The Visual Archive of Devotion and Taboo

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Makkah 3D Puzzle produced by Wrebbit (1995)

In 1995, a puzzle company produced a 1038 piece architectural model of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, the expansive complex that contains the Kaaba. Upon delivery of 17,000 copies to Saudi Arabia, the construction toy was deemed idolatrous and the shipment destroyed. Little over 500 of the sets remained in Canada, and have since become collector's items. Ever since, the home construction of Islamic holy places has been an unspoken no-go zone in the field of toy production. A recent perusal of the Saudi Arabian Import Guide on banned and restricted products includes models or "prototypes" of the Kaaba[1]. However, as the axis mundi of the Islamic world and a non-figurative cuboid, the Kaaba is commonly reproduced in model form to decorate the dashboards or mantelpieces of devotees. Unlike other faiths, much Islamic devotional imagery hints at the experience or expectation of the physical act of pilgrimage. Popular devotional prints from Muslim South Asia reproduce the sculptural intensity of traversing the Kaaba through lenticular prints (two-dimensional images that portray a remarkable sense of three-dimensional depth through interlocking layers) as souvenirs of local shrines or promises of pilgrimage. Why then do construction toys or DIY-build models cross the line into profanity?  And to what extent does this also hold true for 3D printed objects?

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After Sunset

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Still from Sunset (2015) by Tale of Tales

It is very rare for a video game to feel urgent. It is even more rare when that sense of urgency becomes a reflection on video game distribution. Sunset, by Tale of Tales, manages to accomplish both rare feats.

In Sunset you play as Angela Burnes, a woman hired as a housekeeper for Gabriel Ortega, a wealthy and influential cultural aficionado in San Bován, the capital of the fictional South American country Anchuria. Over the course of a year between 1972-73, Angela witnesses a violent coup and counter-rebellion from the balcony of Ortega’s luxury apartment. Between completing menial housework for Ortega, Angela contemplates her involvement in the Anchurian revolution as well as what it means to be a responsible participant during times of civil unrest.

Though set more than 40 years ago, it is difficult to play Sunset without reflecting on the present. My first playthrough coincided with the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore (where Angela is from). More recently, my second attempt to play the game was in the wake of the horrific terrorist attack in Charleston on June 23rd, 2015. The sensation of watching these terrible displays of violence from afar resonates deeply while playing Sunset. Though Angela’s brother is deeply involved in the rebellion effort, she worries about getting too involved herself and questions what good she could do as an outsider. These conflicting sentiments of close affinity and distant helplessness in Angela are perhaps the most nuanced display of political grief that I’ve seen in any videogame, or indeed contemporary artwork in any medium.

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Contra-Internet GIFs

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2015 Net Art Microgrants: Now accepting proposals

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Lena NW & Julia Kunberger, Viral (2015), a 2014 Internet Art Microgrant recipient

Now accepting proposals. Deadline: July 23, 2015.

The browser is still our favorite place to see art, so' these five Microgrants of $500 will be awarded to artists to create new browser-based artworks.

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Important forthcoming changes to rhizome.org user functions and the ArtBase

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Dear rhizome.org users:

We’re writing today to update you on the future of user functions on rhizome.org as we prepare to launch a new site this year. Our current site is almost five years old, so we’re happy to be working on something that will reflect the current and future state of the web, and better reflect Rhizome as an organization.

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Artist Profile: Julia Weist

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 Julia Weist, Reach (2015), displayed at 107-37 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, New York

The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Reach, your first public artwork, a billboard produced 14 x 48, is up on Queens Boulevard. Can you talk about that work and your thinking about the connection between public art and the public space online?

Reach is a billboard featuring an analog word that I made digital. This word was used in print in the 1600s, but rarely since and never online until earlier this year when I created a single search result for it. I worked carefully with Google’s Webmaster Search Console to control the crawl and index of a webpage I made, after some missteps with DNS, nav menu, and even permalink indexing that created multiple hits for the word. The Reach webpage includes a short text about the enduring value of emptiness as well as some strong language requesting that no one else use this word anywhere else online.

The project is really an experiment in the viability of singularity on the internet, but also an attempt to render a digital impression physically. When the billboard goes up, I’ll plug in a lamp in my home that will turn on each time the webpage is visited (through a series of interconnecting scripts, a circuit board, and an internet-enabled outlet).  

We’re all pretty familiar with the idea of sharing a lone experience—think a solo hike in the middle of the wilderness—with scores of non-present entities online. But what we’re less familiar with is the case where hundreds of thousands of people experience the same thing in real life, but create no shared digital footprint. I’m interested in the fragility of that proposition, and in measuring the project’s progress through a domestic indicator.

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Paul Built a Commodore: A hardware-based restoration of the 'first art videogame'

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The original Mike Builds a Shelter (1983) for "GOVERNMENT APPROVED HOME FALLOUT SHELTER AND SNACK BAR" at Castelli Graphics

"Hardware-based restoration—that's nasty business."

Unsurprisingly, this is not an uncommon remark from my colleague Dragan Espenschied, who has staked a path for Rhizome in emulation-based restoration instead. And yet there the two of us were on Tuesday, June 9, at Light Industry, excited to see some impressively nasty hardware courtesy artist/curator/programmer/musician Paul Slocum.

At the front of the packed screening room sat two hardware-based versions of Mike Builds a Shelter, a 1983 videogame by artist Mike Smith, computer graphics designer Dov Jacobson, and programmer Reza Keshavarz. One was a touched-up original Commodore 64 (C64) plugged into a small CRT TV and connected to a coin door and a joystick. The other was Slocum's most current homebrew re-make—a small box which contained a C64 on a chip, modified for stability and other improvements such as the ability to output to a flat-screen like the one attached, with a modern power brick that can take international voltages, connected to a coin door and a joystick. Both versions fed into cherry red KRK speakers, and both required a quarter to run, which Light Industry generously provided. (The coin slot was unboxed, so the single coin just fell out, ready to be reused! #freeculture)

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Has the Internet Changed Art Criticism? On Service Criticism and A Possible Future

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Mel Bochner, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH (2008)

A version of this essay was initially written for a panel discussion with Pitchfork's Ryan Schreiber, Isaac Fitzgerald from Buzzfeed Books, and LA Times art critic Christopher Knight at Superscript: Arts Journalism & Criticism in a Digital Age, a conference at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Watch the panel discussion here. 

Look at the title. I'm asking has, not "how." Contemporary art is still in the early stages of the digital shift that other industries have already experienced. To better understand what might be happening to art criticism, we should look to other fields and assess the structures that have developed as a response to the internet's effect.

There are two facets to this "internet effect": the first is in publishing and circulation, the second in the way this dissemination shapes a discipline and the discourse around it. Music and literature experienced the digital shift in a much more extreme way than contemporary art has thus far. This experience began with circulation—the adjustment from object to mp3 and from independent, or even megachain bookstores to Amazon—but continued with an altered discourse that poses really valid questions about the function of criticism. I'll call it "service criticism." In a nutshell, "service criticism" is criticism that's discovery-oriented. Criticism that assumes the reader who is looking for recommendations.

Take Pitchfork, for example. I remember the first time I heard of Pitchfork. I was a teenager and I had a friend who spent his days reading Pitchfork reviews, then (excuse the illegality of the following) downloaded all the albums he thought he'd find interesting in order to listen to them. (The embrace of streaming technologies helps with the legality question today.) That's a great use of criticism: as a direction, pointing to the good in the midst of overproduction.

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