Do You Follow? Art in Circulation 3 (transcript)

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Do you follow? Art in Circulation 3
London, October 17 2014
Featuring Hannah Black, Derica Shields, Amalia Ulman

This is the third and final panel discussion in "Do You Follow? Art in Circulation," a talks series organized by Rhizome and the ICA, hosted by Rosalie Doubal and moderated by Michael Connor. This talk began with the polemic prompt that "Internet circulation changes bodies into image-bodies."  A transcript of the first panel is available already; the second panel's transcript is delayed because of technical difficulties.

Rush transcript compiled by Loney Abrams and Anton Haugen. Discrepancies may exist due to transcription errors or unclear audio. Original video footage can be found here.

Introduction

Michael Connor: Today's panel deals with the theme of bodies as— bodies and images in circulation. We are going to have a video by Hannah Black. The other panelists Amalia Ullman and Derica Shields will then join me on stage. Amalia will present her Excellences & Perfections performance, kind of the first real public-outing for that particular body of work. Derica will give us a visual sampler of the "Black Woman Cyborg," and then, we will have a general discussion.

This has been a really eventful week. This has been the most immersive, best research experience for me, personally, and I hope for some of the people who have joined in as well. The first panel began with questions of aesthetics and artistic practice, and how we think about aesthetic judgment when the work as a stand-alone entity is dissolving into this idea of the work as a circulating object. In the first talk, there was quite a lot of emphasis on opinions being statements of a subject-position rather than any sort of assessment of a work. There was also a lot of emphasis on the idea of disavowing, on resisting internet circulation, resisting being a part of media cultures, and developing alternative infrastructures. 

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Nail Art: From lipstick traces to digital polish

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From Charlie Engman's Tumblr.

For several weeks in August, news of an anti-date rape nail polish circulated on blogs and social media, igniting new debates with each posting. Created by four male university students, the nail polish was designed to be worn by would-be rape-victims; when dipped into a drink, it would indicate if it had been laced with one of three common date rape drugs by changing colors accordingly. Articles about this new prototype were irresistible to social media users—the way it tackled a trending, yet serious issue: the allure of staving off predators with fashion and the gimmick of seeing the colors change before your eyes.

Critics pointed out that the product reinforces the notion that it is the woman's responsibility to protect herself from sexual assault, serving as a reminder of the social acceptance of male aggression. A solutionist stopgap, it seems most likely to spur date rapists to change their lacing methods, while giving users a false sense of security.

One question that did not emerge during this discussion was the material form of this innovation, and its relationship to the body. As Lizzie Homersham and I wrote in a recent article for Rhizome, hands "problematize the boundary between organic human and inorganic tool." In the case of the date rape nail polish, the polished nail is deployed as a sensory device, a technological prosthesis that is also a part of our bodies.

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Artist Profile: Andrea Crespo

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

 

Andrea Crespo, Dialing from  the series Sis (2014).

Your work explores the ambiguities of the cyborg's promise—how it can reinforce patriarchal gender systems as well as liberating us from them. Can you talk about that specifically in relation to Eden, where "lust" appears as an apparatus, a series of luxury hi-tech prosthetics, rather than as a possible relation between bodies?

I wouldn't oppose the apparatus to a possible relation between bodies. I would say that it mediates, complicates, and likely crystallizes relations in a particular way. Pornography in general is just the technological mediation of normative desire, whether it's through dildonics or other viewing apparatuses. All these means are very much capable of re-inscribing everything in very traditional ways. But they are not irredeemable. It's not like the multiplication of desire through technological means is always conformist. It may subvert itself along the way.

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Cyborg Humanism: Wangechi Mutu at Brooklyn Museum

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Wangechi Mutu, A'gave you (2008). Mixed media collage on mylar, 93" x 54".

The violent and ambiguous encounter depicted in A'gave you (2008) encapsulates the force and intent of Wangechi Mutu's collages, the highlight of her ongoing retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. A blue, thick-rooted, and out-sized version of the New World monocot bends to a violated female pseudo-cyborg. Her eyes, cheap black speckled pearls, are replicated in the plant's ovary. The kneeling figure's torso, head, and left arm are thrown back in disinterested submission; her right arm is lost to perspective and/or trauma. Gold sparkle and blood explodes from her chest as she births, or pisses, a long, fat strand of bright yellow-orange which forms a new root-system beneath both her and the plant.

Mutu's strangely lucid mixed-media mylar pieces contort the sexualization of black women in consumer society into glittering, gorgeous grotesques. The twin pieces 100 Lavish Months of Bushwhack (2004) and Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies (2005) feature female figures hobbled with hippo hands, faces stitched together from pornographic images, golden skin, and exploding motorcycle high-heels. They also depict differing levels of power among multiple exploited figures. The End of Eating Everything (2013), Mutu's first foray into film, features the head of Santigold gnashing a gyring flock of black birds with bloody chompers. Slowly, the plane Santigold exists on expands to reveal that her face leads a massive she-planetoid, comprising writhing limbs and embedded, useless machinery, powered by her/its own gaseous effluent. The piece is truly disconcerting and accentuates Mutu's often overlooked theme of ecological disaster.

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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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BLDGBLOG Interviews Nicholas de Monchaux, author of "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo"

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Image from Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux

For instance, the word cyborg originated in the Apollo program, in a proposal by a psycho-pharmacologist and a cybernetic mathematician who conceived of this notion that the body itself could be, in their words, reengineered for space. They regarded the prospect of taking an earthly atmosphere with you into space, inside a capsule or a spacesuit, as very cumbersome and not befitting what they called the evolutionary progress of our triumphal entry into the inhospitable realm of outer space. The idea of the cyborg, then, is the apotheosis of certain utopian and dystopian ideas about the body and its transformation by technology, and it has its origins very much in the Apollo program.

But then the actual spacesuit—this 21-layered messy assemblage made by a bra company, using hand-stitched couture techniques—is kind of an anti-hero. It’s much more embarrassing, of course—it’s made by people who make women’s underwear—but, then, it’s also much more urbane. It’s a complex, multilayered assemblage that actually recapitulates the messy logic of our own bodies, rather than present us with the singular ideal of a cyborg or the hard, one-piece, military-industrial suits against which the Playtex suit was always competing. ... — Nicholas de Monchaux, author of "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo" in an interview with BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh.

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