“Please don’t call me uncanny”: Cécile B. Evans at Seventeen Gallery

A review of Cécile B. Evans' show Hyperlinks, at Seventeen Gallery, London 15th Oct – 6th Dec 2014. With lots of editing and writerly support from Anton Haugen and Michael Conner.

Cécile B. Evans, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen (2014). Still frame from HD video. Courtesy of Seventeen.

Media saturation in the internet's "cut & paste" ecology has become so naturalized that contemporary film's collaged aspects are not readily considered. Who are the subjects in, for example, a Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch film? And for whom do they perform? When I show these films in my class, my students switch tabs in their browsers, Snapchat each other, like photos, fav tweets—often on multiple screens at once—then state that this "work is about strange fake-tanned kids' search for a toilet."

What has made this answer stay in my mind pertains to the word "about." When used for these works, the banal statement "this work is about…" registers as a crisis of categorical closure that the simultaneous existence of disparate, accumulated content on a single screen constantly thwarts.

Central to Cécile B. Evans' show Hyperlinks at Seventeen Gallery in London is the video-essay, Hyperlinks or it didn't happen, displayed on a high-resolution TV with headphone cords installed at a comfortable cartoon-watching height in a corner of the space. Entering at the opposite corner, I navigate the gallery space, attempting to link the objects together—a prosthetic leg atop an upturned Eames chair replica near a rubber plant that counterbalances a plexiglass structure supporting 3D-printed arms (One Foot In The Grave, 2014), another Eames replica sitting in one corner (just a chair), various prints on the floor and walls—before sitting down, cross-legged, on a thick-pile rug strewn with postcard-sized images.  

The film begins with a super high-resolution render of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's head floating over the shimmering image of a jellyfish. "I'm not magic, and please don't call me uncanny," says a synthetically-augmented human voice. "I'm just a bad copy made too perfectly, too soon." The video lingers on Hoffman's face. His lips do not move — at least, not in sync with the voice claiming to be the bad copy. "Fuck. Fuck FUCKING FUCK! I am full of him." An audience laughter track plays. The bad copy's hair flutters as his head bobs. The follicles on his nose look like they'd be the perfect environment for a blackhead to take up residence. The subject floating on the screen does not symbolize Hoffman, rather, it is an improper metaphor for the actor's "untimely death'; for anything that transcends description, yet is saturated with meaning nonetheless. Hyperlinks is so full of meaning that, as the voice suggests, it is set to burst.

Read the rest at Rhizome.org

Data as Culture

For my latest Furtherfield review I wallowed in curator Shiri Shalmy’s ongoing project Data as Culture, examining works by Paolo Cirio and James Bridle that deal explicitly with the concatenation of data. What happens when society is governed by a regime of data about data, increasingly divorced from the symbolic?

Paolo Cirio, Your Fingerprints on the Artwork are the Artwork Itself

In a work commissioned by curator Shiri Shalmy for her ongoing project Data as Culture, artist Paolo Cirio confronts the prerequisites of art in the era of the user. Your Fingerprints on the Artwork are the Artwork Itself [YFOTAATAI] hijacks loopholes, glitches and security flaws in the infrastructure of the world wide web in order to render every passive website user as pure material. In an essay published on a backdrop of recombined RAW tracking data, Cirio states:

Data is the raw material of a new industrial, cultural and artistic revolution. It is a powerful substance, yet when displayed as a raw stream of digital material, represented and organised for computational interpretation only, it is mostly inaccessible and incomprehensible.

In fact, there isn’t any meaning or value in data per se. It is human activity that gives sense to it. It can be useful, aesthetic or informative, yet it will always be subject to our perception, interpretation and use. It is the duty of the contemporary artist to explore what it really looks like and how it can be altered beyond the common conception.

Even the nondescript use patterns of the Data as Culture website can be figured as an artwork, Cirio seems to be saying, but the art of the work requires an engagement that contradicts the passivity of a mere ‘user’. YFOTAATAI is a perfect accompaniment to Shiri Shalmy’s curatorial project, generating questions around security, value and production before any link has been clicked or artwork entertained. Feeling particularly receptive I click on James Bridle’s artwork/website  A Quiet Disposition and ponder on the first hyperlink that surfaces: the link reads “Keanu Reeves“:

“Keanu Reeves” is the name of a person known to the system. 

Keanu Reeves has been encountered once by the system and is closely associated with TorontoEnter The DragonThe MatrixSurfer and Spacey Dentist. 

In 1999 viewers were offered a visual metaphor of ‘The Matrix’: a stream of flickering green signifiers ebbing, like some half-living fungus of binary digits, beneath our apparently solid, Technicolor world. James Bridle‘s expansive work A Quiet Disposition [AQD] could be considered as an antidote to this millennial cliché, founded on the principle that we are in fact ruled by a third, much more slippery, realm of information superior to both the Technicolor and the digital fungus. Our socio-political, geo-economic, rubber bullet, blood and guts world, as Bridle envisages it, relies on data about data. Read the rest of this review at Furtherfield.org

Journal Contribution: Exaptation and the Digital Now

Earlier this year I co-devised and co-delivered the 2014 New Media Caucus sponsored panel and  journal editorial: ‘Exaptation and the Digital Now’, with Zara Dinnen, Rob Gallagher and Alex Myers:
NMC Sponsored Panel at CAA 2014:: Exaptation and the Digital Now

Exaptation and the Digital Now: INTRODUCTION

Case Study #1: Holoback by Zara Dinnen

Case Study #2: The Phantom Zone by Daniel Rourke

Case Study #3: Fire in the Hole – The Obviously Non-Short History of Art Games by Alex Myers

Case Study #4: Exaptation, Interpretation, PlayStation by Rob Gallagher

The panel took place at the College Art Association annual conference, Chicago, February 14th 2014. Our write-up was featured in the New Media Caucus journal CAA 2014 conference edition. Click-through for each of our papers and the specially extended introduction:

Evolution is a dominant metaphor for thinking about and describing the processes of new technologies; we believe ‘exaptation’ offers a more productive, nuanced approach to questions of adaptation and co-option that surround digital media. [8] According to Svetlana Boym in her essay “The Off-Modern Mirror:”

Exaptation is described in biology as an example of ‘lateral adaptation,’ which consists in a co-option of a feature for its present role from some other origin… Exaptation is not the opposite of adaptation; neither is it merely an accident, a human error or lack of scientific data that would in the end support the concept of adaptation. Exaptation questions the very process of assigning meaning and function in hindsight, the process of assigning the prefix ‘post’ and thus containing a complex phenomenon within the grid of familiar interpretation. [9]

Media is replete with exaptations. Features specific to certain media are exapted – co-opted – as matters of blind chance, convenience, technical necessity, aesthetics, and even fashion. Narratives of progress cannot account for the ways technologies branch out or are reused, misused, and abused across communities and networks. Exaptation offers a way to think about digital culture not as ever-newer, ever-faster, ever-more-seamless, but rather as something that must always negotiate its own noisy history. Yesterday’s incipient hardware becomes the ordering mechanism of today’s cultural affects: a complex renewal that calls into question established notions of utility, value, and engendered experience. Exaptation accounts for features now considered integral to media without falling back into narratives that appear to anticipate what one could not anticipate.

Read more at the NMC Journal website

Synthetic Assistants

I wrote a short piece for Grafik Magazine’s Screenshot feature:

Synthetic Assistants, at Grafik MagazineMoravec’s Paradox states that ‘low-level’ sensorimotor skills require far more computational resources than ‘high-level’ abstract reasoning. In general terms, this translates into the doctrine that computers are very good at solving some types of problems, humans at others. Picking out the face of a loved one in a packed crowd and walking over to embrace them is laughably easy for a human to do, but not a robot. Alternatively, calculating the square-root of 1,276,433,9 takes a cheap pocket calculator a few nanoseconds. As for a human? Well, try it out for yourself *

Sustained by these principles, a new breed of machine/human hybrid systems have begun infecting our social and economic networks. Rather than imitate tasks that humans can do effortlessly, these programs are built to work with us, allowing the distinct strengths of human and ‘artificial’ intelligences to coalesce. One particularly intriguing example of this is the reCaptcha password system. Maintained by Google, reCaptcha is employed hundreds of millions of times every day, according to Google’s own promotional blurb, to ‘stop spam, read books’. You yourself — perhaps without knowing it — have taken part in a vast online act of computation, donating a short burst of your highly evolved pattern recognition skill to Google’s project of digitising every one of the world’s printed books.

Read the rest at Grafik Magazine

GIFbites at بیت بر ثانیه / Bitrates

Shiraz Art House • Daralhokoomeh Project • May/June 2014

As part of Bitrates - an exhibition curated by Morehshin Allahyari and Mani Nilchiani at the Dar-ol-Hokoomeh Project, Shiraz, Iran – I asked 50 artists to create or curate an animated GIF with a short snippet of audio, to be looped together ad infinitum at GIFbites.com. For the opening of Bitrates on May 23rd a select version of this project will be displayed in the gallery, followed by a complete showcase of all the GIFs for the GIFbites exhibition, opening on May 30th in Shiraz Art House (Daralhokoomeh Project).

GIFbites

In an era of ubiquitous internet access and the extensive post-production of HD and 3D images, the animated GIF has an ironic status. Small in dimension and able to be squeezed through the slenderest of bandwidths, GIFs hark back to a World Wide Web designed for 640×480 pixel screens; a web of scrolling text, and not much else. Brought on – ironically – by their obsolescence the animated GIF has become a primary medium of communication on the contemporary net. The simplicity, freedom and openness of the medium allows even the most amateur web enthusiast to recuperate images plucked from TV, cinema, YouTube, CCTV footage, cartoons, videogames and elsewhere in their desire to communicate an idea or exclamation to the world. GIFbites is a mesmerising homage to brevity and the potential of poor, degraded images to speak beyond the apparent means of their bitrates. The results will hopefully navigate the web for many years to come, stimulating cut-and-paste conversations undefinable by Google’s search algorithms.

Exhibition Page • Archive •  LOOP all the GIFbites!

Featuring the work of 50+ artists:

Morehshin Allahyari Mizaru/Kikazaru/Kyoungzaru Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach
Eltons Kuns Anthony Antonellis Lawrence Lek
LaTurbo Avedon Gretta Louw Jeremy Bailey
Sam Meech Alison Bennett Rosa Menkman
Emma Bennett A Bill Miller Benjamin Berg
Lorna Mills Hannah Black Shay Moradi
Andrew Blanton Nora O Murchú Nicolas Boillot
Alex Myers Tim Booth Peggy Nelson
Sid Branca David Panos Nick Briz
Eva Papamargariti elixirix Holly Pester
Jennifer Chan Antonio Roberts Theodore Darst
Daniel Rourke Angelina Fernandez Alfredo Salazar-Caro
Annabel Frearson Rafia Santana Carla Gannis
Jon Satrom Emilie Gervais Erica Scourti
Shawné Michaelain Holloway Krystal South Nathan Jones
Arjun Ram Srivatsa Nick Kegeyan Linda Stupart
Jimmy Kipple Sound Daniel Temkin Mohsen Hazrati / محسن حضرتی
Milad Frouzande / میلاد فروزنده Mohsen Zare & Kamyar Behbahani / محسن زارع و کامیار بهبهانی

Black Diamond

I was commissioned to write the essay for Mishka Henner‘s solo show, Black Diamond, at Carroll/Fletcher Gallery, London. The exhibition will run until 31st May, 2014.

Excerpt from the essay :

If linear perspective centred the World on the Earthly beholder – rendering the artist, viewer or owner of a painting as master of all they purveyed – then its replacement, a tumbling or “dynamic viewing space” imposes a kind of vertigo on the subject, causing us to misjudge the social and political ground of our perceptions. Henner’s 51 US Military Outposts places viewers in the position of Gods above a toy-like World, the fidelity of which is wholly reliant on the resolution of the sourced images. In line with his Feedlots and Oil Fields series, the resolution of the images – appropriated from Google Earth, and painstakingly stitched together – gives us a clue as to where their socio-political ground is located. Just as a pixel attains significance only within the context of the image grid, so the relatively plain surface of Earth is politically meaningless, is without form and void, until its geometries and textures, its biological traces and material densities, are caught and defined in the vast, inconceivable, territories of the database.

Download as PDF

More info : mishkahenner.com and carrollfletcher.com

Internet of Our Dreams

Internet of my dreams was Anthony Antonellis’ solo show at Transfer Gallery, in March 2014. At the conclusion of the exhibition, a digital panel convened around a series of topics that had informed the exhibition. Eleven panelists were invited to participate by moderators Anthony Antonellis and Arjun Ram Srivatsa.

The discussions took place online over the course of two days in the form of written submissions and video chats conducted from the gallery. Each panelist was able to address topics raised by previous panelists in a linear format similar to a comment thread.

I contributed a science fictional fabulation to proceedings, responding to the ideas generated by, and circling around, Anthony Antonellis’ exhibition. You can listen to the text below, but I urge you to go to Anthony’s website for the full digital panel and browse browse click dream browse.