Artist Profile: Erica Scourti

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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.

 

Daniel Rourke: Your recent work, You Could've Said, is described as "a Google keyword confessional for radio." I've often considered your work as having elements of the confession, partly because of the deeply personal stance you perform—addressing we, the viewer or listener, in a one-on-one confluence, but also through the way your work hijacks and exposes the unseen, often algorithmic, functions of social and network media. You allow Google keywords to parasitize your identity and in turn you apparently "confess" on Google's behalf. Are you in search of redemption for your social-media self? Or is it the soul of the algorithm you wish to save?

Erica Scourti: Or maybe the algorithm and social media soul is now so intertwined and interdependent that it makes little sense to even separate the two, in a unlikely fulfillment of Donna Haraway's cyborg? Instead of having machines built into/onto us (Google glasses notwithstanding), the algorithms which parse our email content, Facebook behaviours, Amazon spending habits, and so on, don't just read us, but shape us.

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The Diacritics of Glitchr

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Diacritics are accent marks used to indicate the type of pronunciation a certain word infers. Diacritics are used in Latin script, but are also specific to other alphabetic systems such as the vowel pointing scripts of the Arabic harakat. In Laimonas Zakas’ project, Glitchr, a facebook page is dedicated to glitchily deforming the posting interfaces of Facebook.  Diacritical marks are emptied from their primary communicative signifiers and repurposed as formalized, aestheticized objects; accomplices in the jailbreaking of Facebook page hegemony.

Rather then its users shaping and determining its network, Facebook is known—amongst other things—for creating quite the opposite for users: a loss of control, of malleability and the continued reiteration of a standardized user conduct.  Glitchr then, in such a world, becomes a refreshing, if not odd spectacle: gifs become enabled, symbols and text float around up and down the page never adhering to the coded structure within.   

Though Glitchr to some degree interrupts the normativity of the Facebook structure revealing what one can safetly get away with, its subversive aesthetics survive only as mirage in the desert of the Zuckerberg empire.

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RECOMMENDED READING: The Curse of Cow Clicker

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The January issue of Wired includes a long read on Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker:

Bogost threw together a bare-bones Facebook game in three days. The rules were simple to the point of absurdity: There was a picture of a cow, which players were allowed to click once every six hours. Each time they did, they received one point, called a click. Players could invite as many as eight friends to join their “pasture”; whenever anyone within the pasture clicked their cow, they all received a click. A leaderboard tracked the game’s most prodigious clickers. Players could purchase in-game currency, called mooney, which they could use to buy more cows or circumvent the time restriction. In true FarmVille fashion, whenever a player clicked a cow, an announcement—”I’m clicking a cow“—appeared on their Facebook newsfeed.

And that was pretty much it. That’s not a nutshell description of the game; that’s literally all there was to it. As a play experience, it was nothing more than a collection of cheap ruses, blatantly designed to get players to keep coming back, exploit their friends, and part with their money. “I didn’t set out to make it fun,” Bogost says. “Players were supposed to recognize that clicking a cow is a ridiculous thing to want to do.”

Bogost launched Cow Clicker during the NYU event in July 2010. Within weeks, it had achieved cult status among indie-game fans and social-game critics. Every “I’m clicking a cow” newsfeed update served as a badge of ironic protest. Players gleefully clicked cows to send a message to their FarmVille-loving friends or to identify themselves as members of the anti-Zynga underground. The game began attracting press on sites like TechCrunch and Slashdot.

And then something surprising happened ...

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The Twilight Zone for the Facebook Age: Charlie Brooker's "The Black Mirror"

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The Black Mirror is a British television program that premiered last night. Charlie Brooker, creater of the series, a media critic and host of the shows Screenwipe and How Television Ruined Your Life, was inspired by The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling's "quasi-fictional world" allowed for more political and provocative television scripts to go uncensored by networks and corporate sponsers, Brooker argues in the Guardian. 

The first episode of The Black Mirror is provocative but with unambitious targets —the 24 hour newscycle, omnipresent social media— the disgusting premise is unmerited. One gets the sense it was written mostly to test television's limits; which may be a worthwhile demand itself. Nevertheless, upcoming episodes sound much more promising.

Trailer for The Black Mirror

Episode descriptions via The Guardian:

1. The National Anthem

Set slap-bang in the present, The National Anthem, starring Rory Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan, recounts what happens when fictional royal Princess Susannah is kidnapped and prime minister Michael Callow is presented with an unusual – and obscene – ransom request. The traditional media finds itself unable to even discuss what the demand is, while the Twittersphere foams with speculation and cruel jokes. As the ransom deadline nears, events start to gain a surreal momentum of their own. This was inspired partly by the kerfuffle over superinjunctions, and partly by the strange out-of-control sensation that takes grip on certain news days – such as the day Gordon Brown was virtually commanded to apologise to Gillian Duffy in front of the rolling news networks. Who was in charge that day? No one and everyone.

2. Fifteen Million Merits

In 1984, Apple ran a famous advert that implied the Mac might save mankind from a nightmarish Orwellian future. But what would a nightmarish Orwellian future that ran on Apple software actually look like? Probably a ...

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Community Campaign 2012: The Download features Ryder Ripps

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In-process screenshot of Ryder Ripps's Facebook, courtsey of the artist

Last week, we kicked off our annual Community Campaign with the announcement of a new program for Rhizome members called The Download. Through The Download, Rhizome members are invited to get a first look at a new and significant artwork by one artist every month. Artworks will come in a variety of ubiquitous file formats such as .gifs, .html, .mov, and .jpegs. All works will be delivered as a .zip via The Download page. Once the artwork is downloaded, it is yours to collect, share with friends, and display on the screen of any suitable device. The Download is a premier opportunity to become a collector of great digital art!

For the first Download, we are highlighting a new work by conceptual artist Ryder Ripps (Internet Archaeologydump.fm and OKFocus). Ryder Ripps's Facebook (2011) is a copy of his entire personal Facebook history including all of his photos, private messages, chats, and wall posts. The viewer is invited to explore all of Ripps's Facebook activity, exposing some of the most intimate and private information. As with previous works, this project confronts issues of privacyFacebook, and fetishization of technology. Read more about Ripps's work on The Download page.

Next month, we will feature a new work by video artist Sabrina Ratté including music by Roger Tellier-Craig, aka Le Révélateur. Look out for more information about upcoming featured artists in the next few months.

The Download is supported by the Artist Fund, a pool of financial support generated by our members that is divided evenly among the participating artists. You can learn more about The Download and the Artist Fund on the FAQ page.

If you would like to be able to receive The Download first-hand and directly support artists, please contribute to Rhizome's Community Campaign and the Artists Fund today!

 

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