MachineMachine /stream - tagged with essays en-us LifePress <![CDATA[The Noise of Being: available at!]]> ]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 05:37:51 -0700 <![CDATA[The Compulsions of the Similar: Animated GIFs and the TechnoCultural Body]]>

This paper on GIFs and screen-based compulsion is a very extended follow-up to a short, but widely disseminated, piece I wrote in 2011: On the Doctrine of the Similar (GIF GIF GIF). It is presented here as a draft, since I never published this paper officially. I hope it is useful/interesting for GIF lovers everywhere. Rather than designate high resolutions and white-knuckle optical speeds as representative of 21st Century techno-cultural immersion, I consider animated GIFs a more contemporary medium. From their origins in the early 90s as simple linguistic stand-ins animated GIFs have diversified along with the web that birthed them. They correspond quickly and directly, and lend themselves to constant mutation and (re)assemblage at the hands of their producers and consumers; blurring the distinction between these identities along the way. Their poor visual fidelity is made up for by their propensity to repeat and cycle in lieu of the actions and expressions they harbour. By allowing us to wallow in their remixed repetitions animated GIFs feed on the human susceptibility to resemblance and recognition, even as their surface affect remains distanced from any particular media origin. As Sally Mckay describes, “GIFs are simultaneously ‘in your face’ and in your mind, their affects continuous with the immersive experience of daily internet use.” [1] This status enables GIFs as a metaphor for contemporary techno-culture itself, framing our distributed, multimedial space-time in staged, repeatable, and digestible patterns. In its early days, cinema was considered capable of immobilising the world for the purposes of human appreciation and enchantment. Eadweard Muybridge sought to isolate the gallop of the horse from its particular being in time and space, so that it was forever framed for our experience. Today a million versions of Muybridge’s horse careen around the web as animated GIFs of questionable quality, flashing fleetingly, but often, on screens that scroll in multiple dimensions. In turn pictures, depictions and imitations have given way to motions, evocations and impressions, mixing the shared memory of our collective experiences at ever greater speeds, distances and – most importantly – correspondences than ever before. As Daniel Rubinstein points out the content of an animated GIF “can be figurative or abstract, lyrical or macabre, but… the primary materials that the GIF artist uses are rhythm and repetition…” [2] An aesthetics not necessarily of surface reception, but of delivery, temporality and the patterns of configuration. A patterning that calls to mind the work of Walter Benjamin, who argued that metre, rhythm and other heterogeneous impressions had a significant impact on human modes of intuition and experience. [3] It is fascinating to consider Benjamin’s early essays, especially his The Doctrine of the Similar from 1933, in relation to his more widely read work on film. Having established the process by which humans became ensconced in what Susan Buck-Morss calls a “new nature… of matter as it has been transformed by” technology, [4] Benjamin went on in The Work of Art (1936) [5] to explore the significance this technologised environment has on the human “mimetic faculty.” [6] In two 1933 essays Benjamin argues that ‘primitive’ language emerged in magical correspondence with the world. From the surface of the starry sky, or the intestines of a sacrificed animal, early humans “read what was never written,” [7] deriving mystical revelations from the constellations and signatures perceived there. [8] Configurations between patterns were what determined legibility, not just because they carried an intended meaning – being ‘written’ there by the Gods, for instance – but because similarities ‘flash up’ speculatively in the human mind: So speed, the swiftness in reading or writing which can scarcely be separated from this process, would then become… the effort or gift of letting the mind participate in that measure of time in which similarities flash up fleetingly out of the stream of things only in order to become immediately engulfed again. [9] “Nature creates similarities,” and as such, humans being of nature, are driven by a mimetic compulsion “to become and behave like something else,” [10] projecting that same compulsion into the world around them. This compulsion manifested itself in group dances, as song and spoken language, and later, as writing, eventually flattening the speculative space of mimetic experience into inscriptions on stone, vellum, or paper. As Howard Caygill observes: Configuration is thus transformed into inscription, reducing the speculative reading of the similarity between patterns into the transcendental reading of graphically inscribed marks upon an infinite but bounded surface. [11] Like the writing that Benjamin believed ‘captured’ human beings and their mimetic faculty, animated GIFs point to a new type of inscription, born of, and infinitely responsive to itself. We enter into this whether or not we wish too, each time we navigate a browser window, or slide our fingers across a smartphone screen. We are as malleable as our nature. A physiological suspense beckoning from the screen that animated GIFs turn around and loop – indefinitely – as a reminder of their own attention. In creating and sharing GIFs we add depth to the flat surfaces through which the internet is received. We may be ensconced in this space, and pulled along by it, but it is a space whose apparent distribution across screens, browser windows, and multiple devices too readily gestures to our bodies and selves as being fully individuated, rather than to the whole assemblage of which both our bodies, devices, and the images that play between them, are a part. Benjamin believed that, rather than allowing us to attain mastery over nature, technologies such as film give us an awareness over our relationship with nature through the processes of “material complexification.” [12] For Benjamin this training was akin to the relationship between factory workers and the production line, where the ratchet of the gears and conveyors program the workers’ bodies, fusing them together into a larger assemblage. The successive frames of film, made to spool through the mechanism one after the other at imperceptible speed, create an illusion of temporal and spatial fluidity that shock us into an awareness of the complex relation between our psychic and physiological realities. As R.L Rutsky lucidly explains, “this scattered, interrupted filmic reception becomes part of the human sensorium or body… a body that is no longer distanced from—or entirely separate from—the images and shocks that it comes into contact with.” [13] Constituted by what Anne Friedberg describes as a “mobilized and virtual gaze,” [14] filmic subjectivity has often been considered to correspond to the supposed sovereignty of the consumer, predicated on the promise of an enhanced mobility and freedom of choice across a dizzying array of goods and spectacles. Time and space themselves became filmic, opening up onto new mimetic correspondences discoverable in everything from the high-speed montage of flowers in bloom, to the slowed down and isolated gallop of Muybridge’s horse. Cinema goers attain all the nobility of flâneurs exploring endless arcades of experience without ever having to leave their seats. As R.L. Rutsky argues, the audience ‘becomes’ through this collective “state of distraction,” defined by “its ability to ‘take up’ these images in much the same way that the film apparatus does.” [15] And so the mimetic faculty itself achieves a kind of mechanisation in the mass spectacle of moving images, able to reveal correspondences at speeds and densities hitherto impossible to conceive. In the words of Mark Hansen: Despite the vast acceleration of image circulation in the historical interval separating Benjamin’s moment from ours, his effort to grapple with the material impact of… autonomous images remains exemplary: it com­prises an indispensable model that can guide us in our efforts to forge con­nections with our alienating, postimaginary material world. [16] Whereas the mimetic faculty had originally come to correspond with nature through theological ritual or script, with this second nature – of what Mark Hansen calls “the mechanosphere” [17] – the correspondence is material, and sensuous. Our receptivity is physiological, our bodies are shared, and our memories – now dependent on the “alien rhythms” [18] of montage – have become intricately woven into the machine as images. In turn, as noted by Arthur Kroker, “the image machine is haunted by memories of the body,” [19] bodies that depend on the fidelity, malleability and repeatability of film, videotape, and more recently, digital forms of media for their existence. As with its filmic ancestors, animated GIFs often frame fragmented images of time in snippets of montage, giving what Gilles Deleuze termed “common standard of measurement to things which do not have one,” framing “long shots of countryside and close-ups of the face, an astronomical system and a single drop of water” [20] within a single perceptual apparatus. The train whips by on the silver screen, but the instant of each image impacting us is lost as the play of further images moves onwards through experience. As Steven Shaviro has insisted, we “have already been touched by and altered by these sensations, even before [we] have had the chance to become conscious of them.” [21] But unlike filmic time, made to reel at 24 frames per second, the GIF’s loading mechanism introduces a more awkward temporal component into perception: that of bandwidth. Standardized in 1987 by CompuServe, the GIF’s early popularity was based, in part, on their ability to load in time with its download. In the days of dial-up connections this meant that at least part of a GIF image would appear before the user’s connection froze, or – more significantly – the user could see enough of the image for it to mean something. In 1989 Compuserve updated GIFs to use this ‘partial loading’ mechanism to encode animations within a single GIF file. In essence, the hacky update transformed a two dimensional spatial loading mechanism into a three dimensional temporal one. A file format designed to harness correspondences within each single image had become about correspondences between and across images. According to Jason Eppink in 1995 Netscape Navigator, an early popular web browser, “took advantage of [this mechanism] to enable looping, making the GIF viable for animation online over dial-up speeds.” [22] Small in size and made up of few frames, this is where animated GIFs entered their ‘classic’ [23] phase. Corresponding to single phrases or concepts such as ‘Under Construction’, ‘Area 51’ or ‘flying pink unicorn’, the era of personal web pages saturated with spinning hamsters is one anybody born after 1990 will little remember, but its influence on the contemporary ‘folk’ attitude of the web has not abated. As the 2000s came into view, animated GIFs became freed up by an increase in bandwidth and storage capacity to show more complex assemblages, and it was at this stage that the format achieved its common contemporary use as a vehicle for moments framed from cinema, television and – increasingly – video websites like YouTube. Frame grab or video capture GIFs often pay homage to isolated moments in pop culture, but as the ‘craft’ of animated GIFs has grown, so the frame capture form has begun to correspond well outside the filmic and televisual contexts from which they were first appropriated. This leap is, for me, the first point at which GIFs begin to co-ordinate their own realm of mimetic correspondence. An ocean of viral videos turned into a self-serving visual vernacular, looping back on itself ad infinitum. Brought on by their obsolescence, animated GIFs are among the most contradictory of images, able to resist the rigid taxonomies of the burgeoning algorithmic economy, even as they are turned into ‘clickbait’ by sites like BuzzFeed, [24] who rely on them to flash on screens kept in motion by the compulsive scroll of a mouse, or – increasingly – a finger or thumb. From our vantage point, subsumed by the impact of a high-bandwidth internet culture, animated GIFs [25] seem quaint, clumsy, even remedial in their capacity to transmit information. GIFs are easy to share and edit, but difficult for search engines to classify and catalogue. They are usually small in size, but their popularity exerts a significant load on the web servers that host them. As internet speeds have increased, and screen resolutions soared in depth, GIFs have remained; flickering endlessly as visual reminders of the ubiquitous mess the internet has become. Users of sites like Tumblr, 4chan, and Reddit revel in the capacity of GIFs to quickly correspond to the world, capturing token moments of experience or expression that signal well beyond their original context. Images can be made to correspond with increasing immediacy; can be cut, copied, stretched, collected and forced to clash in violent juxtaposition through Photoshopping, embedding, and multiple recompressions, using software interfaces that themselves are infinitely malleable. As Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska argue in Life After New Media, one of the principle ways in which we create meaning through matter is by cutting: Cutting reality into smaller pieces – with our eyes, our bodily and cognitive apparatus, our language, our memory, and our technologies – we enact separation and relationality as the two dominant aspects of material locatedness in time. [26] The affect of a GIF is not just felt, but copied and pasted elsewhere; separated and related in never before seen patterns and expressions. GIFs can be broken into their constituent frames, compressed and corrupted on purpose and made to act as archives for viral ‘memetic’ events travelling the web. It is possible to track the cultural development of some of these correspondences. Often though, the source of the cultural moment they hail from becomes completely lost in the play of images. Finding meaning in the semiotic sludge of these GIFs often requires a sensitivity to similitude bordering on the magical, even if their visceral impact is beyond question. Net artists and archaeologists, Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, have long been fascinated by a GIF known as ‘Real_Dancing_Girl’. Indeed, Lialina cites the GIF as a defining impetus in her desire to become a net artist in the first place. [27] Small in size and given to a multitude of purposes and meanings, Real_Dancing_Girl.GIF found her way onto many thousands of personal web pages during the early ‘classic’ GIF era, made to dance alongside a cast of similar pixelated characters. If you blow Real_Dancing_Girl up to a size well beyond the means of a mid-90s desktop monitor to display, it is easy to see a single aberrant pixel that flashes each time she swings her hips to her left. [28] Throughout Real_Dancing_Girl’s 20 something years of propagation around the web this pixel remained, apparently unnoticed, or at least aesthetically accepted by those who added the GIF to their webpages. The pixel in Real_Dancing_Girl indicates the difficulty the network has in determining what communicates and what doesn’t. Its significance may be slight – a punctum to prick the attention of those enraptured by the image – but the aberrant pixel signals how the mimetic faculty tends to shift inwards. In recent homages to the GIF nameless web artists have incorporated the anomalous pixel in their higher resolution remakes, mimicking the movements of Real_Dancing_Girl as their digitised bodies recoil. A playground of correspondences that at first mimicked language and the wider world now mimics itself. As Graig Uhlin notes, narrative correspondence is not the guiding principle of the GIF, rather “the viewer is caught up in the GIF’s temporal suspension: to view is to be captivated.” [29] A 2015 BuzzFeed article entitled Can You Get Through These 17 GIFs Of Massive Zits Being Popped Without Shielding Your Eyes? [30] poses a challenge to the audience that promises bodily affect, relying on the GIF as its primary vehicle. As BuzzFeed is wont to do the article encourages the ‘reader’ to scroll through each animated GIF for no other reason than for the experience it will deliver. The GIFs are knowingly visceral, their careful ‘listicle’ [31] arrangement down the length of the page no less meticulous than the framing of each individual animated GIF on the spectacle of a zit being burst asunder. Here bodies are vast surfaces closed off by each GIF, so that even though the moment of each zit’s (and therefore each body’s) eruption is reduced to its purest semblance, the affect of bodies in their entirety is alluded to and made significant. Each GIF has its own title that celebrates the compulsion of this activity, and the sense of release and relief they represent for the bodies subjected to by each GIF and, in turn, the body of the viewer suspended among them: Doesn’t this make you feel relaxed? Just imagine how gratifying this must feel… How is it possible to feel such disgust and satisfaction at the same time? Yeah, it’s kind of gross to watch… …but there’s no denying there’s something beautiful about these gifs. [32] The audience is encouraged to excerpt their mimetic faculty, to revel in the correspondences between GIFs and eruptions; to find ‘beauty’ in these captivating physiological rhythms. Indeed, the ‘loop’ of each individual zit and its eruption is enhanced by the further repetition of awareness and reception as the tirade of grotesque releases continues. In the zit article we find a paradigm of the click/scroll/repeat reverie that BuzzFeed has become synonymous with. A compulsion to derive affect, and physiological release, in the navigation of lists of what BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti calls “upbeat, even childlike content.” [33] In an April 2015 article for Vox Dylan Matthews reflects [34] on the success of BuzzFeed by looking over an academic paper written by Jonah Peretti a decade before the launch of the website. [35] Published in theory journal Negations in 1996 [36] Peretti’s paper uses Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism and Consumer Society, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia to offer a definition of the distributed identities of contemporary consumers. Deleuze, Guattari and Jameson use the figure of the ‘schizophrenic’ [37] to refer to an individual without a defined ego or identity. Jameson saw “the rapid fire succession of signifiers in MTV style media” [38] of the 1980s as serving “to confuse viewers, harm[ing] their ability to use culture to build identities.” [39] Peretti fuses this view with Deleuze and Guattari’s more ‘emancipatory’ take on the egoless schizophrenic: a figure able to resist the pre-packaged identities being offered them by capitalism, and act – effectively – on their own desires. [40] For Dylan Matthews, Peretti’s fused rendering of the schizophrenic offers an insight into the principles behind BuzzFeed. As Peretti himself wrote in his 1996 paper: Capitalism needs schizophrenia, but it also needs egos… The contradiction is resolved through the acceleration of the temporal rhythm of late capitalist visual culture. This type of acceleration encourages weak egos that are easily formed, and fade away just as easily. [41] The zit article exemplifies the plethora of visual identifications that BuzzFeed accelerates through social-media echo chambers. Its skill is to create lists and headlines that everyone and anyone can relate to, and will click and scroll through. “23 Euphoric Moments Literally Everyone Has Experienced”; “23 Times Tumblr Went Way Too Fucking Far”; “19 Euphoric Experiences For Book Lovers”; “21 Things Everyone Who Went To Primary School In Wales Remembers.” Once again the GIF becomes not only the vehicle, but the metaphor of identity destruction and rebirth. A bearer of postimaginary perception, through which – to hijack Walter Benjamin’s insights – “like a flash, similarity appears” [42] only to “become immediately engulfed again.” [43] BuzzFeed is far from the only factory to exploit the qualities of digital media to arrest our attentions, but its success at offering its users new identities that appear to merge and interrelate in an endless, mutating mass is unrivalled. Perhaps its most devastating trick was to recognise compulsion as one of the primary driving forces behind internet navigation, reception and – in conjunction – identity formation. Like the unseen bodies of those zit owning GIF subjects, the listicle format reveals just enough of the shared body of human culture – of Benjamin’s “postimaginary material world” – to produce an affective response in its receivers/users/consumers. An ever expanding multiverse of tiny framed portions of experience cut from context so that they can be shared, digested, and repeated indefinitely. Whether viewed in their original format, or as streamed equivalent, the visceral impact of GIFs is beyond question, extending beyond the browser, altering pop culture, our tastes, and even our aesthetic acuity. The different timescales of media production and reception clash in the animated GIF as in no other medium. It is no coincidence that animated GIFs became the web’s primary mode of packaging and delivering visual humour. Just as a joke is the vehicle for the impact of a punchline, so a GIF encapsulates the potential of the having and sharing of its experience. Not only does the animated GIF allow us to wallow in its repetitions, actuating the moving image event in a conscious awareness of one’s awareness, GIFs also enact two modes of experience in their temporal structures. Firstly, GIFs that load in time with bandwidth build frame by frame the structure of the soon to be experienced experience – outside of cinematic and ‘real’ time, at a changeable pace we could call ‘bandwidth-time’. Secondly, the GIF as a mode of display and redisplay tends towards a perceptual sweet spot in its loops and repetitions. The loop of GIFs counteracts some of the uncontainable immediacy of cinema, enclosing the ‘perfect’ amount of time for “the expression of experience by experience” [44] in the cycle of repeated views. Even as bandwidth has increased to alleviate the limitations of the GIF’s short timespan, rather than lengthen animated GIFs, the web community has responded by increasing the resolution and dimensions of GIFs, allowing their visceral impact to expand, even if the perceptive loop has not. Because of this, GIFs still stand as one of the best indications of bandwidth-time. Through the GIF’s jilting appearance on laptop monitors or smartphone screens, viewers are entered into physiological communion with server banks, optical cables, WiFi signals, and 4G mobile phone masts talking in zeroes and ones via invisible protocols. Whilst digital substrates have increased in their capacity to store, distribute and display information, they have also edged towards invisibility. [45] What matters is that media content is received, and that that reception is smooth and immediate. Whether an animated GIF is composed of a seamless loop or a series of incompatible frames made to jolt against one another, the anchor point at which the GIF repeats has a heightened significance upon its first viewing. The browser window opens onto a single frame, that slips to a few more frames incongruently, until the entire GIF file has been buffered by the computer, at which point the loop begins in earnest. This quality of GIFs reminds us of their origins, even as each nudge towards a seamless loop makes us aware how clunky and clumsy our network architecture still is. Throughout the 2010s the Graphical Interchange Format formalised by Compuserve and Netscape has undergone a series of violent transformations into other, apparently related forms. When a GIF is uploaded to microblogging service Twitter or popular image sharing site imgur, for instance, it is automatically transcoded into MP4 or GIFV video format. The resultant GIF/video hybrid retains the frequency of the original looping animation, but the file can now be started and stopped at will, alleviating part of the strain on the servers given the responsibility of delivering it. These hybrids are still colloquially referred to as ‘GIFs’, even though they retain none of the original coding mechanisms of Compuserve’s format. What’s more, these formats are designed to buffer before they stream, separating us once again from the stutters of bandwidth-time. As Mark Nunes reminds us, Internet traffic is predicated on a logic of unimpeded flow. The network demands maximum throughput, with a minimum of noise, a “free flowing system ultimately [dependant] upon a control logic in which everything that circulates communicates… or is cast aside as abject.” [46] For the network it is beneficial to deny bandwidth-time entirely, casting Internet users aloft in the experience of ‘stream-time’; a control logic more suited to arresting our attentions, in which the future image we are about to receive has always already been determined and buffered by the network. We may then wish to read the anchor point of the GIF loop as a cohort of Roland Barthes’ ‘punctum’ – an off-centre compositional “accident which pricks” [47] our attention. The GIF punctum is one frame piled off-kilter with the rest of the sequence; the frame that lingers in awareness just a moment longer as cinematic and bandwidth-time catch up with one another. Whilst the violent subjugation of the GIF to streamable formats allows the content of the GIF to continue in its loops and correspondences, its potential to mutate is cut short by its transcoding to video. In their ‘original’ format animated GIFs retain each of their frames as if it was a separate file among its partners, so that importing the file into a software editing suite retains the quality and malleability of the whole loop across each individual frame. This means that each copied and pasted GIF carries within itself an unspoken promise of its next adaptation. Although the cut/edit/remix culture of the web does not rely solely on animated GIFs for its expression – one need only browse YouTube for a few moments to find a video that has been bent to several wills before its reception – the GIF’s blunt democratic immediacy is less prevalent across other file formats and modes of viewing. As noted by Giampaolo Bianconni in a 2012 article entitled, GIFability: Dan Harmon, who was… the executive producer of the television sitcom Community, [said] that he tried, “many times a season” to put star Alison Brie “in a situation… that I know is going to end up as an animated GIF file!” [48] What in televisual terms is a few moments of particularly well-crafted action, or an acutely framed humorous facial expression, achieves far greater ubiquity and visibility as an animated GIF overlaid with kitschy text, or other hastily layered editorial additions. The acts of recuperation and appropriation carried out by viewers is now considered an integral component of cultural capital. What matters for images is that they are seen, and the mode of their contemporary reception, increasingly, is in appropriated, poor copies, cut out of context – into GIFs or otherwise. The rise of what Hito Steyerl has termed, the Poor Image, is dependent on two, seemingly contradictory, demands: The networks in which poor images circulate thus constitute both a platform for a fragile new common interest and a battleground for commercial and national agendas… While it enables the users’ active participation in the creation and distribution of content, it also drafts them into production. Users become the editors, critics, translators, and (co-)authors of poor images. [49] For a director like Harmon “poor images” of his work are commercially, and arguably artistically beneficial to its reception. What Bianconi calls the ‘GIF-able’ moment is one that harnesses the flash of mimetic acuity in a viewer and drafts them into a productive mode. Harmon’s decision to give his shots a GIF fidelity calls to mind Walter Benjamin’s conclusions in The Work of Art. And yet instead of filmic images training us in new modes of apperception, it has become the images we see daily on our computer screens, flickering in time with new perceptual proficiencies across screens that scroll in multiple dimensions. Now that images can be exchanged, transmitted, copied and edited at frantic light speeds it becomes commercially important for producers of established media forms, such as television and cinema, to maintain the movement and mutation of their images online. In turn, as users and viewers we should tend to concern ourselves with modes of pro-sumption [50] that wrestle a degree of control back from the media machine. In an article published in July 2015, journalist Cleo Stiller explores the phenomena of ‘microporn GIFs’, ostensibly created by and for women: [51] While GIFs may seem like a flash in the pan—really, how can four seconds turn you on?—the nature of the loop… give[s] the viewer time to notice the caress of a hand floating from neck to shoulder to forearm, the tensing of an abdomen, the arching of a back, and the reflex of a thigh. [52] Each microporn GIF teeters on the verge of something happening, gesturing to the possibility of the sexual event; of eventfulness. And the loop gives these moments an infinite capacity to repeat and thus expand experientially, even if they do not expand narratively. The suspense of the GIF is erotic regardless of its content; each loop is a charged instant of imminence. As evinced by Helen Hester, Bethan Jones, and Sarah Taylor-Harman in their paper on microporn, Giffing a fuck, these tensions – and thus affective pleasures – are not reliant on clumsy narrative arcs for their delivery. The illusion of narrative coherence within and across pornography lends itself to easy categorisation. Pornography then tends to be catalogued with simplistic labels such as ‘threesome’, ‘anal’, or ‘blowjob’ by the websites and services that deliver it, reducing the plethora of erotic acts, human behaviours and experiences to a database of homogeneous and heteronormative search terms. [53] For Hester, Jones, and Taylor-Harman the community of microporn GIF creators represents a line of resistance… …against dominant representations of heterosexual acts, and potentially counters the commercial nature of pornography and its narrative linearity. Here lies the possibility for pornographic consumers to critique and deconstruct such dominant paradigms, choosing for themselves instead the bodies and fragmented sexual inter/activities they desire to see presented. [54] Here the GIF’s tight spatial and temporal framing, coupled with its capacity to travel, mutate and multiply, is empowering. If a desire, a feeling, an expression is GIF-able, then it has the potential to create further desires, feelings, and expressions. Fragmentation then becomes a means to disassemble normative narratives and reconstruct them into a shared techno-body that enables and celebrates the diversity of its components and their correspondences. The resulting loops are interrelational in a way not easily captured by the logic of the database and the search term. According to Sally McKay: Brian Massumi describes affective intensity as a “state of suspense, potentially of disruption. It is like a temporal sink, a hole in time…” [55] This is a moment of incipience, before action is taken, before emotions qualify and retroactively determine the affect. [56] Each GIF evokes an affect not just because of its content, but because its loop winds that content tight like a spring. A GIF is always poised in lieu of a release. This promise to spring back, to evoke and disrupt makes GIFs – microporn or otherwise – one of the web’s most enduring forces. The erotic charge of each GIF unites its creator, sharer and viewers in a non-linguistic discourse. Action is inevitable, reaction is desired, and disruption is to be expected. References & Notes [1] Sally McKay, “The Affect of Animated GIFs (Tom Moody, Petra Cortright, Lorna Mills),” Art & Education, 2005, [2] Daniel Rubinstein, “GIF Today,” The Photographer’s Gallery: Born in 1987 Exhibition, June 2012. [3] Howard Caygill, Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience (Routledge, 1997), 5. [4] Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (MIT Press, 1991), 70. [5] Walter Benjamin, “The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility (1936),” in The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media, ed. Michael William Jennings et al. (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 19–55. [6] Walter Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty (1933),” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, 1st Schocken edition edition (New York: Random House USA Inc, 1995), 333–36. [7] Ibid. [8] Anson Rabinbach, “Introduction to Walter Benjamin’s ‘Doctrine of the Similar,’” New German Critique, no. 17 (April 1, 1979): 62, doi:10.2307/488009. [9] Walter Benjamin, “Doctrine of the Similar (1933),” trans. Knut Tarnowski, New German Critique Spring, 1979, no. 17 (April 1, 1979): 65–69, doi:10.2307/488009. [10] Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty (1933).” [11] Caygill, Walter Benjamin, 5. [12] Mark B. N. Hansen, Embodying Technesis: Technology beyond Writing, Studies in Literature and Science (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 234. [13] R. L Rutsky, “Allegories of Emergence: The Generative Matrix of Walter Benjamin” (Constructions of the Future, Heidelberg, 2011), 16. [14] Anne Friedberg, “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flaneur/Flaneuse,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff, 2. ed, repr (London: Routledge, 2001), 395–404. [15] R. L Rutsky, “Walter Benjamin and the Dispersion of Cinema,” Symploke 15, no. 1–2 (2008): 18, doi:10.1353/sym.0.0017. [16] Hansen, Embodying Technesis, 248. [17] Ibid., 262. [18] Ibid., 266. [19] Arthur Kroker, Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (U of Minnesota Press, 2012), 1. [20] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1 (Continuum, 2005), 16. [21] Steven Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 46. [22] J. Eppink, “A Brief History of the GIF (so Far),” Journal of Visual Culture 13, no. 3 (December 1, 2014): 299, doi:10.1177/1470412914553365. [23] For a further breakdown of GIF ‘types’ see: Daniel Rourke, “The Doctrine of the Similar (GIF GIF GIF),” Dandelion 3, no. 1 (January 19, 2012). [24] At its most extreme, ‘clickbait’ is any link that draws a user’s attention with a tempting claim or open question in its headline, only to confront them with vacuous or even misleading content once the sought-after click is granted. Although BuzzFeed’s editor in chief Ben Smith claimed in 2014 that the site “doesn’t do clickbait,” (Ben Smith, “Why BuzzFeed Doesn’t Do Clickbait,” 2014) a compelling argument can be made that BuzzFeed does at the very least rely on what journalist James Hamblin calls “curiosity gaps” (James Hamblin, “It’s Everywhere, the Clickbait,” 2014) in order to elicit the necessary click from internet users. [25] GIF is the file extension and acronym for ‘Graphical Interchange Format’, a subtype of bitmap image encoding. [26] Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska, Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2012), 75. [27] Olia Lialina, “In Memory of Chuck Poynter, User and GIF Maker,” One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age, March 22, 2011, [28] “Real_Dancing_Girl: Who_am_I?,” Tumblr Blog, Real_Dancing_Girl, accessed January 1, 2016, [29] Graig Uhlin, “Playing in the Gif(t) Economy,” Games and Culture 9, no. 6 (November 1, 2014): 520, doi:10.1177/1555412014549805. [30] Jamie Jones, “Can You Get Through These 17 GIFs Of Spots Being Popped Without…,” BuzzFeed, July 19, 2015, [31] The word ‘listicle’ is a portmanteau combination of ‘list’ and ‘article’. See: Jo Christy, “What Is A Listicle?,” Stir Up Media, March 7, 2015, [32] Jones, “Can You Get Through These 17 GIFs Of Spots Being Popped Without…” [33] Andrew Rice and 2013, “Does BuzzFeed Know the Secret?,”, accessed July 21, 2015, [34] Dylan Matthews, “BuzzFeed’s Founder Used to Write Marxist Theory and It Explains BuzzFeed Perfectly,” Vox, April 2, 2015, [35] Dylan Matthews builds on a preliminary reading of the paper by Eugene Wolters, “From Deleuze to LOLCats, the Story of the BuzzFeed Guy,” Critical-Theory, April 8, 2013, [36] Jonah Peretti, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution,” Winter 1996, [37] Much has been written on the inappropriate adoption of the label ‘schizophrenic’ by the likes of Deleuze, Guattari, Jameson and others. It is used here to refer to their definition, rather than the actual illness of schizophrenia as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. [38] Peretti, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution.” [39] Matthews, “BuzzFeed’s Founder Used to Write Marxist Theory and It Explains BuzzFeed Perfectly.” [40] Ibid. [41] Peretti, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution.” [42] Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty (1933).” [43] Benjamin, “Doctrine of the Similar (1933).” [44] Vivian Carol Sobchack, The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 305. [45] R. L Rutsky, High Technē: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 15. [46] Mark Nunes, Error Glitch, Noise, and Jam in New Media Cultures (New York: Continuum, 2011), 5, [47] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 27. [48] Giampaolo Bianconi, “GIFABILITY,”, November 20, 2012, [49] Hito Steyerl, “Hito Steyerl, In Defense of the Poor Image / Journal / E-Flux,” E-Flux, no. 11 (November 2009), [50] A portmanteau of ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’, the prosumer, according to George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson, represents, “a trend toward unpaid rather than paid labor and toward offering products at no cost… [a] system marked by a new abundance where scarcity once predominated.” G. Ritzer and N. Jurgenson, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital ‘Prosumer,’” Journal of Consumer Culture 10, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 14, doi:10.1177/1469540509354673. [51] Although Stiller concentrates on female microporn creators, it is perhaps more productive to suggest who the community is not made up of i.e. cis-males. This seems to be a much more inclusive take on a category of user created content aligned with resistance to heteronormative classification. This resonates more closely with the assessment of Hester, Jones, and Taylor-Harman in the paper referenced below. [52] Cleo Stiller, “Why Some Women Prefer Their Porn in GIFs,” Fusion, accessed June 16, 2015, [53] Helen Hester, Bethan Jones, and Sarah Taylor-Harman, “Giffing a Fuck: Non-Narrative Pleasures in Participatory Porn Cultures and Female Fandom,” Porn Studies 2, no. 4 (October 2, 2015): 356–66, doi:10.1080/23268743.2015.1083883. [54] Ibid., 361. [55] Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Duke University Press, 2002), 26. [56] McKay, “The Affect of Animated GIFs (Tom Moody, Petra Cortright, Lorna Mills).”

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 07:02:13 -0700
<![CDATA[Across & Beyond: Transmediale Reader]]>

The 3D Additivist Manifesto, written by Morehshin Allahyari and myself, was published as part of the Across & Beyond: A Transmediale Reader in February 2017. This collection of art and theory analyzes today’s post-digital conditions for critical media practices—moving across and beyond the analog and the digital, the human and the nonhuman. The contributions also look across and beyond the field of media art, staking out new paths for understanding and working in the transversal territories between theory, technology, and art. The concept of the post-digital is a way to critically take account of, contextualize, and shift the coordinates of new technologies as part of contemporary culture. The post-digital condition is not merely a theoretical issue but also a situation that affects conceptual and practice-based work. The program of the transmediale festival in Berlin, celebrating its thirtieth year in 2017, has reflected these changes, and this book gathers new contributions from theorists and artists that have taken part in the festival program over its past five editions. Divided into the thematic sections Imaginaries, Interventions, and Ecologies, the book is not a document of the festival itself but a standalone volume that explores the ongoing themes of transmediale in a book format. across and beyond is developed as a collaboration between transmediale and Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. With contributions by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke, Jamie Allen and David Gauthier, Clemens Apprich and Ned Rossiter, Tatiana Bazzichelli, Benjamin Bratton, Florian Cramer, Dieter Daniels, Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Daphne Dragona, Keller Easterling, Olga Goriunova, Louis Henderson, Geraldine Juarez, Olia Lialina, Alessandro Ludovico, Rosa Menkman, Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev, Erica Scourti, Cornelia Sollfrank, Telekommunisten (Baruch Gottlieb and Dmytri Kleiner), Tiziana Terranova, YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji) You can read the introductory essay to the book, Across and Beyond: Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions, by Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing and Jussi Parikka. Developed by transmediale and Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton Edited by Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing, Jussi Parikka, Elvia Wilk Order your copy here or grab it at transmediale 2017 ever elusive. Please note: between 25 January and 6 February no copies will be sent out.

Publisher: Sternberg Press and transmediale e.V.

Design: The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger, Stefanie Ackermann, Manuel Bürger

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 03:35:00 -0800
<![CDATA[Exhibist Magazine Issue 11]]>

A selection of works from The 3D Additivist Cookbook were printed in issue 11 of Exhibist Magazine, including my essay Becoming Horror in The Plasticene. The magazine published in Turkey features interviews with media theorist and curator Ebru Yetişkin and Kristoffer Gansing, artistic director of transmediale festival. The current issue includes an essay by Ceylan Önalp titled ‘A Journey Through Time in Turkey’s New Media Art Scene’ featuring Ayşe Gül Süter, Ebru Kurbak, Can Büyükberber and Nihat Karataşlı and a selection of texts and projects from ‘The 3D Additivist Cookbook’ edited by Daniel Rourke and Morehshin Allahyari: Daniel Rourke’s ‘Becoming Horror in The Plasticene’; A Parede’s ‘Cheat Sheet for a Non- (or Less-) Colonialist Speculative Design’; Marija Bozinovska Jones + IYDES’ ‘Echoes of Earth: The Rocks of Us’; Symrin Chawla’s ‘Blood Bath’ curated by Browntourage for the 3D Additivist Cookbook The magazine introduces established artists working in the field of new media from Turkey such as Ali Miharbi, Erdal Inci, NOHlab, Pınar Yoldaş, Burak Arıkan and Refik Anadol and the work of artists and collectives such as Memo Akten, Selçuk Artut, Büşra Tunç, Ouchhh, DECOL, Iskele47, Osman Koç, Bager Akbay, Zeynep Nal Sezer, Uğur Engin Deniz, Epitome and Ozan Türkkan.

Interviews EVER ELUSIVE – A POST-DIGITAL INSTITUTION Tuce Erel talks to Kristoffer Gansing < Force Quit > + < Esc > = [ New Media Art ] Mine Kaplangı talks to Ebru Yetişkin Essays A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME IN TURKEY’S NEW MEDIA ART SCENE by Ceylan Önalp A SELECTION FROM THE 3D ADDITIVIST COOKBOOK Daniel Rourke, ‘Becoming Horror in The Plasticene’ A Parede, ‘Cheat Sheet for a Non- (or Less-) Colonialist Speculative Design’ Marija Bozinovska Jones + IYDES, ‘Echoes of Earth: The Rocks of Us’ Symrin Chawla, ‘Blood Bath’ curated by Browntourage for the 3D Additivist Cookbook

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 03:51:36 -0800
<![CDATA[HOLO 2: Results May Vary (contribution)]]>

From the paradoxical nature of our impending quantum (computing) future to the enduring mystery of the Big Bang – the ideas explored in HOLO 2 could not be any bigger. We think it shows.

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 02:04:29 -0800
<![CDATA["Please don't call me uncanny": Cécile B. Evans at Seventeen Gallery]]>

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.  

Cécile B. Evans, "Hyperlinks," Installation view. Courtesy of Seventeen. 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. Evans wants us to feel uncomfortable at the absence of an uncanny feeling, and by referring to this lack directly in the monologue of the simulated voice, she sets up a relation the viewer and this, a highly stylized, digital avatar. Hoffman, the image-thing, is not really a metaphor, nor is he really a copy, a simulation, or even a simulacrum of a more-real body. Hoffman, the image-thing, is literal and actual, perhaps more so to the viewer than Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the flesh-and-blood human or his "untimely death" was/will/could ever be. In her 2010 essay A Thing Like You and Me, Hito Steyerl defines the image as a thing whose "immortality… originates… from its ability to be xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated." [1] Like the postcards strewn throughout Hyperlinks, the floating, self-referential Hoffman points out a literal truth: Hoffman's head is an "improper metaphor" [2] for the image that it actually is.  Catachresis, a term we can employ for such "improper metaphors," is a forced extension of meaning employed when "when no proper, or literal, term is available." [3] According to Vivian Sobchack, "catachresis is differentiated from proper metaphor insofar as it forces us to confront" [4] the deficiency and failure of language. In linking across the gap between figural and literal meaning, catachresis marks the precise moment "where living expression states living existence." [5] The image-things of Evans' film are similarly analogically hyperlinked to the metaphors they supposedly express. In several sequences, an invisible, green-screened woman wanders a beach with a man who we are told is her partner: the nameless protagonist of Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel, The Invisible Man. For a few seconds, we are confronted with Marlon Brando's floating head, isolated from scenes deleted from Superman II (1980) to be digitally repurposed for the 2006 film Superman Returns, so the actor could reprise his role as Superman's father two years after his death.

The vocaloid pop-star Hatsune Miku serenades us with the song "Forever Young," referencing her own immortality in the server banks and USB sticks that confer her identity. We then see, rolling onto a stage in Canada, Edward Snowden gives a TED talk on taking back the web, through a "Telepresence Robot" (an object that looks like a flat-panel screen attached to a Segway). As in a collage, the film splices and dices contiguous space and time, producing a unique configuration of catachretic associations, rather than a continuous narrative about something. Fictions are interwoven with facts, gestures with statements, figures with subjects. Moving about the gallery, the viewer hovers about the strewn postcard-sized images of a counterfeit Kermit the Frog, the render of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the "hologram" of Michael Jackson. The image-things in Evans' work seem to exist beyond subject/object distinctions, outside of sense, above their own measure of themselves —selves that they, nonetheless, frequently seem to be measuring and re-measuring. The exhibition comes with its own printed glossary of terms listing references the video makes. The first term in the glossary is "Hyperlink":               A reference to external data that a reader can open either by clicking or by hovering over a point of origin. From Greek hyper (prep. And adv.) "over, beyond, overmuch, above measure." Here again the figural and literal are called into question. In relation to what can one say the "external" or "beyond" of a hyperlink resides? Why is the etymology for "link" not also given? Though at first, the glossary seems to map the associations, the links, of the disparate imagery presented in the show, it is suggestive of the total-work, presenting an almost anarchistic circulation of imagery as a coherent system. The glossary's reification of associations gestures towards also the internet's systemic interpellation of our networked subjecthood; as well as in the film title's reference to the phrase "Pics, or it didn't happen," the show's contrast between a body's lifespan and a circulating digital image seems to also echo of our status as "poor copies" of our digital semblances. The image-things in "Hyperlinks" serve – to hijack the words of Scott Bukatman - "as the partial and fragmented representations that they are." [6] . Through the works' superfluity of associations and meanings, I found myself considering the impossibility of categorical closure. If totalization means incorporating all disparate things, an ultimate difference erupts: a moment that also signals the deficiency and failure of systemization itself. What makes Evans work successful is this endless calling up of the specter of the beyond, the outside, the everything else, from within the perceived totality of the internet. With the glossary, the totality of the show almost feels performative, gesturing towards the systemic totalizing we confer onto art objects in a gallery space before, after, and, especially, during their imaging. But image-things are considerably more liberated than either objects or subjects. They are more real, precisely because we recognize them as images.

[1] Hito Steyerl, “A Thing Like You and Me,” in The Wretched of the Screen, e-flux Journal (Sternberg Press, 2012), 46–59.

[2] Vivian Carol Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 81.

[3] Richard Shiff, “Cezanne’s Physicality: The Politics of Touch,” in The Language of Art History, ed. Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 150.

[4] Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, 81.

[5] Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: The Creation of Meaning in Language (Routledge, 2004), 72.

[6] Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 40.

Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:17:45 -0800
<![CDATA[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? 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 Toronto, Enter The Dragon, The Matrix, Surfer 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

Wed, 01 Oct 2014 06:37:48 -0700
<![CDATA[Journal Contribution: Exaptation and the Digital Now]]>

Earlier this year I devised and delivered the New Media Caucus sponsored panel and journal editorial: ‘Exaptation and the Digital Now’, with Zara Dinnen, Rob Gallagher and Alex Myers: Exaptation and the Digital Now: INTRODUCTION Case Study #1: Holoback Zara Dinnen Case Study #2: The Phantom Zone Daniel Rourke Case Study #3: Fire in the Hole – The Obviously Non-Short History of Art Games Alex Myers Case Study #4: Exaptation, Interpretation, PlayStation 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. This article is a collaborative work that brings together the four co-authors’ various responses to the provocation of exaptation. In what follows exaptation is put into play as a model to help unsettle dominant narratives about the digital image in particular. Considering the digital image in various guises: as animated GIFs, poor images, art games, hardware, and holograms, this article will trace the traits that jump between media and metaphor; complicating linear narratives of progression, and reductive readings of remediation associated with new media. [10]

Sun, 31 Aug 2014 06:59:28 -0700
<![CDATA[Synthetic Assistants]]>

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. The reCaptcha system is doubly fascinating in regards Moravec’s Paradox because it marks the meeting-point between low-level and high-level computable problems. Every password is guessable given enough time and computer resources. Alternatively, the smudged word on page 286, line forty three of the Magna Carta is incredibly difficult for a computer to recognise. If it fails, a different smudge with a different ‘solution’ is pulled from the database, ensuring your email account remains secure. Whilst determining whether or not you are a human the reCaptcha software quietly hijacks your biological brain, translating the task it has been allotted to protect your data into a moment of distributed, invisible labour. The question is: who or what is using who or what, for what or whom? Systems like reCaptcha could be hailed as the birth of a ‘world brain’: a thinking web connecting everyone on Earth into a vast meta-mind capable of incredible feats of computation. The truth, however, is both far more mundane and far more profound in its implications. A generation or two ago we envisaged the future as a place where intricate machines would carry out most menial tasks, leaving humans free to contemplate their place in the universe, embrace loved ones in crowds, and sunbathe under the depleted ozone layer. Instead, we have inherited a world where humans carry out menial tasks at the bequest of machines, whilst maintaining the illusion that it is we, personally, who have benefited from each transaction. Every click and swipe of your finger is a collaboration between invisible entities — corporate, synthetic or not-even-invented yet. Next time you scan your own produce at the supermarket, track your eating and exercise habits, and upload them to a corporately maintained database, follow the advice of a piece of software on which stock to sell, or which car to buy, search Google for a weird string of misspelt terms, or retweet a Twitter bot, you are taking part in a vast experiment that has already evolved beyond any single person or machine’s ability to comprehend. The future of information is augmented, symbiotic, invisible and incessant. But does it belong to users? Corporations? Or semi-autonomous machines? Only you and your synthetic assistants can decide. * The answer, according to my smartphone, is 3572.7215116770576

Thu, 28 Aug 2014 01:42:31 -0700
<![CDATA[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 : and

Mon, 28 Apr 2014 08:32:33 -0700

I wrote an essay for the publication accompanying Alma Alloro‘s solo exhibition, Apophenia, held at Transfer Gallery, New York – January 4th through 25th, 2014. Excerpt from my essay : Alma Alloro’s machines reel and spin in homage to the kinds of correspondences and affects images can make. In the tradition of Oskar Fischinger’s An Optical Poem (1938), or Hans Richter’s Rhythmus series (1920s) Apophenia is ‘about’ the preponderance of images: about what takes place when images move, but also about the very substance of the static image — a thing we had no need to conceive of until motion had been thrust upon it. Her works are concerned with performing a net aesthetic apart from the rigidity of digital codes and databases, linking her machines through animated GIFs back to… the principal technologies of animation… The machines, devices and contrivances of Apophenia celebrate similar instances when the coming into being of an image traces a noticeable and long-lasting mark in physical space. To be truly confronted with an image is to become aware of one’s own construction as a thing — ‘Here where the world touches’ — something that high-bandwidth, high-resolution and optical speeds tends to camouflage in the clarity of simulation. Download as PDF More info : and

Wed, 29 Jan 2014 07:46:25 -0800
<![CDATA[An Ontology of Everything on the Face of the Earth]]>

This essay was originally published as part of a special issue of Alluvium Journal on Digital Metaphors, edited by Zara Dinnen and featuring contributions from Rob Gallagher and Sophie Jones. John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing, is a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, exhibiting many hallmarks of the horror genre. The film depicts a sinister turn for matter, where the chaos of the replicating, cancerous cell is expanded to the human scale and beyond. In The Thing we watch as an alien force terrorises an isolated Antarctic outpost. The creature exhibits an awesome ability to imitate, devouring any creature it comes across before giving birth to an exact copy in a burst of blood and protoplasm. The Thing copies cell by cell and its process is so perfect – at every level of replication – that the resultant simulacrum speaks, acts and even thinks like the original. The Thing is so relentless, its copies so perfect, that the outpost’s Doctor, Blair, is sent mad at the implications: Blair: If a cell gets out it could imitate everything on the face of the Earth… and it’s not gonna stop!!! Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?, Carpenter’s film revisits a gothic trope, as numerous in its incarnations as are the forms it is capable of taking. In Campbell’s original novella, the biologically impure is co-inhabited by a different type of infection: an infection of the Antarctic inhabitants’ inner lives. Plucked from an icy grave, The Thing sits, frozen solid, in a dark corner of the outpost, drip dripping towards re-animation. Before its cells begin their interstitial jump from alien to earthly biology, it is the dreams of the men that become infected: ‘So far the only thing you have said this thing gave off that was catching was dreams. I’ll go so far as to admit that.’ An impish, slightly malignant grin crossed the little man’s seamed face. ‘I had some, too. So. It’s dream-infectious. No doubt an exceedingly dangerous malady.’ (Campbell)

The Thing’s voracious drive to consume and imitate living beings calls to mind Freud’s uncanny: the dreadful creeping horror that dwells between homely and unhomely. According to Ernst Jentsch, whose work Freud references in his study, the uncanny is kindled, ‘when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one’ (Grenville 233). A body in the act of becoming: John W. Campbell’s novella depicts The Thing as a monstrous body that “swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world”

In the original novella, The Thing is condensed as much from the minds of the men, as from its own horrific, defrosting bulk. A slowly surfacing nightmare that acts to transform alien matter into earthly biology also has the effect of transferring the inner, mental lives of the men, into the resultant condensation. John W. Campbell had no doubts that The Thing could become viscous, mortal human flesh, but in order to truly imitate its prey, the creature must infect and steal inner life too, pulling ghosts, kicking and screaming, out of their biological machines. As a gothic figure, Campbell’s Thing disrupts the stable and integral vision of human being, of self-same bodies housing ‘unitary and securely bounded’ (Hurley 3) subjectivities, identical and extensive through time. John W. Campbell’s characters confront their anguish at being embodied: their nightmares are literally made flesh. As Kelly Hurley reminds us in her study on The Gothic Body, Mikhail Bakhtin noted: The grotesque body… is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world (Hurley 28). Each clone’s otherness is an uncanny exposure of the abject relationship we endure with ourselves as vicarious, fragmented, entropic forms. In the 44 years between the novella and John Carpenter’s 1982 film, there were many poor clones of The Thing depicted in cinema. Films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and, It Came from Outer Space (1953) are replete with alien dopplegangers, abject human forms, cast away very much as in gothic tradition. Howard Hawk’s film, The Thing from Another World (1951), the first to explicitly translate Who Goes There?, completely disfigures Campbell’s story. The resultant monster is nothing more than, what one character calls, ‘an intellectual carrot’, grown from alien cells in a laboratory. The film is worth considering though for its Cold War undertones. Recast in an Arctic military base, Hawk’s Thing is an isolated monster set against a small, well organised army of cooperative men. Faced with disaster the men group together, fighting for a greater good than each of them alone represents.

Cinematic clones of The Thing: 1950s American Science Fiction films like It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are replete with alien doppelgangers and abject human forms [Images used under fair dealings provisions] The metaphor of discrete cells coordinating into autopoeitic organisms, does not extend to the inhabitants of the isolated Antarctic outpost in the original short story, nor in the 1982 version. Rather than unite against their foe, they begin to turn on each other, never knowing who might be The Thing. In a series of enactments of game-theory, the characters do piece together a collective comprehension: that if The Thing is to eventually imitate ‘everything on the face of the Earth’ it must not show itself now, lest the remaining humans group together and destroy it. The Thing’s alien biology calls to mind the original design of the internet, intended, according to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: …to withstand military attack. Since it has no center and almost any portion can operate as an autonomous whole, the network can continue to function even when part of it has been destroyed. The same design element that ensures survival, the decentralisation, is also what makes control of the network so difficult (Hardt and Negri 299). The novella Who Goes There? and the film, The Thing, sit either side of a pivotal era in the advancement of information technology. How a life form or a biological computer work is immaterial to the behaviours they present to an observer. John Carpenter’s The Thing explores the fulfilment of Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game.’ Moving away from Campbell’s original appeal to telepathy and a mind/body split, the materialist vision of Carpenter’s film confronts us with a more fundamental horror. That every part of us is reducible to every other. In her book Refiguring Life, Evelyn Fox Keller argues that: As a consequence of the technological and conceptual transformations we have witnessed in the last three decades, the body itself has been irrevocably transformed… The body of modern biology, like the DNA molecule – and also like the modern corporate or political body – has become just another part of an informational network, now machine, now message, always ready for exchange, each for the other (Keller 117–118). Meanwhile, eschewing Martin Heidegger’s definition of a thing (in which objects are brought out of the background of existence through human use), Bill Brown marks the emergence of things through the encounter: As they circulate through our lives… we look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us… (Brown 4).

A thing or an object? Bill Brown argues that we look through objects but are confronted by things [Image by Marc PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE under a CC BY-NC-ND license] In his infamous 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Alan Turing introduced the notion that a computer is nothing more than a machine that functions by pretending to be other machines. (Turing) Asking the question ‘can machines think?’ Turing replaced the ambiguity of ‘thought’ and ‘intelligence’ with imitation, proposing a test that avoided the need to know what was going on inside a machine, in favour of merely experiencing its affects. In a lecture entitled ‘Can Digital Computers Think?’, Turing expounds his point: It is not difficult to design machines whose behaviour appears quite random to anyone who does not know the details of their construction. Naturally enough the inclusion of this random element, whichever technique is used, does not solve our main problem, how to programme a machine to imitate a brain, or as we might say more briefly, if less accurately, to think. But it gives us some indication of what the process will be like. We must not always expect to know what the computer is going to do. We should be pleased when the machine surprises us, in rather the same way as one is pleased when a pupil does something which he had not been explicitly taught to do (Shieber 114–115). The mutability of Earthly life, its ability to err, to stumble upon novel strategies through random, blind chance, represents its most innate capacity. Biological life changes by mutation, passing those mutations on to the next generation, ad infinitum. The Thing, in opposition to this, can only become its other absolutely. There is no room for error, for mutation, for change or evolution: instead, The Thingly cadaver of Norris must protect its otherness in the only way it knows how: by transforming itself into a defensive form previously programmed and stored in its protoplasm. In terms of creativity it cannot escape its programming. Turing’s lecture hints at a further unsettling conclusion we can make: that even though novel behaviour may be consistent with error, from appearances alone it is impossible to distinguish something ontologically novel, with a behaviour which has been programmed to appear as such. The Thing is a Universal Turing Machine, a post-digital plasma, encoded with the biological ticker-tape of a thousand alien worlds. Put more simply, in the words of protagonist John MacReady: MacReady: Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. [my emphasis]

The “Gothicity” of matter? The digital metaphor of the Thing reveals that through imitation computers confer humanity upon us [Image by 

Mon, 09 Dec 2013 10:34:38 -0800

I wrote an essay released in tandem with GLITCHOMETRY: Daniel Temkin‘s solo exhibition, held at Transfer Gallery, New York – November 16 through December 14, 2013. The publication also features an interview with the artist by Curt Cloninger. Excerpt from my essay : Glitchometry turns away from the ‘new earth’; the milieu of cyphers that constitute our contemporary audio-visual cognizance. By foregoing the simulations relied on when Photoshopping an image Temkin assumes an almost meditative patience with the will of the digital. As with Duchamp’s infra-thin – ‘the warmth of a seat which has just been left, reflection from a mirror or glass… velvet trousers, their whistling sound, is an infra-thin separation signalled’ – the one of the image and the other of the raw data is treated as a signal of meagre difference. Data is carefully bent in a sequence of sonifications that always risk falling back into the totalising violence of failure. Download as PDF More info : and

Wed, 20 Nov 2013 06:51:16 -0800
<![CDATA[What makes out today’s notworking is the social glitch]]>

For 3 years I have collaborated on a project with Kyoung Kim. Known as GLTI.CH Karaoke, or sometimes just GLTI.CH, we’ve plotted the course of accidents, of temporal lyrical disjoints and technical out-of-syncs through a wide variety of different mediums, spaces and social conditions. This week saw what feels like the climax of our experiments, a three day – 67 hour – installation at CRYSTALLIZE, an exhibition of new media art held alongside the 2013 Korea Brand & Entertainment Expo, at Old Billingsgate, London. GLTI.CH has played a significant part in my practice and thus my thinking over the last 3 years. Working with Kyoung has afforded me countless experiences and opportunities, and introduced me to the world of glitch, digital, net and new media arts and artists. The project is not over, but its Karaoke phase is drawing to a conclusion. I thought it would be a good time to republish this half-considered manifesto I wrote a while back. 15 Statements about Notworking What makes out today’s networking is the notworking. There would be no routing if there were no problems on the line. Spam, viruses and identity theft are not accidental mistakes, mishaps on the road to techno perfection. They are constitutional elements of yesterday’s network architectures. Lovink, Gert. (2005), “The Principle of Notworking Concepts in Critical Internet Culture,” p. 10 GLTI.CH Karaoke is not a hack or some fancy programming. It’s taking the front-end of things and trying to make something else. We’ve made the mishmashed world of GLTI.CH Karaoke through play and we hope you’ll sing with us. karaoke, (2011), “WHAT IS GLTI.CH KARAOKE?”

Glti.ches are more than aesthetic revelations: as software crashes, or hardware halts to a stutter, the soft underbelly of the notwork is exposed. The trick is to see the not as an abhorrence, but as a signal of noisy potential: error and noise are an implicit feature of digital materiality. What Gaston Bachelard called ‘Desire Paths’, physical etchings in our surroundings drawn by the thoughtless movement of (human) feet, also exist online. For those versed in the language of the, desire equals subversion and the means of flight – a way to reverse the roles of power. The line of desire in these cases is often laid directly over the enclosed path. Being buffered along by the unruly torrents of technical failure, the true semblance of the is impossible to pin down: notwork control mechanisms have desirable unintended effects. The kludge is a hands-on, makeshift solution, to an unpredictable technical or social problem: 100% of cargo cult coders, pirates, artists and hackers started out as kludgers. Algorithms that churn your Google search, or offer you potential meta-data with which to imbricate your image collection into the logic of the database, have themselves become actors in the play of human relations. Digital formats as diverse as ePub, DivX, and GIF, and software platforms from the likes of Google, Microsoft or Apple, trace narrative arcs which are themselves transcodable relations. Interruption, stutters and breaks force us into encounters with the world, exposing the circuitry that we as consumers are expected to elude into the background. Digital copies, being copied, forever copying, exert an unruly behaviour that exposes the material world. The most astonishing thing about the notwork is how any order can be maintained in it at all. The more regulations imposed upon the notworks, the more interesting the resulting glti.ches will be in their variation/liberation. Human beings are material entities, buffered by the same stops and starts as the notwork. Participating in the, in the artifact that exposes the failure, is to align oneself with material reality. The is a social phenomenon.

Thu, 07 Nov 2013 07:16:51 -0800
<![CDATA[This Mess is a Place]]>

I am very pleased to have an essay/chapter in This Mess is a Place, a collection on hoarding and clutter, edited, compiled and misfiled by Zoë Mendelson. The book is currently available at Camden Arts Centre, with wider distribution to follow from the very wonderful AND Publishing.

This Mess is a Place: A Collapsible Anthology of Collections and Clutter is a limited edition publication, edited/curated by Zoë Mendelson and published by And Publishing.

This publication looks at the onset of hoarding through the voices of clinicians and expands the theme to examine how relationships to objects in space inform a number of fields in ways that can be seen to interrelate and impact upon each other. The idea behind the form of this anthology is that practice and artistic research can co-exist with more clinical and scientific research. It is hoped this will create overlaps and crises of ‘usefulness’ akin to the submersion of materials within a hoard or the pursuit of order within a collection. The publication itself is unbound – illogical and precarious as an object, containing loose leaves, pamphlets and nominal filing systems, gathered together in no particular order. The reader is ultimately responsible for the order (or dis-order) of the piece. Publication date is October 26th 2013.

It includes articles, artworks, interviews and fiction. Alongside This Mess is a Place's own collaborators from psychiatric and archival fields there are contributions of artistic projects from Jim Bay (UK); Michel Blazy (FR); Carrie M Becker (USA); Marjolijn Dijkman (NL); Nat Goodden (UK), Jefford Horrigan (UK); Dean Hughes (UK); Mierle Laderman Ukeles (USA); Robert Melee (USA); Zoë Mendelson (UK); Florence Peake (UK); Michael Samuels (UK); Kathryn Spence (USA); Tomoko Takahashi; Robin Waart (NL); Julian Walker (UK) and Laura White (UK).

The publication contains essays and documents by Dr. Colin Jones (Senior Lecturer/Researcher in Applied Health and Social Sciences, UK); Dr. Haidy Geismar (lecturer in digital anthropology and material culture, US/UK); Jeremy Gill (urban planner and theorist, AUS); Cecilie Gravesen (artist, curator and writer, UK/Den); Dr. Alberto Pertusa (consultant psychiatrist, UK); Daniel Rourke (artist and researcher, UK); Isobel Hunter (archivist and Head of Engagement at the National Archives, UK); Satwant Singh (nurse practitioner and cognitive behavourial therapist, UK); Nina Folkersma (curator and critic, NL); Alberto Duman (artist, writer, UK). A full list of essay titles can be seen here. The publication also includes documentary photography by Paula Salischiker (ARG) and an interview with an anonymous hoarder's daughter

Sat, 26 Oct 2013 23:52:33 -0700
<![CDATA[The Phantom Zone]]>

The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.

Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto (1991) [1]

This is no fantasy... no careless product of wild imagination. No, my good friends.

The opening lines of Richard Donner's Superman (1978) [2] In a 1950 film serial entitled Atom Man vs Superman [3] television executive and evil genius Lex Luthor sends Superman into a ghostly limbo he calls "The Empty Doom." Trapped in this phantom void, Superman's infinite powers are rendered useless, for although he can still see and hear the "real" world his ability to interact with it has all but disappeared. Over the following decades this paraspace [4]—to use Samuel Delany's term for a fictional space, accessed via technology, that is neither within nor entirely separate from the 'real' world—would reappear in the Superman mythos in various forms, beginning in 1961. Eventually dubbed "The Phantom Zone," its back story was reworked substantially, until by the mid 60s it had become a parallel dimension discovered by Superman's father, Jor El. Once used to incarcerate Krypton's most unsavory characters, The Phantom Zone had outlasted its doomed home world and eventually burst at the seams, sending legions of super-evil denizens raining down onto Earth. Beginning its life as an empty doom, The Phantom Zone was soon filled with terrors prolific enough to make even The Man of Steel fear its existence.

Overseen by story editor Mortimer Weisinger, and the unfortunately named artist Wayne Boring, the late 50s and early 60s were a strange time in the Superman universe. The comics suddenly became filled with mutated variants of kryptonite that gave Superman the head of an ant or the ability to read thoughts; with miniature Supermen arriving seconds before their namesake to save the day and steal his thunder; with vast universes of time caught fast in single comic book panels. It was an era of narrative excess wrapped by a tighter, more meticulous and, many would say, repressed aesthetic:

Centuries of epic time could pass in a single caption. Synasties fell between balloons, and the sun could grow old and die on the turn of a page. It was a toy world, too, observed through the wrong end of a telescope. Boring made eternity tiny, capable of being held in two small hands. He reduced the infinite to fit in a cameo... [5]

The Phantom Zone is one of the least bizarre narrative concepts from what is now known as the Silver Age of D.C. Comics (following on from the more widely celebrated Golden Age). It could be readily understood on a narrative level, and it had a metaphorical dimension as well, one that made conceivable the depths contained in Superman's vast, but ultimately manipulable universe. The Phantom Zone was usually portrayed on a television screen kept safe in one of the many rooms of the League of Justice headquarters. It could also be used as a weapon and fired from a portable projection device—the cold, harsh infinity of the Empty Doom blazing into Superman's world long enough to ensnare any character foolish enough to stand in its rays. Whether glimpsed on screen or via projection, then, The Phantom Zone could be interpreted as a metaphor for the moving image. 

In comic books, as in the moving image, the frame is the constituent element of narrative. Each page of a comic book is a frame which itself frames a series of frames, so that by altering each panel's size, bleed or aesthetic variety, time and space can be made elastic. Weisinger and Boring's Phantom Zone took this mechanism further, behaving like a weaponized frame free to roam within the comic book world. Rather than manipulating three-dimensional space or the fourth dimension of time, as the comic book frame does, The Phantom Zone opened out onto the existence of other dimensions. It was a comic book device that bled beyond the edge of the page, out into a world in which comic book narratives were experienced not in isolation, but in parallel with the onscreen narratives of the cinema and the television. As such, the device heralded televisual modes of attention.

For his 1978 big-budget movie version of Superman, [6] director Richard Donner cunningly translated The Phantom Zone into something resembling the cinema screen itself. In the film's opening sequence, a crystal surface swoops down from the immense backdrop of space, rendering the despicable General Zod and his cronies two-dimensional as it imprisons them. In the documentary The Magic Behind the Cape, [7] bundled with the DVD release of Superman in 2001, we are given an insight into the technical prowess behind Donner's The Phantom Zone. The actors are made to simulate existential terror against the black void of the studio, pressed up against translucent, flesh-like membranes and physically rotated out of sync with the gaze of the camera. Rendering the faux two-dimensional surface of Donner's Phantom Zone believable required all manner of human dimensions to be framed out of the final production. The actors react to causes generated beyond the studio space, the director's commands, or the camera's gaze. They twist and recoil from transformations still to occur in post-production. In a sense, the actors behave as bodies that are already images. With its reliance on post-produced visual effects, the Phantom Zone sequence represents an intermediary stage in the gradual removal of sets, locations, and any 'actual' spatial depths from the film production process. Today, actors must address their humanity to green voids post-produced with CGI, and the indexical relationship between the film image and the events unfolding in front of the lens have been almost entirely shattered. In this Phantom cinema produced after the event, ever-deeper layers of special effects seal actors into a cinematic paraspace. Just as The Phantom Zone of the comic book heralded televisual modes of attention, The Phantom Zone of the 1970s marked a perceptual regime in which the cinematic image was increasingly sealed off from reality by synthetic visual effects.

   For Walter Benjamin, writing during cinema's first “Golden Era,", the ability of the cinema screen to frame discontinuous times and spaces represented its most profound "truth." Delivered by cinema, Benjamin argued, mechanically disseminated images were actually fracturing the limits of our perceptions, training "human beings in the apperceptions and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily." [8]  The cinema screen offered audiences who were confined to finite bodies that had never before experienced such juxtapositions an apparently shared experience of illuminated consciousness. Far from inventing this new mode of perception through the "shock-character" of montage, Benjamin believed that cinema spoke of the 'truths' which awaited us beneath the mirage of proletarian experience. Truths which would guide us—with utopian fervor—towards an awareness, and eventual control, of what Benjamin called the "new nature":

Not just industrial technology, but the entire world of matter (including human beings) as it has been transformed by that technology. [9]

In short, cinema was less a technology than a new and evolving mode of machinic thought, both generated by and generating the post-industrial subject. Observing the relation between representation and visibility, Jens Andermann notes:

Truth, the truth of representation, crucially depends on the clear-cut separation between the visible and the invisible, the non-objectness of the latter. Truth is the effect of what we could call the catachretic nature of visuality, the way in which the world of visual objects can point to the invisible domain of pure being only by obsessively pointing to itself. [10]

As from the Greek root aisthanesthai – "to perceive"—the aesthetic conditions through which The Phantom Zone have been translated frame far more than a supposed fictional void. Called upon to indicate an absolute outside — the unfathomable infinity of another, ghostly, parallel universe — The Phantom Zone instead reiterates the medium of its delivery, whether comic book, television, or cinema, with mirror-like insistency. Such is the power of new technical modes of thought, that very often, they cause us to rethink the outmoded media that we are so used to as to be unaware. The Phantom Zone hides the cinematographic image in plain view. Its reappearance and reimagining over the last 60 odd years, in ever newer forms and aesthetic modes, can be read paradigmatically, that is, as a figure that stands in place of, and points towards, shifts, mutations and absolute overturnings in our perceptual apparatus. Its most recent iteration is in the 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel, [11] and in particular in a 'viral' trailer distributed on YouTube a few weeks before the film was released. [12] Coming towards us soars a new mode of machinic thought; a Phantom Zone of unparalleled depth and aesthetic complexity that opens onto a new new - digital - nature.

The General Zod trailer for Man of Steel begins with a static rift that breaks into a visual and audial disarrangement of the phrase, “You are not alone". General Zod's masked face materializes, blended with the digital miasma: a painterly 3D effect that highlights the inherent ‘otherness' of where his message originates. The aesthetic is unsettling in as much as it is recognizable. We have no doubt as viewers of this 'viral' dispatch as to the narrative meaning of what we are witnessing, namely, a datastream compressed and distributed from a paraspace by an entity very much unlike us. The uncanny significance of the trailer stems more from how very normal the digital miasma feels; from how apprehensible this barrage of noise is to us. Indeed, it is ‘other', but its otherness is also somehow routine, foreseeable. The pathogen here is not Zod's message, it is digital technology itself. The glitched aesthetic of the trailer has become so habitual as to herald the passing of digital materiality into the background of awareness. Its mode of dissemination, via the Trojan Horse of YouTube, just as unvisible to us during the regular shifts we make between online/offline modes of communication. The surface of this Phantom Zone very much interfaces with our material world, even if the message it impresses upon us aches to be composed of an alien substance.   Digital video does the work of representation via a series of very clever algorithms called codecs that compress the amount of information needed to produce a moving image. Rather than the individual frames of film, each as visually rich and total as the last, in a codec only the difference between frames need be encoded, making each frame “more like a set of movement instructions than an image." [13] The painterly technique used in the General Zod trailer is normally derived from a collapse between key (image) and reference (difference) frames at the status of encoding. The process is called ‘datamoshing', and has its origins in glitch art, a form of media manipulation predicated on those minute moments when the surface of an image or sound cracks open to reveal some aspect of the process that produced it. By a method of cutting, repeating or glitching of key and reference frames visual representations are made to blend into one another, space becomes difference and time becomes image. The General Zod trailer homages/copies/steals the datamoshing technique, marking digital video's final move from convenient means of dissemination, to palpable aesthetic and cultural influence.  In the actual movie, Man of Steel (2013), Zod's video message is transposed in its entirety to the fictional Planet Earth. The viral component of its movement around the web is entirely absent: its apparent digitality, therefore, remains somewhat intact, but only as a mere surface appearance. This time around the message shattering through The Phantom Zone is completely devoid of affective power: it frames nothing but its existence as a narrative device. The filmmakers rely on a series of “taking over the world" tropes to set the stage for General Zod's Earth-shaking proclamation. TV sets in stereotypical, exotic, locales flicker into life, all broadcasting the same thing. Electronic billboards light up, loudspeakers blare, mobile phones rumble in pockets, indeed, all imaging technologies suddenly take on the role of prostheses for a single, datamoshed, stream. In one—particularly sincere—moment of the montage a faceless character clutches a Nokia brand smartphone in the centre of shot and exclaims, “It's coming through the RSS feeds!" This surface, this Phantom Zone, frames an apparatus far vaster than a datamoshed image codec: an apparatus apparently impossible to represent through the medium of cinema. The surface appearance of the original viral trailer is only a small component of what constitutes the image it conveys, and thus, of the image it frames of our time. Digital materiality shows itself via poorly compressed video clips arriving through streams of overburdened bandwidth. Our understanding of what constitutes a digital image must then, according to Mark Hansen, “be extended to encompass the entire process by which information is made perceivable." [14]

In its cinematic and comic book guises, The Phantom Zone was depicted as “a kind of membrane dividing yet connecting two worlds that are alien to and also dependent upon each other".[15] The success of the datamoshed trailer comes from the way it broke through that interface, its visual surface bubbling with a new kind of viral, digital, potential that encompasses and exposes the material engaged in its delivery. As cinematographic subjects we have an integral understanding of the materiality of film. Although we know that the frames of cinema are separate we crave the illusion of movement, and the image of time, they create. The ‘viral' datamoshed message corrupts this separation between image and movement, the viewer and the viewed. Not only does General Zod seem to push out, from inside the numerical image, it is as if we, the viewing subject enraptured by the digital event, have been consumed by its flow. The datamoshed Phantom Zone trailer takes the one last, brave, step beyond the apparatus of image production. Not only is the studio, the actor, and even the slick appeal of CGI framed out of its mode of delivery, arriving through a network that holds us complicit, this Phantom Zone frames the 'real' world in its entirety, making even the fictional world it appeals to devoid of affective impact. To take liberty with the words of Jean Baudrillard:

[Jorge Luis] Borges wrote: they are slaves to resemblance and representation; a day will come when they will try to stop resembling. They will go to the other side of the mirror and destroy the empire. But here, you cannot come back from the other side. The empire is on both sides. [16]

Once again, The Phantom Zone highlights the material mode of its delivery with uncanny exactness. We are now surrounded by images that supersede mere visual appearance: they generate and are generated by everything the digital touches, including we, the most important component of General Zod's 'viral' diffusion. The digital Phantom Zone extends to both sides of the flickering screen.   References

[1] Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women : The Reinvention of Nature. (London: Free Association Books Ltd, 1991), 149–181.

[2] Richard Donner, Superman, Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, 1978.

[3] Spencer Gordon Bennet, Atom Man Vs. Superman, Sci-Fi, 1950.

[4] Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 164.

[5] Grant Morrison, Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero (London: Vintage Books, 2012), 62.

[6] Donner, Superman.

[7] Michael Thau, The Magic Behind the Cape, Documentary, Short, 2001. See :

[8] Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," in The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media (Cambridge  Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 26.

[9] Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (MIT Press, 1991), 70.

[10] Jens Andermann, The Optic of the State: Visuality and Power in Argentina and Brazil (University of Pittsburgh Pre, 2007), 5.

[11] Zack Snyder, Man of Steel, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, 2013.

[12] Man of Steel Viral - General Zod's Warning (2013) Superman Movie HD, 2013,

[13] BackStarCreativeMedia, “Datamoshing—the Beauty of Glitch," April 9, 2009,

[14] Mark B. Hansen, “Cinema Beyond Cybernetics, or How to Frame the Digital Image," Configurations 10, no. 1 (2002): 54, doi:10.1353/con.2003.0005.

[15] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age (Wiley, 1995), 20.

[16] Jean Baudrillard, “The Murder of the Sign," in Consumption in an Age of Information, ed. Sande Cohen and R. L. Rutsky (Berg, 2005), 11.  

Tue, 10 Sep 2013 08:00:00 -0700
<![CDATA[New Sculpt]]>

I wrote an essay released in tandem with New Sculpt: LaTurbo Avedon‘s first solo exhibition, held at Transfer Gallery, New York – July 20 through August 10, 2013 Excerpt ::: In the past three decades the term “cyberspace” has come to define a social, rather than a geometric common environment. The term still conjures up images of posthuman projections and vast parallax branes, their cross-hatched surfaces woven at right angles by virtual motorcycles. We hear “cyberspace” and we think of terminals, of cables and an ocean of information, yet the most important means by which cyberspace is produced — namely human social and economic relations — barely registers a flicker. The objects of New Sculpt play between these contradictions.

Wed, 24 Jul 2013 05:32:56 -0700
<![CDATA[Neither Here Nor Then: Thomson and Craighead at Carroll / Fletcher Gallery]]>

Visiting Jon Thompson and Alison Craighead’s survey exhibition, Never Odd Or Even, currently on show at Carroll / Fletcher Gallery, I found myself confronted with an enigma. How to assemble a single vision of a body of work, impelled only by the dislocated narratives it offers me? ‘Archaeology’ is derived from the Greek word, arche, meaning ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’. The principle that makes a thing possible, but which in itself may remain elusive, unquantifiable, or utterly impervious to analysis. And so it is we search art for an origin, for an arising revelation, knowing full well that meaning is not something we can pin down. Believing, that the arche of a great work is always just about to take place. In an essay written especially for the exhibition, David Auerbach foregrounds Thompson and Craighead’s work in the overlap between “the quotidian and the global” characteristic of our hyperconnected contemporary culture. Hinged on “the tantalising impossibility of seeing the entire world at once clearly and distinctly” [1] Never Odd Or Even is an exhibition whose origins are explicitly here and everywhere, both now and anywhen. The Time Machine in Alphabetical Order (2010), a video work projected at the heart of the show, offers a compelling example of this. Transposing the 1960 film (directed by George Pal) into the alphabetical order of each word spoken, narrative time is circumvented, allowing the viewer to revel instead in the logic of the database. The dramatic arcs of individual scenes are replaced by alphabetic frames. Short staccato repetitions of the word ‘a’ or ‘you’ drive the film onwards, and with each new word comes a chance for the database to rewind. Words with greater significance such as ‘laws’, ‘life’, ‘man’ or ‘Morlocks’ cause new clusters of meaning to blossom. Scenes taut with tension and activity under a ‘normal’ viewing feel quiet, slow and tedious next to the repetitive progressions of single words propelled through alphabetic time. In the alphabetic version of the film it is scenes with a heavier focus on dialogue that stand out as pure activity, recurring again and again as the 96 minute 55 second long algorithm has its way with the audience. Regular sites of meaning become backdrop structures, thrusting forward a logic inherent in language which has no apparent bearing on narrative content. The work is reminiscent of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, also produced in 2010. A 24 hour long collage of scenes from cinema in which ‘real time’ is represented or alluded to simultaneously on screen. But whereas The Clock’s emphasis on cinema as a formal history grounds the work in narrative sequence, Thomson and Craighead’s work insists that the ground is infinitely malleable and should be called into question.

Another work, Belief (2012), depicts the human race as a vast interlinked, self-reflexive system. Its out-stretched nodes ending at webcams pointing to religious mediators, spiritual soliloquists and adamant materialists, all of them searching to define what it means to be in existence. Projected on the floor of the gallery alongside the video a compass points to the location each monologue and interview was filmed, spiralling wildly each time the footage dissolves. Each clip zooms out of a specific house, a town, a city and a continent to a blue Google Earth™ marble haloed by an opaque interface. Far from suggesting a utopian collectivity spawned by the Google machine, Belief once again highlights the mutable structures each of us formalise ourselves through. As David Auerbach suggests, the work intimates the possibility of seeing all human kind at once; a world where all beliefs are represented by the increasingly clever patterns wrought through information technology. Instead, culture, language and information technology are exposed as negligible variables in the human algorithm: the thing we share is that we all believe in something.

Never Odd Or Even features a series of works that play more explicitly with the internet, including London Wall W1W (2013), a regularly updated wall of tweets sent from within a mile of the gallery. This vision of the “quotidian” out of the “global” suffers once you realise that twitter monikers have been replaced with each tweeter’s real name. Far from rooting the ethereal tweets to ‘real’ people and their geographic vicinity the work paradoxically distances Thomson and Craighead from the very thing twitter already has in abundance: personality. In a most appropriate coincidence I found myself confronted with my own tweet, sent some weeks earlier from a nearby library. My moment of procrastination was now a heavily stylised, neutralised interjection into Carroll / Fletcher gallery. Set against a sea of thoughts about the death of Margaret Thatcher, how brilliant cannabis is, or what someone deserved for lunch I felt the opposite of integration in a work. In past instances of London Wall, including one at Furtherfield gallery, tweeters have been contacted directly, allowing them to visit their tweet in its new context. A gesture which as well as bringing to light the personal reality of twitter and tweeters no doubt created a further flux of geotagged internet traffic. Another work, shown in tandem with London Wall W1W, is More Songs of Innocence and of Experience (2012). Here the kitsch backdrop of karaoke is offered as a way to poetically engage with SPAM emails. But rather than invite me in the work felt sculptural, cold and imposing. Blowing carefully on the attached microphone evoked no response. The perception and technical malleability of time is a central theme of the show. Both, Flipped Clock (2009), a digital wall clock reprogrammed to display alternate configurations of a liquid crystal display, and Trooper (1998), a single channel news report of a violent arrest, looped with increasing rapidity, uproot the viewer from a state of temporal nonchalance. A switch between time and synchronicity, between actual meaning and the human impetus for meaning, plays out in a multi-channel video work Several Interruptions (2009). A series of disparate videos, no doubt gleaned from YouTube, show people holding their breath underwater. Facial expressions blossom from calm to palpable terror as each series of underwater portraits are held in synchrony. As the divers all finally pull up for breath the sequence switches.

According to David Auerbach, and with echoes from Thomson and Craighead themselves, Never Odd Or Even offers a series of Oulipo inspired experiments, realised with constrained technical, rather than literary, techniques. For my own reading I was drawn to the figure of The Time Traveller, caused so splendidly to judder through time over and over again, whilst never having to repeat the self-same word twice. Mid-way through H.G.Wells’ original novel the protagonist stumbles into a crumbling museum. Sweeping the dust off abandoned relics he ponders his machine’s ability to hasten their decay. It is at this point that the Time Traveller has a revelation. The museum entombs the history of his own future: an ocean of artefacts whose potential to speak died with the civilisation that created them. [2] In Thomson and Craighead’s work the present moment we take for granted becomes malleable in the networks their artworks play with. That moment of arising, that archaeological instant is called into question, because like the Time Traveller, the narratives we tell ourselves are worth nothing if the past and the present arising from it are capable of swapping places. Thomson and Craighead’s work, like the digital present it converses with, begins now, and then again now, and then again now. The arche of our networked society erupting as the simulation of a present that has always already slipped into the past. Of course, as my meditation on The Time Traveller and archaeology suggests, this state of constant renewal is something that art as a form of communication has always been intimately intertwined with. What I was fascinated to read in the works of Never Odd Or Even was a suggestion that the kind of world we are invested in right now is one which, perhaps for the first time, begs us to simulate it anew.

[1] David Auerbach, “Archimedes’ Mindscrew,” in Never Odd Or Even (Carroll / Fletcher Gallery, London: Carroll / Fletcher Gallery, London, 2013), 4,

[2] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso, 2005), 100. 

Fri, 14 Jun 2013 03:12:48 -0700
<![CDATA[Falling into the Digital Divide: Encounters with the Work of Hito Steyerl]]>

The highly compressed, deteriorated ‘poor image mocks the promises of digital technology. Not only is it often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all.’ The aesthetic affect of digital images thus stands in metonymically for the networks they navigate and the means by which those networks are exposed.

Tue, 21 May 2013 02:58:50 -0700
<![CDATA[The Impulse of the Geocities Archive: One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age]]>

I visited the Photographers’ Gallery in central London for Furtherfield, and reviewed their latest exhibit One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age by artists Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, on THE WALL. Over an eight week period (18 April – 17 June 2013) they feature a non-stop stream of video captures of what they term as the lost city and its archival ruins. A documentation of a past visual culture of the web and the creativity of its users with new pages changing every 5 minutes. The project provides a glimpse into web publishing when users were in charge of design and narration in contrast to the automated templates of Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. Sifting through a dormant internet message board, or stumbling, awestruck, on a kippleised [1] html homepage, its GIF constellations still twinkling many years after the owner has abandoned them, is an encounter with the living, breathing World Wide Web. At such moments we are led, so argues Marisa Olson, ‘to consider the relationship between taxonomy à la the stuffed-pet metaphor and taxonomy à la the digital archive.’ [2] How such descript images, contrived jumbles of memory and experience, could once have felt so essential to the person who collated them, yet now seem so indecipherable, stagnant, even – dare we admit it – insane to anyone but the most hardened retro-web enthusiast. On show at London’s Photographers gallery until June 17th is an extensive archival exhibit designed to manage, reveal and keep these experiences alive. One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age (1tb) is the fifth work to be commissioned for the Photographer Gallery’s ‘The Wall’, curated by two artists long associated with the era of the web the exhibition reveres: Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied. Perhaps best known for their book Digital Folklore (2009) the artists and retro-web evangelists have, with the 1tb project, strengthened their status as archivists, an impulse Hal Foster famously argued ‘concerned less with absolute origins than with obscure traces’ [3]. In the same year that Dragan and Olia launched their guide to the folk web, Yahoo! announced they were to close one of its greatest sources of inspiration: Geocities. A vast expanse of personal webpages, many of which had long since slid into html decrepitude, represented for Yahoo! little but financial embarrassment. So ancient and outmoded was Geocities that many contemporary browsers were incapable of capturing its essence, fragmenting images and link rolls randomly across modern laptop screens in an attempt to render their 800×600 pixel aura. Scraping and downloading the terabyte or so of data that made up the Geocities universe was thought important enough by some that a taskforce was put together, made up of technical wizards and wizardesses driven by the profound notion that all existent culture is worth saving. From Olia and Dragan’s webpage: In between the announcement and the official date of death a group of people calling themselves Archive Team — managed to rescue almost a terabyte of Geocities pages. On the 26th of October 2010, the first anniversary of this Digital Holocaust, the Archive Team started to seed geocities.archiveteam.torrent.

Olia and Dragan’s gesture, to feed the wealth of culture contained in that torrent back to the masses in a palatable form, is a project whose fruition at the Photographer’s Gallery is but a minor part. After downloading, storing and sorting the 16,000 archived Geocities sites the task of exactly how to display them is a problem. Since most browsers would mangle the look and feel of the Geocities pages Olia and Dragan have turned to two main methods of re-representation. The first, let loose on an automated Tumblr blog that updates over 70 times a day, is an ever growing series of front-page screen captures. In this form 1tb bends to the will of a contemporary web user who concerns themselves with likes, reposts and uplinks. Reflecting on the Tumblr-archive of the torrent-archive of the Geocities-archive, Olia and Dragan’s site contemporary-home-computing highlights particular screen captures that have garnered the most reposts and likes from their Tumblr followers. The results say much for the humour that still drives online culture, but perhaps little about the original contexts from whence those screen captures came. For instance, the screen captures that garner most attention are usually the ones that have failed a part of the retrieval/display/capture process. These ‘obscure traces’ may be GIF heavy sites, half loaded to interesting aesthetic affect, or, perhaps the most telling, captures that show nothing but the empty shell of a Netscape Navigator browser, caught forever like a millennium bug in digital amber.

The second mode of capture and re-display takes place at the Photographer’s Gallery itself. Depicted on nine large intersecting HD video screens set into ‘The Wall’ of the entrance-cum-café, one’s first experience of the exhibit is ponderous. The display cycles through the vast array of Geocities homepages at five minute intervals, giving viewers a more than generous dose of 800×600 px nostalgia. Whether the websites that fade into view are a barrage of animated GIFs,insightful commentary on life in the late 1990s, or a series of barren ‘Under Construction’ assemblages, is up to chance. As a reviewer, sent to derive something from the gallery experience, the wall leered at me with gestures that sent my inner taxonomist into a frenzy. Confronted with such tiny slithers of the archive, in such massive doses, it quickly becomes obvious that the real potential of the project has not been quite realised. Rather than static screen captures The Wall shows cleverly rendered quicktime videos, allowing the GIF whiskers of a Hello Kitty mascot to quiver once more. If you are lucky, or have the patience to watch a long series of the sites fade into view, you’ll be greeted by flickering ‘Welcome’ banners, by cartoon workmen tirelessly drilling, by unicorns cantering and sitemeter bars flashing. But The Wall also feels wholly at odds with its content, caught up in a whirl of web nostalgia that minimises the lives, experiences and aesthetic choices of a defining generation to static flashes that you can’t click on, no matter how much you want to. Archives are living, breathing entities wont to be probed for new meanings and interpretations. Whether depicted as static or faux animated, One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age is a project with an endless surface, with little way for its viewers to delve deeper.

Trawling through the 1tb Tumblr is a much more visceral experience than the one that greets you at the Photographer’s Gallery, but the sense of a journey waiting to be embarked on is lost somewhat in the move to the Tumblr kingdom. Every five minutes offers a new chance to spot similarities on The Wall, to ponder on the origins of a site or, more profoundly, wonder where the people that toiled to make them are now. Before the days of user driven content, of Facebook timelines, and even before RSS feed aggregators, the whole web felt something like this. Today’s web is unarguably more dynamic, with a clean aesthetic that barely shifts behind the waves of content that wash over its surface. But the user has been relegated to shuffler of material. The Geocities homepage was designed, and kept updated by an army of amateur enthusiasts, organising bandwidth light GIFs in ever more meaningful arrays, in the unlikely event that another living soul would stumble upon them. There is much to love about One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age, and much to be learned from it given the time. But part of me wishes that the Photographer’s Gallery had given over their trendy café to a row of beige Intel 486 computer stacks, their unwieldy tube monitors better capturing the spirit of the web alá 1996. The clash between the 90s amateur enthusiast and the avid content shuffler of the 2010s is inherent in the modes of display Olia and Dragan chose for their project. Beginning from a desire to save and reflect on our shared heritage, 1tb now represents itself as pure content. An impulse to probe the archive replaced by an impulse to scroll endlessly through Tumblr streams, clicking like buttons on screen captures we hope will distract/impress/outrage our friends until the next cat video refreshes into view. Go, go to the Photographer’s Gallery tomorrow, grab yourself a coffee and let the Geocities archive wash over you. If you can do it without Instagramming a snap to your friends, without updating your Facebook page with tales of your nostalgic reverie, if you can let the flickering screen captures do their own talking , only then can you claim you truly re-entered the kilobyte age.

References [1] ‘Kipple’ is a word coined by science fiction author Philip K. Dick to describe the entropy of physical forms, Dick’s comment on the contradictions of mass-production, utility and planned obsolescence. [2] Marisa Olson, “Lost Not Found: The Circulation of Images in Digital Visual Culture,” Words Without Pictures (September 18, 2008): 281. [3] Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” October – (October 1, 2004): 5, doi:10.1162/0162287042379847.

Fri, 17 May 2013 03:16:13 -0700