Some news from Rhizome HQ

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A bittersweet announcement: after serving for three years as Executive Director of Rhizome, Heather Corcoran will step down from her position at the end of September to join her partner in the UK.

From Heather:

It's been my great honor to lead this influential digital arts organization, from programs like Seven on Seven, to our world-class conservation initiatives, to the very question of what it means to be an art institution based on the internet. It's in a strong position and I'm confident that Rhizome will continue to thrive with its expert staff, a dedicated board and our partners at the New Museum as it heads into its 20th anniversary next year, and beyond.

Thank you, Rhizome community, for welcoming me these past years, and thank you especially to the artists we've collaborated with during that time. Working at an organization whose mission is so clear and vital, and whose culture is so strong, has been incredible.

A search is currently underway for a new Executive Director.

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Why is Deep Dream turning the world into a doggy monster hellscape?

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Raphaël Bastide, Handmade Deep Dream (2015). If this were a real Deep Dream image these would be dogs probably.

Participants in social media will by now be well aware of the artistic renaissance that has been underway since the release of Google's Deep Dream visualization tool last week. Antony Antonellis' A-Ha Deep Dream captures well the experience of encountering these unsettling images on the internet:

Antony Antonellis, A-ha Deep Dream (2015).

By way of recap: Deep Dream uses a machine vision system typically used to classify images that is tweaked so that it over-analyzes images until it sees objects that aren't "really there." The project was developed by researchers at Google who were interested in the question, how do machines see? Thanks to Deep Dream, we now know that machines see things through a kind of fractal prism that puts doggy faces everywhere. 

It seems strange that Google researchers would even need to ask this question, but that's the nature of image classification systems, which generally "learn" through a process of trial and error. As the researchers described it,

we train networks by simply showing them many examples of what we want them to learn, hoping they extract the essence of the matter at hand (e.g., a fork needs a handle and 2-4 tines), and learn to ignore what doesn't matter (a fork can be any shape, size, color or orientation). But how do you check that the network has correctly learned the right features? It can help to visualize the network's representation of a fork.

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Artist Profile: Miao Ying

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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.

Miao Ying, flowers all fallen, Birds far gone (2015)

Your graduation show was the first time you involved the internet in your work. You made a new dictionary composed entirely of censored terms which you spent 3 months compiling, looking up every single word in the Chinese dictionary on google.cn, and recording all those that met with a blocked result. It was a hugely laborious piece which resulted in an actual book (Blind Spot, 2007). More recently, Is it me you are looking for? (2014) also included censored content, combining Lionel Richie's 1984 Hello music video with three images from the "LAN Love Poem.gif" series (2014), in which "website unavailable" pages from censored websites are overlaid with kitschy slogans from Chinese internet poetry.

How would you describe your attitude to censored pages as source material?  The way you use it now, a blocked page is always the start of something else; the "website unavailable" notice has become a familiar backdrop used again and again. It comes across more lightheartedly, almost like the devil you know. 


    Miao Ying, Blind Spot, artist book (2007)

I guess that when I was younger, I saw censorship more like an enemy, with more limitations than possibilities. In 2007, when I made the first piece Blind Spot, blogs were trending in China. Although blogger.com was blocked, there were some great local blog servers, and for the first time as someone from the post '80s generation, I got to know a lot of public intellectuals from their blogs—that was enlightening for me. I was a senior in college, and very idealistic. I wanted to be more responsible for society. On the other hand, I was starting to love the internet because blogs, Google, and Wikipedia really changed the way I gathered information. When I was a kid, I never truly trusted the school books and the newspapers in the same way that I didn't trust my English teacher’s accent. It was totally mean and cynical because I felt everything could be censored or manipulated here. Even when the internet came out in China, it was censored to begin with, but at least if knew a way to get past it, I could get past the "second hand information." 

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How to See Infrastructure: A Guide for Seven Billion Primates

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Allan Sekula, Gas Terminal, Barcelona (2008) from the series "Methane for all."

When an American crew picked up the first of these ships from the Daewoo dockyard, completed the sea trials, and began the voyage back across the Pacific, they discovered in the nooks and crannies of the new ship a curious inventory of discarded tools used in the building of the vessel: crude hammers made by welding a heavy bolt onto the end of a length of pipe, wrenches cut roughly by torch from scraps of deck plate. Awed by this evidence of an improvisatory iron-age approach to ship building, which corresponded to their earlier impression of the often-lethal brutality of Korean industrial methods, they gathered the tools into a small display in the crew's lounge, christening it "The Korean Workers' Museum."

If we lift up the manhole cover, lock-out the equipment, unscrew the housing, and break the word into components, infrastructure means, simply, below-structure. Like infrared, the below-red energy just outside of the reddish portion of the visible light section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Humans are not equipped to see infrared with our evolved eyes, but we sometimes feel it as radiated heat.

Infrastructure is drastically important to our way of life, and largely kept out of sight. It is the underground, the conduited, the containerized, the concreted, the shielded, the buried, the built up, the broadcast, the palletized, the addressed, the routed. It is the underneath, the chassis, the network, the hidden system, the combine, the conspiracy. There is something of a paranoiac, occult quality to it. James Tilly Matthews, one of the first documented cases of what we now call schizophrenia, spoke of a thematic style of hallucination described by many suffering from the condition, always rewritten in the technological language of the era. In Matthews' 18th Century description, there existed an invisible "air loom," an influencing machine harnessing rays, magnets, and gases, run by a secret cabal, able to control people for nefarious motives. Infrastructure's power, combined with its lack of visibility, is the stuff of our society's physical unconscious.

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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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