Alan Turing, Letter to Dr. N. A. Routledge, AMT/D/14A Turing Archive
There are many ways of telling the history of universal computation, and many origins of the technologies we now consider computational machines. A longer history might begin with Gottfried Leibnitz and Isaac Newton's simultaneous development of modern calculus and the dream of a universal artificial mathematical language. Alternately, we might look to the history of calculating machines, beginning with Charles Babbage's Difference Engine or Herman Hollerith's Electric Sorting and Tabulating Machine.
Most every history would certainly include the contributions of Alan Turing, an English mathematician who is considered by many to be the father of computer science. In his relatively short career Turing formalized such concepts as "algorithm" and "computation," he helped crack the Nazi Enigma Machine during the Second World War, was a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, and developed early research on such concepts as neural nets, morphogenesis, and mathematical biology. Turing was also an openly gay man who, in January of 1952 was convicted of Gross Indecency by the British government under the 1885 Labouchere Amendment, made to undergo chemical castration, and ultimately committed suicide in June of 1954.[i] The subject of numerous books, films, and works of art, Turing is perhaps the most widely recognized computer scientist in the field's short history. He is also the most recognizable queer figure in this history. As such, it is necessary to begin with Turing, not simply for the visibility of his difference, but for the fundamental role he played in defining the limits of computation, and the possibility to look beyond those limits in identifying a queer history of computing.
Homosexuality was by no means unheard of in England at the start of the 20th century, and by some accounts it seems to have been common practice among many college-aged students in elite universities such as Cambridge, which did not admit women until 1948.[ii] Still, homosexual activity had been explicitly illegal since the end of the 19th century, when it was famously used in a pair of legal cases against Oscar Wilde beginning in 1885, leading to his imprisonment and eventual exile in 1897.[iii] Given this legal status, what is most striking about Turing is how open he was with his sexuality, which seems to have been common knowledge among friends and colleagues. As Elizabeth Wilson notes in Affect and Artificial Intelligence, Turing's relationship to his sexuality seems to be less one of repression and shame, and more a kind of naïve amusement. If this attitude was not shared by others at the time, it was at the very least tolerated among Turing's friends and associates.
Donald Michie, one of Turing's wartime colleagues at Bletchley Park,[iv] recalls that "Bletchley had some flamboyant homosexuals,"[v] and that, despite the assumption that homosexuality would be considered a national security risk due to blackmail and other threats, it does not seem to have impeded Turing's work for the government, at least not during the war. For many in those days, homosexuality was an open secret, if it was kept secret at all.”[vi] But while Turing's sexuality is not in dispute, the effect it may have had on his life and work is much more speculative.
[Installation view, Artists Space, 2012. Photo: Daniel Pérez]
Archaeological in its meticulous arrangement of items, images, and ideas – within cases, wrapped in chords, laminated in plastic, or otherwise contained – DUOX4Larkin enacts a process of defamiliarization with corporate and retail objects, forming new connections and relations through Internet-informed practices of layering, connecting, enclosing, and manipulating objects.
DUOX is a collaboration between artists Daniel Wickerham and Malcom Lomax, MICA grads based out of Baltimore and New York City. The group has gained momentum in the past two years after several shows in Baltimore, leading to the Bard 2011 CCS exhibition Break My Body, Hold My Bones.
[Installation view, Artists Space, 2012.]
The show's title would appear to be a play on the collaborative X for Y schema that has become a popular way to make couture designers accessible to a broad audience (Missoni for Target, Lanvin for H&M, etc.). The double sided hanging displays of ten large print photographs that dominate much of the space resemble look books comprised of a collection of sporty, synthetic fabrics and colors. Shirts transform into dresses which are hung with laminated images and logos, over which Photoshop blur effects have been layered along with an arm captured mid-motion-blur in what appears to be a blue wetsuit with a sandal on its hand and the shadow of an eye on its forearm. This additive gesture (and…and…and…) dominates all pieces in the show, but rather than overwhelm, it flattens such details into a broader set of visual cues. It is a sophisticated collage that seems to both revel in and critique the consumer goods it deploys, repurposing and abstracting them.
[Part of the show's online component, a "Men Seeking Women" ad on Craigslist.]
Curiously absent from the show is the foregrounding of sexuality ...
Pronunciation Book is a youtube channel that was registered on April 14, 2010, intended as a resource for "correct" pronunciations of a variety of words that were complex, foreign, or otherwise difficult to pronounce. Each video had a distinct aesthetic, consisting of a still frame with the word being pronounced spelled in a simple, black, sans-serif font on a white background with a copyright date and the channel's URL. Each word was repeated three times with different emphasis, and videos lasted no longer than 15 seconds. The videos are simple, even artistic in their presentation, reminiscent of On Kawara's date paintings from his Today series, each word concrete yet abstracted from its context. Early traffic was no doubt driven by sincere users looking for the proper pronunciation of various words. Indeed there exist a number of youtube channels that serve precisely that purpose, many of which are geared toward ESL viewers; but for whatever reason, Pronunciation Book rubbed many the wrong way, and soon the videos became a popular destination for trolling, spam, and rage. The comments section of each video range from angry corrections of the given pronunciation to outright mockery in the form of re-spellings, dislikes, sarcasm, and a strong undercurrent of racism and xenophobia. Commenters often defended regional pronunciations and accents, or simply mocked the need for such a guide in the first place.
Pronunciation Book would seem to have tapped into an essential truth of the Web and all it's presumed meritocracy: act like you know more or are better than people, and be prepared to drown in a sea of rage. Perhaps the most sophisticated response to the channel came exactly one year later in the form of a separate parody channel titled Pronunciation Manual. Pronunciation Manual adopts the visual ...
[The Net, 1995]
Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are the primary means through which most users interact with computers; but while GUIs help us make sense of complex computational data and allow average users to navigate and manipulate computer systems, human-computer interaction does not easily translate to other visual media such as film and television. It is difficult to dramatize database queries or the kind of intensive and prolonged engagement many describe when programming and writing code. These actions exists on a different scale and in a different time frame, and when dramatized they seem awkward at best, if not simply dull and uninteresting.
Perhaps it is for this reason that film has invented its own form of computer visualization, a kind of visual language of computation that speaks to the language of film. This often involves a very particular set of visual tropes that are intended to signify computation: login screens, chat rooms, loading bars, criminal or business profiles, copying data (often clandestinely), large legible typefaces, 3D interfaces, wireframe models, maps and floor plans, voice interaction, etc. On film the failures of interface design are almost always absent, as protagonists are capable of using almost any UI, data can be transferred and read across multiple systems with ease, and intuition is often enough to accomplish the most elaborate tasks.
In some cases films will use existing GUIs and operating systems, particularly when funding is available through product placement. Often, however, movies will invent entirely new GUIs that accomplish the simple goals of filmic computation, or which appear sufficiently futuristic and foreign from the types of graphical interfaces we are accustomed to. In fact there is an entire sub-field of the graphic and interface design industry that produces Fake User Interfaces or FUIs, both for software mock ups and for the film industry. Below we've collected a series of images taken from the site Access Main Computer File, "a visual study of computer GUI in cinema" run by Steven Huynh. Spanning over four decades, these images not only point to this cinematic visualization of computation, they also serve as the promise of and inspiration for future technologies.
In May of 2010 Netflix posted what appeared to be two internal test movies shot around the Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, CA. Titled Example Short 23.976 and Example Short 24, the films could not be found by simply browsing the Netflix site, but were instead picked up by users of unofficial twitter feeds and websites that update with each new streaming title. At slightly over 11 minutes long, the film features a kind of in-house stock footage intended to demonstrate a variety of audio-visual effects, such as time-lapse and looping. The short film also includes a series of strange, non sequitur scenes featuring a hand running through a fountain, a toy train set running on a loop, a man moonwalking while holding a laptop, the same man running erratically between trees, and finally the man reciting Marullus' speech from Act I, Scene I of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar before shifting to a series of popping and clicking mouth noises. The film ends with a blinking white dot and a series of gridded test patterns.
The films can be difficult to find using the Netflix site, but each version of the movie has its own page and is open to view and review. Much as with the Three Wolf Moon "power animal" t-shirt that gained massive popularity on Amazon.com in 2009, users began rating and reviewing the films sarcastically as artistic works rather than technical footage, praising the symbolism of hand-in-fountain or critiquing the film's "blatant liberal agenda." Other reviewers seem to have missed the punchline, rating the film poorly and demanding an explanation for the film's otherwise glowing reviews. Netflix has subsequently released the short in a variety of forms and at various lengths, in one case looping ...
I am very concerned with problematizing the class and gender dynamics of this history in particular, especially since I am using the term "queer" here in a slippery way, applying it to a group of men who may better fit its historically pejorative definition more than its contemporary transgressive one. I'd love to chat more online and in person. I'll contact you through twitter and perhaps we can get a coffee.
Honestly I just found it more interesting to talk about what the show might mean instead of whether or not it was good. People are going to see the show regardless, and I'd rather they read a piece that puts the show in a context they hadn't thought of then go in with the idea that the show is good or bad because they read it on a website. Is it the responsibility of a site like Rhizome to publish reviews that take a clear stance on the quality or validity of shows such as this? Maybe. But honestly I find that kind of work dull, particularly when it devolves into snark and shade that does more to boost the ego of the reviewer than it does to inform its readers. In fact I would argue that it is precisely those kinds of reviews that are uncritical, or at least, critically shallow.
Part of the reason I reviewed the show as I did is that I was not particularly interested in the pieces as artworks - and how they might fit into a longer art historical tradition - but more what they might be saying about art, technology, and culture. Whether or not the pieces are good is entirely beside the point for me. And, not to contradict Brian, but what the artist's intentions were when creating that piece, or whether or not he did it for the reasons I gave in my review, is also not personally of interest. And while I said in the first paragraph of my review that even though the show was "about" failure the show itself was not a failure, that does not mean that many of the pieces were not critical or intellectual failures, particularly in their failure to provoke any consideration from the viewer beyond "I see what you did there."
But when I went to the show having to actually consider the pieces beyond their immediate punchline and forced myself away from the kind of knee-jerk eat-our-own criticism that is so easy with so much of this kind of work - and so prevalent in this community - I found something that I thought was worth writing about, and that (hopefully) wasn't the same kind of critique that everyone has given Cory for years. For me the review wasn't about if the show was good or bad, it was about what it meant both for the new media art community and within the broader context of art, technology, and culture.
So while this may be a question of defaults it doesn't seem to be reflecting on technologically specific defaults, just culturally specific defaults and readily available forms.