Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, collectively known as JODI, are rightfully venerated for their countless contributions to art and technology, working as an artistic duo since the mid-90’s. Generally referred to as pioneers of “net.art,” that oft-misunderstood “movement” combining the efforts of artists using the internet as a medium circa 1994, JODI is revered not only for their artistic meditations on the increasing presence of new technology in our daily lives, but also for their fuck-if-I-care attitude toward both the establishments of the technology and art worlds. JODI’s famous five-word “acceptance” speech—if you could call it that—for their 1999 Webby Award in art, simply read, “Ugly commercial sons of bitches.”
Unlike an overwhelming majority of artists, and especially those in art and tech, JODI has managed to sustain a successful career for over 15 years, mounting exhibitions internationally. February 2011 saw the duo literally blow its audience in the face with bomb-like cans of oxygen at Foxy Production, accounting for one of the best performances of the year.
Yet, their recently launched exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) finds a flashy, overly simplistic exhibition that fails to represent the deeply important perspective that JODI has come to represent over the last two decades. Comprising work made from 1999 to the present, “Street Digital” extends JODI’s focus from the desktop computer to hardware’s broader, more public landscape including cellular phones, LED signs, and iPods. A projection split into four channels, YTCT (Folksomy) (2008/2010), combines Youtube videos of “people doing weird things with hardware,” or more specifically, the video features mostly-teenage boys destroying old iPods, cameras, laptops, etc., by throwing, bashing, or hammering them. Periodically, a legitimately strange occurrence replaces the usual simple, hormonally charged violent acting-out of an enfants terrible ...
Geeta Dayal interviews Rebecca Allen, who created computer graphics for the video for “Musique Non Stop” and other 3d work:
Creating the milestone video, which made Allen a major force behind the German band’s visual aesthetic in the ’80s, was a painstaking process that took nearly two years for Allen and her team at the New York Institute of Technology’s Computer Graphics Laboratory to complete.
“Nowadays you can pretty easily digitize a 3-D object,” said Allen in an interview with Wired. “Back then, it was a very crafted process. I would have to put little pieces of tape over the models…. Then you put it in this reference cube, and then point by point you’d digitize.”
In the abstract video, animated heads flash across the screen. It took hundreds of hours just to get the colors exactly the way Allen wanted them. (See behind-the-scenes photographs of the creative process in the exclusive gallery above.)
“There’s so much involved — not just the color, but then you had to get the lighting … and it’s on some crummy TV, ultimately,” said Allen, now a design professor at UCLA. “But that’s the way I am. If you’re an animator, it’s already clear that you’re a fanatic — an obsessive. Anybody who wants to make frames for every second of movement is obviously pretty obsessive about things.”
The attention to detail paid off: The “Musique Non Stop” music video still looks prescient, even today. In Kraftwerk’s recent eight-day stand at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the band made ample use of visuals gleaned from the video. Other pioneering music videos with rendered 3-D graphics sequences — such as Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” which won Video of the Year at the 1986 MTV Video Music ...
Steve Roggenbuck, carpe dime you only live ounce, 2012
smile at me using the dead girls mouth
it hurts with me.
im in california hugging with my dead family.
simple in the western u.s. crying in my bed
im dead with you sad girl.
i want you in the airports of my country
i am about the size of a dead nine year old
i am about the size of a dead nine year old
in her cool bed room
i am ugly with dead children
it is early september at 7 in the morning
i want to listen to birds outside of my
i love birds
i love them more than humans
there are also dead
bodies hanging from my familys tire swing
dead girl, you are dead
i am crying in you and being fucked at the same
time by january rain. i hurt
when i move.
i am being rained on with dead
children now dead five year olds.
i dont care if my blood
i no longer want to have blood. i want your
cold pointless hands.
i want to put flowers in your cold pointless mouth
Parle moi je t'écoute, 2006-7
Fiction, history and reality are constantly being intertwined throughout your work. How do you balance the phantasmic with reality? How do these techniques propel or help understand the history and politics in works like As it might, could, did happen and Was Bourguiba, then Ben Ali, awaiting the next?
The balance is very vague and I keep it so as long as possible. I want the viewers to find their own balance.
When Bourguiba first came to power, he was hailed as a savior, a liberator of the oppressive French. Images of him where everywhere. He cultivated that cult, just like any other dictator and was able to hold on to power for a long time. The fiction of the liberator was trying to negate the reality of living under his reign.
In my work I ask the viewers to consider what is being presented, to form their own understanding and opinion. In As it might, could, did happen, I recreated a bedroom (with furniture made of cardboard and wood imitation vinyl) in what was a East German Pioneers boarding house. The furniture looked almost authentic, but not quite. It played with the pre-conceptions of how East German furniture looked cheap and homogeneous. But the environment was real. So the balance here between fiction and reality is very flexible.
In one of your project’s statements you describe the struggle with your identity as the following: “I want to be this icon, this Frenchness, while also being who I am a mix breed, neither one nor the other. Arab, but French, but American, but becoming German?”
With this, works like, La distinction entre un carthaginois et un hexadecagone, au subjonctif, Layered Tense, and Pictures I wish I had are attempts at contextualizing ...
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Jesse England, E-Book backup (ongoing)
In 2007, novelist Jonathan Lethem published an essay in Harper's ending with a grand reveal: "every line I stole, warped, and cobbled together." The patchwork includes dozens of sources — part of a Steve Erickson novel, something from a Pitchfork review, a quote from an interview with Rick Prelinger. Sandra Day O'Connor and Ralph Waldo Emerson are stitched in too.
The Ecstasy of Influence, now the title of his recent collection of writings, often addresses the process of integrating and "cobbling together" ideas and culture to make something new. Yet, stories Lethem relates of hosting "mailing parties" for the Philip K Dick Society or working in a bookstore seem like snapshots from pre-digital age. Recently I talked with the author about our rapidly dematerializing culture as well as appropriation as an art practice:
JM: Have you ever tried to imagine what kind of career path you would have had without a culture of physical objects?
JL: It’s really interesting because I do think of the procedural experience of having to dig, having to find out what, let’s say, all of those names in the back of Greil Marcus’ “Stranded” were. Now when I read that collection, I see it put together like his esoteric nod to the history of rock and roll and like 80 percent of it was terra incognita. I didn’t know the names at all, and I couldn’t just go skimming around and get a little taste. I had to make each and every one of those things that compelled me —because of the name or his description — a search. I’d have to go find some broken down piece of media, some old vinyl or something, and you know, the delay that inserts, the relationship to time. I spent a lot of time thinking about a culture that wasn’t right at hand.
I might envision a given song or movie for five or ten years before I’d lay hands on it at times, and that creates this sort of personal, fictional vision. It’s like having a book unread on your shelf and just staring at the jacket or the title or what you’ve heard about it, and having it emanating all this promise. Books I guess, can still do that, but it’s a really peculiar thing for me to think about how I would relate differently.
I mean, I was advantaged. I grew up in New York City. Compared to other versions of access in our generation, I had great access. My parents had a good record collection and really interesting books on the shelves and pointed me to them. There was no quarantine. I was in New York City and there were great repertory houses and I started going to them when I was 14 or 15 years old, just gobbling down some curators’ ideas of cinema. I was getting all these versions of importance or interest out of the obscure past or out of other national cinemas. So in that way, it was like I was surrounded. I didn't even think of myself as deprived.
The strange thing that the question sets up is an image of me, or anyone my age, as somehow suffering from a drought. But I wouldn't have, of course, had the comparison. I wouldn't have had any notion that I was lacking materials. I still had to make really complicated priorities for myself because there was so much that seemed so compelling, potentially compelling. And it wasn't too hard to get a hold of it. But I did, in retrospect I did have these kinds of limits and always a physical relationship — a movie theater that smelled a certain way. What it was to go to the Thalia and watch Bunuel films. It's associated for me with the feeling of that lobby and the strange loneliness in that place on a Thursday afternoon and the other people who would be there present or the kinds of record stores where I would at look at things or the bookstores and the way the objects themselves felt and became talismanic. And the way my own room was changing if I brought these things! It wasn't like I could close the computer and it would all go away. It was like I was changing my body practically. To just start accruing all this stuff like armor, like an exoskeleton.
JM: I'm sure your consumption of culture now is different though. Do you have a Kindle or an iPad? Are you an ebook reader? I'm sure you have MP3s, at least.
JL: I have a lot of MP3s! I'm going to qualify this in a number of different ways. I've always been a very late adopter. I mean even MP3s, I didn't have them after other people I knew did. Something about me always sort of wants them to become a little more part of the world. It's like I need to believe in them by seeing people form attachments before I make that move. I've got a friend who teases me because he remembers me saying that I would probably never bother with email. I knew a few people who were doing it and it just didn't seem that appealing to me. Now I'm ten years into an unbelievable promiscuous emailing binge that will never end. So I've been a late adopter a lot of times with tech. I wrote novels on an electric typewriter after it was possible to begin writing prose on computers. I just wasn't quite there. I wasn't ready to make a move from something that felt very important and material and personal to me. So who knows what I might do later on, but I've never read anything on a Kindle and I haven't even really had an iPad or a Kindle in my hands. The nearest I've been has been in the seat beside me in an airplane when I feel smug because they have to stop reading when the announcement goes out and my book is still open.
I think as a writer about the shape and heft of a book. And so I think the reason I am attached to reading them is I’m writing into that form. For better or worse, I still think of where physically my hands would be turning the pages. Feeling, oh, maybe now I’m ten pages from the end. And so some of those things are sacrificed in the Kindle.
Also, the kind of doubling back that I do as a reader seems very fundamental to pages. I’ll keep my finger sometimes even three or four pages width in two places in a book. Because I’m interested in doing a doubling. It’s very much a part of the physical object to me....
The Internet, specifically social media, is often perpetuated as being a new kind of ‘revolution celebrity’ and indeed to some point its played a hefty distributive role in accelerating the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Occupy and even the SOPA protests to name but a recent few. Yet, it simultaneously is this other exploitative entity, capitalizing on our movement through online space and constantly collecting data with often vague, ill-defined intentions. Can social media’s two dynamic roles—both as a constructive social platform for anti-government efforts and a data aggregating system—be synthesized into a critical and valuable commons? Can personal user data collection be used for more than advertising and increased commodification?
Techno-sociologist, Zeynep Tufekci proposes that today, connection and friendship are moving from the ‘ascribed ties’ of inherited local relationships consisting of one’s neighborhood friends, family, etc. to ‘achieved ties’ or relationships located based on the shared affinities of people ‘with whom you interact using multiple means of communication’. What can such shifts reveal about territorial and even regional interaction? Of neighborhoods, boroughs and its socio-economic behaviors? How can geography be re-defined?
The Livehood Research Project from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University is potentially one example of how data collection can be used in a constructive, illuminating way, by demonstrating how place can be defined by social activity (maybe rather than by jurisdiction). Livehood uses the data of over 18 million foursquare check-ins to map both geographic distance of frequented venues as well as plotting its ‘social distance’, or ‘the degree of overlap in the people that check-in to them’. Through accumulation of foursquare check-ins, Livehood algorithmically condenses this data into neighborhoods allowing a user to view the pattern sets of other people’s use of space.
Though the project in its current stages is still extremely limited (restricted so far to only three US cities, as well as accessible only to foursquare users) Livehood could develop into an extremely valuable tool for future governments and its citizens, as both a social lubricant and political tool. It also could just easily fulfill yet another advertiser’s dream.