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Rhizome Today: A split-screen society

By Michael Connor

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Rhizome Today is an experiment in ephemeral blogging: a series of posts that are written hastily in response to current events, and usually taken offline within a day or so. The latest post can always be found at rhizome.org/today. This post will not be deleted.

 

Today, we're republishing our past Today columns on #Ferguson, thinking of Eric Garner's family, and considering how to address our own involvement in a brutal and racist system.

This is Rhizome Today for Thursday, August 14, 2014. (By Rhizome Staff)

Dread Scott, Sign of the Times (2001)

Peter Watkins, Punishment Park (1971)

James Baldwin, via Huw Lemmey:

When a city goes under martial law, everybody in the city is under martial law. If I can't go out and buy a loaf of bread safely, then neither can the housewife. That’s why she's on the range, learning how to shoot a pistol, in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They're confusing themselves with the Indians, you know, they're back on the wagon train. But we all know who's in the streets of America. We all know to whom we are referring when we talk about "crime in the streets". We know the son of the president of Pan Am is not in the streets. Only one person in the streets—that's me! And they’re plotting to shoot me, in the name of "freedom", dignified by "law". And I'm supposed to agree.

No, no, no sir. I won't be disorderly no more. Alas, the party is over. The question is "what shall we do?". Everybody knows it. The question is in everybody’s lap. From Washington to London, to Bonn. Everybody knows it. They're trying to figure out what to do. We should figure out what to do. 

Martine Syms, Reading Trayvon Martin (2012-ongoing)

Tracy Clayton's Twitter list of people actually in Ferguson right now.

Isaac Julien, Territories (1984). Still frame from video.


This is Rhizome Today for Monday, August 18, 2014 (by Michael Connor)

Forensics

With the escalating attacks by government security forces on the civilian population of Ferguson, Missouri, we've seen a number of people take to social media to ask why police in the United States don't have dashboard cameras and helmet cameras as a matter of course.

These arguments reminded me of the fact that the video made by George Holliday of Los Angeles Police Department officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano assaulting Rodney King was included in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. In the context of the biennial's focus on art as a political practice, the video was seen to have merit because of the social transformation it wrought, even though it wasn't intended as an artwork per se; Holliday probably had the shortest artist bio ever found in a Biennial catalogue.

The killing of Michael Brown, in contrast, was not caught on tape, and this is one of the reasons it has become such a flash point. In the context of differing claims made by witnesses and police, the absence of a video record begins to seem suspicious. Video forensics can be a powerful tool, and in the months to come I fully expect and hope that video evidence be used to convict those officers who went just over the legal line in an otherwise officially sanctioned effort to bring violence and chaos to the community of Ferguson.

But forensic evidence, video and otherwise, has its limits. This point was underlined over the weekend when a private autopsy concluded that Michael Brown was shot once in the top of the head. Per the presiding Dr. Michael Baden: "This [wound] here looks like his head was bent downward...[this] can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer."

Forensic objects must be interpreted and narrated, and the ways in which they are narrated often reflect existing power imbalances. This is true for medical reports as well as for helmetcams. As Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman pointed out in the wall text of their co-organized exhibition Forensis at HKW, the Roman forum was a "multi-dimensional space of negotiation and truth-finding in which humans and objects participated together in politics, law and the economy." In their review of the exhibition for Rhizome, Harry Burke and Lucy Chinen observed that this multi-dimensional space has been replaced with a cultural bias towards material evidence; in this context, witness accounts are "deemed unverifiable and thus illegitimate by scientific communities."

To contest the official "truths" of Ferguson, we need to advocate not only for helmet cams, but for a public discourse in which witness accounts are considered legitimate even when scientifically unverifiable, in which human accounts participate equally with forensic objects. As Burke and Chinen put it, "forensics is a political practice primarily at the point of interpretation." The truth is not only documented, it is also narrated.

What is most urgent now is not only to celebrate the new generation of George Hollidays livestreaming the protests via smartphones, but to listen to the witnesses as well. To listen to #Ferguson. [MC]

@brokeymcpoverty's Twitter list of people in Ferguson:https://twitter.com/brokeymcpoverty/lists/ferguson-locals-journos


This is Rhizome Today for Wednesday, November 26, 2014. (By Lucy Chinen)

As when the news of Michael Brown's death first broke through into national conversation, the past few days I've seen people tweeting and facebooking about the level of filtering that goes on in our social media feeds during times of public outcry. Sensing distortion in her own feed during the August #Ferguson protests, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci compared filtering across platforms for related terms. She made clear the threat, asking: "Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?"

Yet in the days following the grand jury decision, while on certain sites still slow to trend, Ferguson is now more or less everywhere, being felt and experienced visibly and globally. (See, for instance, the hashtags in solidarity circulating in other regions.). It is unknown whether this is the result of a skew in the algorithm in response to criticism about the lack of visibility in August, or an increase in personal responses that burst a strong-as-ever bubble.

The study of "digital phenomena"—how they are shaped by algorithms and locale, how they leak into the streets, the efficacy of online or offline protest, the quantification of circulation via that trope of the sudden spike in a graph—doesn't really describe the difficulties and pitfalls inherent in trying to interpret the events of Ferguson from a geographic, or academic, distance. To correct for that, I think it's helpful to look, as well, to a project like Martine Syms' continually compelling Reading Trayvon Martin. The project collects Syms' personal bookmarks in a long, text-only list, serving as a record of the intense attention she paid to the trial. This simple bibliographic format speaks to the familiar and widely shared experience of navigating through the onslaught of press, witness accounts, and opinions in order to position yourself within a broader "public opinion."

But the bibliography is overlaid by images of the objects that surrounded Martin's killing, and became synecdoches for that loss and for the larger public tragedy of racism and violence in America: the hoodie, the Skittles, the Arizona iced tea. If immersing oneself in the flows of news can lead to a problematic sense of detachment, objectivity, or fascination, Syms' project is a reminder that at the heart of this conversation is very real grief, demanding empathy and solidarity.

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