This is a mixture of manuscript and transcript of my keynote/closing lecture at Digital Preservation 2014, July 23rd in Washington, DC, held by the Library of Congress.
Amalia Ulman's social media performance Excellences & Perfections is presented as part of First Look, the ongoing series of digital projects co-curated and copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum. For this presentation, Rhizome's new social media archiving tool was used to capture the Instagram portion of the performance. View that capture here.
Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections, 2014 (detail). Performance: Instagram. Courtesy the artist.
On April 19, 2014, Amalia Ulman uploaded an image to her Instagram account of the words "Part I" in black serifed lettering on a white background. The caption read, cryptically, "Excellences & Perfections." It received twenty-eight likes.
For the next several months, she conducted a scripted online performance via her Instagram and Facebook profiles. As part of this project, titled Excellences & Perfections, Ulman underwent an extreme, semi-fictionalized makeover.
She pretended to have a breast augmentation, posting images of herself in a hospital gown and with a bandaged chest, using a padded bra and Photoshop to manipulate her image. Other elements of the makeover were not feigned; she followed the Zao Dha Diet strictly, for example, and went to pole-dancing lessons often.
Streaming live from Selfridges Off-Site, Weds Oct 15, 1030am - 12noon EST.
A selfie is not a portrait, critic Brian Droitcour has argued, because unlike a portrait, which inscribes the sitter in history, it inscribes the body of its subject/maker into a network. This panel continues this line of reasoning, positing that the process of inscribing bodies into networks allows them to circulate as images. Our image-bodies morph, interact with one another, spark strong attachments with human viewers, and ultimately effect transformations on our physical bodies in ways that may be oppressive, liberatory, or both.
Work by Israel Lund at Eleven Rivington, June 2013
Do you follow? Art in Circulation
'Internet circulation has made all art look the same'
15 October, 2014
[Note: This is a rush transcript compiled by editorial fellow Anton Haugen. This document will be updated.]
Rosalie Doubal: This is the first in a talk series that we have been working on with Rhizome, "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation," and today, we are addressing the statement that "Internet circulation has made all art look the same." This is presented in partnership with Rhizome, and I am extremely grateful to Curator and Editor of Rhizome Michael Connor for his incredible work in producing this. Michael will be our chair throughout the series, guiding us through, and I will be shortly be handing it over to him. We are livestreaming today and we will be having a Q&A at the end. Thank you very much for joining us and thank you very much Michael.
Michael Connor: My name is Michael Connor, I am Editor and Curator of Rhizome, an arts organization based on the internet. It's a great pleasure to be back here in London, as a guest of the ICA. Rosalie has done amazing work in putting this all together, the whole team has made us feel very supported in what forms a major component of our Autumn program.
Streaming live from Selfridges Off-Site, Weds Oct 15, 1030am - 12noon.
"Internet circulation has made all art look the same."
"Why does so much new abstraction look the same?" asked critic Jerry Saltz in New York magazine earlier this year. Galleries, he lamented, have gone over to "copycat mediocrity and mechanical art," coming to resemble the generic look of shopping outlets rather than the "individual arks" of the past. In particular, Saltz criticized the influence wielded by "speculator-collectors," which many understood to refer to art world figures who use social media channels such as Instagram to generate attention for their favoured artists.
On this panel, art historian Alex Bacon challenges Saltz’ contention, suggesting instead that we are not looking carefully enough. Artists Martine Syms, Takeshi Shiomitsu, and Kari Altmann discuss the role that internet feeds play in their practice, arguing for different understandings of the problems and potential of "sameness" in art. Chaired by Rhizome Curator/Editor Michael Connor.
A day at the Rhizome office
Rhizome seeks a skilled, level-headed and friendly developer to maintain and develop the Rhizome website, databases, and servers. The Senior Developer will oversee all aspects of the site and work closely with the rest of the Rhizome team to develop technology-related projects. This is a part time, salaried position at 2 or 3 days a week, by negotiation. For more information, visit the full job posting.
There's a great scene in the first episode of House of Cards where the ambitious young journalist Zoe Barnes is sitting on the floor of her rented apartment's living room scanning the half-shredded documents of an education bill that was forwarded to her by her source/lover Frank Underwood, the Majority Whip. She's drinking wine, taking notes on her laptop, and scanning on her small all-in-one desktop printer/scanner. The next day she shows up at the office of the newspaper where she works with a 3000-word text and the 300-page document scanned, prompting her editors that "We should get this online right away."
Barnes's character is young and ambitious. Later in the season she moves on to work for a site called "Slugline," an early-Politico-like newswire, where "journalists post news directly from their phones." Her obsession with technology is used as a narrative device in the series to set her apart from her older, more conservative editors at the newspaper. And her ambition to upload information to the newspaper's site as soon as possible, to give the public the raw data before it can be filtered or analyzed, stands for her idealism.
The romanticized image of the scanner is based on the assumption that by scanning and uploading we make information available, and that that is somehow an invariably democratic act. Scanning has become synonymous with transparency and access. But does the document dump generate meaningful analysis, or make it seem insignificant? Does the internet enable widespread distribution, or does it more commonly facilitate centralized access? And does the scanner make things transparent, or does it transform them? The contemporary political imaginary links the scanner with democracy, and so we should explore further the political possibilities, values, and limitations associated with the process of scanning documents to be uploaded to the internet.
What are the political possibilities of making information available? A thing that is scanned was already downloaded, in a sense. It circulated on paper, as widely as newspapers or as little as classified documents. And interfering with its further circulation is a time-honored method of keeping a population in check. Documents are kept private; printing presses shut down. Scanning printed material for internet circulation has the potential to circumvent some of these issues. Scanning means turning the document into an image, one that is marked by glitches and bearing the traces of editorial choices on the part of the scanner. Although certain services remain centralized and vulnerable to political manipulation, such as the DNS addressing system, and government monitoring of online behavior is commonplace, there is still political possibility in the aggregate, geographically dispersed nature of the internet. If the same document is scanned, uploaded, and then shared across a number of different hosts, it becomes much more difficult to suppress. And it gains traction by circulation.