scale, which makes some "more men" than others, and it proliferated the even more absurd idea that that "more" could be marked by the visual cue of a larger cock. At the heart of a dick pic, then, is a profound anxiety about value and the modernist notions that have governed our world.[4]

The dick pic, though, is rarely just about genitals. The discourse around 19th Century medical and juridical photos was characterized by a constant anxiety about extraneous information, prompting a need for what medical scholar Martin Kemp calls "visual pointing."[5] The crumpled sheets, bad lighting, and dirty bathroom floor of the average dick pic take the place of the extraneous details of fashion and setting in the early medical or juridical photo. The very conventions of the genre—and the lack of visual information in the average cock—ultimately promote the ground over the figure of the dick, and, by the logic of conspicuous consumption, highlight mise-en-scène—and not the dick itself—as the ultimate assessor of the dick pic's impact or import. In Suzannah Biernoff's words, "as historical and cultural artifacts, they inadvertently reveal too much."[6]

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The Missing Open Standard: How can we unlock the drone's social potential?

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Chris Anderson has famously compared the nascent drone market to the early days of PCs, comparing it with the Homebrew Computer Club, the Bay Area hobbyist meetup where the Apple I was first unveiled. It may seem an odd comparison—the drone is thought of as military technology and (more recently) luxury plaything, while the Homebrew Computer Club is remembered for its utopian beliefs about putting technology into the hands of the people. But while Apple's forays into personal computers were groundbreaking, the "PC" abbreviation historically referred to its greatest threat, the IBM PC standard, a revolutionary form of computer architecture that was easily licensed and copied, and which shaped the personal computer market for over a decade. Drones do not yet have a "PC standard," but if they did, it might be the tipping point that could catapult drones into the mainstream and unlock their social utility.

We have yet to see what this social utility will be. Militarized drone technology has a well-established place among the many tools of the surveillance state. Looking at the history of the computer's shift from an awkward, heavy, military and commercial engineering project to something we carry in our pockets, one wonders how drones might make a similar transition. Some of the first ideas for non-military drones, such as catching poachers, have some way to go in development before they will actually be useful. So far, one of the best uses for drone technology is in the field of cartography. Drones like senseFly's eBee can map a large area very quickly, and rectify imagery to GPS maps. But drones like these cost thousands of dollars and run proprietary software in order to work so seamlessly. What if drone technology were to be transformed in a similar manner to computers, so that standard architecture and operating systems allowed cheaper, more universal hardware and software?

In the late 1970s, desk-sized computers were typically terminals linked to mainframes where the real processing was done. But with the miniaturization of transistor functions into integrated circuits, desktop computers became possible.These early personal computers were sold as kits, and required a hefty investment as well as technical know-how to assemble and operate. When the Apple II was introduced in 1977, it was one of the first "out of the box" personal computers; BYTE magazine called it the first "appliance computer". But the Apple II was still expensive, and with an operating system and architecture limited to this machine only, all compatible software had to be designed specifically for this system. In 1980, less than 10% of 14 million small businesses in the US had personal computers, and of large corporations, less than 3% used personal computers on a regular basis.1 Investing in a limited hobby system was not a priority for most companies.

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Ana Maria Uribe, Anipoems

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 Ana Maria Uribe, Escalera 3 (1999).

Ana Maria Uribe (1951-2004) was an Argentine visual poet who made work online beginning in 1997 after working in other media for many years. When she passed away in 2004, Jim Andrews (who runs Visual Poetry website vispo.com) posted a moving tribute to her work on Rhizome's mailing list, including this quote in which she recounts her formative experiences as a poetry: 

I started with visual poetry in the late 60's after seeing some of Apollinaire's poems and Morgenstern's "Night Song of the Fish". Shortly afterwards I met Edgardo Antonio Vigo, who was then editing a magazine called "Diagonal Cero", devoted to visual poetry and mail art, and other poets such as Luis Pazos and Jorge de Lujan Gutierrez. They all lived in La Plata, a town which is 50 km from Buenos Aires, where I live, and we communicated by ordinary mail, either because there was a shortage of telephones at that time or to save costs, I don't remember which. I still keep some of the letters...

At a moment when many artists are again considering the medial qualities of poetry, Uribe's work seems well worth revisiting, particularly because (as Andrews noted, of her CD-ROM works) it reflected an understanding of "the poem on the screen as a performance." In the works, text is generally used pictorially (as with the ladder made of capital H's in the Escalera series), and rotated or otherwise manipulated to introduce a sense of motion into the scene. In the Rebote series, for example, the dots of lowercase i's bounce around playfully:

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Origins: Lynn Hershman Leeson in NYC

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Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta's Construction Chart #2, 1975

The sophistication and prescience of Lynn Hershman Leeson's decades-long engagement with identity under networked conditions, bioengineering, surveillance, and on becomes more evident with each year (and its attendant tech, genetic splices, and corporate and governmental intrusions). Gratifyingly, then, 2015 promises the continued run of the artist's retrospective at ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, with its forthcoming comprehensive monograph, and, opening tonight, a solo presentation at Bridget Donahue's new gallery:

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transmediale 2015: Why we need spaces for art and tech beyond corporate influence

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Photo: "Through the Eyes of a Paratrooper: 173rd Jumps in Ukraine for Rapid Trident 2011" by U.S. Army Europe Images on flickr. © Artwork by The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger

True to its title, "Capture All," the program of this year's transmediale festival in Berlin was ambitiously panoramic, with such a marathon, round-the-clock schedule that by the last day a number of attendees had come down with the same cold. Separated into the thematic tracks of Work, Play, and Life, the events revolved around the quantification of everyday activities, mass data acquisition, algorithmic sorting of information about people and the planet, and the systems of power and control implicit in all of those processes—topics in which most of the festival's target audience is well-versed.

The majority of that audience is made up of academics, artists, cultural workers, technologists, and students. This year for the first time, tickets sold out completely; on opening night the 1,035-seater auditorium was over capacity, and throughout the five-day festival, waiting lines stretched around corners. Besides lectures and panels, the schedule included a steady stream of performances and screenings as well as ongoing workshops in the cacophonous foyer—from a six-hour workshop on feminist network methodology to four days of open meetings held by the unMonastery.

A 14-person exhibition, sharing the festival's title and curated by Daphne Dragona and Robert Sakrowski, showcased reflections on "the future of algorithmic work and life" with artists like Erica Scourti, whose video Body Scan compares images of her own body with those of a Google search algorithm, and Jennifer Lyn Morone (Inc), who created a corporation out of herself to advocate for compensation for her digital labor. Any exhibition with the keyword #algorithm is also an invitation for artists to reflect on exhibition-making itself as a potentially algorithmic process. Jonas Lund, who has long dissected and replicated the gamification of art practice, created a pre-recorded audio tour called FTFY (Fixed That For You) describing (imaginary) artworks with an algorithmic mashup of words and phrases from previous transmediale press texts. A guest exhibition down the hall, "Time and Motion: Redefining working life," produced by FACT Liverpool, shifted the emphasis onto quantified labor in the context of mass production and automatization.  

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Artist Profile: Hannah Black

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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.

 

Hannah Black, My Bodies (2014). Digital video.

Your work concerns bodies, or the condition of being bodied. Your last video Fall of Communism (2014) feels like a sculpture in the sense that as a viewer, one's own body is pulled into relief, as with an object in space. I felt pulled into the space of the video, vertiginous. At your show at the Legion TV gallery in London, one half of what was on display was a hand-cut latex the color of skin. Is the work an analog for the body, or otherwise, where does the body (of the maker or the viewer) intersect or interact with the body of the work for you?

It's true that if you look at a lot of my work there is an interest in viscera, in the interior of the body—but it's not a Paul McCarthy guts and blood thing, it's a stand-in for interiority in general, for the inside being outside and vice versa. The phrase "being bodied" could mean "getting killed" as well as "being embodied" and I think that tension is one of the ways that I'm interested in what it means to have, or not have, something called "a body." I tried to write about how our concept of the body might one day, in a utopian way, be replaced by the framework of lifetime or different concentrations of experience. My wildest idea was that this reinterpretation of sensory experience would "render death merely chronological," a phrase I still love, though it's hard for me to recall exactly what I meant by it. Something about placing yourself in the long flow of time, allowing your self-conception to accommodate more than just your own conscious physical experience, I think. In the end it was too sci-fi an idea and didn't work out as an essay, so instead became the video My Bodies. I wanted to say something about how there is no generic body, no such thing as "the body"; bodies are raced, gendered, and assisted differently in the world. I collected images of white business executives, and you hear the voices of African-American female singers—Aaliyah, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, and many others—all singing the phrase "my body." I also use Ciara's song "Body Party." There is a whole tradition in black philosophy of trying to think about to what extent white thought is able to conceptualize black people as having bodily integrity. Hortense Spillers says that the enslaved body, for example, becomes just flesh; Frank Wilderson picks up this train of thought. This is part of the black critique of white feminism: the latter assumes, absurdly, that all women have bodies in the same way. The first part of the video presses on this tension. The second part of the video imagines a realm in between lives where someone is considering whether or not to be born again into a new body, knowing all of the implications of that, knowing how many people in this world have bodies that are racialized or impoverished or perhaps don't, in some senses, fully have bodies at all. It's like the famous romantic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where they realize they have had their relationship before: would I do it again? Would I choose to be embodied again?

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