Knowledge Work(s): In Search of a Spreadsheet Aesthetics

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I sympathize with the protagonist of a cartoon claiming to have transferred x amount of megabytes, physically exhausted after a day of downloading. The simple act of moving information from one place to another today constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. I think it's fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. Some of us call this writing.

- Kenneth Goldsmith, 2004

While Kenneth Goldsmith's wry statement about knowledge jockeying is directly discussing the plight of the contemporary author, his comments are useful for thinking about other disciplines. In editing this quote, the word "writing" could easily be replaced by any number of verbs (programming, composing, painting, storyboarding, etc.) as we undoubtedly inhabit an era where creative transposition rather than raw creativity can be enough to drive a project. The ctrl-c clipboard, the layer palette in photo editing software and the flash memory of a microcontroller are all examples of spaces that serve as staging grounds for storytelling and crafting aesthetic experiences — these are interstitial zones where art gestates. Goldsmith clearly doesn't approach the creative process with reverence, and his blasé attitude is an excellent springboard into reading contemporary artistic production in relation to knowledge work. An important question: How might we appropriate this daily activity of "shifting content between containers" as a site (rather than a means) of artistic production? This article will consider the aesthetics of the spreadsheet, and act as the first installment of a series that will engage projects that explore the documents, software, interior architecture and politics of the contemporary workplace.

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Empty Space

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(Left to Right) Maryanne Casasanta, Abigail McGuane, Lili Huston-Herterich, Aaron Graham

An Immaterial Survey of Our Peers is a group show currently on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Curated by Web collective JOGGING, the exhibit brings together the work of a group of artists whose art is primarily displayed and distributed via the Web. Given the immaterial quality of much of the work, the show does not physically take place within the gallery space itself. Instead, the artwork has been collected and arranged over photos of the empty gallery space using digital compositing techniques. These photos are then displayed as documentation of the exhibit on the show website, and projected onto the walls of the gallery space for the show's duration. Artists on display include AIDS-3D, Kari Altmann, Jon Rafman, Travess Smalley, Ben Schumacher, and Hermonie Only, among many others. The show is currently on display both online and at the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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The Representative (2005) - Carey Young

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The Representative is a ‘portrait’ of a call centre worker that can be accessed by telephone.

Call centres are an increasingly ubiquitous and technocratic interface between large organisations and the public, and their spread has been described as endemic to a globalised world. With The Representative, visitors are invited to sit within an installation of domestic lounge-type furniture and use a single phone to connect direct to a call centre agent working at a remote location. The callers are offered the chance to ‘get to know’ the agent, and thus to experience a ‘portrait’ of the call centre agent accessible via a call centre interface. Young hired the agent and defined a ‘vignette' of them by agreeing a generic script of topics for possible conversation to be offered to callers at the start of each call, based on interviews with the agent about their personal background and experiences of call centre work. Following these initial options, calls were unscripted and based on the conversational interests of the caller.

The Representative is a development of Nothing Ventured, an earlier work by Carey Young which was staged at fig-1, London in 2000, in which she hired a call centre to ‘represent’ her. The Representative, at its simplest level, offers a view of the life and experiences of a call centre operative whose individuality and identity would normally be denied to the caller. The calls would exist somewhere between a personal chat, an interview, the reality-TV style exposure of a ‘civilian’, a script, an exposé of working conditions, a piece of journalistic research, a portrait and a service, with the caller put in the position of researcher, audience, voyeur, client and potential friend.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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National Dinner Tour (2004) - Marc Horowitz

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Original Crate & Barrel ad with Horowitz's Number


I was working as a photo assistant for Crate & Barrel. While on set one day, I wrote “dinner w/ marc 510-872-7326,” my name and cell phone, on a dry erase board featured in a desk product shot. A few months later, the catalog, containing my dinner invitation, was printed and sent to millions of people. I eventually received over 30,000 calls from people wanting to dine with me. As a result, I traveled the USA in a tiny RV for a year dining with strangers.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S WEBSITE

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Required Reading

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Art Workers Coalition, "Art Workers Won't Kiss Ass," 1969

Julia Bryan-Wilson's recently published Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, is the first book dedicated to the history of the Art Workers' Coalition. Her analysis of AWC members Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Hans Haacke, and Lucy Lippard opens up a rich discussion of the complexities of the term "art worker" and the relationship between art and labor. An excerpt of the opening chapter of her book has been made available through the Temporary Services website and paper, Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics. You can access it here:

http://www.artandwork.us/2009/11/art-versus-work/

An audio version of this article was recorded by independent curator Joseph del Pesco and released recently through the SFMoMA blog. Del Pesco has started to gather recordings of all of the articles in Art Work, available here:

http://blog.sfmoma.org/2010/01/art-work/


This post is part of a series on art production and economy by Rhizome's Curatorial Fellow Jenny Jaskey. The first post was an interview with Caroline Woolard of OurGoods.org, which can be accessed here.

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Real Street View (2008) - Tara Kelton

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"Life-size posters of Google Street View images removed from the internet and pasted in same location in the physical world. Monuments to spaces and moments that no longer exist."

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Suited for Subversion (2002) - Ralph Borland

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Suited for Subversion is a project to create a suit that protects the wearer at large-scale street protests. The suit also monitors the wearer's pulse and projects an amplified heartbeat out of a speaker in the chest of the suit.

I designed and fabricated the first prototype of the suit as part of my Masters Degree in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. The project draws on my work as an activist involved in street demonstrations in New York, and is influenced by the work of other activists and demonstrators who wear protective clothing and make creative use of tools and technologies for protest.

Of particular influence are the 'white' or ‘white overall’ tactics of the Ya Basta, WOMBLES, or the Tutti bianche, who wear white protective-wear to protests. Like the Pret a revolter clothing line produced by my friends Las Agencias, and pictured below, centre, my suit fuses white tactics with more playful, carnivalesque, or 'pink' tactics. As much as my suit is armour, it is also disarming; as much provocation as protection.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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"Something Wrong is Nothing Wrong: Jodi.org" on Motherboard.tv

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In this clip, Motherboard.tv speak with Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans of the legendary Jodi about several of their works, focusing on their playfully chaotic approach toward technology.

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Graffiti Markup Language Gets An Upgrade

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F.A.T. Labs have declared this week "Graffiti Markup Language Week" on their blog - and each day they've posted GML-related updates. What exactly is Graffiti Markup Language? It's an XML file type developed by F.A.T. Labs that stores the motion data created by tagging -- allowing graffiti writers to share, study, and catalog their tags. Check the below for a brief overview:

GML = Graffiti Markup Language from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

What has GML week brought us so far? Over the past few days, F.A.T. Labs introduced:

► An iPhone version of Graffiti Analysis DustTag v1.0 - this handy App allows users to trace their tags and add them to the GML database http://000000book.com/ using an iPhone.

► Graffiti Analysis 2.0 - the new and improved Graffiti Analysis includes the aforementioned iPhone App DustTag v1.0, along with updates to the tracking, playback, controls and graphics, as well as previously unreleased source code and downloads to Windows, Mac and Linux versions of the playback and capture applications.

► FatTag Deluxe - the Katsu Edition - an updated version of the Fat Tag App made in collaboration with graffiti legend Katsu.

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Tunnel (2004) - Marjolijn Dijkman

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This intervention consists of a tunnel build through the gallery space that transformed the non-public space of the gallery into a public space. By removing one of the windows at the front and a garage door at the back we allowed twenty-four hour access through the tunnel. The design of the tunnel was strongly related to the space’s architecture- which is why there was a long narrow section, a very narrow corner, and a wide section. There were still areas which were not accessible-one of these was visible through a window at the front of the gallery and another, which was only accessible for the audience, could be accessed through the front door. In the gallery’s office, where the owner usually received visitors, there was no control over the space via the tunnel. In the three weeks that the tunnel was public it was decorated with graffiti-the public used the tunnel to a far greater extent than we had anticipated.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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