Posts for 2012

A Book is Technology: An Interview with Tan Lin

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Over the past 15 years, poet, novelist, and filmmaker Tan Lin has been at work creating an "ambient" mode of literature that engages a set of practices including sampling, communal production, and social networks, addressing issues such as relaxed copyright, boredom, plagiarism, and the commodification of attention.

He has written 10 books, most recently Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking; Insomnia and the Aunt; and HEATH COURSE PAK. His video work has screened at the Yale Art Museum, Artists Space, the Drawing Center, and the Ontological Hysterical Theatre. He is currently finishing work on a novel, OUR FEELINGS WERE MADE BY HAND. He teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.

We talked by Skype, G-chat, email, phone, and used Google Drive in real-time to talk about the many different uses of technology in his work and what its implications are for the future of literature:


In your books, especially HEATH (plagiarism/outsource) and Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, you introduced people to a new idea of what a book of literature can be. For these books, in their various versions and associated events, you incorporated everything from email to Twitter, programming languages to RSS feeds, Google Translate to Post-it notes. What led you to use so many different forms of technology in the creation and publication of a book? How would you define a book?

People forget that a book or codex is a technology. My interest with HEATH and 7CV was to treat the book as a distinct medial platform through which a lot of ancillary information passes, much like a broadcast medium like TV or a narrow-cast medium like Twitter or Tumblr. Reading is information control, just as a metadata tag is a bibliographic control. So I wanted to highlight the book’s medial and time-based underpinnings.

How would you prepare someone who has never read a Tan Lin book to read one of your books?

It’s a little hard to say. I think a book is something consumed slowly over many years—it’s a little like watching a plant reproduce. What are HEATH and 7CV? I’m not sure, but maybe a delayed reading experience that involves Course Paks, marketing departments of publishing houses, seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, RSS feeds, and Post-it notes. And, of course, other books—with 7CV, The Joy of Cooking—and with plagiarism/outsource, blogs that chronicled Heath Ledger’s death. Why insert The Joy of Cooking into the title of 7CV? Because it was the cookbook my family used to become American and because I thought the title would increase Google hits. I consider Google a mode of (loose) autobiography. A book in Google Books, like someone’s search history, isn’t really a book; it’s data connected to other data, and it’s searchable. Reading, like autobiography, is a subset of a search function...

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Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: Kinect Genealogy - A Brief History of Gestural Interfaces

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In honor of the approaching second birthday of the release of Microsoft's Kinect, we will take a brief tour of the experimental technology that preceded it. But before we begin, it is worth noting a few facts about the Kinect we know today, a piece of technology that almost overnight changed the development of contemporary interactive art by being powerful and affordable. 'Project Natal', as it was originally known, initially used a system called "Time-of-flight" which had origins military laser radar systems, but changed when a start-up called Primesense, an Israeli company made of ex-military engineers, were trying to sell their consumer-focused product: 

the PrimeSense technology uses a proprietary technology called “light coding,” rather than the time-of-flight cameras used by of its competitors. Time-of-flight emits strong pulses of light and measures the delay in their return to calculate positions.
“Time-of-flight came from laser radar systems with military applications,” said Aviad and Inon. “[But] the DNA of the PrimeSense technology was from day one for the consumer market.
“There are a lot of differences between PrimeSense and time-of-flight cameras in general. PrimeSense has achieved a breakthrough on price and performance. The performance we generated through the device is better in a long list of parameters [than time-of-flight].” 
PrimeSense's product was initially targeting Apple, a sensible approach to a company that introduced a new type of interface to mass market. Yet, it wasn't to be
“It was the most natural place for the technology,” [Inon Beracha, CEO of PrimeSense] said.
Apple has a history of interface innovation, of course, and had recently introduced the iPhone with its paradigm-shifting multitouch UI. PrimeSense’s system went one step further: It was multitouch that you didn’t even have to touch. Apple seemed like a natural fit.
Yet the initial meetings hadn ...

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Artist Profile: Matthew Johnstone

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Your recent exhibition at JVA Project Space in London, Photographs and Slide Shows, primarily used LCD screens to both display and constitute work.  These screens are quickly becoming the primary mode of public consumer advertising and there is something about the way the images of your sculptures rotate in their digital non-space that evokes traditional consumer store windows.  What does the use of the visual language of advertising and public display communicate about the nature of your work or your identity as an artist?

I’m not really speaking critically about the language of advertising exclusively. I’m not sure it’s possible to do that without lapsing into a fairly dysfunctional rhetoric. I think within its traditional logic, this visual language functions in my work where it's drawn into conflict by other elements that it struggles to accommodate without having to be addressed. I intentionally want to polarise cliché characteristics, particular to advertising, within a process of trying to articulate other systems of representation in relation to them, such as that of a physical, three-dimensional form in a digital space. For me it’s very challenging to create and maintain a level of heterogeneity among different elements and control how they overlap and resist each other within the same work. 

With the LCD screens you’re referring to I see their physical qualities as indistinct from any other quality the work presents as a whole in terms of their potential. I chose them partly because of their ubiquitous presence in the landscape. They have no branding, which in this case would interrupt their relationship to the images. They only display portrait, which interests me in their reference to other, more historical modes of display. They also have tempered glass faces that extend to the very edges of the ...

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Five Videos: Zach Blas/Queer Technologies' Escape

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Zach Blas (Queer Technologies) considers escape as radical hospitality:

The art of escape is the art of constructing an indeterminate form of energy from the encounter and interference with a regime of control. The art of control is not to destroy this energy but to transform it to a new form of energy, one amenable to regulation.

—Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century

 

Escape figures as a crucial tactic of resistance against neoliberal governance and contemporary forms of oppression. Escape is a multiplicitous gathering of concepts, practices, sensibilities, acts, and affects; these variations on escape have been named exodus, desertion, nonexistence, illegibility, and idealism. Importantly, escape not only expresses a desire to exit current regimes of control but also to cultivate forms of living otherwise, or living autonomously. Escape, I would argue, is about radical hospitality: it is a collective attempt—aesthetic, conceptual, political—to eradicate forms of control, exploitation, and domination, which just might make the world more hospitable to all. 

Escape can be a leaving behind or withdrawal, such as various art schools and autonomous universities like The Public School and SOMA. Perhaps these gestures are best described by The Edu-factory Collective as an “Exodus from the Education Factory.”

Escape also relates to tactics of imperceptibility and illegibility, focused upon evading informatic capture. Media theorists Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker have recently described the current century as an “era of universal standards of identification,” referencing technologies that bind identification with locatability, such as biometrics and GPS. “Henceforth,” they write, “the lived environment will be divided into identifiable zones and nonidentifiable zones, and nonidentifiables will be the shadowy new ‘criminal’ classes–those that do not identify.” In The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, they hypothesize about nonidentifiable action, suggesting that “future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence.” Such tactics stress the development of techniques and technologies to make one’s self unaccounted for. Anonymous’ own social media networking site Anon Plus and artist Sean Dockray’s “Facebook Suicide (Bomb) Manifesto” evoke such an imperceptible escape as they strive to depart from social media networks that data-mine, market, police, and surveil. 

Escape takes the form of refusals against normative and oppressive logics, calculations, and measurements, often rejecting structures of legitimation and recognition from the state. Consider Against Equality’s queer critique of gay marriage, a refutation of the institution of marriage as heteronormative and perpetuator of economic inequality.

If escape is a politics, then it is one that positions itself against forms of political representation. Political theorists Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos state quite clearly that politics must be a refusal of representation. What this suggests is that a politics of escape concerns itself with autonomy and transformation, changing the very conditions of political and social possibility while fleeing neoliberal control.

I have chosen videos that articulate an art of escape in these contexts. While these works might at first seem disparate from each other, they illustrate the broad, coalitional potentiality of escaping. Notably, this is not an exhaustive list of the possibilities for escape today, but these five videos do make visible some contemporary itineraries of escape currently under way...

 

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Stories from the New Aesthetic

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Last week, Stories from the New Aesthetic, part of Rhizome's New Silent Series, took place at The New Museum of Comtemporary Art. 

The New Aesthetic is an ongoing research project by James Bridle, investigating the intersections of culture and technology, history and memory, and the physical and the digital. At a panel at South by Southwest this past March, Aaron Straup Cope, Ben Terrett, James Bridle, Joanne McNeil, and Russell Davies discussed ideas related to the project, which sparked a series of responses and ideas from artists, writers, and theorists across the web.

For this event, Bridle was joined by McNeil and Cope again to share their stories related to these ideas.

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This is More Than a Game: A (very) Brief History of Larp Part 2

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Gloriana via darkismus

It is tempting to view the wildly different natures of Stateside boffer larp – the rubber-swords-in-the-woods fantasy romps – and the Nordic art-house scene in terms of sociopolitics, not least because the majority of people I've spoken to on the topic have made the point before me, in some cases quite bluntly. Eleanor Saitta, a security consultant who's been a participant in the Nordic scene for some years, suggests that the demands of the Nordic school of gameplay — the willing surrender of an element of your consciousness to a collective experience, rather than simply playing a 'flat character' from off the peg — is "maybe a little too socialist in character for your average American".


Indeed, with its growing catalogue of worthy (if occasionally blunt-edged and sensational) experiments in experiential dystopia, the Nordic school of play looks to be, at a very abstract level, an explicitly political project that leans leftward, interested in reflecting reality with a view to interrogating the truth of the human condition, and perhaps to improving it with the knowledge brought back.

Boffer larp, at the other end of the spectrum, looks like pure escapism - about as political as dressing up with your neighbourhood gang on Halloween. But Stark suggests I'm looking for boffer's politics in the wrong place: it's not in the game's content so much as its structure. In her paper "We Hold These Rules To Be Self-Evident: larp as metaphor for American identity" [States of Play, 171], she advances the theory that the original tabletopper RPGs (and the boffer fantasies that are their direct descendants) can be read as The American Dream in ludic form, "an idealized vision of the archetypal immigrant's journey in which no one is left behind and everyone inexorably rises in stature. Boffer larp does more than reflect American values; national values structure the game."

Boffer larp's reliance on large casts playing in large outdoor spaces means that money matters start raising their heads early on, and there's an argument to be made that this — plus the legendary litigiousness of the United States — is inimical to the more arty or experimental forms of larp. Once your monthly game has become a business, there are bottom lines to meet... and regular customers to keep happy. A set-up like Knight Realms won't play a 'world-ender' plotline; why risk killing the golden goose if it's still laying?

Hence the episodic nature of such campaigns: each instalment comes loaded with threat and jeopardy, but the game-world is 'rebooted' between episodes, returned to a stable state ahead of the next disruptive narrative. As with an series of cookie-cutter fantasy novels, there's always another volume, full of locations and characters you already know, and experiences for which you have some sort of precedent — not to mention the expectation of enjoyable escape from reality.

Boffer larp, then, like pulpy fantasy fiction, could be considered a project that neutralises the threat of Otherness by familiarising certain limited examples of Otherness within a fictional space whose intrinsic Otherness is sufficiently familiar. As an imaginative act, it demands a number of layers of separation between the player's true identity and their played character: you are playing not only someone who isn't you, but you're playing a someone who you could never be, among people you could never meet, in a world that is explicitly not the one in which your true identity resides.

The Nordic style, by comparison, delights in keeping the layers of separation as few and thin as is possible: characters that are a warping or expansion of the player's own personality, played in a world that (with varying degrees of abstraction or symbolic reduction) reflects the one within which it is nested.

Or, to put it another way: trad larp takes an individualist approach, wherein the players — equalised/normalised, at least in theory, by the complex rules and stats surrounding character generation and interaction — must make their own mark on a imaginary world that was designed specifically for them to make a mark upon. Nordic play, by comparison, is interested in character as changed and influenced by the game's narrative...

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Data Space

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Rather than hewing to a tight editorial voice, New York-based quarterly CLOG selects a singular subject for each issue and promises to unpack it “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means.” The most recent issue takes on the architectural typologies of the modern data center – both studying the physical reality of information infrastructure and imagining new figurations that might better reflect our digital age.

An overwhelming proliferation of short essays—44 features total in the slim, 127 page volume, each only a few pages in length—function as historical background, case study, research exercise, conjecture and pure architectural folly.  All, however, are predicated on the existence of a unique spatio-temporal relationship in our contemporary society between architectural form and digital technology.  As quoted early in the issue, Mies van der Rohe claimed in a 1950 address to IIT “wherever technology reaches its real fulfillment, it transcends into architecture…it is the crystallization of its inner structure, the slow unfolding of its final form.”

Positivism aside, this blurring between what constitutes a “building” versus what you might, depending on your level of technological sophistication, call “infrastructure,” “wires,” or just “ugly stuff,” has a long dialogical history. Modernism’s persistent obsession with the factory and Reyner Banham’s “A Home is Not a House” essay in Art in America (April 1965) both display a certain shared affection among architects for the utilitarian – are the windowless concrete monoliths that house our Instagram photos and most intimate Google queries a holdover from that industrio-fetishistic era?  Or do they simply have no need to perform for us any longer?  Luiz André Barroso and Urs Hölzle pull contemporary Warehouse Scale Computers (WSCs) into that same discourse, noting that “perhaps most importantly, WSC designers – software, hardware, mechanical, electrical, environmental, thermal and civil engineers – don’t ...

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Artist Profile: Katriona Beales

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Constant Screen (2012) limited edition poster to accompany 'Constant Screen' video installation 

 

Much has been made of our networked present’s utopic possibilities, but it feels like a wave of anxiety and skepticism is emerging to counter the web optimism of individuals like Clay Shirkey. Is it right to read your work as an investigation into how usage of the Internet may not be altering how we think, feel, and interact for the better?

At the heart of my practice there is tension between fascination and wariness with new technologies, specifically the meshing of mobile telecommunications devices and the Internet. It is not an ambivalent position but it is conflicted. So yes - in part.  

On the one hand I am intensely excited by the simultaneous nature of display, consumption and production that these interfaces encourage. I also understand the conditions of the digital (binary code that can be endlessly replicated) as fundamentally supporting information overload and excess, but see so many possibilities in embracing the torrent of information rather than attempting to oppose it.

At exactly the same time, I am wary and perhaps even frightened at moments. I can be a bit of a conspiracy theorist and as Internet space becomes ever-more commodified and our online lives are increasingly channeled through multi-national companies I do worry. I don’t, for example, like the feeling of being locatable through the GPS facility on my phone. I am a bit of a McLuhanite (I keep returning to, and re-turning ‘the Gutenberg Galaxy’) and when he states “any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment”, my response is to question what type of human environment is now being created and what type of human? Are these rapidly mutating environments ones that are conducive to human beings – or at least the human ...

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Five Videos: Jemima Wyman's The Shared Face of the Collective

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Five Videos is an online series "hosted" by Rhizome, in collaboration with FACT, responding to the Liverpool Biennial's theme, The Unexpected Guest. Each week throughout the Liverpool Biennial, a new artist will curate five videos about hospitality. This week, Jemima Wyman looks at camouflage as a tactic of grassrooots collectives:

The thronging, faceless mass convenes….Let’s go visiting. Let’s occupy. Let’s be the unexpected guest.

For the Liverpool Biennale, I invited the community to create a soft analog network that was woven out of second-hand camouflage and hunting t-shirts. For the next several weeks the community has, and will be claiming territory within the FACT building through weaving a large-scale communal skin out of individual combat clothing on hula-hoop looms. This skin is visibly hand-made and warms the cold concrete walls. The weavings are made in the space together as a group, the title Collective Coverings, Communal Skin. We occupy the space, through constructing a shared skin, and transform conflict into comfort.

Hannah Arendt’s philosophical ideas on reflexive judgment stipulate the importance of visiting and imagining positions beyond the self in order to consider the moral dimension of actions and decisions, so as to exist with an enlarged mentality. The quickest way to go visiting is to slip into someone else’s skin or share in a communal covering. I’ve been using fabric and masking in my practice as both an empathetic device and  a resistance strategy for some time. By crafting metaphoric skins that individuals can wear, or a community can share in, we bring awareness to the politics of embodiment (being) and spectacle (seeing).

This work developed from a feminist position and a desire to equalize the gaze, to make it reciprocal. To overcome the standard objectification of the female body, I started to cloak, exaggerate and extrude through fabric skins. The bodies that I represented and researched were ones that desired to be looked at and listened to in a reciprocal exchange whereby they weren’t oppressed by their circumstance.

With the selected five videos, I thought we might participate in some philosophical anthropology and visit groups that don the mask while using online media for the specific purpose of empowerment. Traditionally within western art the position of authority was behind the camera, representing the other through colonizing eyes. The decentralization of image production and on-line presentation has allowed for an empowered self-determining subject to have two-way communication with mass participation.

Let’s start with the Zapatistas: They use technology strategically to promote international discussion around their cause and to bypass the Mexican government. There is a poetics to their movement, women are included, and it is primarily non-violent. The balaclava (or ski mask) is the shared face of the collective, it is the all-in-one and the one-in-all.

“Behind us are the we that are you. Behind our balaclavas is the face of all the excluded women. Of all the forgotten indigenous people. Of all the persecuted homosexuals. Of all the despised youth. Of all the beaten migrants. Of all those imprisoned for their word and their thought. Of all the humiliated workers. Of all those who have died from being forgotten. Of all the simple and ordinary men and women who do not count, who are not seen, who are not named, who have no tomorrow.” (Member of the EZLN/ Zapatistas, Major Ana Maria quoted in “Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory” By Richard Gilman-Opalsky)

In this video Subcomandante Marcos acknowledges the importance of independent media to challenge dominant ideology and to report on social struggles that cotemporary world news refuses to cover...

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New in the ArtBase: Twilight Screensaver (1991) for Atari TOS

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There is a new addition to the ArtBase's collection that we are rather excited about: TwiLight (1991-1997), a screensaver for Atari TOS by Dragan Espenschied, Alvar Freude, and Peter Scheerer. There are two points to be excited about here: first, TwiLight now holds the crown of being the oldest piece of software in our collection. Second, Espenschied has amazingly completely reconstructed the screensaver's various modules as in-browser simulations, using the original graphics and HTML marquees. On the following page one can see what is a relatively accurate representation of the original software. If you'd like to run the original software in an Atari TOS compatable emulation (or vintage hardware), the orignal software can be download here: LZH (925 kb), ZIP (939 kb). 

 

 

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