Mobile Media Hits MoMA

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The sometimes-celebrated, sometimes-critiqued origin myth of video art is that it was born with Sony's Portapak video camera and that the eponymous portability of this device enabled the medium to flourish. A similar logic might explain the recent plethora of exhibitions related to mobile phone pictures and videos. Though this line of reasoning seems to privilege the machine's form over its content, there is the sense that the increasing availability and usability of mobile devices (in Western culture, that is) is leading to a democratization of form that will ultimately generate an expansion of the genre. We saw this with internet art when the initial, highly self-reflexive context of net art gave way to a more diverse range of online practices. This has also been the trajectory for documentary film, which is the context of an upcoming mobile video screening at New York's Museum of Modern Art. CELLuloid is a screening of nine short docs, all made on cell phone cameras. The playlist boasts a range of humorous, politically-engaged, and highly topical works by "established artists experimenting with new technology as well as first-time creators inspired to document the world around them." These include Nao Bustamante's "Nanookie Of The North," Darrin Martin's "Every (Text, Image, Sound, Movie) from my cell phone," and Joshua Thorson's "UFO Days." Programmed in conjunction with MoMA's Documentary Fortnight series, the screening happens February 20 and will be followed by a discussion with the artists. - Marisa Olson

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Dialing for Democracy

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Fred Benenson's Committee Caller allows Americans to participate in politics from the comfort of their couch. The web-based system is a tool for calling one's 'favorite politician,' by automatically putting users in touch with members of US House and Senate committees. Eliminating the time spent on researching names and phone numbers--a task which often dissuades voters from engaging in dialogue with their representatives--Committee Caller invites visitors to enter their phone number, select a committee, and click a button labeled 'Put me in touch with democracy.' After that, they need only wait for their phone to ring and they can cycle through each of the designated politicos in a single round, even rating their level of responsiveness, if so desired. Benenson, a graduate student, came up with the idea after a frustrating effort to track down and contact every member of the House Committee on Education and Labor regarding an amendment that would have limited on-campus privacy. He realized that he could use the Asterisk PBX system to automate the dialing process, and began creating a functional database for doing so. Less than a month old, the tool has become quite popular online, and Benenson believes this is because, "it short-circuits a familiar point of friction for people trying to participate in democracy while simultaneously encouraging them to actually speak to representatives and staffers with their own voice." One side-benefit, to the artist, is that this vocal exchange gives participants the ability to formulate and articulate their arguments about pressing issues. If users would like to make a practice run, they can elect to be put in touch with members of fictional committees, such as The House Committee on Google Oversight. This will prompt them to select names from a list of Futurama characters before being patched-through to the ...

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