Exaptation and the Digital Now: INTRODUCTION
Case Study #1: Holoback by Zara Dinnen
Case Study #2: The Phantom Zone by Daniel Rourke
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.  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. 
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.
I wrote a short piece for Grafik Magazine’s Screenshot feature:
Moravec’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.
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).
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.
Featuring the work of 50+ artists:
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.
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.
Daniel Rourke: Your ongoing project, Dark Matter, was something of a revelation for me: a collection of objects forbidden or "unwelcome" in Iran, brought together through digital modelling, meshing, and 3D printing. The results are playful and surrealistic, with the same capacity to waken the subconscious as any Dali Lobster-Telephone or Hair-Lamp. For me Dark Matter resonates as subversive not just because the dog-dildo is an affront to conservative sexual values, or because the Barbie-VHS blurs cultural boundaries (a feature of a lot of your work). Rather I was taken by how the objects spoke to the here and now; that perhaps there is something about the collapse of all commodities, forms, and ideas into the digital that promotes blurred perspectives and subversive practices. I wondered whether you saw your work as particular to the digital tools and materials you choose, or are you "just" making use of things that happen to be available to you?
Morehshin Allahyari: I was particularly interested in choosing the most relevant tools and materials for creating a new body of work about forbidden/unwelcome objects. I found the idea of "3D printing/re-creating the forbidden" a very compelling prospect, which raised paradoxical issues of limitations and boundaries—social, cultural, and political. I was also very interested in the technology of 3D printing as this "poetic technology" for resistance, for reclaiming all the things that were taken from me during my life in Iran or are currently being taken away from my sister, and mother, and my friends. There is something very special about things that you can't have access to when they are forced by law out of your life. When there are many of those objects/things, and they are the most ordinary things (dog, sex toys, neck-tie, Barbie, satellite-dish, Bart Simpson, ham/pig, alcohol, etc.), then there is something meaningful and symbolic about using a technology like 3D printing to re-create them. The combination of the objects, I think, adds a sense of humor to the work that is very similar to the ridiculousness of having these objects banned when you look at the whole picture.Read the rest of this interview at Rhizome.org