MachineMachine /stream - tagged with agency en-us LifePress <![CDATA[Tate Series: Digital Thresholds: from Information to Agency (public event)]]>

I will deliver this 4-week public series at The Tate Modern throughout July 2016. Sign up! Thanks to Viktoria Ivanova for working with me to achieve this.

Data is the lifeblood of today’s economic and social systems. Drones, satellites and CCTV cameras capture digital images covertly, while smartphones we carry feed data packets into the cloud, fought over by corporations and governments. How are we to make sense of all this information? Who is to police and distribute it? And what kind of new uses can art put it to? This four-week series led by writer/artist Daniel Rourke will explore the politics and potential of big data through the lens of contemporary art and the social sciences. Participants will assess the impact the digital revolution has had on notions of value attached to the invisible, the territorial and the tangible. We will look at artists and art activists who tackle the conditions of resolution, algorithmic governance, digital colonialism and world-making in their work, with a focus on key news events yet to unfold in 2016. Session 1 Hito Steyerl: Poor Image Politics In this first session we will examine the politics of image and data resolution, with special attention to the work of artist Hito Steyerl represented in the Tate Collection. How do poor images influence the significance and value of the events they depict? What can online cultures that fetishise poor quality teach us about the economics and autonomy of information? Is being a low resolution event in a field of high resolutions an empowering proposition? Session 2 Morehshin Allahyari: Decolonising the Digital Archive 3D scanning and printing technologies are becoming common tools for archaeologists, archivists and historians. We will examine the work of art activists who question these technologies, connecting the dots from terroristic networks, through the price of crude oil, to artefacts being digitally colonised by Western institutions. Artist Morehshin Allahyari will join us via skype to talk about Material Speculation: ISIS – a series of artifacts destroyed by ISIS in 2015, which Allahyari then ‘recreated’ using digital tools and techniques. Session 3 Mishka Henner: Big Data and World Making In this session we will explore the work of artists who channel surveillance and big data into the poetic re-making of worlds. We will compare and contrast nefarious ‘deep web’ marketplaces with ‘real world’ auction houses selling artworks to a global elite. Artist Mishka Henner will join us via skype to talk about artistic appropriation, subversion and the importance of provocation. Session 4 Forensic Architecture: Blurring the Borders between Forensics, Law and Art The Forensic Architecture project uses analytical methods for reconstructing scenes of war and violence inscribed within spatial artefacts and environments. In this session we will look at their work to read and mobilise ‘ambient’ information gathered from satellites, mobile phones and CCTV/news footage. How are technical thresholds implicated in acts of war, terrorism and atrocity, and how can they be mobilised for resist and deter systemic violence?

Tue, 17 May 2016 07:23:50 -0700
<![CDATA[Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter]]>

Hosted by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Jane Bennett - Powers of the Hoard: Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter

How can objects sometimes be vibrant things with an effective presence independent of the words, images, and feelings they may provoke in humans? This question is posed by Political theorist Jane Bennett delivers the inaugural lecture as the Vera List Center for Art and Politics embarks on a two-year exploration of "Thingness," the nature of matter. In the face of virtual realities, social media and disembodied existences, the center's programs will focus on the material conditions of our lives.

Jane Bennet is a professor of Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University. In her latest book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke, 2010), she asks how our politics might approach public concerns were we to seriously consider not just our human experience of things but the things themselves. How is it that things can elide their status as possessions, tools, or aesthetic objects and manifest traces of independence and vitality? Following the tangled threads that link vibrant materialities, human selves, and the "agentic assemblages" they form, Bennett examines what hoarders, people who are preternaturally attuned to "things," can teach us about the agency, causality, and artistry in a world overflowing with stuff. Professor Bennet is a founding member of the journal Theory & Event, and is currently working on a project on over-consumption, new ecologies, and Walt Whitman's materialism.

*Location:Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor Tuesday, September 13, 2011 6:30 p.m.

Wed, 18 Feb 2015 13:31:32 -0800
<![CDATA[Artist Profile: Erica Scourti]]>

The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.   Daniel Rourke: Your recent work, You Could've Said, is described as "a Google keyword confessional for radio." I've often considered your work as having elements of the confession, partly because of the deeply personal stance you perform—addressing we, the viewer or listener, in a one-on-one confluence, but also through the way your work hijacks and exposes the unseen, often algorithmic, functions of social and network media. You allow Google keywords to parasitize your identity and in turn you apparently "confess" on Google's behalf. Are you in search of redemption for your social-media self? Or is it the soul of the algorithm you wish to save? Erica Scourti: Or maybe the algorithm and social media soul is now so intertwined and interdependent that it makes little sense to even separate the two, in a unlikely fulfillment of Donna Haraway's cyborg? Instead of having machines built into/onto us (Google glasses notwithstanding), the algorithms which parse our email content, Facebook behaviours, Amazon spending habits, and so on, don't just read us, but shape us. I'm interested in where agency resides when our desires, intentions and behaviours are constantly being tracked and manipulated through the media and technology that we inhabit; how can we claim to have any "authentic" desires? Facebook's "About" section actually states, "You can't be on Facebook without being your authentic self," and yet this is a self that must fit into the predetermined format and is mostly defined by its commercial choices (clothing brands, movies, ice cream, whatever). And those choices are increasingly influenced by the algorithms through the ambient, personalized advertising that surrounds us. So in You Could've Said, which is written entirely in an instrumentalised form of language, i.e. Google's AdWords tool, I'm relaying the impossibility of having an authentic feeling, or even a first-hand experience, despite the seemingly subjective, emotional content and tone. Google search stuff is often seen reflective of a kind of cute "collective self" (hey, we all want to kill our boyfriends sometimes!) but perhaps it's producing as much as reflecting us. It's not just that everything's already been said, and can be commodified but that the devices we share so much intimate time with are actively involved in shaping what we consider to be our "selves," our identities. And yet, despite being entirely mediated, my delivery is "sincere" and heartfelt; I'm really interested in the idea of sincere, but not authentic. I think it's the same reason spambots can have such unexpected pathos; they seem to "express" things in a sincere way, which suggests some kind of "soul" at work there, or some kind of agency,  and yet they totally lack interiority, or authenticity. In this and other work of mine (especially Life in AdWords) dissonance is produced by my apparent misrecognition of the algorithmically produced language as my own- mistaking the machine lingo as a true expression of my own subjectivity. Which is not to say that there is some separate, unmediated self that we could access if only we would disconnect our damn gadgets for a second, but the opposite—that autobiography, which my work clearly references, can no longer be seen as a narrative produced by some sort of autonomous subject, inseparable from the technology it interacts with. Also, autobiography often involves a confessional, affective mode, and I'm interested in how this relates to the self-exposure which the attention economy seems to encourage—TMI can secure visibility when there's not enough attention to go round. With the Google confessional, I'm enacting an exposure of my flaws and vulnerabilities and while it's potentially "bad" for me (i.e. my mediated self) since you might think I'm a loser, if you're watching, then it's worth it, since value is produced simply through attention-retention. Affective vitality doesn't so much resist commodification as actively participate within it…

DR: You mention agency. When it comes to the algorithms that drive the current attention economy I tend to think we have very little. Active participation is all well and good, but the opposite—an opting out, rather than a passivity—feels increasingly impossible. I am thinking about those reCaptcha questions we spend all our time filling in. If I want to access my account and check the recommendations it has this week, I'm required to take part in this omnipresent, undeniably clever, piece of crowd-sourcing. Alan Turing's predictions of a world filled with apparently intelligent machines has come true, except, its the machines now deciding whether we are human or not. ES: Except of course—stating the obvious here—it's just carrying out the orders another human instructed it to, a mediated form of gatekeeping that delegates responsibility to the machine, creating a distance from the entirely human, social, political etc structure that has deemed it necessary (a bit like drones then?). I'm very interested also in the notion of participation as compulsory—what Zizek calls the "You must, because you can" moral imperative of consumerism—especially online, not just at the banal level (missing out on events, job opportunities, interesting articles and so on if you're not on Facebook) but because your actions necessarily feed back into the algorithms tracking and parsing our behaviours. And even opting out becomes a choice that positions you within a particular demographic (more likely to be vegetarian, apparently). Also, this question of opting out seems to recur in conversations around art made online, in a way it doesn't for artists working with traditional media—like, if you're being critical of it, why not go make your own Facebook, why not opt out? My reasoning is that I like to work with widely used technology, out of an idea that the proximity of these media to mainstream, domestic and wider social contexts makes the work more able to reflect on its sociopolitical implications, just as some video artists working in the 80s specifically engaged with TV as the main mediator of public consciousness. Of course some say this is interpassiviity, just feebly participating in the platforms without making any real change, and I can understand that criticism. Now that coded spaces and ubiquitous computing are a reality of the world—and power structures—we inhabit, I do appreciate artists who can work with code and software (in a way that I can't) and use their deeper understanding of digital infrastructure to reflect critically on it. DR: You've been engaged in a commision for Colm Cille's Spiral, sending personal video postcards to anyone who makes a request. Your interpretation of the "confessional" mode seems in this piece to become very human-centric again, since the work is addressed specifically at one particular individual. How has this work been disseminated, and what does your approach have to do with "intimacy"? ES: I've always liked Walter Benjamin's take on the ability of mediating technologies to traverse spatial distances, bringing previously inaccessible events within touching distance. With this project, I wanted to heighten this disembodied intimacy by sending unedited videos shot on my iPhone, a device that's physically on me at all times, directly to the recipients' inbox. So it's not just "sharing" but actually "giving" them a unique video file gift, which only they see,  positioning the recipient as a captive audience of one, unlike on social media where you have no idea who is watching or who cares. But also, I asked them to "complete" the video by adding its metadata, which puts them on the spot—they have to respond, instead of having the option to ignore me—and also extracting some labor in return, which is exactly what social media does: extracting our affective and attentive labor, supposedly optionally, in exchange for the gift of the free service. The metadata—tags, title and optionally a caption—became the only viewable part of the exchange, since I used it to annotate a corresponding black, "empty" video on Instagram, also shared on Twitter and Facebook, so the original content remains private. These blank videos record the creative output of the recipient, while acting as proof of the transaction (i.e. that I sent them a video). They also act as performative objects which will continue to operate online due to their tagging, which connects them to other groups of media and renders them visible—i.e. searchable—online, since search bots cannot as yet "see" video content. I wanted to make a work which foregrounds its own connectedness, both to other images via the hashtags but also to the author-recipients through tagging them on social media. So the process of constantly producing and updating oneself within the restrictive and pre-determined formats of social media platforms, i.e. their desired user behaviours, becomes almost the content of the piece. I also like the idea that hashtag searches on all these platforms, for (let's say) Greece, will bring up these blank/ black videos (which by the way, involved a little hack, as Instagram will not allow you to upload pre-recorded content and it's impossible to record a black and silent video...). It's a tiny intervention into the regime of carefully filtered and cropped life-style depictions that Instagram is best known for. It's also a gesture of submitting oneself to the panoptical imperative to share one's experience no matter how private or banal, hence using Instagram for its associations with a certain solipsistic self-display; by willingly enacting the production of mediated self on social media I'm exploring a kind of masochistic humour which has some affinities with what Benjamin Noys identified as an accelerationist attitude of "the worse the better." And yet, by remaining hidden, and not publicly viewable, the public performance of a mediated self is denied.

DR: An accelerationist Social Media artwork would have to be loaded with sincerity, firstly, on the part of the human (artist/performer), but also, in an authentic attempt to utilise the network completely on its terms. Is there something, then, about abundance and saturation in your work? An attempt to overload the panopticon? ES: That's a very interesting way of putting it. I sometimes relate that oversaturation to the horror vacui of art that springs from a self-therapeutic need, which my work addresses, though it's less obsessive scribbles, more endless connection, output and flow and semi-ritualistic and repetitive working processes. And in terms of utilizing the network on its own terms, Geert Lovink's notion of the "natural language hack" (rather than the "deep level" hack) is one I've thought about—where your understanding of the social, rather than technical, operation of online platforms gets your work disseminated. For example my project Woman Nature Alone, where I re-enacted stock video which is freely available on my Youtube channel—some of those videos are high on the Google ranking page, so Google is effectively "marketing" my work without me doing anything.  Whether it overloads the panopticon, or just contributes more to the babble, is a pertinent question (as Jodi Dean's work around communicative capitalism has shown), since if the work is disseminated on commercial platforms like YouTube or Facebook, it operates within a system of value generation which benefits the corporation, involving, as is by now well known, a Faustian pact of personal data in exchange for "free" service. And going back to agency—the mutability of the platforms means that if the work makes use of particular features (suchas YouTube annotations) its existence is contingent on them being continued; since the content and the context are inextricable in situations like this, it would become impossible to display the original work exactly as it was first made and seen. Even then, as with Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied's One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age, it would become an archive, which preserves documents from a specific point in the web's history but cannot replicate the original viewing conditions because all the infrastructure around it has changed completely. So if the platforms—the corporations—control the context and viewing conditions, then artists working within them are arguably at their mercy- and keeping the endless flow alive by adding to it. I'm more interested in working within the flows rather than, as some artists prefer, rejecting the dissemination of their work online. Particularly with moving image work,  I'm torn between feeling that artists' insistence on certain very specific, usually high quality, viewing conditions for their work bolsters, as Sven Lütticken has argued, the notion of the rarefied auratic art object whose appreciation requires a kind of hushed awe and reverence, while being aware that the opposite—the image ripped from its original location and circulated in crap-res iPhone pics/ videos—is an example of what David Joselit would call image neoliberalism, which sees images as site-less and like any other commodity, to be traded across borders and contexts with no respect for the artist's intentions. However, I also think that this circulation is becoming an inevitability and no matter how much you insist your video is viewed on zillion lumens projector (or whatever), it will most likely end up being seen by the majority of viewers on YouTube or on a phone screen; I'm interested in how artists (like Hito Steyerl) address, rather than avoid, the fact of this image velocity and spread. DR: Lastly, what have you been working on recently? What's next? ES: I recently did a series of live, improvised performance series called Other People's Problems direct to people's desktops, with Field Broadcast, where I read out streams of tags and captions off Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook, randomly jumping to other tags as I went. I'm fascinated by tags—they're often highly idiosyncratic and personal, as well as acting as connective tissue between dispersed users; but also I liked the improvisation, where something can go wrong and the awkwardness it creates. (I love awkwardness!) Future projects are going to explore some of the ideas this work generated: how to improvise online (when things can always be deleted/ rejigged afterwards), how to embrace the relinquishing of authorial control which I see as integral to the online (or at least social media) experience, and how to work with hashtags/ metadata both as text in its own right and as a tool.   Age: 33 Location: London, Athens when I can manage it How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start? 14, 15 maybe, when I started mucking around with Photoshop—I remember scanning a drawing I'd made of a skunk from a Disney tale and making it into a horrendous composition featuring a rasta flag background... I was young. And I've always been obsessed with documenting things; growing up I was usually the one in our gang who had the camera—showing my age here, imagine there being one person with a camera—which has given me plenty of blackmail leverage and a big box of tastefully weathered photos that, despite my general frustration with analogue nostalgia, I know I will be carrying around with me for life. Where did you go to school? What did you study? After doing Physics, Chemistry and Maths at school, I did one year of a Chemistry BA, until I realized I wasn't cut out for lab work (too much like cooking) or what seemed like the black-and-white nature of scientific enquiry. I then did an art and design foundation at a fashion college, followed by one year of Fine Art Textiles BA—a nonsensical course whose only redeeming feature was its grounding in feminist theory—before finally entering the second year of a Fine Art BA. For a while this patchy trajectory through art school made me paranoid, until I realised it probably made me sound more interesting than I am. And in my attempt to alleviate the suspicion that there was some vital piece of information I was missing, I also did loads of philosophy diploma courses, which actually did come in handy when back at Uni last year: I recently finished a Masters of Research in moving image art. What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way? At the moment I'm just about surviving as an artist and I've always been freelance apart from time done in bar, kitchen, shop (Londoners, remember Cyberdog?) cleaning and nightclub jobs, some of which the passage of time has rendered as amusingly risqué rather than borderline exploitative. After my B.A., I set up in business with the Prince's Trust, running projects with what are euphemistically known as hard-to-reach young people, making videos, digital art pieces and music videos until government funding was pulled from the sector. I mostly loved this work and it definitely fed into and reflects my working with members of loose groups, like the meditation community around the Insight Time app, or Freecycle, or Facebook friends. I've also been assisting artist and writer Caroline Bergvall on and off for a few years, which has been very helpful in terms of observing how an artist makes a life/ living. What does your desktop or workspace look like? I'm just settling into a new space at the moment but invariably, a bit of a mess, a cup of tea, piles of books, and both desktop and workspace are are covered in neon post-it notes. Generally I am a paradigmatic post-Fordist flexi worker though: I can and do work pretty much anywhere—to the occasional frustration of friends and family. 

Tue, 08 Oct 2013 07:30:18 -0700
<![CDATA[Binary Nomination]]>

‘An important feature of a learning machine is that its teacher will often be very largely ignorant of quite what is going on inside, although he may still be able to some extent to predict his pupil’s behaviour.’ Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950)

Replenishing each worn-out piece of its glimmering hull, one by one, the day arrives when the entire ship of Argo has been displaced – each of its parts now distinct from those of the ‘original’ vessel. For Roland Barthes, this myth exposes two modest activities:

Substitution (one part replaces another, as in a paradigm) Nomination (the name is in no way linked to the stability of the parts) 1

The discrete breaches the continuous in the act of nomination. Take for instance the spectrum of colours, the extension of which ‘is verbally reduced to a series of discontinuous terms’ 2 such as red, green, lilac or puce. Each colour has no cause but its name. By being isolated in language the colour ‘blue’ is allowed to exist, but its existence is an act of linguistic and, some would argue, perceptual severance. The city of Hull, the phrase “I will”, the surface of an ice cube and an image compression algorithm are entities each sustained by the same nominative disclosure: a paradox of things that seem to flow into one another with liquid potential, but things, nonetheless, limited by their constant, necessary re-iteration in language. There is no thing more contradictory in this regard than the human subject, a figure Barthes’ tried to paradoxically side-step in his playful autobiography. Like the ship of Argo, human experience has exchangeable parts, but at its core, such was Barthes’ intention, ‘the subject, unreconciled, demands that language represent the continuity of desire.’ 3

In an esoteric paper, published in 1930, Lewis Richardson teased out an analogy between flashes of human insight and the spark that leaps across a stop gap in an electrical circuit. The paper, entitled The Analogy Between Mental Images and Sparks, navigates around a provocative sketch stencilled into its pages of a simple indeterminate circuit, whose future state it is impossible to predict. Richardson’s playful label for the diagram hides a deep significance. For even at the simplest binary level, Richardson argued, computation need not necessarily be deterministic.

The discrete and the continuous are here again blurred by analogy. Electricity flowing and electricity not flowing: a binary imposition responsible for the entire history of information technology.


1 Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes (University of California Press, 1994), 46.

2 Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology (Hill and Wang, 1977), 64.

3 Paul John Eakin, Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography (Princeton University Press, 1992), 16.

Thu, 19 Jul 2012 09:32:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Samir Chopra and Laurence F. White: A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents, University of Michigan Press]]>

RT @XiXiDu: A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents

x #agency #ai #law #politics #books #autonomy

Mon, 15 Aug 2011 01:47:50 -0700
<![CDATA[Headless Research]]>

This is an extract from a collaborative text I recently worked on, to be published (soon) in Texte Zur Kunst : The animal of research, being nourished from its root, springs up from the dirt of discourse, the direction of growth pandering to a supposed head. “Humans see the world through language, but do not see language.” [1] What exactly do the bees mean when they pollinate the blossom?

Sun, 15 May 2011 10:26:51 -0700
<![CDATA[Credit in the Straight WWW: "DDDDoomed", Berger, and the Image Aggregator]]>

[ED: Nearly all of the text in this post is taken from R. Gerald Nelson's independently published, occasionally problematic but more often brilliantly concise treatise DDDDoomed. Anyone concerned with issues of and methods pertaining to digital image dissemination, authorship and context should make an effort to purchase and read this chapbook. I cannot recommend it enough.]

"With new blogs springing up every day, beautiful images & words are springing up with them. I try to credit everything I put on this blog. I know sometimes I fail. Many of the images I feature are scanned by me from an extensive library- I only scanned them. They are not mine to claim. I am always surprised, amused, dismayed when I see bloggers paste watermark images over images they have scanned, or even more surprising- claim ownership of images from magazines, the content of magazines barely having even reached subscribers- by adding footnotes to their blogs like:

Tue, 15 Mar 2011 08:01:21 -0700
<![CDATA[R. Gerald Nelson’s DDDDoomed essay]]>

R. Gerald Nelson’s DDDDoomed essay has been making the rounds lately and it sparked a healthy amount of curiosity and note-taking on my part that I felt I wanted to share with some reactions. The essay is published as the first volume of eight in Nelson’s Making Known Img Ctrl series based out of Minneapolis. The image heavy text is “crafted as a speculative fiction that unfolds from the perspective of a future commentator reflecting back and theorizing about the factors that brought about the dysfunctional state of the contemporary image world.” The highlights and corresponding notes aren’t presented in their original linear order, but instead I’ve decided to skip around. As a way of introducing the text, Nelson formulates a biting critique of how web-based image aggregators (abbreviated to “IA” henceforth) such as and tumblr are constantly undermining the cultural task of curation. Nelson points to several projects

Tue, 15 Mar 2011 07:59:20 -0700