nathaniel stern
Since the beginning
Works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin United States of America

Nathaniel Stern is an artist and writer, Fulbright grantee and professor, interventionist and public citizen. He has produced and collaborated on projects ranging from ecological, participatory and online interventions, interactive, immersive and mixed reality environments, to prints, sculptures, videos, performances and hybrid forms. His book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance, is due for release in mid-2013, and his ongoing work in industry has helped launch dozens of new businesses, products and ideas. Stern has been featured in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Guardian UK, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Washington Post, Daily News, BBC’s Today show, Wired, Time, Forbes, Fast Company, Scientific American, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Leonardo Journal of Art, Science and Technology, Rhizome, Furtherfield, Turbulence, and more. According to Chicago’s widely popular Bad at Sports art podcast, Stern has “the most varied and strange bio of maybe anyone ever on the show,” and South Africa’s Live Out Loud magazine calls him a “prolific scholar” as well as artist, whose work is “quite possibly some of the most relevant around.” Dubbed one of the Milwaukee’s “avant-garde” (Journal Sentinel), Stern has been called ”an interesting and prolific fixture” ( behind many “multimedia experiments” (, “accessible and abstract simultaneously” (Art and Electronic Media web site), someone “with starry, starry eyes” ( who “makes an obscene amount of work in an obscene amount of ways” (Bad at Sports). According to Caleb A. Scharf at Scientific American, Stern’s art is “tremendous fun” but also “fascinating” in how it is “investigating the possibilities of human interaction and art.”

New Media, New Modes: On "Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media"

Humorous and surprising, smart and provocative, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (MIT Press, 2010) jumps from opposing viewpoints to opposing personalities, from one arts trajectory to another. The entire book is a dialectic exercise: none of its problems or theories are solved or concluded, but are rather complicated through revelations around their origins, arguments and appropriations. Overall, the book adopts the collaborative style and hyperlinked approach of the media and practice it purports to rethink. In other words, it is not just the content of the book that asks us to rethink curating, but the reading itself; by the end, we are forced to digest and internalize the consistently problematized behaviors of the “media formerly known as new.”

Screening Screens

Kate Mondloch’s first book, Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art (University of Minnesota Press), is a welcome study of the cathode ray tubes, liquid crystal and plasma displays, and film, video and data projections that “pervade contemporary life” (xi). The author reminds us that screens are not just “illusionist windows” into other spaces or worlds, but also “physical, material entities [that] beckon, provoke, separate, and seduce” (xii). Most importantly, however, Mondloch’s approach is that of an art historian. She does not merely use art as a case study for media theory, but rather makes the contributions of artists her central focus in this, the first in-depth study of the space between bodies and screens in contemporary art.

Action, Reaction, and Phenomenon

In his book, Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi calls for "movement, sensation, and qualities of experience" to be put back into our understandings of embodiment. He says that contemporary society comprehends bodies, and by extension the world, almost exclusively through linguistic and visual apprehension. They are defined by their images, their symbols, what they look like and how we write and talk about them. Massumi wants to instead "engage with continuity," to encourage a processual and active approach to embodied experience. In essence, Massumi proposes that our theories "feel" again. "Act/React", curator George Fifield's "dream exhibition" that opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, picks up on these phenomenologist principles. He and his selected artists invite viewer-participants to physically explore their embodied and continuous relationships to each other, the screen, space, biology, art history and perhaps more.

Fifield is quick to point out that all the works on show are unhindered by traditional interface objects such as the mouse and keyboard. Most of them instead employ computer vision technologies, more commonly known as interactive video. Here, the combined use of digital video cameras and custom computer software allows each artwork to "see," and respond to, bodies, colors and/or motion in the space of the museum. The few works not using cameras in this fashion employ similar technologies towards the same end. While this homogeneity means that the works might at first seem too similar in their interactions, their one-to-one responsiveness, and their lack of other new media-specific explorations -- such as networked art or dynamic appropriation and re-mixing systems -- it also accomplishes something most museum-based "state of the digital art" shows don't. It uses just one avenue of interest by contemporary media artists in order to dig much deeper into what their practice means, and why it's important. "Act/React" encourages an extremely varied and nuanced investigation of our embodied experiences in our own surroundings. As the curator himself notes in the Museum's press release, "If in the last century the crisis of representation was resolved by new ways of seeing, then in the twenty-first century the challenge is for artists to suggest new ways of experiencing...This is contemporary art about contemporary existence." This exhibition, in other words, implores us to look at action and reaction, at our embodied relationships, as critical experience. It is a contemporary investigation of phenomenology.

Discussions (77) Opportunities (2) Events (10) Jobs (3)

Dense and Urban - the Cybermohalla in Delhi

Dense and Urban - the Cybermohalla in Delhi
by nathaniel stern

"In its broadest imagination, one can see Cybermohalla as a desire for a
wide and horizontal network (both real and virtual) of voices, texts, sounds
and images in dialogue and debate" (from

Sarai: the New Media Initiative is a non-profit space that fosters new/old
media practice and research towards critical cultural intervention. This
project, the digital mohalla (or, 'dense urban neighborhood'), is a
collaboration with Ankur, an NGO working on experimental education. It
consists of working class youths, aged 15-25, creating work in various parts
of Delhi - a resettlement colony in South Delhi (Dakshinpuri), an illegal
working class settlement in Central Delhi, LNJP, and the Sarai Media Lab in
North Delhi.

Cybermohalla's young arts practitioners work on free software and low-cost
media equipment to produce experimental / playful multimedia works, ranging
from texts, collages, posters and print publications, to videos, and
large-scale installations. Together and apart, each person, project, space
and marked-up page in the online archive is an individual voice, and a node
in the networked dialogue between the disquiet doubt of Delhi, and its
growing arts and media scene.

As a practitioner and teacher in the third world myself, projects like this
one do indeed speak volumes back to the uninclusive, supposedly utopian,
networks of the first world, which are always already shot through with
inaccessible desire. I've been caught myself, saying things like, "if we
can't imagine it, it won't happen," but, all sentimentality aside, it's nice
to see new media speaking back to sociopolitical questions other than those
that arise only from new media itself.

The not-paradoxical thing, ever-present in the Cybermohalla network, is an
acute sense of place. I've never been to any of the nodes, or to Delhi for
that matter; I've only surfed their artworks and archives. Still, where I am
when I surf is completely apparent.

The first poster linked from their 'text-screens' page - - asks us, "Before
coming here, had you thought of a place like this?" This question is a
recurring theme in their archived projects, including wall-art, stickers,
booklets, as animated gifs, performances, and is even the title of a
traveling installation. Whether we had 'thought of this place' or not -
perhaps we imagined it into existence, or are doing so now - it lives and
breathes with us in the present tense.

So I guess that romanticism is alive and well in Delhi.

On further investigation, I found that for the creators, this
question-as-title signifies the fact (possibility?) that contemporary Indian
artists worldwide, regardless of their vastly differing use of media, and
potential displacement, are striving to engage in the issues of local
situations, as well as those related to translocal phenomena and global
conditions. They believe that, in sharp contrast to the generation before
them, they are not using Western rhetoric to take part in this discourse.

This is actually something I noticed right away; the works shown are not
attempting to provide answers from a distance. Rather, they ask difficult
questions, pose provocational scenarios and movement, in order to engage in
something bigger than themselves. The Cybermoholla is not a non-curated exhibition; it really is a community of independent thinkers asking
to be heard, asking the world what it believes is worth listening to.

'by lanes', for example, glimpses into the diaries of twelve of Sarai's
young artists, and shares the narrations, reflections, commentaries, word
play and observations they were engaged with over the course of one year at
the LNJP basti (neighborhood). The small PDF files act as proposals of what
was, and what can be. "Streets make for great conversations," begins an
introductory line of text in the first file, which goes on to ask why and
when we do or do not walk the streets. Providing counsel, it tells us that
the "dangerous, unpredictable street" may not be a legitimate reason to stay
at home. This, as a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, I understand.

The compelling language of the Cybermoholla is, quite simply, struggle-,
rather than goal-, orientated. There's a certain level of maturity in the
articulation of reflection; we are invited into a mediated space, but one
whose biases are both subtle and transparent.

I want to know more; I want to do more; I want to belong.

There is, of course, playfulness and naivete in the space, too. After all,
it is mostly made up of teens and young adults. After I had already begun
researching and writing on their work, Jeebesh Baghchi - a facilitator at
Sarai - sent me links to their new blog pages.

These range from open source blogs completely in Hindi (which they are all
apparently, and rightfully, very proud of) and friendly, poetic (English)
narratives about how we can phrase, and re-phrase, and ask again, to little
text excerpts about the 'incidentally quite hot' new girl from Argentina
[sic!]. I especially liked envisioning a described scene where our hero,
Karim the blogger, had to go to babelfish to translate her Spanish to
English. He then translated the English to Hindi, himself, for Chintu -
another Compughar (Abode of Computers) resident. After all, one must know
what the hot new girl is saying, yes?

Recent public performances and exhibitions by Cybermoholla participants
include an International Theatre Festival in Hamburg (Feb - Mar 2004),
followed by a run of the same performance throughout areas of Delhi, a
complete CD of the Cybermoholla works ( temporarily online at ), a 'Wall Magazine'
called 'Hadsa' (Incident) whose subject is given away by the title, and the
aforementioned installation - "Before coming here, had you thought of a
place like this" - at the Culturgest Museum in Portugal (closed June 2004).

I can't help but wonder if this is not what pervasive technology can mean to
a world outside of the US and Europe. We carry on 'being' the same, but are
louder, better, more accurate in our inaccuracies and odd juxtapositions.
We are not mirrors to the first world, or even to ourselves, but we are
storytellers, continuing on our journeys with slightly nicer pens, pads and
PowerPoint presentations.



Re: How to Display Digital Artwork in a Gallery

For those of us in the third world, LCD screens (um, computers, phone lines,
electricity etc) are not necessarily the norm....

Anyhow, I have an upcoming show in a gallery here, where I need to display
video. My plan is to, rather than trying to source LCD screens, get some
cheap dry wall and put it in front of the existing wall. I'll then put the
CRT screen in between, and cut a hole in the wall. If you want to add a
finishing touch, you can even frame it. Actually this is not uncommon in
South Africa - I'll can think of at least 4 shows in the last year that use
this technique to great effect.


scott paterson, who can be found @ online, so boldly
stated the following, on 8/17/04 5:59 AM:

> D,
> Well, when faced with this issue once, I bought a wireless PDA and made
> my own custom travel case for it that was padded, etc. But it really
> depends on a number of factors for what the best setup would be
> including - intended experience of work (a straight up monitor seems
> like a default response to me - too much library kiosk for my
> interests), lighting conditions, scale, position, degree of immersion,
> and on and on. Some tech joints will donate if the show is high profile
> enough and they get some free advertising...
> [sgp]
> On Monday, August 16, 2004, at 10:47 PM, Dyske Suematsu wrote:
>> Hi all,
>> I have a friend who needs to show her digital artwork in a gallery. As
>> she consulted me about it, I realized that it is an interesting problem.
>> Now LCD monitors are quickly becoming the norm. They are no longer a
>> novelty item that connotes future. I feel like this shift in public
>> perception has happened just this year. The problem for cost-conscious
>> artists is that they can no longer use CRT monitors to present their
>> work in a gallery because they now have the connotation of being retro,
>> or just-past. Unless your work is about being retro or just-past, they
>> are inappropriate.
>> But on the other hand, LCD monitors are still quite expensive,
>> especially large ones. On top of it, they do not withstand well the
>> abuse of the public users who tend to poke their fingers at it. Most
>> gallery shows last about a month. You cannot afford to sacrifice your
>> own monitor for a month, unless you happen to be going on vacation at
>> the same time your have a show. Unless you are Cory Archangel, you do
>> not have shows every month to make it worthwhile to buy one
>> specifically for exhibition purposes. Renting it for a month is quite
>> expensive too.
>> So what do most artists do in this situation?
>> -Dyske
>> +
>> -> post:
>> -> questions:
>> -> subscribe/unsubscribe:
>> -> give:
>> -> visit: on Fridays the web site is open to non-members
>> +
>> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
>> Membership Agreement available online at
> +
> -> post:
> -> questions:
> -> subscribe/unsubscribe:
> -> give:
> -> visit: on Fridays the web site is open to non-members
> +
> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
> Membership Agreement available online at



Near-Digital SA: Interventionist Influence (an e-interview with Carine Zaayman) -- nathaniel stern

Near-Digital SA: Interventionist Influence
(an e-interview with Carine Zaayman)

nathaniel stern

My arrival in, and move to, South Africa was marked by a meeting with Marcus
Neustetter of The Trinity Session (see later Rhizome interview - ). At the time, he
was curating a show called 'online | offline,' an attempt to "display
digital works on and off the screen in order to illustrate the relationship
of more traditional art-making processes with contemporary creative uses of
new technology."

I was most interested not only in his exhibition of work, but also in his
creation of a space where South African viewers were asked to challenge
their notions of 'how to look at' art. In a place where access to
technology and the comfort level around it is still fairly limited, we now
have artist-curators using new media and new media influenced strategies to
provoke explorations of identity, translocality, globalization, historicity,
public dialogue, and art in general.

This month, ArtThrob ( ) - a webzine dedicated
to contemporary art in South Africa - formally announced their newly
appointed new media editor, Carine Zaayman. The site was founded by SA
artist Sue Williamson in 1997, and has been growing with contributors and
recognition ever since. Sean O'Toole, who took over as editor-in-chief in
2002, is working towards more diverse coverage, using the existing ArtThrob
template. His hope is that Carine will "facilitate debate and steer
critical thought on new media in South Africa."

Carine and I emailed about the state of digital art in South Africa (SA).

NS: I think of this inclusion as a signifier of potentially big changes in
the art scene in SA. First, we saw the biggest art awards here (the Brett
Kebble Art Awards - BKAA @ ) start its new media
category; now, we have one of the biggest/best publications creating a job
around the coverage of new media. What are your thoughts?

CZ: I think you are right. There seems to be some major shifts under way.
This is evident in the move towards less object-based art, more non-gallery
art etc., a strong sense of events-as-art (ala YDEsire - ), audio art and so on. I would like
to see new media as part of this move, as being not so much only a set of
"media," but that its relatively recent rise in the art world suggests an
"opening up" of our notions of the kinds of roles that art can play. Here I
am thinking of more socio-culturally-engaged art. Some of the work The
Trinity Session ( ) has done, in which
new media plays a role, is an example. What is at issue is the fact that new
media gives us alternative avenues of presentation, i.e. the web and other
technological public spaces.

But this is why I am not really happy with the glib positioning of new media
as another "category" in competitions such as the BKAA. Having the category
does not mean that the medium is really recognised. With painting and the
like, having objects/images made by one person and exhibiting those in a
specific location is not uncommon. The dissemination of information and
discussion around these objects is also relatively well established. The
problem with new media is that it does not fit into the category of
object/exhibition easily, and though some works might, new media as such is
much more fluid, and competitions cannot really provide adequate space for
the collaborative and ephemeral aspects of new media.

I also believe that once you say that there might be big changes under way
in the SA art scene, you also have to accept that the people working at
these changes will be young "trailblazers". The new media scene is very much
a nascent one. I remember that when I was studying most of the more
established artists around saw the web as simply a new means of promoting
their "real" work. I also remember the furore in some circles when Kathryn
Smith won the new signatures competition with a video work. Seeing that
video art is hardly really new media, I think we have come a long way, but
this has not happened because the establishment changed their collective
mind. No, it is through the consistent work of the younger generation in the
utilising of new media, and pushing the notions of collective art making,
the importance of curators, creating alternative spaces for work and so on
that the potential of new media is starting to become realised here.

My "vision" for my contribution to ArtThrob includes creating awareness of
the ways in which new media is reshaping our sense of artistic practice, and
our understanding of the notion of locale globally. I want to focus on the
ability of new media to enable exchange and public forums. An angle that I
try to take is to give a short analysis of the contents of certain projects,
and place them in contexts that address issues within new media discussion.
In other words, if new media is able to facilitate dialogue between any
number of people dispersed around the globe, where is the work that shows us
how this is done? Then, I try to draw a relation to a South African example
as well, to give voice to those kinds of projects that can easily be
overlooked by the established channels of dissemination. Hopefully, artists
can then embark on such projects more confidently in the knowledge that
there is an audience, and some reflection on their work, and they do not
need to compromise.

NS: Who are some of the predominant SA artists working in new media? What
about collectives, institutions or schools working with/in new media?

As I said above, these are young ones. Internationally established artist,
Minnette Vari, works in video, and it is evident that she works with the
technology of video to some extent....

The point for me is not so much artists working only in new media, but
artists who employ the potential of new media for public and social
engagement in their practice. From this perspective I think that the work of
The Trinity Session and Marcus Neustetter are examples. Your own
contribution is already felt. Abrie Fourie's new space in Pretoria (Outlet)
is not exclusively for new media, but he is willing to assist artists who
use technology. His own practice also includes some new media work. Matthew
Hindley, who has worked with new media related things for a while, was
recently awarded the Cape Town public sculpture commission. For this
sculpture he proposes to have microphones placed in strategic places around
Government Avenue. These microphones will then pick up pieces of
conversation and send the information of these sounds to the LED screen on
the front of the National Gallery where they will be displayed.

I also think that projects are starting to be shaped around new media.
'52weeks52works' is a great example of this. Organised by James Webb and
Thomas Cartwright, this project involves artists making one work every week
- not necessarily new media - in a public space and sending in the
documentation, which is then published on the [pending] website. Again, it
is clearly not a "let's - get - together - and - see - what - flashy -
digital - stuff - we - can - make" exercise.

A crucial point here is that we are not only talking about artists making
work when we want to understand the impact of new media. Many musicians,
curators, designers etc. are also becoming agents in the new media field.
The conference held at WITS in 2000, entitled "Urban Futures", made this
very clear, especially in the curatorial contributions of James Sey and
Kathryn Smith, and Rory Bester.

The kind of work done by Andries Odendaal from Wireframe studios in Cape
Town ( ) can also not be overlooked. Odendaal
is a designer/programmer who has received many accolades for his work in
flash, but at the same time he has also helped to establish the freefall
network in Cape Town ( ), which is an informal group
of artists / designers / musos / teachers, that work digitally and in new
media, who meet and exchange ideas etc.

Then, of course, there are a number of other art fields also using new
media, especially theatre. I am not an expert in these as such, but I can
mention the work of Mark Fleishman and Magnet Theatre ( ). My point is that because new media is a
physical reality in many people's lives, it cannot be considered only as the
domain of art. This forces artists to be more open to public dynamics, other
art forms and the challenges these put to their practices.

A (very) recent new media highlight for me was James Webb and James Sey's
radio broadcast 'A Compendium of Imaginary Wavelengths' (2 February 2004
Bush Radio). This was a half-hour radio piece, with audio (sounds,
interviews etc.) mixed live on Webb's laptop during the broadcast. Webb and
Sey "invented" an imaginary author, and provided a kind of "sound-scape"
synopsis of 15 of this author's books. Quite a bit of the audio was created
digitally, and obviously everything captured digitally.

All of the major art departments in the country have recently shifted some
of their focus onto new media. Sections in art schools that attempt to teach
new media as a stream, just like painting or sculpture, have sprung up in
the last three years or so.... The shift from using the computer as a tool
for design to a medium/space for art-making, is an enormous signifier of
things to come. This shift is not easy, and many new media teachers find
themselves coming up against age-old systems and prejudices. As a teacher, I
am often astounded at the inability of some very good, long-standing
professors to understand the nature of new media. When one is dealing with
students who are not consummate practitioners, this becomes an issue. Still,
it is the role of the teachers and the students to change the situation and
create an audience for themselves. This will happen. The creation of
postgraduate degrees in new media is a good step towards it. The Institute
for Film and New Media or IFNM (where I work) at UCT ( ), and the WITS School of Arts MA programmes in
digital art ( ) are
the primary movers in this regard.

Perhaps it is important to say at this point that I am emphasising 'the
positive' by pointing out all that is being done. I believe that this is a
more productive position than lamenting the small size and minute history of
new media art in South Africa. It has not been going on for very long, and
it is still small and humble. But things are changing, as I hope I have

NS: What are you hoping to see more of in the new media art scene here?

CZ: I think more of the kinds of things I have mentioned above. Obviously
there are other kinds of work being done in the field, but I have chosen to
highlight the ones I think are most pertinent or interesting. Aside from
that, I would just like to see the reception of new media work change. I
would like to see more variety - thus not only websites or video, but some
more of the kinds of things that happen at places like ITP (Interactive
Telecommunications Program - ). I would like to see
artists utilising public space and addressing political issues more
directly. I'd also like to see more serious theoretical writing on new media
that is actually in touch with what is happening on the ground, rather than
carrying on about virtual realities and space-time continuums in a hackneyed

NS: How are you seeing new media influence the more traditional art scene

CZ: ... just as digital technology has become indispensable in our daily
lives, so it has become indispensable for many artists who do not consider
themselves new media artists. In this way, digital technology makes many
things easier for artists working in a more traditional mode....

What I think is more important though, is the fact that a general shift (as
you suggested earlier) is taking place across disciplines. New media is one
player in this shift; it vastly contributes to the direction and
developments. This is, perhaps, more where I would like to locate the
influence, as it is far more radical and positive.

NS: What are some current goings-on that may shift the art scene in
different directions in the near future?

CZ: New media in South Africa is very young and still under-developed, and
the projects that I have listed here signify some great strides that have
been taken to establish viable channels of production, discussion and
recognition. These developments will continue, I believe. From The Trinity
Session to the IFNM, we have a stage set now. I think the coming five years
will probably see youngsters taking over more of the field.

NS: What are some projects you, yourself, are working on now?

I am currently trying to raise funding for a collaborative project between
artists in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The project will focus on finding
ways of translating the private lived experience of their cities into
digital material. I see this project as involving an online exchange between
artists, public interventions, and a catalogue of some sort.

There are two aspects here: the one is to investigate the specificities of
the different cities, the second is the notion that one's life in, and in
connection with, the city is impossible to fully communicate to anyone else.
The metaphor of encoding and translating is crucial. I am also taking part
in the 52weeks project, and making a couple of pieces here and there for
other venues.

I am writing a number of articles about artists working with digital media
in South Africa for academic journals, and a chapter on the ways in which
digital media is shaping sub-cultural expression. Then, I see my teaching as
a project as well. As a new media lecturer at Michaelis and the IFNM, I
think that stimulating discussion and production of work in the field is
essential. Also involved here is developing the role of new media within an
institutional context. This means articulating some of the inherent concerns
and possible directions of new media as an artistic practice, and setting up
links with other departments such as computer science, music, drama,
education, African studies and the school of languages.

Look for more from Carine at


Re: finding in the rhizome artbase

Eryk Salvaggio, who can be found @ online, so boldly
stated the following, on 11/8/03 9:48 AM:

> What do net.artists gain from increased exposure?
> -e.

Perhaps this is a question that should be posed to Agricola's "my mission."
Personally (and not devoid of some pretence that I am uneasily aware of), I
see the art I most appreciate attempting "provocations as a public service."
How can we do that without exposure?



Re: finding in the rhizome artbase

I like this idea much better. But perhaps rather than having a guest decide
what goes in and does not, why not have them put together "shows" of current
and archived (it is the artbase, after all) work, based on various themes -
be them concept, time, file size, technology, etc? This would not be a
competition (best or worst art?), but a curatorial project using both a
collection (again, artbase), and placing a call for new work (new artbase
submissions, based on theme of show - this should not exclude other work
from being submitted to the artbase, outside of the show's perimeters);
these online exhibitions would also be archived, making the artbase a bit
easier to surf, and perhaps slightly more interesting to those not
in-the-know of "what to look for."



Feisal Ahmad, who can be found @ online, so boldly stated
the following, on 11/7/03 5:15 PM:

> I think we understand your feelings on the potential downside of the
> 'competitive nature' of such an idea and it's definitely a valid point.
> Another possible artbase idea that we've been kicking around is the 'guest
> curator' concept, where we get one specific person to serve the curatorial
> function and give them a time window to do so--- not to to choose on the
> supposed 'best in show' of what's already in the artbase but to help decide
> what actually goes in when it comes to new submissions.
> My questions to you all are, do you feel that this could be a feasible
> proposition? Is it moving towards an Artbase Superuser capability, and if so,
> would that be a good or bad thing in your eyes? Best,
> = Feisal
> +
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