First Look: Amalia Ulman—Excellences & Perfections

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Amalia Ulman's social media performance Excellences & Perfections is presented as part of First Look, the ongoing series of digital projects co-curated and copresented by Rhizome and the New Museum. For this presentation, Rhizome's new social media archiving tool was used to capture the Instagram portion of the performance. View that capture here.

Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections, 2014 (detail). Performance: Instagram. Courtesy the artist.

On April 19, 2014, Amalia Ulman uploaded an image to her Instagram account of the words "Part I" in black serifed lettering on a white background. The caption read, cryptically, "Excellences & Perfections." It received twenty-eight likes.

For the next several months, she conducted a scripted online performance via her Instagram and Facebook profiles. As part of this project, titled Excellences & Perfections, Ulman underwent an extreme, semi-fictionalized makeover. 

She pretended to have a breast augmentation, posting images of herself in a hospital gown and with a bandaged chest, using a padded bra and Photoshop to manipulate her image. Other elements of the makeover were not feigned; she followed the Zao Dha Diet strictly, for example, and went to pole-dancing lessons often.

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Containers

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Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, still from The Forgotten Space (2010).

I woke up at the chime, looked at the mobile. New work available. I clocked in, made coffee, sat at the desk. Two hours of work right away, even before Twitter. Felt accomplished. I invoiced, and collected.

I met Sandra for breakfast. She's in Miami. She had the ceiling open to let in the sun. She got into a new task queue, editorial work. It's good work, she said, even though the pay isn't quite as good as advertising. What's the difference, I said, sipping my Bloody Mary. Different algorithmic authors, same algorithmic grammar problems.

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Forgetting the Internet

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San Francisco (AFP), June 26, 2014 - Google on Thursday said that it is "forgetting" things in Europe to comply with a legal ruling granting people the power to have certain information about them removed from searches.

Even though it was sunny, I knew something was wrong the moment I woke up the day of The Ruling. I didn't check the news, I didn't read the paper, I just felt something in the air—an electric current of negativity buzzing in my back pocket where I keep my phone. All morning it shook. It vibrated until it died.

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Retweeting Fiction

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New York City. Photograph by Teju Cole, via Flickr.

On the morning of January 8th, Teju Cole published a fiction in the form of 33 tweets, each posted from the account of a different "collaborator," and then retweeted sequentially by Cole. Titled "Hafiz," it took three hours and fifteen minutes to be published. Like most of Cole's experiments in Twitter publishing, it generated much more social media heat than actual critique. (There are a few notable exceptions.) But "Hafiz," both as a story and presentation, is worth examining, as it is both the closest @tejucole has come to Teju Cole's fiction and a singular commentary on it.

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Jeff Noon's Sporecast

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Jeff Noon's tweets are reliably among of the best contemporary fiction works today —beautiful stories told over short bursts, each under 140 characters. He calls the stories "microspores" and fans have submitted art and music to a tumblr collection. Wedged in between Romney quips, #FFs, and everyday social media-ing, the economy of his words as well as the context makes them all the more satisfying; like momentarily fading out of a conversation to recall last night's dream.

 

 

Last night, Noon, the author of several novels, (Vurt, Falling Out of Cars, the recently released Channel Sk1n, among others), had an especially frenized twitter feed — posting 50 stories at once and retweeting fiction responses. The "Sporecast" was so active, Twitter throttled his account multiple times that evening. 

 

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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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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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Making Sense of Senseless Violence: An Interview with Jack Womack

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Tottenham Aug. 7, 2011. (Lewis Whyld/PA/AP) via The Big Picture

This summer when Britain was gripped by civil disturbance, it was suggested by some in the SF community that if you wanted to understand the underlying psychology of those involved, you should read Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, originally published in 1994. Random Acts details in diary form the tribulations of twelve-year-old Lola Hart as her New York City, family, and persona come apart. It also serves as an entry point for Womack’s six-book Dryco series, which presents post-disaster America as trailer-trash corporate dystopia, complete with Elvis worship, unchecked rape and murder, and its own argot. Recently I met with Womack and asked him about the creation and particular prescience of these novels.

 


 

Your novels make me unbelievably anxious.  

I relieve my own anxiety by writing them. So, yeah, it’s transference.  

One of the things that’s so anxiety-inducing about Random Acts, as well as your first novel Ambient, is that there’s always scarcity: there’s never enough money, never enough food, never enough security. Which seems to me extremely, though not exclusively, New York.  

Oh, at the time it certainly was. The New York in Ambient was what I saw happening if everything had kept getting worse. When O’Malley is walking home to his apartment in the Lower East Side, that’s the way it used to be. What the predictive element missed was that New York would skyrocket back, and that neighborhoods you couldn’t go into at night thirty years ago, you now couldn’t afford. I moved up here in 1977 right after the blackout and the Son of Sam summer. So the fear definitely comes across. When you see Taxi Driver, that’s what it looked

 

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This and that thought. (2011) - BFFA3AE (Daniel Chew, Micaela Durand, Maximiliano Ferro, Matthew Gaffney)

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This and that thought. takes the form of a narrative. Visually, the project consists of the hex codes of the 216 web safe colors and a colorless box next to each, arranged in a grid. The arrangement is based on the van der Corput seqeunce which orders the colors from black to white through an unintuitive trajectory. The user is invited to click on any hex code which triggers an aural narration based on a fictional narrative of an episodic nature, jumping from subject to subject through connections sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique. Each segment of the narrative is visually associated to one of the colors by a reveal in sync with the narration. Furthermore, attached to each segment is its own unique introduction to the story. Depending on what color is activated, the user experiences a variable story in so far as the introduction and length of the narrative will change. If the user happens to click on black, then the narrative will be “whole” in the sense that the story will utilize all the segments created for the project, whereas any other color incorporates only every color between itself until the end color; white. All other elements remain the same, including the order of the colors and their associated phrase within the narrative.

-- EXCERPT FROM THE PRESS RELEASE FOR This and that thought.

Commissioned by Turbulence.org

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Interview with Mark Amerika

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Amerika describes himself as a "thoughtographer", an "artist-medium", a "fictional philosopher", a "remixologist", a "network conductor", a wanderer who constantly changes identities and roles in a fragmentary world where time acquires an a-synchronic and non real dimension. By trying to express the complexity and the interest of contemporary digital reality, he delves into different aspects of himself and draws on elements and traits that he transfers to the characters of his works, by using the media, the technological platforms of our time. Developing projects on the net, filming with mobile phones, remixing common moments and figures of today's culture in a VJ-like audiovisual rhythm, Amerika redefines the characteristics of today's culture and opens up the possibilities for new interpretations and thoughts from the audience itself. -- "UNREALTIME" at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens

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