He is visiting lecturer in the History of Art, Design and Film at Kingston University, London, and visiting lecturer in Arts and Digital Media at London South Bank University.
Animated GIF from the website Parked Domain Girl Tombstone (2013)
DR: On first inspection, a lot of your work appears to be rooted in the 90s, drawing on the low bandwidth aesthetics inherent in GIFs, midi plugins, embedded frames, ASCII art, and forgotten webring hyperlinks. But the 90s comes out in other ways, too. Pop-cultural undercurrents include Nintendo and Leisure Suit Larry; mixtapes and a particular flavor of Europop.
Your work spans several distinct, but overlapping areas of discourse. We could start by talking through design, animation, glitch art, code, game play or the interface. I want to start right from the bottom though, and ask you about inputs and outputs. A recent work you collaborated on with Jeff Thompson, You Have Been Blinded - “a non-visual adventure game” - takes me back to my childhood when playing a videogame often meant referring to badly sketched dungeon maps, before typing N S E or W on a clunky keyboard. Nostalgia certainly plays a part in You Have Been Blinded, but what else drives you to strip things back to their elements?
I’ve always been interested in how things are built. From computers to houses to rocks to software. What makes these things stand up? What makes them work? Naturally I’ve shifted to exploring how we construct experiences. How do we know? Each one of us has a wholly unique experience of… experience, of life.. When I was a kid I was always wondering what it was like to be any of the other kids at school. Or a kid in another country. What was it like to be my cat or any of the non-people things I came across each day? These sorts of questions have driven me to peel back experience and ask it some pointed questions. I don’t know that I’m really interested in the answers. I don’t think we could really know those answers, but I think it’s enough to ask the questions.
Stripping these things down to their elements shows you that no matter how hard you try, nothing you make will ever be perfect. There are always flaws and the evidence of failure to be found, no matter how small ...
“But even if the internet is dead this doesnt mean it's over. It is all over.”
When we met recently we talked about the glitch as it relates to contemporary image culture, but we also talked about the glitch as something to aspire to. In your essay, A Thing Like You and Me, you retell Walter Benjamin’s parable of the Angel of History, pushed by the harsh winds of progress away from the rubble of history, its back facing into the unknown future. You say that we are the rubble, or at least, that we should align ourselves with the rubble. I’m fascinated by these allusions to excess and detritus in your writing, and I see something of the glitch aesthetic making its way into your video works. I thought we could start from these bruises and cracks; from the things we can’t predict, control or maintain. How would you relate the glitch to Benjamin’s rubble?
One of the biggest misunderstandings about digital information is that it is replicated identically, without loss or transformation. But anyone who works with such information knows that digital practice is constituted – like perhaps any technology – by malfunction. One has to constantly convert information in order to work with it across different platforms and softwares and on the way it is reformatted, translated, compressed or sometimes even blown up, it is enhanced or diminished: it changes. It changes its format or container or outlook or context.
Digital information is thus characterised by transformation, degradation, circulation, but also by its surprising ability to mutate and produce unpredictable results. The glitch, the bruise of the image or sound testifies to its being worked with and working; being passed on and circulated, being matter in action. History inscribes itself into the image in ...
I can't vouch for what Rhizome used to be, but I do know how the netart community functions today, and its dynamism cannot be maintained in an email serve list. Having recently started writing for Rhizome I feel a growing sense of protection for this old ship. Yet...
There is something about netart that very much resides in a continual present, and then there's an old staple, like Rhizome, that even the hardiest gallery-based curator with no Internet knowledge/interest can name drop at a dinner party. Netart doesn't make sense in ten-year-old list serve terms, or veteran websites still clinging on to their 227 page archives. It makes sense now and only now. The household Internet name is by definition nothing to do with netart now. I mean not to negate the positive comments about Rhizome's past, or the great work happening now with places like Furtherfield. But how to foster that Nowness again? And onwards? I will have to get boringly practical...
Look to sites like the theverge.com. A site devoted to cutting edge tech. The frontpage gets updated a few times a day, and so has done away with the old linear scrolling blog format. Instead they opt for a tiled layout that dynamically changes as content is added. In the sidebar popular posts from the community are highlighted, less like mail call outs or forum posts as individual blogs in themselves. People devote themselves to these blogs, feeling that they are their own spaces. The dynamic front page gives anyone the chance to impact the wider verge community.
Look at metafilter.com, which has been around since the days of Rhizome listserve. They brought Digg and Reddit style community to the web then, and do now, with uncompromising attention to detail. There is no metafilter manifesto, and yet ask a member what the community stands for in terms of content and approach and they would be able to tell you. The way this consistency is achieved is through a series of unpaid/low paid mediators, that slave through every post making sure Reddit style divergences and disrespect doesn't over power the central vision. Still better than its clones to this day. Unparalleled commitment to an unwritten cause. For me its one of the most successful examples of a self-controlled community that never feels controlling.
Lastly, Rhizome's presence on Facebook highlights an identity problem alluded to throughout this discussion. A niggle, perhaps, but a huge loss nontheless: Anyone typing 'Rhizome' into their status misses out on the chance to automatically link to the community page. Why? Because the official title is 'rhizomeatthenewmuseum'. Consolidate Rhizome site, twitter, Facebook etc. and you'll instantly find a hidden audience made visible again. Rhizome.org and Rhizome at the New Museum are equally important identities that need to be fostered on their own terms.
Really honoured to be part of this discussion. Can't wait to see where Michael and the team take Rhizome next. Good luck!