Posts for 2015

The Final Post: Computer Evolution on Law and Order

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 The first computer on the show (1,1).

Combining endurance performance art and media studies, artist Jeff Thompson captured over 11,000 images of the show Law & Order while watching the complete original series over the course of 18 months, often at an increased frame rate in order to save time. Through these images, he tracked the computer's changing role on the show from its debut as a static background prop to its starring role as the focus of characters' attention and the basis of plotlines. Those images have been published to a Tumblr on an ongoing basis since the launch of the project; the final post went up today.

Clunky monitors slowly move to the front of the desk (5, 89)

Computers on Law & Order was created per a Rhizome commission in 2012 — an apt time to analyze the ongoing interdependence of technology and daily life. As Thompson immersed himself in television drama's interpretation of the rise of the internet and the appearance of the Blackberry, real-world consumers were being influenced by appification and the mainstream prevalence of the cloud. The ability to “binge watch”—coupled with the power to stream comfortably with near immediacy—is what ignited Thompson’s initial interest in the project; after obsessive detailing and the creation of logical infographics, his ultimate findings sound like an anthropological study of American culture:

Law & Order is an even more interesting cultural artifact than I could have ever expected. The show forms a unique database of images and speech, and one that reflects the fascinations, fears, and biases of its time. Law & Order's long run and its ‘ripped from the headlines’ content makes it a useful lens through which to look at a period of great political and economic change in the United States.”

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Required Reading: Empathy & Disgust

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Distaste or disgust involves a rejection of an idea that has been offered for enjoyment.

—Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1798

For the first time, this year's Seven on Seven will have an overarching theme offered to participants as a provocation: Empathy & Disgust.

Scene from Her

We chose this theme partly because of recent discussions about "affective computing," which aims to detect and respond appropriately to users' emotions. The field gained some visibility after the release of Spike Jonze's Her; writing for Rhizome, Martine Syms argued that the film could be read as "an elaborate product spec" for intelligent agents that can replace human relationships. Recently, a new crop of apps that function as "Intelligent Personal Agents" bring us a step closer to this future, while a more speculative app from Blast Theory offers a fully-fledged emotional relationship with a virtual character who gradually reveals herself to be "needy, sloppy, piteous, and desperate."

Some of the real-world research underpinning emotional analysis was discussed in New Yorker piece earlier this year, focusing on the work of Affectiva and scientist Rana el Kaliouby. The company is developing a tool called Affdex that can "make relable interences about people's emotions" based on video monitoring:

During the 2012 Presidential elections, Kaliouby’s team used Affdex to track more than two hundred people watching clips of the Obama-Romney debates, and concluded that the software was able to predict voting preference with seventy-three-per-cent accuracy.

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Creating Radical Software: A Personal Account

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What can be analyzed in my work, or criticized, are the questions that I ask…my composition arises out of asking questions.

— John Cage

 

 

Radical Software Volume I, Number 1: the Alternate Television Movement (Spring 1970)

As rare as it is for something to be an instant success, this is what happened with Radical Software, a journal started in 1970 to bring a fresh direction to communication via personal and portable video equipment and other cybernetic explorations. Its intention was to foster an alternative to broadcast media and lessen the impact of its control. I was the co-founder.

When I began conceiving of the journal, no one really knew precisely what I was getting at because my ideas about it were at an inchoate stage of development, making for loose coherency. The idea was for individuals to be able to communicate interactively without the filters of broadcast media. Even at a more formalized stage the process superseded any formulaic views. Perhaps asking non-hierarchical questions could materialize the structures leading to a two-way network for communicative exchange. Our choices were no longer determined by traditions and customs.

I don't often look, but when I do, I notice so much misinformation, both printed and online, about the origins of Radical Software. I‘d like to clarify what my role was then and what my inspiration was in conceiving of it. It is important to set the background and tone of events. In order to accurately tell the tale I will weave in some personal life anecdotes from the time. It's all one story to me, as the vicissitudes of life often direct our fates.

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I hope we are not disturbing you: Ai Weiwei and Jacob Appelbaum in Beijing, through the lens of Laura Poitras

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Jacob Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and Ai Weiwei in Beijing last week. (Photo: Heather Corcoran).

Last week, Rhizome brought Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei together with key Tor Project activist and Wikileaks representative Jacob Appelbaum for a five-day collaboration behind closed doors. The two worked closely at Ai's studio in Beijing with unreleased Snowden documents to create an artwork that underscores their mutual concerns with privacy, surveillance, and their own state-restricted movement. Rhizome invited film director Laura Poitras—whose portrait of Edward Snowden, Citizenfour, won the 2015 Academy Award for Documentary Feature—to capture the collaboration from start to finish as a short film, which will premiere at Rhizome's Seven on Seven on May 2 at the New Museum. (The event will stream live at rhizome.org and fusion.net.)

Reflecting on the project, both Ai and Appelbaum offered their own sense of responsibility. Ai: "I see my art as a way of reminding people of certain facts." Appelbaum: "My one goal is that in 20 years time no one can say they didn't know what was happening, so we'll know who didn't act to stop it."

Kashmir Hill of Fusion was on site in Beijing to cover the story as it unfolded between Ai, Appelbaum, and Poitras—"three of the most justifiably paranoid people in the world"—and not without an impromptu call to Julian Assange. Read Hill's detailed report

For full bios, tickets, and event information, visit the event's website at sevenonseven.rhizome.org.

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I Dreamed a Dream: CloneZone is Live.

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Ever dream of writing for the New Yorker, America's preeminent magazine and blogging site? Ever wish to join the ranks of giants like Jill Lepore, Elizabeth Kolbert, David Remnick, and Malcolm Gladwell? 

New York-based artist Nick DeMarco did. And just yesterday, his dream came true.

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A New Hypertext Frog Simulator (Finally!)

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Described by its creator as a "frog simulator," Beautiful Frog by Porpentine is actually a text-only interactive fiction build on the Twine platform that allows players to guide a frog through its froggy life. Each turn marks the passage of a year in its life; black serifed text describes its various froggy experiences and milestones, while green text allows the player to make basic decisions like "hop," "sing," or "eat." Time passes quickly—too quickly!—but happily the "frog death" setting is set to "false" by default. Those that prefer to deal with the facts of a frog's life directly can change this setting. 

"Protect this frog," the game admonishes you when you meet your new frog for the first time. Mine was named Guggo, and it was a Yellow-Striped Savanna. It dedicated its life to singing, refusing "Hop" and even "Eat" at every turn. 

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Artist Profile: Guan Xiao

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Guan Xiao, "Survivors' Hunting," exhibition view at Magician Space

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.

The first exhibition of your work that I saw was "Survivors' Hunting" at Magician Space, Beijing, in 2013. It showed your tendency towards exploring history and artefacts and the way these are presented, as well as your attitude to time and simultaneity—ignoring linear time. In it, there was a series called Cloud Atlas (2013; the title is copied from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, in which past and future come to overlap)—freestanding works made of wooden board and painted in mushy, camouflage colors with car paint. Tall and glossy, standing in the small gallery like totems or movable walls for a stage set. They seemed to stand for something (like monuments or steles do), yet the nature of that something was missing completely. To me, this felt truly uncanny. Was it part of your aim to create this sense of disorientation?

If I do an exhibition, I like to—as artists we cannot provide any answers. We just can offer possibilities. I try to make my exhibitions convey some kind of sense, with a lot of clues. These clues can maybe lead the audience to somewhere they want to go. In my daily work, I am always trying to find out much more, to discover different methods for how I understand the world, how I draw responses and experiences from it. For the Magician Space show, I provided a lot of details for something. I can't give the right answer. I just give clues so that you can get into it and maybe use a little bit of personal imagination to try to figure out what it is.

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Games are a Faith-Based Pursuit: A conversation with Jenn Frank

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Still image from Chop Suey (1995).

On Friday, Rhizome published a restoration of three CD-ROM games from the 1990s by Theresa Duncan, which you can play here. Duncan's work has been largely and unjustly forgotten since the 1990s, and this restoration project was inspired, in no small part, by a 2012 article on Duncan's work by Jenn Frank.

To mark the restoration of the games, Jenn Frank spoke at a panel discussion at the New Museum in New York on Thursday (video here). Here, Nora N. Khan interviews her about her life in gaming. —Ed.

Acclaimed writer and games critic Jenn Frank is widely known for her excruciatingly intimate memoir essays, in which she often probes her family history and girlhood nostalgia to illuminate why games have been vital for her personally  and, by extension, for many others. Her work also explores how players engage with, and imagine themselves, in relation to systems, to the sets of rules established by a game world.

Frank uniquely renders games as profoundly human, explicit articulations of longing, curiosity, awe, fear, and love. Her work is very important to me, and to many other writers and game developers, and when she stepped away from games journalism for a time last year because of harassment, it was a real blow. Now she is publishing again, cautiously, and in an effort to better understand her importance, I spoke with Frank over email about her personal history, her lifelong relationship to games, and her part in shaping games criticism as a form.

 


 

Nora N. Khan: Let's start from the beginning. Could you tell us a bit about where and how you grew up?

Jenn Frank: I primarily grew up in a small town in coastal Texas, which is a place very unlike what most people visualize when they think "Texas." This part of Texas is mostly little run-down beach communities: houses on stilts, palm trees, antique stores, fresh shrimp. It's humid; it looks and feels like Florida. Geographically, it's nearer to Mexico than it is to Dallas. It's also sort of remote, locked by land on all sides except the side that is the Gulf of Mexico.

And—I think this is important also to note—I moved here, no kidding, by myself when I was 7 years old, from Seattle, to live with my great-aunt and great-uncle, these much older relatives who eventually adopted me. Until then, I'd been bouncing around the Pacific Northwest to live with all these different people. By the time I was 7, I'd decided I should have myself sent to Texas, so my grandfather packed me up and put me on a plane. So I was still really young when I got here, but I experienced an extreme sort of culture shock anyway.

Meanwhile, my great-aunt and great-uncle, Midwesterners who'd never had children of their own, were really very conservative, even for Texas—not only because they were evangelical Christians, but also because of their age. So they held some very dated ideas about parenting. These people sent me to school each day in a party dress, patent leather mary-janes, and those little socks with lace eyelet at the ankles—every day until third grade. I looked like the main character from The Bad Seed! So my peers were right to be terrified of me. Elementary school was a very rough time.

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The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs are now playable online

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In the 1990s, Theresa Duncan and collaborators made three videogames that exemplified interactive storytelling at its very best.

Two decades later, her works (like most CD-ROMs) have fallen into obscurity, but they remain as luminous and compelling as ever. This online exhibition—copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of First Look: New Art Online—brings them back, making them playable online, in your browser.

Click here to play.

The Games

 

 

Chop Suey (Magnet Interactive, 1995, co-created with Monica Gesue). Lily and June Bugg embark on a strange, hallucinatory adventure through the small town of Cortland, Ohio.

Smarty (Nicholson Associates, 1996). Smarty is off to visit her Aunt Olive for the summer, where she'll host a spelling radio show, eat at the Pancake House, and visit a mysterious dime store.

Zero Zero (Nicholson Associates, 1997). It's New Year's Eve, 1899, in Paris. A little girl named Pinkée makes the rounds of the city, asking bakers, gardeners, and can-can dancers about what the future will hold.

For this First Look online exhibition, Rhizome's Digital Conservator Dragan Espenschied and the University of Frieburg have partnered tomake the full CD-ROMs available through the web browser–based “Emulation as Service” system. To play the games and explore further, click here.

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Custom-Produced for Imbeciles of Some Sort: An Interview with John Russell

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John Russell on active forgetting, bad theory, squirrel pink, and speculative medievalism, in conversation with Cameron Soren.

Layout, font and images by John Russell. —Ed.

John Russell, Ocean Pose, Installation, backlit digital prints on vinyl, Matts Gallery London, 2007.

John Russell was a founder-member of the London-based artist group BANK, from 1990 to 2000. BANK would require their own article (or book), but for the sake of brevity here, BANK practiced their own unique form of a kind of anarchic "institutional critique". This involved, among other activities, staging aggressive, immersive and polemical group shows with titles like "Zombie Golf" and "Cocaine Orgasm" in temporary warehouse spaces around London (re-named BANKSPACE, DOG and then Galerie Poo-Poo). These sprawling installations often lampooned the contemporary art scene and satirized the popular culture of the '90s. In Zombie Golf, for example, the work was placed within a miniature golf course installation populated with wax figures of the undead. Their most well-known project "Faxbacks" involved taking other galleries press releases, correcting them and sending them back.

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