"Go to bed, Tao Lin."

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I thought we could either gchat, then edit later, or meet in person and transcribe whatever happens w/o editing (including things like ["long pause"] and "[nervously laughs]." I think I kind of prefer the 2nd.

So began my interaction with author Tao Lin, a young author known as much for his self-promotional antics as for his several published novels. I wanted to interview Lin about his experiences with a popular image board called 4chan, known for being a playground for internet trolls and the birthplace of the "hacktivist" collective known as Anonymous. 4chan is a place where thousands of people gather for cheap thrills: porn, gore, and spontaneous collaborative pranks that range from harmlessly goofy to insidiously dangerous. 4chan trolls go after religious cults, white supremacists, scam artists, pedophiles, and animal abusers. They also seem to hate Tao Lin. I wanted to know why.

4chan is a collection of image boards that allows users to anonymously post messages that disappear quickly unless they contain content that inspires others to respond. It is marked by the presence of a geeky, insular cultural currency of internet-borne ephemera which we've now decided to collectively call "memes." For the most part, 4chan's users just want to kill time shooting the shit with other geeks. They talk about anime, mecha, papercraft and other mostly-geeky topics. I've been hanging out on 4chan pretty regularly since 2007—it's a fascinating Darwinian "meme-pool," from which much of internet culture derives. I wrote a book about 4chan last fall. 

Two years ago, 4chan's administrator added a literature board, or, /lit/, to the fifty or so extant forums. It was an immediate personal thrill to see the often puerile tone of 4chan's boards used to describe Dostoyevsky, for instance. The content on the ...

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Image of Democracy: Why I Want to Build Nine Freedom Towers in Tiananmen Square

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Introduction

 

Albert Speer, Model of Nuremberg Marching Grounds (1937); John Powers, Penn Station Counter-proposal, (2001)

What happened at 9/11 of course changed the scale of all this... It became an issue about fear, and our horror at looking, as I did, out of our windows onto the buildings that were burning. The horror we had in our hearts from this, allowed us... to give up basic freedoms. I’m not just talking about the ones the papers talk about all the time, our democratic and constitutional rights, but in the way we live, the way we block our streets.

—David Childs (Chief Architect of SOM’s Freedom Tower”), Building and Fear, 08:20 (2007)

I am a sculptor, my work is abstract and more often than not described as “post-minimalist.” Recently I was asked to contribute a work for a group show in Hong Kong. The curatorial frame of the show is “the ways objects produce space.” Rather than contribute a sculpture and hope for some sort of latter-day phenomenological experience between ‘object’ and ‘subject’ however, I suggested revisiting an urban design project that I had not worked on for over a decade. Eleven years ago I made a modest proposal to create a series of three massively flat and empty superblocks (two in New York and one in Washington DC). I last showed these proposals as three large architectural site models, just six months before September 11th attacks. Because my proposals seemed to foreshadow the 16 acre gap left in Manhattan’s grid, I was urged to revisit the project. I didn’t, not because I didn’t feel I might have something to contribute, but because I was struck dumb horror. I refused to speak publicly about the project, and although the original show of models had been based on a long essay on the subject of art and public space, I stopped writing for years. Anyone familiar with myblogwill understand that this is not my usual MO. But looking back I am now very glad I shut up. 

Most of what was said about architecture in the immediate wake of the attacks struck me as tone deaf, some of what was said by artists was unintentionally cruel.

That is not to say I didn’t take interest in the site and the conversation around it. I followed the competition to choose an master plan, and still feel Sir Norman Foster’s unapologetically hard edged kissing chisels were the best of the lot. Most of what I saw and heard however, reinforced the observation that had inspired my proposals in the first place: the widespread inability to know the difference between what can and cannot be changed when it comes to architecture. By wide spread, I mean architects, politicians, critics and loudmouths at parties. Even after Modernist architecture’s fall from grace, the expectation is that big challenges must be addressed by massive projects, and that symbolic meaning trumps straight talk (observe Libeskind vs Foster).

While I sympathized with architect’s desire to respond to the attacks, I did not understand their responses. Architecture isn’t a symbol (that was the hideous confusion the attackers made), it is an expression; a concrete expression of an idea, an ethic, a desire. Modernists plazas are often characterized as “fascist” — the idea being that they are symbolic projections of power. Architects seldom, if ever, discuss lawns, park benches, or flower arrangements as expressions of power. Looked at as concrete ethical expressions, rather than symbols, we can begin to see these things for what they are: impediments, barriers, place holders, and dividers.

I: Double Zero

Soft Power: Jeff Koons, Puppy (1992); Tiananmen Square Olympic flower arrangement (2008)

For the show in Hong Kong I ended up showing recreations of my three original counter-proposals, and a fourth proposal that has been gestating for almost a decade, but has suddenly taken on new relevance. I proposed building nine “Freedom Towers” arranged in a tight grid formation and completely occupying the available open space of Tiananmen Square.

A decade after I proposed paving flat large portions of New York and DC, I want to “occupy” Tiananmen Square with a formation of Freedom Towers. These may seem like two very different projects and two very different political contexts, but in fact they are the same. In 2001 I was suggesting that we had lost an important variety of public space and that our cities and our republic were lessened by that loss. That in the 40 years since the civil rights and ant-war protests of the 1960s American authorities have altered the landscape of our cities –— through changes in the rules that concerning public assembly (a process Naomi Wolf calls “overpermiticisation”), but also through bricks and mortar construction. Our public space has been “developed” out of existence.

In the wake of the massive protests in Wisconsin, the “Arab Spring,” and the Occupy movement in New York (and everywhere else), it feels important to once again raise the question of public space as a built environment. Rather than continue to argue that we build a new kind of space here, I am suggesting that we imagine what it would mean if we exported our current development schemes to other countries; to imagine them as the work of foreign regimes. What if the National WWII Memorial, with its heroic Speerian colonnade, sunken plaza, and ground-covering fountain, had been built in Tahrir Square rather than midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument? How would we feel if Russian authorities were to announce the construction of a large Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim be built over, Bolotnaya Square, the site of last December’s ballot-rigging protests in Moscow?

To mashup SOM’s Freedom Tower and China’s Tiananmen Square may, at first glance seem arbitrary, but it isn’t. Both New York’s Ground Zero and Beijing’s “Zero Point” are symbolically loaded sites. non-mainland Chinese associate Tiananmen with the 1989 pro-democracy protests, but for the Chinese it was already a site loaded with meaning when protesters chose that space to take their stand. In his book Remaking Beijing, the author Wu Hung describes the formation of Chinese end of this symbolic East-West axis....

 

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Oneohtrix Point Never and Nate Boyce's Performance at MoMA PopRally

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Photos by Kristy Leibowitz/elkstudios

This past weekend, MoMA presented a collaboration between electronic musician Daniel Lopatin—who records under the moniker Oneohtrix Point Never—and video artist Nate Boyce, as part of its PopRally series of art parties. While not an overly serious gathering, Boyce and Lopatin delivered an hour of strobing, structuralist-minded imagery over relentless digital throbbing. Each of the work’s sections was based upon a specific object in the MoMA’s sculpture collection and the overarching title, Reliquary House, suggested a congratulatory pat on the back for the museum. PopRally events are more often than not thematically connected to what’s concurrently on MoMA’s walls, while in this case the institution’s history was the tie-in.

The video screen displayed 3-D renderings of modernist forms by Isamo Noguchi, David Smith, Jacob Epstein, and Anthony Caro, which gyrated in “impossible” landscapes evoking the Panopticon look of the music video to Nine Inch Nail’s “Down In It.” To clarify their intention, Lopatin began each movement with details of the image being projected—dates, dimensions, curatorial texts—dictated by robotic voices a la Siri and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Within the foreboding visual environment, these came off as provocations of a sort, which gave way to beds of digital glitches and rollicking bass oscillations, positing a bleak underbelly to the neutrality of the subject material. Boyce and Lopatin, who often communicate a sense of humor about the austerity of contemporary tools and approaches in their work, perplexed the droll audience, who perhaps expected Lopatin to perform the angelic synthesizer music indicative of his latest record, Replica. Boyce and Lopatin stood ground side-by-side, facing their laptops, but more often were caught gazing up at the video screen.

Lopatin’s other recent art project, a zine ...

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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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Short Documentary on Internet Infrastructure

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Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors is a short documentary explaining internet infrastructure, focusing on the art deco building 60 Hudson Street in Tribeca, which is now one of the most concentrated carrier hotels in the world. The internet has an "ironically very limited geography in terms of big strategic concentrations," explains Stephen Graham, professor of cities and society, Newcastle University, in the short film. "The big affluent high tech information rich regions" is where the infrastructure is densely located. And 60 Hudson Street was especially ideal as a hub, given that the building was already designed to accomidate cables as it was first fitted for pneumatics tubes, then telegraph cables and telephone lines. 

In an interview with The Atlantic's Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, director Ben Mendelsohn explains, "The issue of how this infrastructure is hidden fascinates me. Andrew Blum has a book coming out in May about physical Internet infrastructure, which I'm very excited for. He was giving a lecture and handing out postcards of "data monuments" in New York City, and I asked him: if these are monuments, what do they reveal about the culture that built them? Their message is really one of ambivalence. Service providers need to let potential clients know where they are, but they generally decline to make their presence widely known beyond that marketing purpose. Andrew did say that he envisions "brewery tour" style visits or class field trips to Internet buildings in the future, and I think that would be great, but the industry is not there yet."

 

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Stranger Interactions with Kio Stark

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Last month, I visited the BMW Guggenheim Lab for a talk by my friend Kio Stark, author of the novel Follow Me Down. Kio is interested in cities, technology, and intimacy; the intersection of which is explored in the class she teaches at ITP on stranger interactions.

"Cities are machines that produce interactions," she explained at the outdoor lecture hall. While most of us go out of our way to avoid having to acknowledge persons we do not know, she argues the presence of strangers is probably why you live in a city in the first place. "The culture of cities is a culture of strangers." 

Stranger interactions can be emotional and meaningful. Most of us can recall some insight gleaned from a fleeting interaction with someone at a coffee shop or queuing up for a train. Kio says it's actually "good for your brain" to talk with strangers as we become more creative when our frame of references grows wider. Stranger interactions make us more tolerant people, and also expand "our sense of the group we belong to."

She concluded the talk with practical advice on how to go about initiating and/or welcoming stranger interactions. Much as I appreciated the lesson, as a hardnosed introvert, I was still not so inclined to put it all in practice — intending to step out for the interactive portion of the event. But before I could stealthily exit out the side, I was paired with an enthusiastic freshman at NYU. As part of the assignment, we struck up conversations with people and asked "what are you afraid of?"

While the answers from these strangers we met were thoughtful and the experience of meeting them randomly was empowering, in the end, the conversation I had with the girl I was partnered with ...

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Connecting at ContactCon

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Last week, Douglas Rushkoff hosted ContactCon at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in the Lower East Side. This unconference model symposium, co-organized by Vanessa Miemis, aimed to put into action ideas that challenge censorship, corporate ownership, and other unfree aspects of internet technology. As Rushkoff explained to Alternet's Sarah Jaffe, the event hoped to "reify the 'net values of 1992 back up to 2012."

Douglas Rushkoff's Keynote at SXSW 2010

The event started with "provocations" from participants representing progressiving technology organizations like FreedomBox and Telecomix (videos), in addition to well known speakers like Eli Pariser and Laura Flanders. Afterward, participants organized into small groups discussing issues ranging from the highly technical — mesh networks and coownership of the physical layer — to a proposal to organize hacker spaces in libraries (which was well received by the audience, for, as Rushkoff pointed out, the idea is clear and actionable...

 

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Talk to Her: A Conversation with Paola Antonelli

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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....

 

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Snapshots of Occupy Wall Street

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Reuters/Eduardo Munoz via The Atlantic In Focus

On a quiet night, Zuccotti Park feels more like a LARP than a demonstration. Everyone deep in character with a specific task. Extemporized librarians, scanning books. The media team inside a cat’s cradle of crisscrossing wires, barricade by the discarded boxes of donated devices. The scent of detergent from a block away as the sanitation unit mops the pavement. 

What should we be? "Tactical beekeepers!" my friend Melissa suggested; a joke on the state ban on face covering that police were enforcing, accounting for the absence of Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas. But actually my role there was as tourist, which anyone could tell whenever I checked my phone for text messages or turned the device horizontally for snapshots of witty posters.

In what would be the shadow of the World Trade Center, and at the heart of both a neighborhood traumatized and city district that represents financial power the world over; the psychogeography of Zuccotti Park will inspire theoretic naval gazing for years to come. But every Occupy Wall Street march in New York seems to poetically incorporate the history and semiotics of the city. Times Square marchers in Milton Glasner's "I (Heart) NY" t-shirts, waving sparklers in the air, singing show tunes along with a brass band behind the TKTS booth while tourists feverishly snapped photos, as they would any other urban spectacle. Another photo op: the wall of riot cops beneath the Washington Square arch, the Empire State Building gleaming directly north, lights piercing the night sky. After the General Assembly meeting disassembled for the midnight curfew, it seemed like anyone out on Bleecker Street that Saturday night could have been part of it. 

This movement was built on unforgettable images.

 

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