Posts for August 2012

Exploring Bludgeoned Subjectivity: Talking to Chris Kraus

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Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia, Video Green, among other titles; writes novels, criticism, and essays fluently addressing a range of subjects from from film to philosophy. Her forthcoming novel Summer of Hate is a love story that investigates recent American history all too eager to be forgotten on its own. We talked about her new book, its relation to other facets of her work, and other ideas.

 

Giampaolo Bianconi: Let's begin by talking about the beginning of your new book, Summer of Hate. It’s very different in tone from the rest of the book, very thrilling in its combination of sex, money, and fear.

Chris Kraus: The first two chapters set up each character’s situation before they meet—first Catt and then Paul. Catt is immersed in terror and flight: sex, murder, and delusional thinking. She’s panicked, hysterical. When she finally lands in Albuquerque in the third chapter, she re-enters real life. The movement of time changes once she gets there.  The book settles into a more normal, real-life progression. She’s driven into the story by her delirium. Paul enters the story with remorse, fear and shame. When they meet, the story continues on a different plateau.

GB: In relation to their meeting, I was struck by the fact that before Paul meets Catt he’s totally lost. Their meeting is so unexpected, and he’s so isolated and his possibility of interaction and collision is so small—especially in terms of their class differences.

CK: Right, it’s so farfetched. But given where she’s coming from, is it any more farfetched than meeting these lunatics online? She takes herself out of this delusional world and lands someplace else, where pretty much anything can happen. For Paul their meeting is improbable, but he’s already so far off the grid. This happens in life all the time! When people take themselves out of their normal, expected routines, other things can happen, and that’s what happens to these two.

GB: In one of your previous books, I Love Dick, there’s some discussion of the creation of a hybrid form of fiction and cultural criticism. Summer of Hate is a novel, but it fills a void in contemporary discussion about the incarceration industry.

CK: Yes … In I Love Dick, Dick has been charged with creating a new MFA program along those lines.  “Hybridity” was one of the funding buzzwords at that time.  But really, that is the definition of literature. If you look back to the great texts over the centuries, they’re hybrid forms of fiction and criticism. The great adventure stories: Moby DickRobinson CrusoeMoll Flanders, and then Balzac’s novels, the list goes on. The definition of literary fiction has become so incredibly narrow: domestic dramas based on the romantic and career ambitions within the upper middle class, but it wasn’t always that way. The agenda of fiction used to be to describe the whole world.

GB: The world that you describe in Summer of Hate is so regularly overlooked, not only in fiction but also in art and other forms of cultural production.

CK: It’s true; it’s not very sexy. Narrative hinges on subjectivity, and we’re accustomed to a certain kind of subjectivity...

 

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After the Cloudy Doubly Beautifully by Matthew Battles

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The following short story is excerpted from The Sovereignties of Invention by Matthew Battles. Battles will be appearing at McNally-Jackson Books in New York City on August 16th, interviewed by Rhizome editor Joanne McNeil.

BEFORE THE TURN of the millennium when the Web was new, I worked in the bowels of Harvard’s Widener Library. There was as yet no Twitter, no Facebook, no YouTube; blogs and wikis were the glamorous spells of a whispering cognoscenti. But a web there was—enough of one to encourage the library to send many books off to storage in dark, refrigerated warehouses, never to be read again. This was my work in the Widener deeps. I was one of Bradbury’s firemen, almost—though instead of heat and flame, we used the cool buzz of networked catalogs to put the books out of reach.

Among the duties with which I had been charged was clearing out the “X-cage.” I wish I had made up this name; I wish I had made it up and then discarded it in embarrassment—alas, the X-cage was real. It was the repository of books, sheaves of paper, and artifacts in odd sizes and formats, of paper too fragile or content too salacious for the open stacks. Some of these I sent away to be stored elsewhere, while others I tried to place in more suitable libraries or museums. And some, frankly, I didn’t know what to do with. My fascination with one such item has lingered through the years. Although it never was listed in the online system, I found it recorded in the card catalog while it still could be browsed in the library’s attic. The card reads as follows:

Benjamin, Walter. Übersetzung Maschine. 1946. Gift of le bibliothèque Orléans, Fr.

The device was ...

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Artist Profile: Cecile B. Evans

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Cecile B. Evans, You May Keep One of Your Children (2011)

Many of your works reference and seem to be derived from popular culture icons, from Paula Abdul and Meryl Streep to Jean-Luc Goddard and J.D. Salinger. What is the role of popular culture in your work? Do your works attempt to comment on our conceptions of these cultural references or are they simply a point of departure?

One thing that is important to me in the work I’m doing now is to get to where several points of reference can exist on the same plane, with equal weight. In this world, Paula Abdul goes with Pina Bausch, Meryl Streep with medical instruments, and an array of other elements in each piece that vary in their visibility. I’m interested in reaching a place where the high blends into the low, the earnest into satire (and vice versa) and making a complex constellation of elements that winds up as something that’s really simple aesthetically. As I write this, I’m gluing nail art rhinestones to spell out a quote from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? in Braille to spill from the tear ducts of a vintage photo a friend emailed me of her parents kissing. I’m simultaneously editing a video that features a semphore version of Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing on sleeping pills that unfolds while a Lucinda Childs-like ghost floats around dying golden embers. At the moment, we exist in a culture that lets me use these very different values to refer to the same emotions. It’s as though we’ve entered a 2nd wave of New Sentimentality where it’s as appropriate to relate loss to an Aaliyah song as it is to do so with Barthes’ Mourning Diary, and either can be done sincerely or ironically… at least I’ve always equated things that way.

I enjoy using broad references in popular culture as a reflection on how different industries have created universal conduits.

Your past works seem to levitate around notions of intimacy and relationships. Some of your projects imply that intimacy doesn't necessarily require physical closeness and can be instead experienced through connections made in internet or other forms of technology. Yet, in the age of tweeting and texting, social networking creates this constant yet increasingly vapid communication between people that feels anything but intimate. How do you think recent technology affects our perceptions of intimacy? Do you think physical closeness can be replicated within a technological frame, or do these new forms of connecting force us to reevaluate what we deem “intimate”?

In the past I’ve been interested in the internet as an intimacy generator, using its content as source material, without judgement. One thing that I’ve found since I’ve started is how blurred the lines between the virtual and real have become, to the point where it isn’t a big deal. There are feed relationships that can cross over to a more direct form of contact, either as an extension of what you’ve created or used as supplements to wish fulfillment- from rejection to validation. The volume of people and easy access serves as a lubricant either way 

The danger isn’t with ourselves- I don’t think those of us who have the filter to realize what’s ok and what isn’t will lose that. It’s more how flippantly we display our feelings. The faith in an emotional utopia was decried in 1994 by Carmen Hermasillo (aka humdog) who warned that the spilling of our guts on the internet would result in the commodification of our feelings by large corporations. That’s happening now. I fear that the companies are mirroring back what we unknowingly feed them in ways that will reevaluate the meaning of intimacy for us... 

 

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I, IV by A.E. Benenson

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Ian Cheng, from This Papaya Tastes Perfect, 2011

I.

Here are the Germans in Arizona and New Mexico.

Their skin turning the coral-red of the veined rocks, of the local jewelry, as if the color had begun to rub off on them in the heat, some kind of desert frottage but really a sunburn is the just the opposite, if you think about it.

But that is how things are when they are opposites: you can't tell them apart.

Like the first time the group saw a Swastika on a native's cloth rug beady red inside a clutch of eagles, their wings eddying around it—one of them realized for the first time that the sign looked exactly like a miniature windmill (another learned later that in Navajo the symbol did almost mean that, in fact—"whirling log")

Another German was embarrassed; but for the others, this sign was a sign and they telegraphed Goebbels immediately.

It was like when Cortez had arrived in Mexico: 

His men found that the natives there already worshipped a deity with long hair and fair skin, Quetzelcoatl, who had walked the earth before he ascended into the heavens. Ignoring any other possibility, Cortez understood this as the proof of the universality of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. 

The Germans didn't know it then, but that turned out to be the "breakthrough" of their reconnaissance mission. It was the best these code crackers would do: discover a symbol they already all wore on their uniforms.  

The rest of the Navajo language remained as much of a mystery as when it had first been captured coming across the Allied wireless.  

After they returned home, those Germans still thought of the Allied Code, but something changed. It made no more sense, but before, whereas ...

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Improving Prometheus

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John Powers, artist, blogger at Star Wars Modern, as well as Rhizome contributor, might now add "script doctor" to his bio. Yesterday, he unveiled his recent project — a rewrite of the script for Prometheus. I asked Powers several questions over email about his improvements to the script:

What was your reaction to Prometheus? How does that compare with your feelings about the films Alien andAliens?

I was disappointed but still engaged. I had been looking forward to the film. After Requiem I could never have been lured back to another Alien movie, but it was Ridley Scott. And while I really don't like slasher films at all, body horror is something I've always been fascinated by. From Cronenberg's Fly, to Aronofsky's Black Swan, to  Natali'sSplice, body horror has always been a genre that my imagination has latched onto. Alien is the ultimate. I would love to know the page count of academic papers written on the sexual horror of those films. When I realized Scott was making a stab at 2001 via Alien- ala a scifi film about God (but founded in body horror) I got really excited. 

So Prometheus has more in common with 2001 than the original Alien?

To horribly misquote Allen Ginsberg:  I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the exercise of filming their own 2001; A Space Odyssey

In 2002 Steven Soderbergh made a run at it (and bombed), via Post-Soviet chic, with his remake of Solaris. In 2006 Darren Aronofsky all but destroyed any artistic credibility he had by making The Fountain, a over-blown scifi opus about life, the universe, and everything. A year later Danny Boyle did it with a little more success (but not much) with his movie Sunshine (wrote about that one). In 2010 Christopher Nolan was clearly aiming for the Kubrick-esque moon with his film Inception (I wrote a LOT about tht one). And Terrence Malick was clearly swinging for the Jovian moons with Tree of Life

All these films excepting Inception (which is more about the film director as God, than God) are catastrophically flawed. All of them attracted A-list talent (Clooney, Jackman, Dicaprio, Spicoli...) and all were clearly passion projects on the part of their directors...

 

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Guide to Future-Present Archetypes Part 3: The Cyborg-Historical

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Superflux headset to enable prosthetic vision.

The Future-Present is something that once one has begun to notice it, it becomes very difficult to not see. This visual pattern of our conception of the future has the occult symbolism of apophenia, an illusion of perception generated as glitching artifact by the same non-illusory means by which we perceive reality. The shape of history projected forward in time looms out in the shape of a monster from patterns of moss on our architecture, and as a prophet from coffee stains on news magazines. Our imagination builds reality both forward and backward in time, as our vision builds reality on both isomorphic sides of the mirror. Our speculative thought catalogs these alternate realities, and we attach them to ourselves like equipment strapped to the stomach of a soldier, and we drag them along with us as we crawl across the surface of the earth, dodging death. Or so we dream, as we let our eyes slowly unfocus, gazing at our liquid crystal screens.

The Future-Present hangs heavy with acquired schematization, grows thickly in the rhizomatics of our mental constructs, and with this decaying biomass, lubricates the sliding transmission of our worldviews. But while the implications of the Future-Present for philosophical theories that deploy such semiotic hardware are important, there is a complex material realm of the Future-Present that should not be ignored. Regardless of what sort of opaque, nebulous terms we develop for the clouds in our temporal vision, they have material form with which we will collide with if we don’t watch where we are going. The gears of the mechanisms are sharp, and the metabolized exertions to avoid injury on the cutting edge are chemically taxing.

This is not simply a matter of seeing correctly and avoiding illusion. The illusions have important meanings. Patterns are the visual boundaries of underlying systems. When a slime mold grows into nearly the exact same shape as the Tokyo rail system, this is not a random coincidence...

 

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Love Letters

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The following essay first appeared on the website for The Eternal Internet Brotherhood, a gathering of artists, writers, curators and others interested in internet culture on the greek island of Anafi from August 9th until the 23rd. It was written by Burke while attending the event. 

love letter

I’ve decided to write love letters because that’s what you do when you’re in love. I saw that great document today - all text and in a block, from Slovenia, I think. It was from the 90s. So basically, people got together, and they found an old or cheap building, and they inserted a sound system or bands or DJs, and for 36hrs or more they would dance, presumably, make out, get together, find myriad tangents through the throbbing artery of night. And by morning they couldn’t even see each other, just feel under their shoes the concrete, every little pore of it. They’d sleep in the cracks for half an hour, and get up and go again, right back where they started, that firstness again. And that amazing 90s hair, just enough gel still in for that cow’s lip, or curtains, throbbing, clothes that were all sportswear and primary colours. Showing the bottom part of your fist to each other, and pumping it. Chewing your own lips. Smiles that contorted and scarred our faces. Imagine finding someone in that moment, every freeze frame of the artificial lighting their body getting closer, each a different angle, a different record sleeve. And they don’t even look up, you just know as the record needle moves inwards that there’s an ultimate trajectory to all of this, you call it in your molten state a teleology, and in the repetitive stuttering beat on which all life is you ...

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Julian Oliver's Tele-Cartography

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This year, Abandon Normal Devices, a festival of "new cinema, digital culture, and art," commissioned artist and Critical Engineer Julian Oliver to create Border Bumping, a self-professed work of dislocative media that utilizes the contradictions of cell phone signals and networks to rework national boundaries. Housed within a caravan known as a mobile cartography bureau, Border Bumping puts location data into a feedback loop with its visual representation, creating new geographies out of technical necessities. The project traces the terrain of an Earth imagined by communication technologies. It's an Earth where the map destroys and redefines the territory. As described on the website:

As we traverse borders our cellular devices hop from network to network across neighbouring territories, often before or after we ourselves have arrived. These moments, of our device operating in one territory whilst our body continues in another, can be seen to produce a new and contradictory terrain for action..

Running a freely available, custom-built smartphone application, Border Bumping agents collect cell tower and location data as they traverse national borders in trains, cars, buses, boats or on foot. Moments of discrepancy at the edges are logged and uploaded to the central Border Bumping server, at the point of crossing.

For instance: a user is in Germany but her device reports she is in France. The Border Bumping server will take this report literally and the French border is redrawn accordingly. The ongoing collection and rendering of these disparities results in an ever evolving record of infrastructurally antagonised territory, a tele-cartography.

The Border Bumping application can be downloaded and used on your own phone to visualize the new boundaries of your own movement through space.

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The Unconscious Performance of Identity: A Review of Johannes P. Osterhoff’s “Google”

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As part of this year’s Transmediale festival in Berlin, media artist Johannes P. Osterhoff organized an online collaborative performance of search engine queries, simply titled, “Google.” For one week, Osterhof convinced myself and 36 other participants to add a unique search method to our default web browsers so that everything we “googled”—from the personal to the mundane—became instantly visible online at google-performance.org.

The performers, who are mostly artists or technologists or both, recorded 1,322 searches over seven days. Search queries were displayed chronologically with their sequence number, date and time, participant name, and search tool used. The text of the search and participant name were also hyperlinked, so searches can be explored by keyword or participant.

Many queries reflect content from the Transmediale conference. Others reveal users engaging in play, submitting insider messages or odd one-liners. Most searches are about business as usual, as evidenced by the high number of phrases referencing programming or technology. Reading through them, by time or participant or keyword, gives the impression of a conscious stream of thought. They are a random series of words and phrases that make irrational leaps from noun to verb to sentence, only occasionally creating a complete thought when a participant repeats parts of phrases in their quest for the intended outcome.

The queries are often poetic, like these from my own stream:

xmas

 release serial ports

release serial ports arduino

chariot sidecar

pull down resistor

Others are strangely suggestive, like this snippit from Osterhof’s searches:

mspro

jennie garth

chrome french download

extrem wohlgeformet google suchanfragen mit poetischer kraft

ed2000

Sometimes they are coincidental, like these which share the common keyword, “python:”

python copy file os

Monty Python New Movie

python random coin flip

python do while

The project (see also its manifesto) made ...

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Kitchen Table Coders Presents: Learn to Code From an Artist Workshop

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Kitchen Table Coders Panel Discussion from Rhizome on Vimeo.

Last Friday, Rhizome hosted a panel discussion on code literacy in the arts including Amit Pitaru of Kitchen Table Coders; Vanessa Hurst of Girl Develop It and Developers for Good; Jer Thorpe, artist and educator; Sonali Sridhar of Hacker School; and moderated by Douglas Rushkoff, educator and author of Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age.

Kitchen Table Coders workshops in the New Museum Theater

Following the panel, Rhizome hosted five Kitchen Table Coders-style workshops Saturday afternoon in the New Museum Theater. Twenty-five eager coding novices came to get a crash course in Processing with some of New York City's most talented programmers; Amit Pitaru, t3db0t, David Nolen, Jer Thorp and Rob Seward. The Kitchen Table Coders host intimate workshops around a kitchen table in their Brooklyn studio on any topic the attendees choose. 

Jer Throp introducing Processing to his students

Participants learned the basics in Processing, an open source programming language for visual art.

t3db0t demonstrating Arduino

More advanced students had the opportunity to sit down with t3db0t to take their Processing skills to the next level with Arduino to create interactive electronic objects.

Thanks again to all the panelists, Vanessa Hurst (Developers for Good), Sonali Sridhar (HackerSchool), Amit Pitaru (Kitchen Table Coders) and Jer Throp (NYTimes and ITP), and our moderator codevangelist Douglas Rushkoff for a stimulating conversation about code literacy. And big thanks to Nick Hasty, Director of Technology for Rhizome, who was instrumental in making this event happen. I look forward to organizing more code and hacker workshops in the future!

 

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