patrick lichty
Works in Oak Park, Illinois United States of America

Patrick Lichty (b.1962) is a technologically-based conceptual artist, writer, independent curator, animator for the activist group, The Yes Men, and Executive Editor of Intelligent Agent Magazine. He began showing technological media art in 1989, and deals with works and writing that explore the social relations between us and media. Venues in which Lichty has been involved with solo and collaborative works include the Whitney & Turin Biennials, Maribor Triennial, Performa Performance Biennial, Ars Electronica, and the International Symposium on the Electronic Arts (ISEA).

He also works extensively with virtual worlds, including Second Life, and his work, both solo and with his performance art group, Second Front, has been featured in Flash Art, Eikon Milan, and ArtNews.

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Embodying computation and Borging the Interface

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Perhaps my title is a little hyperbolic, but there seem to be significant developments in regards to Human Computer Interaction happening. I see this all over Kickstarter, but after going to SxSW, this became evident. It seems that gestural, embodied, and ‘borged’ computing all seem to be emerging in force in the next couple years. This makes perfect sense to me, as I remember going to the Standford University archives on the history of computation, and reading Douglas Engelbart’s archives (remember, he did the mouse and the ‘Mother of all Demos’?). In his notes, he chronicled going to IBM’s R&D labs where, in 1958, the mainframe division was trying to avoid the keyboard/display paradigm – remember, Engelbart would invent the mouse four years later, so no K”M”D. They wanted to, using mainframes using 32 K of RAM use speech recognition and synthesis to communicate with the computer.

The future of embodied computation?

45 years later, we’re just starting to crack that nut.

But other interface paradigms have been tried, with more or less success. These range from Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad lightpen, Lanier’s goggles and glove VR interface (can we say that the goggles are reemerging with the oddly anachronistic Oculus Rift mask?) But as Terrence McKenna said in the radio program Virtual Paradise in the early 90’s, we need ways in which we can communicate via computers as the objective manipulators we are rather than keyboard cowboys. The “VR Fantasy”, as he put it would be to step into a space where we could communicate directly through symbolic exchange in virtual space, which reminds me of Lanier’s fascination with South Pacific cuttlefish who communicate through manipulating their pigmentation.

Is the key Haptics and Gesture?
There are three technologies, while possessing very different methodologies for their operation that point towards the necessity for the use of gesture in computation. Of course, the first is the Kinect, which, once hacked, has been one of the most revolutionary technologies for DIY 3D scanning, motion capture, and gestural computing. Before, programming environments like MAX/MSP and Isadora dealt with camera blob tracking and so on. Now, we have these self-contained devices that offload tracking computation and give a turnkey paradigm for gesture tracking.

Its little sibling, the Leap Motion, which seems a lot like a small dongle with IR emitters in it tracks fingertip and finger orientation with greater accuracy than the Kinect. What intrigues me about the leap is that as opposed to the large gestures that technologies like the Wii or the Kinect demand, we are presented with commands that could be as subtle as a flutter of the fingers above the keyboard, a fist, or a flip of the hand. Intuitive, gestural computing finally makes sense here. I like what I’ve been doing with my developers’ kit a lot.

The Mother of all Demos for Haptics/Embodied Computing?
But, what seems to be McKenna’s “VR Fantasy” for gestural/haptic computing is the work being done at the MIT Tangible Media Lab and how that technology found its way into the movie, Minority Report. In his 2009 TED talk, John Underkoffer talks about how they translated the work at the lab to the screen through the use of the Tamper system, which consists of motion-capture cameras tracking markered gloves to control multi-station, sensate media across any number of surfaces using a true 3D interface infospace, not just a recreation of a room (a la Second Life). Using mere gestures of the glove, Underkoffer is able to alter search criteria, selectively edit media, and navigate 3D interfaces similar to those in the movie.

Is it any wonder that new laptops are beginning to be shipped with multitouch screens? Could we project that Leaps could take over for the trackpad? Most definitely. In my media theory classes, I state flatly that the reason we use language is directly related to the fact that we are gesturing object manipulators with opposable thumbs, and to me, it seems un-shocking that computational culture has reached this point this late is because – 1: we tend to let go of familiar interfaces slowly, and 2: Moore’s Law hadn’t shrunk the necessary technology sufficiently to not have the boxes be the size of a refrigerator (and the price of an old Silicon Graphics computer). We are animals who build objectively, even in terms of language, and eventually it makes sense that our information devices reflect our cognitive ergonomics of objective construction and gesture. I love the idea of a computer reading body gesture.

“Borged” interfacing – the question of Glass-like infodevices.
In the beginning of this text, I mentioned Doug Engelbart going to IBM R&D in 1958 to talk to them about bypassing the keyboard and screen in lieu of natural, transparent computation. Vuzix, Google and a host of other manufacturers are hustling to get a transparent, augmented headset solution out as soon as possible. Steve Mann pioneered the genre long ago, and was even attacked in France in 2012 due to his appearance with his devices. In some ways, I feel like the ‘borg-glass’ interface might be the solution to IBM’s conundrum, but unless I see some sort of sensor on the body, I find devices like Glass still too far down the ‘brain in a vat’ road, but they do make us mobile, which is intriguing. I’d like to hear more of Amber Case’s ideas on the appropriateness to use of these devices.

So, since I visited Sundance New Horizons in 2009 and played with the Tamper system, I felt that a sea change was coming that finally recognized the body, listened to it, or even sought to merge with it. Kinects, Leaps, Tamper, Glass – these are all the move of computation from the desktop to the body that I wrote about in 1999 (Towards a Culture of Ubiquity) before our entire environments become responsive. But where we are with haptic interfaces represents the coming of a fundamental shift where computers are starting to become more like us, or maybe our interfaces will allow us to be more like computers.


Breaking the Ice

I love the fact that people have locked onto Curt's quote, "too much to lose/ not enough at stake" as if today's artists cower before the curators and critics while simultaneously sniff at the message board because there might not be enough ROI from their time placed into the board. This reminds me of an argument I had with a student who was indignant about having to take classes that he felt he might not get a good ROI from and might not be relevant to his aspirations. This also reminds me of the idea that the young artist has their "eyes on the prize" to the point where there is a gesture of shallow narcissism, and little else. it also shows that Western culture is so risk-averse that no one wants to engage where there is risk, however miniscule of losing their time.

IMO, participating in culture is not about strategically placing yourself to maximize your brand's return on investment so you can sell something at Miami Basel. Don't get me wrong, but when I think like that, I go read Gregory Sholette's "Dark Matter" again and again. I know I'm part of the 2-5% of all contemporary artists who stick it out to 50, and that's my argument of enjoying the process rather than obsessing about the returns, because you're probably going to remain a web designer if you don't become a professor.

The privilege to being part of something like Rhizome is that if you catch traction, you help drive culture. that's amazing. I'm not particularly interested if you wear a tweed jacket and round glasses and obsess about how you're going to get into Pace, because if that's the way you think, you probably won't. At the risk of sounding trite fortune favors the bold who just go out into the wilds of Chernobyl and bring back hunks of radioactive metal.

Be fearless, and who cares if you waste an hour once in a while on a bulletin board. Better time spent than Halo...


Breaking the Ice

Michael, I'll take you up on that. And for lack of more time, glad to have you on.


Breaking the Ice

I echo everyone else's appreciation for your post, and as a mid-90's Rhizomer and rabid poster, I remember hanging out at the Spring offices in SoHo with Mark and Alex. I remember that after RTMark was in the WiBi in 2000, with Max Anderson going crazy with what we were doing, Cory Arcangel was on Houston and Spring, asking me how to make it as a New Media Artist.

As an aside, he certainly seems to have done a better job of it than I did, even as a tangential Yes Man.

A lot of it changed here. It became institutional, striated, compartmentalized, very much like the infrastructure of a museum. I remember having coffee with Lauren Cornell once briefly after her coming on board that was very collegial and warm. But at the 15th Anniversary party, I felt like I received a boilerplate "Oh, hello, yes, Patrick, we want to thank you for all the support and (free) content that you have contributed over the years." No, Lauren, I'm not being entitled and feeling like I deserve anything but perhaps a little friendship for the thousands of hours that I put into this thing. This isn't a social media site, this was my motherfucking HOME while I was talking about this obscure emerging form of art that no one in North Canton, Ohio had the faintest inkling about. I became a virtual New Yorker through Rhizome and The Thing, and when i came to town, Blackhawk, Jen Crowe, and the McCoys, along with Napier, Klima, etc would throw 50+ person parties with me as an excuse to get everyone together. This wasn't a business, it was a community of artists who knew and cared about each other.

Which brings me to my ChiBuddy Nick O'Brien's comments about the new artists trying to work out working into the galleries. That isn't what it was about at all. We hadn't become part of the art world proper yet (and according to Claire Bishop, we still shouldn't). In the 90's most of us weren't about being part of the art world because until things like net.Condition, the WiBi 2000, Data Dynamics, the SFMoMA show, we just weren't on the radar. We hung out, traded chops, hung at Postmasters (yes, before Bitforms was founded), created other networks like The Upgrade (which is still around but flagging a little).

It wasn't about the business of the art world, Nick. it was about being an artist with a passion for art and technology, and if you got a break, great. There weren't any MFAs in New Media or many galleries that would take us.

I used to feel that Rhizome was a home for me, for art, for discourse; but once I felt it turn into an art system institution tailoring itself to young NYC artists just like everything else, I lost interest in it and started my blog at Furtherfield.

I started doing digital art as a Contemporary at 27 (in 1990). And as Guillermo Gomez-Pena once said, I'm not as young, hip, or pretty, but there's still a swing in that hip.

I guess my point for Michael is that I feel like somewhere along the way, Rhizome has taken various turns; guerrilla, community, institutional, take your pick.

I'd love to be at home at Rhizome again. I've said so much to Heather. However, I don't expect Rhizome to be a scrappy little RAW listserv again. What I think did happen to Rhizome is that it got caught in its own snare of success and Dyske and Curt have outlined many of the issues here very well. I think that what the new management would do well to consider is that where Rhizome had its humanity was not in positioning technological media in the art world or giving credibility to certain members (which I think is a reason why R's affiliation with the New is a little problematic, but something we have to live with), but the maintenance of a haven for discussion and activity and community to flourish. There is a difference between being a strategic, "eyes on the prize" art worlder and being an artist, and that difference lies in your intent, your belief, and your passion.

Fuck the art world. Home is where your homies are.
Rhizome was that for me. It just happened to be in the art world, and I just happened to be a contemporary artist. However, these were incidental. Rhizome was a place where my passions could live and flourish. I hope it can be again.

For those of you who know me for having a more scholarly tone, please excuse my language, but I think passion needs its voice, and it's something that Rhizome has been lacking for a long time.


Book Release: Patrick Lichty: Variant Analyses

Wed Apr 10, 2013 00:00 - Tue Apr 30, 2013

Lichty’s range of commentary and analysis dissects nearly two decades of what has now become new media society. Before Facebook’s IPO and Wikileaks’ media storm, artist-as-activists experimented with data gloves, virtual world performance, and anonymous, anarchic disruptions determined to bewilder traditional enclaves of art and political society. In this collection Lichty presents several such experiments in distributed creativity: collaborations across a range of technologies and platforms, where authorship becomes a vague placeholder and sometimes acts as a performance in of itself, and the artwork is equally in flux, always in process, and often disappearing into bits.

These essays provide an extensive and timely overview of critical thought on new media culture, written by an observer-participant who has made major contributions to the sociopolitical movements he archives. Spanning art and new media theory, activism and literary criticism, this assembly seeks to understand the networked society in flux: what it means when the virtual integrates with the physical, and when newer, uncategorized media works prompt major shifts in cultural production and change the very definition of art and protest. As a veteran observer of the technological society, Lichty has produced the ideal guidebook for exploring the wilderness of our digital mediascapes, both past and present.

colophon Author: Patrick Lichty. Editorial support: Morgan Currie. Design: Katja van Stiphout. DTP: Margreet Riphagen & Katja van Stiphout. Printer: ‘Print on Demand’. Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam 2013. ISBN: 978-90-818575-4-3