Artist Profile: Julia Weist


 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.


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


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)


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



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.


Divorce Your Metadata: A conversation between Laura Poitras and Kate Crawford


In 2015, at Rhizome’s Seven on Seven event at the New Museum, Poitras and Crawford were invited to give the opening keynote address. They had an on-stage conversation that spanned the cultural imaginaries of surveillance, affect and emotion, and the physical effects of producing work on surveillance. The week beforehand, Poitras and Crawford travelled to China to observe the collaboration between Ai Weiwei and Jacob Appelbaum - one of the collaborations for Seven on Seven. Laura created a short film based on this time in Weiwei's studio, called The Art of Dissent. This transcript has been edited and some topics have been expanded upon by the authors. It was originally published in print form by the cyberfeminist group Deep Lab as part of their residency at the New Museum's Ideas City Festival in May. This layout is based on the zine's design, by Ingrid Burrington and Maral Pourkazemi.

Kate Crawford: It's a pleasure to be here with you, particularly on a year when Seven on Seven is focused on surveillance and affect in art and technology. I was thinking about CITIZENFOUR and the whole trilogy of your films since 2001. You’ve managed to take this invisible, pervasive infrastructure of surveillance – what the sociologists Haggerty and Ericsson call the "surveillant assemblage" – and you've made it feel material and emotional. In your work we see how surveillance functions in a political and technical sense, but it also becomes something that we really care about. It's personal. 

You've been asked many questions over the past year about the legal and policy implications of mass surveillance. But I want to do something else; I want to ask you about the cultural and artistic representations of surveillance and how they've affected you. Are there particular films, books and art works you’ve encountered over your life that have changed the way you think about surveillance?

Laura Poitras: Yes, there are many. When I first decided I was going to make a film on surveillance it was before any whistleblowers had come forward. It was before Snowden. It was also before the "NSA Four" – Thomas Drake, William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe and Edward Loomis – went public in 2011. I talked to a lot of people and everybody said it's a bad idea to make a documentary film about surveillance because it is hard to visualize. It is both abstract and very much a mental state. When you think about the great literature and films about surveillance, most are fictionalized. The work that had the most influence on me is Orwell's 1984. I read it first when I was a teenager and it was etched into my memory. I can't think of another book I've had such vivid memories of. I re-read it in the winter of 2013 when Edward Snowden first started emailing me. I was also reading Cory Doctorow's Homeland. They were a perfect pair to read because of how they capture themes of surveillance, paranoia, and the state.


Online Now: The Art of Dissent, a film by Laura Poitras for Seven on Seven


Ai Weiwei and Jacob Appelbaum as seen in Laura Poitras's The Art of Dissent

The Art of Dissent, a new film by Laura Poitras commissioned by Rhizome at the New Museum, is released online today as part of the New York Times Op-Docs series. The film portrays a 72-hour collaboration in Beijing between contemporary artist Ai Weiwei and Tor Project / Wikileaks activist Jacob Appelbaum. It is Poitras's first project since CITIZENFOUR, her celebrated portrait of Edward Snowden

Watch Now at

Ai and Appelbaum's collaboration was part of Rhizome’s art-meets-tech event, Seven on Seven, which was held at the New Museum on May 2, 2015.


IT IS, I, ANN HIRSCH: horny lil feminist



Ann Hirsch, ButterFace from "horny lil feminist," 2014­15 (still). Video, sound, color; 2:21 min. Courtesy the artist. 

Copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look: New Art Online. View work. (Contains nudity.)

In 1978, feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin commented that "no woman needs intercourse; few women escape it." Dworkin's viewpoint is consistently marked by refusal and withdrawal, particularly in relation to more sex-positive and arguably more livable philosophies. And yet, her condemnation of intercourse and, by extension, heteronormative gender definitions can nag at aspiring feminists seeking to define their own path in the face of desire's true complexity. Ann Hirsch's "horny lil feminist" (2014–15) eschews the notion that desire necessarily hews to our political and personal ideals and rather interrogates how it is formed out of the often unjust—sometimes oppressive, sometimes progressive—power dynamics of our daily lives.

An artist noted for her thoughtful and fresh take on feminist issues, Hirsch creates installation, performance, and online works that often examine sites of female agency within the media. Her previous works have involved her recreating a cyber–love affair she had as a teen with an older man in a piece that was made available both as an e-book transcription of all their AOL chats and a live performance (the e-book version was made available on iTunes and was subsequently kicked off, as it was deemed "crude and objectionable"). Hirsch's other works have included YouTube performances as a character called Scandalishious that rip what is popularly known as the "camwhore" aesthetic, whereby a girl titillates her anonymous online viewers through performances for her computer's built-in camera.


Study of Waves: an interview with SCRAAATCH


Still from digital re-performance of SCRAAATCH No. 8 (2015)

We have been following the work of Philadelphia-based artists SCRAAATCH aka E. Jane and chukwumaa (E+c) since crossing paths at an event at MoCADA in Brooklyn. Recently, they came back to New York to prepare for an upcoming performance at The Kitchen. We had the chance to sit down for a conversation in Chelsea. After parting ways, we were struck not only by all the common ground between our teams, but also by the divergences. We realized we wanted to talk more about how they work and where their practice is going. E+c will perform their work SCRAAATCH no. 9 at The Kitchen as a part of the S/N series this Friday, June 5, between 4 – 6 pm.

M+K: We've been working together almost 20 years, so we are always interested in how teams function. Why do you choose  to collaborate? What does it make possible for you as individuals or what are you trying to say by collaborating?

E+c: One thing we loved hearing in Kanye West's Zane Lowe interview was his idea of having multiple outlets. He described how having different containers for different creative impulses prevents you from clouding up one project by trying to put too many ideas into it. We're both really generative and are engaged with conversations around a lot of different fields, ideas, inclinations, audiences and questions. SCRAAATCH allows us to channel some energy that might cloud our individual work, which can sometimes be much more project-centered.


Caitlyn Jenner and the Facebook Real Name Policy



Protesters in Menlo Park yesterday. (Photo by Gareth Gooch).

Yesterday, Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to an eager public via a magazine cover, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page. The Twitter account gained a million followers faster than the previous record-holder, Barack Obama, and the Facebook page garnered hundreds of thousands of likes in its first day. Coming a week after the news that IMG had signed Hari Nef (onetime host of Ed Fornieles's NY NY HP HP for Rhizome), the news heralded a new level of public visibility and acceptance for transgender people.

The irony of Caitlyn Jenner's Facebook popularity is that the social media site has such an unsupportive official stance toward name changes in general. The policy not only forbids creating profiles under stage names or personas or alter egos, it forbids profiles under any name that can't be backed up by a legal document, such as identification or a piece of mail. (The rules are different for Pages, such as Jenner's). Facebook is like the right-wing uncle who deliberately misgenders you, on principle.