Software Takes Command: An Interview with Lev Manovich

(1)

Lev Manovich is a leading theorist of cultural objects produced with digital technology, perhaps best known for The Language of New Media (MIT Press, 2001). I interviewed him about his most recent book, Software Takes Command (Bloomsbury Academic, July 2014).

Photograph published in Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, "Personal Dynamic Media" with the caption, "Kids learning to use the interim Dynabook." 

MICHAEL CONNOR: I want to start with the question of methodology. How does one study software? In other words, what is the object of study—do you focus more on the interface, or the underlying code, or some combination of the two?

LEV MANOVICH: The goal of my book is to understand media software—its genealogy (where does it come from), its anatomy (the key features shared by all media viewing and editing software), and its effects in the world (pragmatics). Specifically, I am concerned with two kinds of effects: 

READ ON »


Post-internet Curating, Denver Style: An Interview with Carson Chan

(0)

Draft Urbanism, the core exhibition program in the latest edition of the Denver-based Biennial of the Americas, brings together practitioners in art, architecture, and film from across the Americas to examine our evolving relationship with the physical and social fabric of our cities. The biennial features a series of newly commissioned works in various public spaces throughout Denver, from breweries to highway medians. Carson Chan, architecture writer and curator, and co-founder of architecture collective Program (Berlin), is Executive Curator of this year’s edition.

Carson Chan in Denver. Photograph: Anthony Camera.

KAREN ARCHEY: Draft Urbanism seems to be more inclusive and unique than your average biennial. Could you describe the curatorial purview and physical format of the biennial, and explain how it is a departure from the standard biennial (i.e. Lyon, Venice)? How does it relate to the biennial you organized in Marrakech last year?

READ ON »


Tyler Coburn's Performances for Data Centers

(0)

Artist and erstwhile Rhizome staff writer Tyler Coburn's recent project I'm that angel includes a book and performance narrated by a fictional “content farmer,” a writer (typically freelance) who creates large amounts of text that is designed for maximum traction with search engine algorithms. The performances typically take place in data centers or spaces in which the physical infrastructure that supports "the cloud" is made manifest.  

We corresponded about the project via e-mail.

READ ON »


An Interview with Metahaven

(0)

Metahaven in collaboration with IMMI, Data / Saga, digital models and sketches, 2013

I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the foundations and origin of Metahaven.

Metahaven is a strategic graphic design agency. We make anything between a conference, a publication, an interview, a product, a visual identity, a policy document, or a set of floating appearances on the Internet. We are not only interested in the development of hypothetical image, but also in its realization. Some of our projects are an identity proposal for the Principality of Sealand, which is an off-shore micronation which played an iconic role as a “data haven” during the late 1990s dotcom boom. In 2010 we released Uncorporate Identity—a design book for our dystopian age. Some parts of Uncorporate Identity were about dismantling and attacking the “brand state”—the notion of promoting or creating reputations for countries—and by proxy, about dismantling branding itself. We have also attacked and criticized Joseph Nye’s notion of “soft power”—the power to attract—which is arguably the only political concept which branding has ever heard of. One of our upcoming projects is a collaboration with the Iceland-based think tank IMMI, thinking up a set of images and messages for the excellent and forward-thinking legal, energy, and social environment which Iceland has created for internet and cloud hosting. We recently interviewed two people who are involved in this: Eleanor Saitta and Smári McCarthy. Both of them work for IMMI.

Metahaven in collaboration with IMMI, Data / Saga, digital models and sketches, 2013

You've spoken of current conceptions of branding a processes of consolidation as opposed to differentiation. In a post on your Tumblr related to an exhibition at the Museum of Display in Antwerp, you write that the process of assigning identity is "a surface or screen by which an organization mirrors its surroundings, both in the physical space as well as in information space." In an article you wrote about 4 years ago in e-flux, which was also published in Uncorporate Identity, you suggested that state branding had to become "more concerned with both the structural standardization implied by network power and a pluralistic understanding of decentralized and distributed political alternatives being developed on various scales." How do you feel design and branding can function to create a multiplicitous understanding of identities that operate within political contexts?

Metahaven, Uncorporate Identity, Lars Müller Publishers, 2010

A brand is a socially and economically sustained form of prejudice. Branding is the management of first impressions, and to that end, it is inherently deceitful. To establish the few initial thoughts people have about something is a very hard thing to accomplish by design, but is swiftly and almost irreversibly done by uncontrollable events; reputations literally shift overnight. The main way in which branding has been embodied in politics is through the concept of soft power. As the Innocence of Muslims YouTube video showed, American soft power can be affected, inversed even, overnight, by only a handful of pixels.

Not soft power, but “network power” should be regarded as the structural force behind presence and identity. This idea, which is explored in more detail in Uncorporate Identity, takes globalization as a process unfolding through various standards: of communication, exchange, payment, travel, language, etc. Such standards both enable and limit actors in their agency and choice of alternatives. Importantly, such network standards are ultimately predominant over the positive or negative emotions associated with particular actors in or on the network. In the case of the Innocence of Muslims video, for example, American soft power is volatile, while its network power—YouTube—is stable. In other words, the network power is a prerequisite to even have soft power.

READ ON »


Chrome & Flesh: An Interview with Mark Leckey

(0)

Screenshot courtsey of Garrett Lockhart

In July of this year, the video artist Mark Leckey gave an informal lecture at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London on an ephemeral concept he titled 'Touchy-Feely' — a sort of sensory nerve at the tip-end of his cumulative project on distribution and demand, The Long Tail (2009), (which he previously spoke to Rhizome about.) During the talk, he presented an excerpt from Pearl Vision (2012), a short film and 'self-portrait', that premiered at 'Ghosts in the Machine' at the New Museum and was broadcast on BBC4 last month. The sensuous object of the snare drum (physically absent yet present in high definition audio and video) in this latest work addresses contemporary effects of desire and displacement, caused in part by the everyday technological prostheses at the body's disposal. Recently I spoke with Leckey over email. His perspectives on the intricacy of feeling, ever-changing aesthetic hierarchies, the space beyond the screen and the power of rhythm follow:



Do you think the shift from pointing toward the camera, perceiving it as a means of broadcast to using the camera to point – as a prosthesis for our own hands – is a recent phenomenon? It seems that for young artists especially, the cinematic image has suffered; instead of the establishing shot, the long take and other aspects of framing 'the image', video attempts to enter a world, or a flow, of imagery that is bigger than what can possibly fit into a single frame. The tension between on-screen and off-screen feels more fluid today, a sort of David Cronenburg-circa-Videodrome (1983) effect...

It seems to me that Vito Acconci’s Centers (1971), for example, embodies the concerns of single-channel video at that time: one person broadcasting out from the television and attempting to address the masses on the other side. Whereas now it’s a single person, or their hands, in isolation and trying to address the mass that’s on the other side of the screen, that is, inside it. I’ve collected lots of images and examples of hands manipulating objects and stuff sort of ‘inside’ the image. They’ve got their hands in there the same way you’ve described those glove boxes scientists use to carry out radioactive experiments.



We touch things in order to know them, to see them properly. Like when we say: ‘can I look at that?’ but actually we mean: can I hold it, can I manipulate it. And I make pictures or images of things in the same way, so that I can know them better, grasp them, fully apprehend them, ‘grok’ them. Grok is a good word – it was coined by a science fiction writer, and it means to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy. So it’s all about grokking; trying to know something intimately. 

And once you’ve got this image of an evocative object on the screen, and it’s in your hands, then you can start to squeeze it, squish it; it’s totally plasmatic. And once you’re done with that you can point to these manipulations; to emphasize the object’s thingness, its objecthood.

Like the numinous TV screen in Videodrome – it takes us back to older ideas when animals, trees and rocks contained a spirit and we were all connected through the ‘Great Spirit’. It’s the animistic world-view...

READ ON »


Exploring Bludgeoned Subjectivity: Talking to Chris Kraus

(0)

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...

 

READ ON »


Embedded Structures: An Interview with Shilpa Gupta

(0)

 

Untitled, photograph, 2006 

Turner Road, photographs with sound, 2008

Untitled, MS Gate which swings side to side and breaks the walls, 2009

Shilpa Gupta's work sometimes takes place outside of or leaves the gallery, and ranges from photographs and objects to websites and interactive video. I spoke with the Mumbai-based artist over email: 

Your pieces often weaponize subjects, drawing awareness to an underlying violence or militarization of mundane acts and objects (e.g., the tedium of house guards in Mumbai, a child with multiple arms making a gun with their fingers, a mechanical swinging gate). Could you expand on what you consider to be the political in the everyday?

What I am referring to are the embedded and often invisible structures that steer the way we think in daily life. Example: while we read newspapers and watch the 9 pm national news, it slips off our mind that the images we are seeing could be filtered in certain ways to generate certain opinions. Example: on the Untitled, MS Gate which swings from left to right and breaks the wall, there is an undefined form which, while much smaller in size, is far deeper than the rest of the gate. This could be an undefined geographical territory or it could be a hole in a brain of a housewife, both of which may have a desire to be free.

 

READ ON »


Post-Trolling: A Conversation with Art404

(0)

Motorola Droid XL, 2011

Art404 is comprised of Manuel Palou and Moises Sanabria.

This interview was conducted over multiple online chat sessions beginning in March 2012 through April 2012.


 

louisdoulas: Let’s start with Art Not Found or Art404. Could you tell me a little more about its connotations?

artnotfound: Art404 is a pun for artnotfound, a motto that gives us a certain level of transparency. We don't want to get hung up on making art and exclude anybody from our work.

louisdoulas: So the absence implies a kind of non-context for framing production?

artnotfound: Well the internet functions in a non-context anyway. We want to create content and value more than we want to create art.

louisdoulas: Right, without the prerequisite motivations of making an artwork per se, just ‘pure’ creative production.

artnotfound: It's relentless creative production and discussion. That’s the future of content.

louisdoulas: So then there’s this awareness of the potential insularities or exclusiveness of the art world, or at least a hesitation to participate within this context? Perhaps which is why you're attracted to the internet in the first place, as it levels out all content.

artnotfound: Yes definitely. By opening up the discussion to everyone it democratizes content. And if successful, any further discussion of that content gives it social value.

louisdoulas: Cultural Capital

artnotfound: Art404 likes this.

louisdoulas: I'm interested in these notions of 'opening up discussion', surrounding content, in this case specifically your work; what does this mean for you?

artnotfound: It means our mothers can engage with our work as much as a gallerist can. The internet is allowing people to take part in things they never would have before, opening up the possibilities for a much larger discussion. When both ends of the spectrum: high ...

MORE »


Talk to Her: A Conversation with Paola Antonelli

(1)


SMSlingshot, Christian Zöllner, Patrick Tobias Fischer, Thilo Hoffmann, and Sebastian Piatza of VR/Urban (2009) - Photo by VR/Urban

Talk to Me: Design and Communication between People and Objects is an ambitious exhibition at MoMA curated by Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, Paola Antonelli. Focused on new modes of communication and interactivity, the exhibition captures over 194 works from an international group of aritsts and designers. The space is divided into five themes and includes work ranging from Jason Rohrer's minimalist game Passage (2008) to Sputniko!'s role-reversing Menstruation Machine-Takashki's Take (2010). After touring Talk to Me on a rainy weekday with Paola, we met in her office to discuss the importance of collaboration, QR tags, and speculate about the future.


Jason Huff: You have curated numerous shows on the frontier of design and its intersection with technology among other fields. Design and the Elastic Mind, from 2008, stands out because of it’s timing within the latest rush of social technology and interaction that has arguably become the norm over the past few years. What makes Talk to Me distinct in this lineage of exhibitions?

Paola Antonelli: In Design and the Elastic Mind, the communication between people was just one of the facets as it was about design and science in general. Therefore, there was a really big presence of synthetic biology, for instance, or nanotechnology, nanophysics, robotics. There were a lot of different topics involved. Thinking back, pieces like Google Earth, Google Moon and Google Mars from Design and the Elastic Mind would have fit in [Talk to Me]. So could have the One Laptop per Child project.

But it really was about designers working with scientists and scientists working with designers. At that time, the conclusion was that designers and scientists worked very well together because they both had ambitions to occupy a different position in society and in culture. Designers want to be taken more seriously; they are tired of being considered “prettifiers” that go straight to the House and Home section of the New York Times, and scientists want to be considered less lofty, less abstract, disengaged, and disinterested in human beings....

 

READ ON »


A Thing Remade: A Conversation with Paul Chan

(0)

burningkindlepointone.gif (2011)

The launch of artist Paul Chan’s publishing company, Badlands Unlimited, in 2010 could have been mistaken for a career non sequitur. His foray into book publishing felt at once completely futile and deliciously subversive—anachronistic in form, and yet prescient in its embrace of technology as a means of interrogating (and thereby furthering) that form. Given the perilous economic prospects for artists and publishers alike, why not simply take matters into one’s own hands? As an online distribution platform for works written by Chan and others, Badlands Unlimited does just that.

In profiling the outfit for a recent issue of Frieze magazine (Off the Page, May, 2010) I realized that I had been watching this seemingly new venture develop for many years: Chan’s personal website, National Philistine, has served as the digital analog to his practice for well over a decade, a fact that many aren’t aware of by his estimation. (“Sometimes I even forget that I have a website,” he said, when asked about the longevity of his domain, which has been active since 1999.) The following conversation attempts to articulate some of that history, while indulging in a few detours along the way, as a means of suggesting iterative possibilities for publishing on the web—and beyond...  

 

READ ON »