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 NYTimes.com

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. 


Stay With Me: AIRBNB Pavilion at IDEAS CITY


Saturday, May 30, 12-6pm EST 
Live-stream at rhizome.org 
Live-stream viewing session at Houston Street Center, 273 Bowery (Information and reservations: info@rhizome.org)

As part of the 2015 IDEAS CITY Festival, Rhizome and the New Museum invited AIRBNB Pavilion to organize a day-long salon addressing Airbnb and contemporary domesticity in New York. 

For his 1971 tape Chinatown Voyeur, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark recorded images of domestic spaces from the street, using the nascent medium of video. The spaces were partly hidden, shadowy and grainy, and lived in. Today, Airbnb has given the domestic sphere a new, public role in the city's economic and political life, making it newly visible: immaculate, unpopulated, and overlit. With this new visibility, the practice of interior decoration takes on a new urgency. As arguments rage about Airbnb's impact on city life, we invited the AIRBNB Pavilion to consider the questions: How might interior decoration intervene productively Airbnb's ongoing transformation of this city? And, to what end?


Artist Profile: Mark Dorf


The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.

Mark Dorf, Untitled (Sketch) (2014)
Kerry Doran: Your work, though seemingly based on nature and natural formations, is very much about human-made, technological constructs, using a visual vocabulary we are familiar with to show us unfamiliar and often invisible forces like networked activity and virtual spaces.   More broadly, it probes at the notion of “the scientific,” or what we consider to be objective truth. As religion and its iconography once were, science is now our foremost means of making sense of our landscape; a way to understand the world through categories, systems, principles, equations, and technologies, which are all human-made and therefore arbitrary or fallible. How do you use landscape as a catalyst, and even a sort of iconography, to deal with the construction of objectivity or lack thereof?

Mark Dorf: Landscape itself is the set of symbols that human beings have been looking at the longest— perhaps only second to the body. It's where we originate from, so it follows suit that our symbols originate from here, too. With such a deeply rooted biological and elemental connection to the land, we find its aesthetics intensely fascinating. For instance, you would be hard-pressed to find a single person on this planet that would not consider a photograph of the Grand Canyon, even of the most amateur of quality, a quintessentially idyllic scene. We are drawn to these images, and upon seeing these kinds of symbolic references, there is an immediate sense of connection despite a void of human presence.


'Bodies are packages made to be opened': Shu Lea Cheang's 'I.K.U.' (2000)


The following is an excerpt from The I.K.U. Experience, The Shu-Lea Cheang Phenomenon, an essay in New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut (2013) by B. Ruby Rich.

Just step right up, ladies and gentlemen, the carnival is about to begin. Come inside, surf the net, play the video game, dive into the screen, cruise the future, come get fucked, just come, come, come. Bodies are packages made to be opened, minds are penetrable, sensations communicable, orgasms collectable.

I.K.U. invents a future cybersexual universe, where trained replicants roam the empty spaces of unseen metropolises, hunting willing prey for orgasmic sexual marathons conducted in the service of science. The irresistible replicants are equipped with unicorn-like arms which – presto -- turn into dildo machines specifically calibrated to collect and transmit the specifications of orgasms into the centralized corporatized databases of the future. Meanwhile, the species of the future are wildly indeterminate, gender-blurred or homo-sex, oversexed or just, well, willing. Shorn of emotion, sex isn't just work. Data has its pleasures, too.

And the audience? Like it or not, you're implicated in it all, swept up by the throbbing techno soundtrack, plunged directly into the action by the animation tunnels that materialize at the onset of arousal.