Another History Is Possible

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Badlands Unlimited is an art publishing house making “books in an expanded field.”

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Book Review: Programmed Visions: Software and Memory

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ENIAC programmers, late 1940s. (U.S. military photo, Redstone Arsenal Archives, Huntsville, Alabama), from Programmed Visions by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun.

After “getting fit” and whatever else people typically declare to be their new year’s resolutions, this year’s most popular goal is surprisingly nerdy: learning to code. Within the first week of 2012, over 250,000 people, including New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg, had signed up for weekly interactive programming lessons on a site called Code Year. The website promises to put its users “on the path to building great websites, games, and apps.” But as New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin writes, “The Code Year campaign also taps into deeper feelings of inadequacy... If you can code, the implicit promise is that you will not be wiped out by the enormous waves of digital change sweeping through our economy and society.” 

If the entrepreneurs behind Code Year (and the masses of users they’ve signed up for lessons) are all hoping to ride the wave of digital change, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, is the academic trying to pause for a moment to take stock of the present situation and see where software is actually headed. All the frenzy about apps and “the cloud,” Chun argues, is just another turn in the “cycles of obsolescence and renewal” that define new media. The real change, which Chun lays out in her book Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, is that “programmability,” the logic of computers, has come to reach beyond screens into both the systems of government and economics and the metaphors we use to make sense of the world ...

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Cole Stryker, Author of "Epic Win for Anonymous" on Interior Semiotics, Context Collapse, and "You Rage You Lose"

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Still from Natacha Stolz's Interior Semiotics

Last year, an anonymous Rhizome contributer interviewed Natacha Stolz regarding her performance Interior Semiotics, the video documentation of which eventually found its way on 4Chan:

What is it that made, and is still making, [4chan users] so angry about Stolz’s performance? The video contains graphic material, but in the age of Goatse, and Tubgirl, explicitness alone cannot shock or offend most people—especially internet trolls. Rather, it was the label on it—art—and the work’s perceived demographic—hipsters—that crawled under people’s skin. Many on the internet seem as angry with the audience—for sitting there, for clapping—as they are with the performance itself. Whether or not you like Stolz’s piece may be a matter of personal taste, but taste is never strictly personal. It stands at a nexus of hot-blooded issues; issues relating to class, status, accessibility, belonging and not belonging. Taste necessarily begs the question not just of how we assign value to things, but also of who should be doing the assigning. The hipster has come to epitomize for many what’s seen to be the ridiculousness of taste; and so it struck people who hated Interior Semiotics as no mere coincidence that many audience members in the video were punked out, or gothed up, or otherwise retrofitted.

A lot of the comments on the video fall into two categories: comments addressing the definition, or ideal definition, of art, and comments addressing the nature of hipsters. The latter tend to be violent expressions of a kind of inchoate rage.

Recently I asked my friend Cole Stryker, author of Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web for his take on the trolling of the artist:

 

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