New Media News
The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have developed a significant body of work engaged (in its process, or in the issues it raises) with technology. See the full list of Artist Profiles here.
Hannah Black, My Bodies (2014). Digital video.
Your work concerns bodies, or the condition of being bodied. Your last video Fall of Communism (2014) feels like a sculpture in the sense that as a viewer, one's own body is pulled into relief, as with an object in space. I felt pulled into the space of the video, vertiginous. At your show at the Legion TV gallery in London, one half of what was on display was a hand-cut latex the color of skin. Is the work an analog for the body, or otherwise, where does the body (of the maker or the viewer) intersect or interact with the body of the work for you?
It's true that if you look at a lot of my work there is an interest in viscera, in the interior of the body—but it's not a Paul McCarthy guts and blood thing, it's a stand-in for interiority in general, for the inside being outside and vice versa. The phrase "being bodied" could mean "getting killed" as well as "being embodied" and I think that tension is one of the ways that I'm interested in what it means to have, or not have, something called "a body." I tried to write about how our concept of the body might one day, in a utopian way, be replaced by the framework of lifetime or different concentrations of experience. My wildest idea was that this reinterpretation of sensory experience would "render death merely chronological," a phrase I still love, though it's hard for me to recall exactly what I meant by it. Something about placing yourself in the long flow of time, allowing your self-conception to accommodate more than just your own conscious physical experience, I think. In the end it was too sci-fi an idea and didn't work out as an essay, so instead became the video My Bodies. I wanted to say something about how there is no generic body, no such thing as "the body"; bodies are raced, gendered, and assisted differently in the world. I collected images of white business executives, and you hear the voices of African-American female singers—Aaliyah, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, and many others—all singing the phrase "my body." I also use Ciara's song "Body Party." There is a whole tradition in black philosophy of trying to think about to what extent white thought is able to conceptualize black people as having bodily integrity. Hortense Spillers says that the enslaved body, for example, becomes just flesh; Frank Wilderson picks up this train of thought. This is part of the black critique of white feminism: the latter assumes, absurdly, that all women have bodies in the same way. The first part of the video presses on this tension. The second part of the video imagines a realm in between lives where someone is considering whether or not to be born again into a new body, knowing all of the implications of that, knowing how many people in this world have bodies that are racialized or impoverished or perhaps don't, in some senses, fully have bodies at all. It's like the famous romantic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where they realize they have had their relationship before: would I do it again? Would I choose to be embodied again?
Hannah Black, Intensive Care II (detail) (2013)
The Intensive Care latex piece that you mention is obviously evocative of practices of self-harm and self-beautification, and the mortification of certain bodies. My work in latex draws on the issue of how our subjectivities are formed by histories of brutality, with aggressive literalness. I cut line drawings, like ruined linotypes, into fabric whose texture and color evokes skin. Again, this is simultaneously violent and reparative; More Love Than I've Ever Seen (2014) suspends a carved image of the young Whitney Houston amid childlike representations of planets and creatures. (As in my video The Neck, I am really interested in drawings by and for kids, and also just the mode of drawing in general. Video editing and drawing are the most like writing of anything, and I don't know why. I made a fan drawing of Houston for the Wysing screensavers project in 2013.) The title borrows an emotionally ambiguous line from her song "All the Man That I Need" that reminded me of Mike Kelly's More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid: Houston sings, "He fills me up, he gives me love, more love than I've ever seen." It evokes both the laborious process of cutting the images into the latex, and the difficult idea that love given is often not commensurable to love received. I don't mean this as just a universal emotional observation, but also specifically to women, and even more specifically women of color and black women: historically that's who the wealth of colonial countries is ultimately derived from, and what did they get in return? Houston is an iconic figure, almost a sacrificial victim who gave abundantly and didn't get enough back, and her voice and image recur in my work.
She's in my video Fall of Communism, for example, where her famous, virtuosic sustained long notes become the scream of a falling body. I was interested in how a body could be both fungible with other bodies (through social forms like race and gender) and singular, in the same way that a commodity is both itself and a portion of everything else at the same time. We could think of a body is a register of experience: it's the place where we experience the world and where we carry experience as identity.
I could say that the body of work is also my body, or part of how I circulate in the world. I sometimes think that my work is a way of expanding my possibilities of intimacy with others, but maybe that's also just a way of saying that intimacy can be really hard. Channeling desire into objects—texts, videos, whatever—is a way to acknowledge the problems inherent in any kind of desire.
Hannah Black, screengrab from video Fall of Communism (digital video, 2014)
Language feels like a sinewy thing running through all your work, like an expertly handled weapon. Can you talk a bit about your relationship to language, your story with it?
The writing in the videos is inseparable from the images and other sound; I write and rewrite according to the rhythm of the edit, so when I'm asked for the text (which happens occasionally, like if it's being screened in a non-Anglophone country) I have to watch the video to reconstruct it. The texts I write for video and performance are very different from my essays. Working with images brings my language closer to how I speak, how I am. A good friend who read my writing before he met me said that I laughed less in writing than in real life. But I know how to laugh in a video.
I resent writing, but I also love it. Earth is the language planet.
I was thinking about whether it's possible to identify something like "straight materiality" and "queer materiality," the hypothesis being that all works are an analog for the body in the world, and when the condition of that body is complicated or compromised then the work seeks to/is forced to/learns to occupy space accordingly. Could we speak of, for instance, a white materiality and a non-white materiality?
I read your question as something like, "How white is the white cube?" The tradition of western art does seem kind of bound up with whiteness, at least for now, because a certain mode of self-conscious cultural production becomes part of the alibi for white supremacy, part of the sketchy evidence for the white bourgeoisie being exemplarily human. "Look, we create Great Art, we're not like these savages!" Contemporary practice still evokes the modernist gesture of appropriating indigenous culture, seen as unselfconscious craft that can be transformed into art by the more refined subjectivity of the artist. In a way, art is always implicated in these transfers of power and vitality away from the specificity of their origin and back into capital flows. I don't think this is specific to any particular institution, but just is about the institutionalization of art. I'm not sure if I can claim any ethics in relation to this, maybe only that I hope my work also has its own power and doesn't rely on vitiating other people's.
My work isn't really "about" race, but it comes from my experience and thoughts and my experience and thoughts are marked by race, or specifically blackness and Jewishness, in weird ways. Can my work be part of a black tradition? I hope so, but I don't know. As a person who has both black and white heritage, who grew up partly in white households, obviously I have a particular kind of experience. In any case, I don't think this is only a matter of what some people dismissively call "identify politics": questions of globalization, the commodity and circulation are already ingrained in these experiences.
A lot of the work that I come across is by white men—some work I like, some I don't, but certainly a lot of it. As a result, I know a lot about what that experience of the world is like, perhaps more than I even know about my own experience. As people who are not cis white men we have to try to take art as an institution approximately as seriously as it takes us, which is not very.
Can art be a legitimate form of activism or otherwise an agent for social change?
I don't think art or at least my art should aim to be activist. All I can do is to express a relationship to my own conditions of being. Those conditions are historical and I didn't determine them, but I can think about them. For me, that's basically what art does.
I'm sometimes really surprised that people want to read my work as activist. I make artworks, objects, in an approximately conventional way, even if they are mostly videos. I'm always trying to drag big geopolitical or historical narratives into the realm of direct individual experience, and I even go so far as to find that kind of funny, that weird combination of scales: funny and also a bit painful. For example, The Neck puts together my bad childhood drawings where I didn't understand how to draw a neck between the head and the body, and my dad's black radical politics that he had at one time, some of which was great but sometimes we would go to political meetings and be told, "The man is the head of the household and the woman is the neck." Jaki Liebezeit During A Power Cut Circa 1970 fuses the economic changes in the organization of capital that happened in the 1970s and a child listening to her parents' records. The child is partly me and partly someone else—I wasn't born yet in the 1970s, but someone I was in love with at the time was. I don't see how any official politics can be any more important than the intensity of listening to music. Maybe, more than anything else, the videos are about rhythm. I fantasize that one day I will just make music.
Hannah Black, Jaki Liebezeit During A Power Cut Circa 1970, (2012). Digital video.
What I'm saying is, my work is a kind of refusal of politics, as much as an affirmation of politics. But I want to take those things seriously. I'm not sneering at any of it. I ended up reading the neck as the idea of mediation, the impossibility of mediations between the image and the self, between a racial identity and the self, partly because maybe we don't even know what's really there, in the place of the self. I don't think this follows the logic of activism at all. Those kinds of links are so insubstantial, they are almost arbitrary, something to do with memory, maybe, and I think they can only really happen in art or in a joke.
An artwork might change something I guess because of how it is received or how people carry the memory of it. When we're talking about art changing anything, we're talking about art changing a person, and what that person might do in response to this encounter with a work. There are definitely artworks that have changed me and not all of them were even works that I particularly liked.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not sure which is more prominent: my desire for change or my desire to give form to some kind of anger/sorrow. Those things are all mixed up: look at what's been happening recently in the USA, the Ferguson moment, where anger and sorrow are politicized. But in terms of the direct concerns of my work, I don't have anything to say about changes that might never happen.
Can you describe your process, e.g. with a video? Do you begin with a text or with an image or a proprioceptive kinetic sense of something, or what? And then how do you proceed? In conversation, you have spoken about your editing style, which you have conversely described as no style at all. This relates back to rhythm of course, and materiality—I want to know how you make your work. How do you know it's finished? How do you know what it's becoming, or become?
This is a really good question because it's hard for me to say. The videos mostly begin with texts, but the texts just decompose as I'm editing. Sometimes I rewrite directly into the titles box in Premiere. There's a thing that happens as I'm working, which you're right, is rhythmic. I discover what the rhythm of the edit should be. It doesn't feel like a style because it's like dancing: I know I do have a style of dancing, I'm recognizably myself dancing, but I don't approach it consciously. I collect images from the internet but the recent videos also have something approximately "hand-made" even if it's only vaguely so. That's a kind of weird compromise between making new moving images, which seems so weird and pointless, and not wanting the kind of stylistic collapse or neutrality that can come from just collaging other people's images.
Hannah Black, Intensive Care/Hot New Track (2013). Digital video.
Intensive Care/Hot New Track began with this text conflating celebrity gossip about Rihanna and Chris Brown with Abu Ghraib and then everything came from there, using the karaoke track for "What's My Name?", the spinning images. That video was very personal, but look how many impersonal things I had to use to give myself that permission. I still laugh sometimes when thinking about how I took a song about oral sex and turned it into a video about violence: "The square root of 69 is 8 or something…" Fall of Communism came from the idea of someone falling into an abyss in Manhattan and at every level they change into a different person, but it didn't start to really work until I realized that Whitney Houston's voice could also signal falling. At some point, the text, the images, and sound fuse together.
The video I'm working on right now is a nightmare because I tried to start without a script. I'm really curious to see how it goes. Maybe it will be my first wordless video, which would be really weird for me.
Hannah Black, gif from You Must Not Be Your Mother's Body (digital video, 2013)
How/when did you begin working creatively with technology?
That's a really hard question. Do you remember when we would go on weird forums online and just make shit up, when we were around 15? Maybe that was performance art. I made my first video with Final Cut Pro in 2007 where I made a papier mache head in Jamaican colors to represent my dad and then cut it up with scissors. I was at film school at the time and had a boyfriend who made real films and he laughed when he saw it and said, "Why did you make that?" and kind of patted me on the head. Now I use Premiere. That man moved back to Serbia, I think. I hope he's doing OK, but I am sure he would still hate my videos.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
In my teens I wanted to be a dancer and left home at 17 to do a one-year program in that, but then I went to Cambridge and got a degree in English literature. A few years later I went to film school on a scholarship, but dropped out after six months as I realized I really wanted to go to art school. I graduated from the MFA in Art Writing at Goldsmiths in 2013—it was an experimental text-led art practice program and no longer exists, but it was really wonderful, I now realize, because we were basically left to our own devices. Last year I did the Whitney ISP in New York.
What do you do for a living, or what occupations have you held previously?
I've done bar work, clerical work, babysitting, sales work, whatever. Now, I have some income from screenings, but mainly I do writing, editing and video editing for money. I'm an editor at The New Inquiry. My first job was in a stationery store when I was 14.
What does your desktop or workspace look like? (Pics or screenshots please!)
FATBERG. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
A bio art exhibition is a rare occurrence. A good bioart exhibition -one that makes you marvel at the art, question the science, ponders upon where all this means for society- is even more extraordinary. So if you're in, near or not ridiculously far away from Eindhoven, do go and visit Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design at MU. There's only a couple of weeks left to see the show but if i were you, i'd try and pop by on the 1st of March for the Matter of Life closing party. The subtitle of the event is Food Phreaking which sounds exciting enough.
MU and guest curator William Myers have selected nine projects 'at the intersection of life sciences, art and design.' Three of them are the winning projects of the Bio Art & Design Award 2014 (previously Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award), a competition for young artists and designers hoping to collaborate with research institutes in order to develop works that use biotechnology in critical and compelling ways. A couple more projects in the show are authored by artists who have worked with the competition in the past. But what matters more to me is that there is a good balance of speculative scenarios and very down-to-earth experiments in this exhibition. One moment you're dipping carrot sticks into a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants'. Next, you're wondering about the impact that commercial interests might have on natural selection.
Here's a quick overview of the works i haven't written about over the past few weeks. Starting with a work that took me by surprise:
Charlotte Jarvis, Et in Arcadia Ego. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Charlotte Jarvis, Et in Arcadia Ego. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Jarvis first has to undertake a rectoscopy. The colon tissue collected will be grown in vitro and then submitted to a series of mutations that will make it cancerous.
The project is about being able to look at cancer as we would look at other parts of ourselves. I am interested in actually seeing cancer 'in the flesh' - in making tangible something that is usually discussed in metaphors and in doing this exploring (evaluating?) the function of these metaphors when faced with the actual material.
ET IN ARCADIA EGO also echoes one of Jarvis' previous works ERGO SUM in which she used stem cell technology to create a kind of 'back-up' self. While ERGO SUM explored how personalised medicine might enable us to extend our lives, the new work is using similar technology to explore the mechanisms of mortality.
The sample will also be used in professor Hans Clevers' scientific research to study how cancer occurs in the body. The cells are of particular interest to him as they are the first he will have access to coming from a healthy patient sample.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible
Invisible at MU. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible
Heather Dewey-Hagborg's most famous work, Stranger Visions, made her realize that genetic surveillance is a real threat. "It just struck me that we were having a national dialogue about electronic surveillance, but this form of biological surveillance isn't being discussed," she told The Verge.
Invisble, which she is showing as part of Matter of Life, claims to be the answer to any fear of DNA profiling we might have. Citizens eager to avoid DNA surveillance can either buy the Invisible sprays or follow the recipe and make their own. To become genetically untraceable, you need to first spray Erase to any surface where you might have left some DNA evidence. You then follow with Replace, a spray containing a blend of genes that will 'confuse' any remaining trace of DNA.
Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Špela Petrič, Naval Gazing
Špela Petrič worked with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research to build a windmill-like structure that serves as a habitat for sea life. Once released into the North Sea, the tetrahedron form would gently drift in unpredictable path, collecting sea plants, bivalves and other small creatures along the way. At some point though, the weight of the organisms accumulated will sink the whole colony.
The research, design and building of this work in the context of a research institute investigating aquaculture also challenges us with a question the artist poses "can the human fathom an investment into structures and processes that are non-utilitarian for the human?"
Naval Gazing was one of the winning projects of the BioArt & Design award. I think it was by far the strongest of the three. Unexpected, strangely alluring and challenging the audience to think differently about our relationship to nature.
Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Studio PSK, The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
The use of homing pigeons as messengers can be traced to thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans used them to spread news within their Empire. And the Greeks sent pigeons to communicate the results of the Olympic Games to other cities. Studio PSK, another winner of the Bio Art & Design Award, teamed up with the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen to explore how economic pressures might one day shape the species' genetics, replacing thus natural selection. In PSK scenario, the bird becomes a tamper-proof biological courier used by biotech companies to protect their intellectual property.
Increasing competition between the Biotech and Pharma giants has sparked the 'Cold War' of the drug industry, with Genetic theft and piracy costing the industry billions, pressurising companies to take ever more inventive steps to protect their intellectual property.
In order to protect the most sensitive data from falling into the hands of competitors, Genicom Lifesciences, one of the smaller enterprises based in Hyderabad's Genome Valley, is using pigeons as a kind of 'offline data transfer' in an attempt to securely deliver genetic data to its research partner Nayat Pharma.
Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger, Fungi Mutarium - (Growing Food From Toxic Waste). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
As the title of their work suggests, Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger have explored how to grow food from toxic plastic waste. The process involves fungi. The result in the plate is even more discouraging than anything i might have imagined.
Opening night with talks at MU. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann
Also part of the exhibition: Cobalt 60 Sauce, a barbecue sauce made from 'supermarket mutants' and FATBERG: Building An Island of Fat and A Simple Line. A zebra finch ponders upon abstraction.
Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design is at MU in Eindhoven until 1 March 2015.
Image: Scott Gelber
It may seem odd to cite a syllabus as required reading, but this RISD class on Experimental Publishing offers a cogent way of thinking about what instructor Paul Soulellis, after de Certeau, calls the "scriptural economy."Let's begin with the post, exposing its origins as a physical note publicly nailed to a piece of wood. Its descendants persist today, plainly visible on the wall, in the feed and in the stream as traces of a deeper history of documents — the scriptural economy. Is posting (always) publishing?
With form following function, Soulellis posted the syllabus to NewHive, making use of its design tools to make his syllabus actually interesting to look at, and generating praise and critique as the link circulated on Twitter.
Soulellis is a resident at NEW INC, where Rhizome has its office, and he recently gave a talk on Experimental Publishing as part of a panel organized by Brian Droitcour. He's made his slides available online, and for anyone looking for project examples from the world of digital publishing today, it's a great resource.
Last fall, Gabriella Hileman, Violet Forest, and May Waver issued this statement, the cybertwee manifesto, in defense of internet saccharine:
Gabriella Hileman, Violet Forest, and May Waver, the cybertwee manifesto (2015).
Waver's new work Embedded Lullabies, released yesterday as the latest in an impressive series of net art commissions by experimental online publishing startup NewHive, embodies the principles of sentimentality and sweetness celebrated in this text. The project consists of home video footage of her bedding in various lights, overlaid against lo-res digital backdrops and accompanied by home recordings of the artist singing mournful love songs.
The piece reminds me a lot of something you might have seen back in the day on a Joanie4Jackie tape, updated for the present-day web. Joanie4Jackie was a kind of home video chain letter/zine initiated by Miranda July in 1996; incidentally, a selection of the tapes are included in the touring exhibition "Alien She," opening on Sunday at the Orange County Museum of Art.
Waver's piece has that unflinchingly lo-fi, self-consciously sincere, made-in-the-bedroom quality that I associate with Joanie4Jackie, but moreso, and updated for the modern web. (The singing even specifically reminds me of Sativa Peterson's The Slow Escape.)
But the context is very different. Joanie4Jackie was intended to circulate primarily in Riot grrl networks, while Embedded Lullabies will be stared at by a lot of lonely straight men too, even if the artist's body doesn't appear onscreen. Plus, of course, NewHive is a commercial company. The work's place in a different kind of libidinal attention economy seems to make Embedded Lullabies very different from Joanie4Jackie; as the always provocative Deanna Havas tweeted yesterday, "In the anarcho-capitalist present, girls make their own American apparel ads."
To think of selfie-making (or bedroom videos) as only about economics, though, is a kind of vulgar Marxism. As the cybertweeists argue, "our sucre sickly sweet is intentional, our nectar is not just a lure, or a trap for passing flies, but a self indulgent intrapersonal biofeedback mechanism spelled in emoji and gentle selfies." Not outside of economics, but not outside of human emotion in all its weird manifestations, either.
May Waver, Embedded Lullabies (2015). NewHive.
Scenography for 'Medée / Vivez comme vous voulez' (performance with Naomi Velissariou)
Karl Philips is a Belgian (h)activist, performance and conceptual artist. I discovered his work a couple of years ago when i visited the exhibition Mind the System, Find the Gap at Z33 in Hasselt (BE.) But i really took the time to click around his portfolio when my favourite blog selected him for its watchlist.
Philips casts a critical but always witty glance at society, paying particular attention to cracks in consumerism, town planning, advertising, and turning upside-down their logic. He is also one of those artists who understand that, to have any impact, activist art is best deployed in the street, not just inside the white walls of a museum or gallery.
Some of his projects involve hacking a street lantern to provide passersby and local inhabitants with free wifi and power, dressing like a train seat to cross Belgium by train, screening movies streamed from Youtube in a drive-in movie theater set up under a bridge, substituting ads on billboards with a map detailing how survive in the city of Hasselt without any financial expenses, etc. Pretty simple and pretty brilliant.
Hand Pump Car
Hand Pump Car, 2014
Philips has a couple of exhibitions up right now. He's part two group shows. One at the gallery Dauwens & Beernaert in Brussels. The other in Rotterdam. Hopefully, i'll get a chance to be in Antwerp (lots of exciting shows coming up at the Photo Museum!) to check out the sculpture he'll be premiering next week for the group exhibition A Belgian Politician at Marion de Cannière Art Space. In the meantime, i got on my laptop and asked him for an interview:
Hi Karl! Your About page talks about "a mild kind of activism" that is inextricably linked to your work. What is mild activism? How does it manifest itself? And can a mild form of activism have an impact too?
I 'm convinced that real change or influence only manifests itself indirectly. In the long run I think it's better to do so through art or culture than through direct radical activism. I think the term "mild activism" indicates a different tone.
I'd be interested to know more about Mia, the homeless woman who came to live inside one of your structures. Did she spontaneously come to live in the structure? How did you get to know each other? Did she give you any kind of 'feedback' about Concierge or your work in general?
I got to know her when I was thirteen years old. Once every year she passed by at a artist's place where I went after school since I was eleven. A couple of years ago, when she was visiting, I showed her the first designs I made. She proposed herself to represent and become a part the work. This was the first time, in my practice, that such a healthy distance was maintained between the artist and the artwork. From a neutral point of view, she talked to the people who were visiting the artwork. So while rolling a cigarette and making coffee she could easily welcome visitors, artists, curators... Due to the media attention we generated she was offered social housing. She accepted this when we were finishing "Concierge" but a month later she hit the road again.
Good/Bad/Ugly, 2012. Photography: Stef Langmans
Another work involving temporary homes is Good/Bad/Ugly. Could you explain us the whole process? The financial transactions?
Good/Bad/Ugly consisted of three mobile living units. On the outside of the units were several advertisements. For every advertisement we received 500 € per month. That's 1000 € per month, per unit. This money (3000 €/month in total) was used for the performance: providing a living for the inhabitants. We travelled around to different locations. In theory it is illegal in Belgium to put this kind of advertising i, but it is allowed for local businesses. We created some sort of alternative community with it.
Drive-inn You Tube
I really liked the idea of a Youtube drive-in movie theater. Could you explain us how it worked exactly? Did you select yourself the videos that were screened?
It was a video projection under a bridge. It was a costless drive in movie theater where movies were streamed from youtube. I selected the videos but the last day we screened movies suggested by the public. The project was improvised on the spot so birds were flying around during the screening and car sounds or other sounds of the environment interfered with the audio of the movies.
24 hours / 1 meter, 2009
Do you ask for permit for the various interventions in public space?
And whether you've asked for permission or not, what does working in public space have taught you about the way our space is used, managed and controlled?
Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. We try to stretch the gap between the real world and our artistic interventions as far as we can. I think I have learned that public space has lost it's political function. Public space used to be where people got together and where politics originated but nowadays everything is controlled. That makes it harder or even impossible to rethink the function of public space and of politics.
Atelier (interior). Photography: Pauline Niks
I'm also very interested to know more about the story of your studio. It is an antique fairground attraction called Jacky. What did it look like before? Where do you buy fairground attractions? and where did you install it? In a garden? inside a bigger building?
It was a mobile game hall, like an arcade for fairs. It was based on a circus wagon that travelled around for thirty years. Without the games it is now a space of 85 square meters, it is my laboratory. It is a mobile artists studio, it has no foundations or a postal address.
Who are the emerging (or not so emerging) artists whose work you find inspiring right now?
Gordon Matta-Clark, Gilbert & George, Claude Lelouche.
No Title, 2014
Retrospective / Introspective. Group show, Dauwens & Beernaert, Brussels, 15.01 - 13.03.2015.
no walls. Group show, Fenixloods, Rotterdam (NL), 17.01 - 17.02.2015
A Belgian Politician . Group show, Marion de Cannière Art Space, Antwerp, 20.02 - 21.03.2015
Karl Philips - Daan Gielis - Tasya Krougovykh & Vassiliy Bo. Group show, W139, Amsterdam, June 2015
Phlogiston. Group show, (location to be determined), Split (Croatia) in July 2015.
Karl Philips, Solo show, Braennen, Berlin in September 2015.
Danklands by Holly Childs, European edition of 100, Australasian edition of 100. Cover artwork by Marian Tubbs.
Danklands, the second novella by Holly Childs, coming out as an e-publication this February (first published November 2014 by London gallery/publisher Arcadia Missa), prose-poetry in 15 chapters over 100 pages. Australian edition of 100 in bb pink; European edition in bb blue.
Holly Childs is an Australian writer, editor, and artist, making work around "digital semiotics, transformations of language, obscurities, fashion, aberration and corruption:" Danklands is a corruption of Docklands, Melbourne; immediately west of Melbourne's Central Business District, "one of Australia's largest urban renewal projects," an ex-industrial harbor flanked by office and residential high-rise; Etihad Stadium, Direct Factory Outlet shopping, Costco. (In 2014, Holly Childs lived next to Docklands; I lived 2km west).
Andre, Stan, Augusten, Bam, Pansy, a genderfluid cast populate a future-past; an Australian nowhere; second decade of the third millenium. Fractured narrative of a cast of twenty-something friends who write, make art, chat, fight, fall in love; fracture and fissure of faces, bodies, cities, oceans, ozone, social relations, apps, and gadgets that age rapidly:
4. MAKE-UP TUTORIAL
This is Augusten and today I'm going to show you how to achieve a very cute make-up look for seafaring or lounging by the ocean or even just for when you're dredging a swamp or lake….I am going for a deeply oceanic look today so I'm starting with a BB creme mixed into your regular foundation. If you're going to be using this look in an area of planet Earth that has a lot of ozone layer depletion, like for instance you might be in Antarctica….like maybe you're a scientist who's just started dating again after a massive break-up, or doing some whaling, or actually just on a regular cruise...make sure you are using a BB cream that has a high SPF rating…(5)
More colours from Danklands: "World Trade Center memorial, salmon." (5) "I'm also using this eyeshadow shade which is called Slutshame."(6)
Rising damp is when a wall gets acne, interestingly, it may also lead to the bodies of occupants developing acne too....(22)
Danklands in the age of disaster capitalism: the apocalypse is in the air and water, we're sipping White Hair Silver Needle tea as the atmosphere's getting thin:
Hey, Bam, if you're just changing your pad in there - Are you on your period? Just FYI, in future you don't have to go all the way to the bathroom just to change your sanitary pad. I don't mind if you do it in front of me. (23)
Someone's been sleeping overnight at the office: "wet towel...tooth brush..." (37)
In her introduction to Danklands, Astrid Lorange describes the book as an "index of labor" (i). Danklands is also a document of the dissolution of labor and leisure into one another: Is downloading labor or leisure? Is uploading labor or leisure? Nobody in Danklands has a job...apart from Pansy at the ice rink, though there's rumors Bam used to work at Valleygirl...Andre is an artist and Bam is a writer: "I make $3 an hour." (45)
Our apartment is actually a ghost in the shell within this apartment block. That's why we don't have a letterbox, and that's why they use our place as their base when cleaning all the windows from outside…We don't exist on any council plans….In MySpace genres I'd call it cobweb/net-art/prayer room. In emoji: crystal ball, toilet, water feature, red pawprints. Janitor's closet. The Shining. (23)
In Danklands it isn't hard to have an apartment, iPhone, MacBook. It's just hard to breathe, and to wake-up:
Sleep and the sixteen hours that follow. (54)
One forgets the exact feeling/formation of pain. (49)
Ocean girl but sick. (41)
Over 39°C for five consecutive days:
The beheadings kept coming. On Twitter Hannah Black said "dont share pix of that poor dead white man, think of the family *shares pix of dead babies in gaza*," "sorry if u wanna look at pictures of dead people u gonna have to stick to dead black & brown people or else its immoral." (69)
Danklands gathers and disperses. Leaks of data, bodies:
I fingered your girlfriend for the first time today. she has never had sex or been fingered. I don't know if she has ever masturbated, but I had slightly long fingernails….(83)
Time runs out for everyone:
I am so scared I haven't installed enough artworks in the text yet. I haven't done one unboxing. (54)
Everything the reviewer forgot to mention as an index at the bottom: Andre's axes, Selected Ambien Works (See Quake II, Marian Tubbs & Andre Piguet, Arcadia Missa, November 2014, Holly Childs No Limit, holy x hela, Holly Childs fan/stalker Twitter (@allergic2holly cf. Holly Childs 2013 Twitter @allergic2cum), Bjork, Aphex Twin, Fitch/Trecartin. Katherine Botten [REDACTED]. Holly sleeping on my couch September 2014. (Holly sleeps a lot). Cosplay. Rape culture. Netflix.)
Why would you care more about finding a body than finding an external hard drive? Both house data and experience, both to a certain extent sentient. (93)
Dredging swamps and data at the end of the world, LDR (long-distance relationship not Lana Del Ray):
Stan using iPad to look up how to do dredging in a black iPad 2 3 4 Military Tough Hard Rugged Heavy Duty Shock Protective Survival Case that feels thick and heavy to touch, and he's wearing fatigues (99)
claiming a gully is net art. claiming a swamp is net art. fuckn GPS some shit and put in a flag. gully video
romeo + juliet sex and an extra stabbed in the filming (100)
A Theory of the Drone, by philosopher Grégoire Chamayou
Publisher The New Press writes: In a unique take on a subject that has grabbed headlines and is consuming billions of taxpayer dollars each year, philosopher Grégoire Chamayou applies the lens of philosophy to our understanding of how drones are changing our world. For the first time in history, a state has claimed the right to wage war across a mobile battlefield that potentially spans the globe. Remote-control flying weapons, he argues, take us well beyond even George W. Bush's justification for the war on terror.
What we are seeing is a fundamental transformation of the laws of war that have defined military conflict as between combatants. As more and more drones are launched into battle, war now has the potential to transform into a realm of secretive, targeted assassinations--beyond the view and control not only of potential enemies but also of citizens of the democracies themselves. Far more than a simple technology, Chamayou shows, drones are profoundly influencing what it means for a democracy to wage war. A Theory of the Drone will be essential reading for all who care about this important question.
Military patch of the USAF MQ-9 Reaper "THAT OTHERS MAY DIE" VELCRO MILITARY PATCH
When a journalist of Libération asked Chamayou about the motivations behind the book, he replied that "some philosophers in the United States and in Israel work hand in hand with the military to elaborate what I call a 'necro-ethics' that tries to justify targeted assassinations. So it is urgent to respond. When ethics is brought into a war, philosophy becomes a battlefield." (via)
Chamayou is a researcher in philosophy. A title that might sound a bit daunting for some readers. But fear not, A Theory of the Drone is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The rhythm of the author's reflections are fluid and easy to follow, the chapters are concise and highlight with precision a particular aspect of the weapon under study and Chmayou's references might sometimes be heavy (yet never obscure) on Kant but he also quotes Albert Camus, Harun Farocki, Eyal Weizman and even mentions Adam Harvey's anti-drone clothing.
Capt. Richard Koll, left, and Airman First Class Mike Eulo monitored a drone aircraft after launching it in Iraq. Photo U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Steve Horton
I haven't read many books about drones. In fact, i think this is the first one i read about the topic but i doubt i could find another publication that explains with so much ease and intelligence the dilemmas posed by unmanned aerial vehicles to the traditional codes of war.
Of course i've always had a visceral feeling that the use of drones by the U.S. and Israeli military is debatable, not to say coward and unethical. Chamayou's book articulates with precision and rigorous references to the history of war philosophy what is wrong with this form of unilateral warfare. Chapter after chapter, his books explores questions such as: What happen to the traditional principles of a military ethos of bravery and sacrifice when only one side of the conflict shoots and deprive the other of the possibility of fighting back? And more generally, how can one justify homicide in a noncombat situation? How does one-way-only armed violence distinguishes between fighting and killing? Within what legal framework do drone strikes take place? What does it mean for a zone of armed conflict to be fragmented into kill boxes the size of a human body? How does post traumatic stress disorder in this context differs from the one experienced by soldiers who fought on the battlefield? How do local populations hack and defy drones? How do you recognize a combatant dressed as a civilian, outside the zone of combat? etc.
The final pages of the book look at how the use of drones, a technology developed in a military context, is already seeping into civil society -mostly for police purposes- and what this will mean in the future for the subjects of a drone-state.
Perhaps part of the answer can be found in this image and these words i found in one of the last chapters of A Theory of the Drone:
A radio-controlled police automaton. From Hugo Gernsback, Radio Police Automaton, Science and Invention 12, no.1, May 1924 (photo)
In 1924, a popularizing scientific magazine announced a new invention: a radio-commanded policing automaton. The robocop of the twenties was to be equipped with projective eyes, caterpillar tracks, and, to serve as fists, rotating blow-dealing truncheons inspired by the weapons of the Middle Ages.On its lower belly, a small metal penis allowed it to spray tear gas at unruly parades of human protesters. It had an exhaust outlet for an anus. This ridiculous robot that pissed tear gas and farted black smoke provides a perfect illustration of an ideal of a drone state.
Screenshot of VVORK post from April 2006, as archived by Rhizome.
Today, Rhizome unveils a new archive of the contemporary art blog VVORK (2006-2012), in which we demonstrate a novel solution to the problem of conserving websites with embedded videos.
VVORK makes a useful test case for our digital conservation efforts because it presents one relatively narrow but difficult set of problems to solve. That is, when videos are embedded in a website, they are generally hosted on a third-party platform (on YouTube, for example); this means they may be deleted or taken down, sometimes for "inappropriate" content. But saving these videos into an archive creates problems for most scraping tools, especially when a video is used in many different contexts, as when the same video appears on multiple tag pages. The way these platforms select and serve the video files makes it difficult to have all embeds of the same video point to a single archival copy.
To address these issues, Rhizome's Digital Conservator Dragan Espenschied used Colloq, a tool for creating contextual archives that was developed by Rhizome in partnership with Ilya Kreymer beginning in 2014. (The service builds on Kremer's pywb tools; you can read up on the technical details of of capturing the web video here.) Colloq offers a robust solution for this long-standing issue; with VVORK as a test case, we have created a stable archive of the site including nearly all embedded video.
From a cultural perspective, VVORK is an important part of Rhizome's archive because of its role in the changing relationship between internet and gallery over the past decade. Looking at the site today, it can be difficult to understand how a very simple WordPress blog featuring images and videos of contemporary art, with minimal captions, could have become so influential and controversial. It now seems commonplace, like a million Tumblr feeds; it was even recently described by Frieze as "a Tumblr."
Blogging in 2006 was still a very text-heavy affair. In April 2007, one year into VVORK and just after Tumblr's launch, artist Sally McKay commented on its singular form, arguing that "VVORK is popular because they show lots and lots of pictures of art from around the world without a bunch of commentary. I love that! It's kind of weird how rare it is."
This emphasis on text was encoded into blogging platforms themselves. The name of VVORK's chosen tool, "WordPress," as well as its user interface (in which users were invited to "Write Posts" in large typeface, and to "Add Media" in the fine print) betray the emphasis placed on writing over imagery. Thus, VVORK's format should be understood as a specific, intentional use of the blog, not as a default format of the Tumblr age.
Screenshot of user interface for Wordpress 2.1, via Mashable.
Even if the format was lovable, VVORK often seemed to be a target for criticism; there was a great deal of hand-wringing about it at professional symposia and the like. By looking back at some of these criticisms, we can begin to shed light on some aspects of VVORK's influence.
One of the points raised about VVORK was that it seemed to imply that all art looks the same. Very often, there would be several quite similar works posted in a row. For a sense of this, browse the page compiling all posts labeled with the tag "plant," for example. As McKay put it, a lot of the work on VVORK could be described as "elegant sculptural installations crafted well from non-precious materials with interesting but tidy content and an unquestioning relationship to art institutions." This description sounds very similar to some of the stylistic descriptions offered up for postinternet art today... plus ça change.
Some fretted that this emphasis on similarity undercut the artists' individuality. Artist and Rhizome friend Guthrie Lonergan took this view; he argued that "VVORK makes 'clever' very unappealing, like some disease that art catches when it gets on the Internet." The similarities and patterns made it seem as if artistic production was "algorithmic to the extreme."
But this is what made VVORK radical and interesting. Instead of arguing for artists' uniqueness, it argued for their interconnectedness. In an interview conducted with VVORK during the archiving process and published in full below, they described their interest in this idea:
Writers seem to comfortably admit that they read and have read books, while many artists seem to cultivate the image of the isolated genius, detached from any outside influence…But the motivations behind the series were quite diverse. Seeing the sequences was useful to understand tendencies and to view the potential of different interpretations of an idea.
VVORK depicted artistic production as a networked, collaborative process subject to certain patterns, and it saw potential in iteration.
Another criticism that was raised of VVORK is also quite interesting to reconsider. In the introduction to Josephine Bosma's essential net art book Netitudes, Florian Cramer wrote that:[art announcement email list and online journal] e-flux and VVORK function as conventional news resources on art…the contemporary art world is still stuck in a mentality of regarding (and using) [the internet] merely as a medium *on* art instead of one where art can happen.
Rather than thinking of the internet as primary context where "art can happen," Cramer is saying, VVORK offers "merely" representations of artwork that are subordinate to the gallery experience. But over six years of looking at VVORK, it often felt very clear that art was happening there. In fact, Cramer's delineation strangely echoes an important passage in Bosma's book, recalling an argument made by Karl Heinz Jeron:
"Pure" or "real" net art was and still is a popular term used to differentiate between works of art that were created for the Internet by artists who use the internet's properties "well," and online art by artists who "merely" use the net for publication or other "trivial" purposes...For Jeron, the Internet was (and remains) a domain for all artists to use as they please. I could not agree more, and would never judge a work of art on its "specific" or "correct" use of the Net ever again. (Netitudes, 41.)
VVORK isn't "merely" an online publication; it's impure, nonspecific, incorrect net art at its best.
When VVORK announced, in late 2012, that they were shutting down, Rhizome's then-conservator Ben Fino-Radin scraped the site in a state of semi-panic via a wonky wifi connection in his hotel room (or so I seem to recall). He was worried that the server would go dark, and that an important part of net and postinternet art history would be lost to public view, so he acted quickly, and rightly so.
This archived version was mostly complete, but it had a problem: there were 135 videos embedded in the site. These were hosted on external servers and subject to forces beyond the control of VVORK or Rhizome, and a number of them had already disappeared.
The new VVORK archive now includes 111 archived embeds; 16 others were already deleted, seven were set to private, and one was technically impossible to capture at the moment of capture. According to Espenschied,
In its six years of activity, VVORK used all kinds of different video embedding techniques provided during that time by the platforms YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, Dailymotion, Ustream, Google Video, and the Internet Archive. Most of the embedded videos were set up to use the Flash plugin for replay, which raises problems with archiving and even more problems with access on current systems. The technique used was to swap out the the flash embeds with the updated HTML5 embeds that the video platforms use currently, and store the HTML5 video versions in the archive. When there was no HTML5 video available, the flv flash video was captured.
The VVORK archive is 392.5 GB in size in the warc file format.
Image from oldest existing VVORK post, April 1, 2006, captioned "Exhibition documentation by Dearraindrop" and categorized as "Virginia Beach."
Rhizome conducted the following interview with VVORK while archiving the website, with research support by Anton Haugen.
Rhizome: The oldest existing post on vvork.com was published in April 2006. It's an image of a colorfully painted floor with geometric patterns and comics-style characters. It was given the caption "Exhibition documentation by Dearraindrop" and categorized under "Virginia Beach." A factual question: is this exactly how that post appeared when VVORK started, or might it have been altered later? And a less factual one: do you remember posting that image? Why did you want to start there, and what was your feeling when you posted it?
VVORK: It was the first post and there has not been any alteration. We do remember posting this one; it felt liberating, to post an image without having to negotiate or ask for permission from anyone. We took the post down after a few hours because it was the end of March, and we wanted a more appropriate date to begin, so we reposted it on the first of April.
What was the general situation on the web in 2006 that made you feel that VVORK would be a compelling format online (serially posted images with minimal description)? Why did you decide to work with an online format rather than a paper-based magazine?
Before the blog, we were producing a magazine that existed in other magazines. We did not have print or distribution costs, but were still dependent on the good will and understanding of other magazines that allowed us to exist within their pages. When we first noticed blogs or online publications, it seemed too good to be true that you can reach people from around the world, with minimal costs and flexible publishing rhythms.
When did you realize that a lot of people were paying attention to the site?
After the first day of posting, we could see that hundreds had been on the site (after a spam mail out), which surprised us. This developed to a thousand per day within a month, and to about twenty thousand per day after two years. After the first month or so we noticed an increase in mails by artists sending us their works. After a year or so, it became more common to hear about its effects away from the keyboard, mostly from artists who had received invitations to shows after being posted. This was part of what motivated us to keep at it. It functioned as a platform for others and ourselves. Our first invitations to take part in exhibitions happened through VVORK.
Let's talk a bit about how the site was organized. It was primarily experienced chronologically, which foreshadowed the web we have today in which the "feed" is the dominant paradigm, and the search and the surf are dying. At times there are certain thematic developments, but often the juxtapositions of certain sets of images can be jarring. How did you think about pacing and structuring the content? Were you specifically interested in chronology as a formal device?
The chronological structure was the predetermined standard of WordPress, so it was not a conscious thematic interest, but rather a pragmatic convenience. We saw a necessity in the daily activity for it to work, so we tried posting 3 to 4 works a day, including Sundays and holidays. This rhythm was essential in having a regular audience.
Also on this topic, can you talk about the use of tags on the site? I remember using tags to navigate the site, but now I can only seem to find them by using reverse Google Image search. For example, the aforementioned piece was tagged "colors" and "colorful" and "colours."
The tags still work if you click on the Index. Or if you search them via the search function. Our tagging system was similar to a stock image tag system. We were leaning towards objective descriptive terms. It's a bit messy, but I can imagine that its quite useful.
When Tumblr started, which basically gave users a pre-made VVORK of their own, did that change your thinking about the site in any way?
Not right away, but Tumblr’s growing popularity slowly did. Over time, the feeling of urgency to continue declined.
"The Real Thing," exhibition curated by VVORK for MU Eindhoven, 2009.
The mediated experience is often our preferred experience, not just with art but also with books or movies. In 2009 we dedicated an exhibition to this subject, titled "The Real Thing" after a short story by Henry James in which the protagonist prefers the represented over the real. At that time, the exhibition went rather unnoticed, it did not seem to be a subject of interest as it is now.
We were interested in a leveling of value and in moving away from the binary distinction. It also served the purpose of making works experienceable from cities that are not New York, Berlin, London, or Paris.
Another way in which VVORK had a big impact on me was as a sort of portrait of the human artistic endeavor. It felt as if you could have chosen literally any idea and come up with five overlapping examples of how artists were exploring that idea. Was it ever difficult as an artist to realize that everything was already being worked on, everywhere, by other artists? Was this a cynical comment on art? Or was this potentially freeing? It's interesting to contrast it with Contemporary Art Daily, which often seems to be trying to tell us the opposite, that every artist is unique...
Writers seem to comfortably admit that they read books, while many artists seem to cultivate the image of the isolated genius, detached from any outside influence.
There are, of course, different ways to respond to the awareness of the works of others. It is not a necessity that it leads to emulation or innovation. It might get harder to make another neon after having seen such a vast amount of them.
But the motivations behind the series were quite diverse. Seeing the sequences was useful to understand tendencies and to view the potential of different interpretations of an idea.
Occasionally, it was a means of highlighting anachronistic market trends, as when we posted a series of abstract expressionist paintings, from the '40s to contemporary examples and from noted artists as well as from lesser- known amateurs. I would be surprised if you could spot the difference or categorize them historically.
In a way, VVORK’s function has now become the preservation of work that does not exist anywhere else online. How do you think the site’s function has changed as time has passed, and now as part of the Rhizome archive?
We are very happy to be included in Rhizomes archive, thank you very much for the effort. Indeed, it does feel like an archive now, and portrait of a few years. Maybe we will reactivate it some day.Notes  Throughout this post, original authors' capitalization of Internet has been retained. VVORK was captured using Colloq, Rhizome's protoype social media archiving tool. Colloq is funded by the Knight Foundation and is based on the web archiving toolchain pywb, developed by Ilya Kreymer.
Queen's Coat of Arms, in Neon, 2014. Photo by Luke Hayes
Photo by Luke Hayes
In the playhouse, as in the courtroom, an event already completed is re-enacted in a sequence which allows its meaning to be searched out. [...] The courtroom is, or should be, a theatrical space, one which evokes expectations of the uncommon. [...] Theatrical effects are such dominant factors in the physical identification of a courtroom that their absence may raise doubts about whether a court which lacks a properly theatrical aspect is really a court at all.
Milner S. Ball, Caldwell Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Georgia
Lawyers learn their lines before their performance, witnesses are given advice about how to play their roles, the judge intervenes when the rules (or should we say the script) are not respected. Meanwhile, the audience sits on the side to enjoy the show.
The architecture of modern courtrooms brings justice and fiction drama even closer to each other. The International Crime Court in The Hague, for example, is equipped with cameras, microphones and sound proof sheets of glass that separates the audience from the main protagonists of the trial. In doing so, the choreographic structures of the court are becoming separated and externalised through the medium of video feeds shot from multiple sight lines, artificial viewpoints and mechanical movements.
Objection!!!, the latest work of artist, writer and film-maker Ilona Gaynor, pushes the court strategies and dramatizations to their most cinematographic limits. Using a series of models, objects, images and a fictionalized case in which a tv National Lottery draw is fixed, Gaynor exposes how the language of film-making manipulates the way a case is presented to the court and how it is understood by it. According to the whim of the team that scripts, shoots then edit the trial, the unfolding of a court case could thus be made to look comical, suspenseful, romantic, tragic or even satirical.
Camera Move Sequence, 2014
Among the pieces on show is a courtroom diorama the director would use to plan the filmic direction of the trial, a green Chroma Key Set designed to be positioned as needed and edited out in post-production, a show reel that illustrates cinematographic courtroom drama, an elaborate drawing that maps out the location of the cameras, dolly tracks and people required for the shooting length of a real time testimonial deposition, etc.
I particularly liked the photographic 'documentation' of a lawyer practicing persuasive gestures in preparation for a trial. The images are inspired by 1925 photos showing Adolf Hitler rehearsing his oratory.
The Lawyer, 2014
The Lawyer, 2014
Hitler rehearsing his speech in 1925. Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann
Objection!!! is part of Designers in Residence 2014: Disruption, an exhibition that showcases the work developed by young designers during their residency at the Design Museum in London. I interviewed Ilona a few weeks after the opening of the show:
Hi Ilona! The starting point of the project is the new courtrooms built by architects where the jury is seated in a separate room. Is that already happening? And what motivates the change in architecture?
It is to an extent, with jurors becoming separated by glass and mirrors with live camera feeds and sound to accompany them. There was a surge in European courts that were being retrofitted into pre-existing office buildings, to save resources (and sometimes for safety of civil unrest) during late 90's and, the use of camera's, audio/video feeds is now becoming common practice and is considered state of the art.
The international Criminal Court, in the Hague operates as a very bizarre enclosure, scattered with cameras, positioned at varying heights around the room, their lenses sight and proximity fixed upon on the faces and edges of tables, glasses, mirrors and reflections all screening on live fed monitors to the both the prosecution and defence. These cameras intercut each other at moments pivotal of play, documenting the dialogue and sequence of events from much higher heights then those of eye level.
A view of the courtroom at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Photo ICC/Flickr
Court Diorama, 2014. Photo by Luke Hayes
Court Diorama (Detail), 2014. Photo by Luke Hayes
The piece that attracts the most attention in the museum show is probably the elaborate diorama. Could you describe it, what happens there?
The diorama depicts the redesign of a courtroom, the UK crown court to be exact. The geometry of the courtroom was redesigned with the audience in mind; the imagined viewing sightlines to be much more acute then they would normally be; the seats would be positioned as ascending podium steps (the kinds that you see at sports stadiums) to enhance the viewing experience.
The diorama itself is designed to act as a vehicle with which the 'event' or 'show' aka 'the trial' inside courtroom can be plotted and pre-enacted cinematically by the director and producers before it starts, much like theatre rehearsals or pre-recorded live audience TV shows.
The model was designed to be self-assembled, by easy slotting conjoining walls and furniture.
It also comes with a kit of parts that consist of prefabbed folding camera equipment such as: camera's, dolly rigs, tripods, microphone stands, audience participation signs such as "boo" and "applause" and a set of dramatically posed lawyers and corresponding court room furniture.
To put the diorama in context, dioramas are frequently used between stage / film directors to communicate to actors and production staff. It is used as a plan section for the action that will occur, the sequence in which it happens and what in spatial floor capacity. This work is very much about the positions, sightlines and choreography of people in space and time... in this regard the performance of the court has a lot in common with cinema. The curatorial voice of this work is for the audience to engage in the exhibition from a directorial perspective. What is exhibited, is the anticipatory tools (plans, drawings, scripts, imagery) with which a director would use to shape the production and this case the unfolding of a trial or 'courtroom drama'.
The Lawyer, 2014
The Lawyer, 2014
I'm quite curious about the fact that you chose to explain the work using objects. That's not unusual in a design museum of course but you are openly influenced by cinema, your work often refers to it, you hired an actor and there are indeed films in the show but they are not yours. So why didn't you just make a video to explain Objection?
I've got a strong aversion to films that's sole purpose is to explain a work. For some reason it's becoming common practice in design (especially when referring to objects) that the designer needs to reveal the 'imagined' interactivity of the 'objects', in some candidly scarce scenario.
For me, I actually tend to get accidentally commissioned to make objects; I don't even really value objects and often find objects hard to engage with, because somehow they tend to lack rhythm or sequential value. I see my work as studies, or compositions that try and allude to a balancing act of arguments or sequential chapters as you may have noticed I often index the 'objects' or give them a sort of taxonomy or textual story with which to engage with.Cinema for me is a common ground with which the fantasies of popular culture are often revealed in much more interesting ways then most other mediums, films allow us freely to wonder around the unimaginable in ways that are contextually and textually rich. My work is often tiptoeing along the edge of this medium because I believe the interrelations between cinema and topics I often pivot around are inextricably linked: aesthetically, contextually and culturally. I am actually this year moving my practice much more into the film going forward, both professionally and personally.
The films that you are referring to in 'Objection!!!' are a series of edited clips taken from TV dramas and films that depict the courtroom on screen as a scene or sequence, spanning across the last century of TV and cinema. The purpose of this film is to put my argument into a broadly understood context... the collectively memorised experience of the courtroom, which for most of us, has been experienced through a series of lenses rather then first hand. The film of edited sequences also reveals to the audience the stylistic differentiations between filmic genres, revealing how hard it becomes to remain objective as a pervasive viewer (in this projects case, the jury) when a sequence of camera cuts, pans, soundtracks intertwine. It would be very disturbing to witness (or watch) a case dealing with violence or rape depicted accidentally or not as a comedy for instance; the viewer's perception and adjudication could sit solely on the head of a deft handed technician. Of course this is an extreme example, but we are much more conditioned to filmic languages, no matter how subtle they are, than we think. A fast zoom to face shot for example is a classic attribute to comedy filmmaking.
Basic Plot, Case 2194, 2014. Photo by Luke Hayes
Courtroom Drawings, 2014. Photo by Luke Hayes
I was reading the interview you did with Shona Kitchen for the Designers in Residence catalogue. I really liked the way you define your work as designing 'ruses'. Could you explain what you meant by that (since not everyone has the catalogue in their hands)?
I suppose what I meant by that (although actually not so much in this project) is that I'm interested in taking pre-existing functioning models or systems that often serve to exploit the misfortune of others (legally or sometimes illegally), in some form of monetary or political bargaining and use them in ways to turn it inwards on itself. For example the only way to counteract a trap; is to use another trap, which triggers the setting of a 3rd trap, then a 4th and so on.
It is within these terms that I define my practice of design. I would say that I design 'ruses' as a stratagem to plot, to plan, to scheme, as ways to imagine the conceivably unachievable but very logistically possible.
My work often uses design as a vehicle to manoeuvre the arrangement of material in space and over time to pursue an examination of the mechanisms of risk assessment, financial calculation, and rather more literal, legal forms of judgement, in order to generate new situations events or moments to invoke an aesthetic of precision, by really obsessing over narrowing margins of space and time, where exactness matters and becomes a force (I define as design) in its own right.
Also my work often takes form as an anticipation of another form, as a pretext often constructed to allow something else to happen or to be imagined.
My commercial work under my company name The Department of No, uses this practice in much more commercial spheres such as law enforcement, legal planning, crime prevention and script plausibility studies. The ruses directly relate when cross contaminating commercial work with exhibitions and consultancy, they all amalgamate, the fiction feeds the real world and vice versa.
For example I'm currently setting up a practice of licenced Private Investigators to operate in an office located in West Hollywood in Los Angeles, to investigate civil disputes across the city that repeatedly plays itself. The pretext being to write and direct a play of experiences and cases (individuals case plaintiffs unrevealed of course), but we will be operating as a real firm with real clients, attesting to real legal cases.
Photo by Luke Hayes
Photo by Luke Hayes
We live in a time of state control, secrecy and surveillance. But by turning a trial into entertainment, you remove some of the gravitas of the justice system and leave the procedures and interpretation of a trial into the subjective hands of a film director. I've just been reading articles from last year about the introduction of television cameras into UK courts to film the sentencing of serious criminals. There was a lot of debate around losing some of the 'mystique' of the courtroom vs helping "the public re-engage with the criminal justice system". Is that something you'd like to comment on?
I'm not sure the 'mystique' of the courtroom has ever really entered the minds of most, I say this though however because we have been conditioned to the action of the court, its demeanour, atmosphere and so on through television, film etc. Of course these are highly dramatized, with little or no legal references alluding to the true nature of the law but oddly, legal dramas are some of the highest rated shows on television... the sexed up Ally McBeal was supposedly responsible for a boost of people studying law during the early 00's.
I think there's a really odd disconnect between the perceivable "public re-engaging with the criminal justice system" and actual engagement with the issues that ensue due to pervasive camera's in the courts. The Oscar Pistorius trial was undoubtedly entertaining, however the engagement was only of merely entertainment mixed with a public lust for blood of a 'murderer' to be brought to 'justice' at the viewing onslaught of a booing crowd. It seems to be taking form as a contemporary Roman games, I'm not sure how to feel about that, it requires both a smirk and a exhale of disgust. But I think the 'vs' in the articles you were reading were perhaps in the wrong place. The more concerning question is how the cameras will inevitably affect the trial and veracity of testimony itself rather then jog the public's perception.
Ilona Gaynor is an artist, writer and film-maker. She is also the founder of research studio The Department of No and teaches digital + media students "how to tell better stories" at Rhode Island School of Design.
Designers in Residence 2014: Disruption is at the Design Museum in London until 8 March 2015.
Photos from Future-Proof, a Benefit for Rhizome Honoring Petra Cortright + Paul Chan & Badlands Unlimited
Future-Proof Honorees Petra Cortright + Paul Chan
Last night in the New Museum's Sky Room, Rhizome hosted Future-Proof, a sold-out benefit for Rhizome honoring Petra Cortright and Paul Chan & Badlands Unlimited. Mixing with the elements of Laurel Schwulst's lead design, cellist Isabel Castellvi opened the evening with a performance during cocktails. After, guests mingled and dined, and Rhizome Executive Director Heather Corcoran, Board Chair Greg Pass, and New Museum Director Lisa Phillips welcomed all and launched special editions by Lynn Hershman Leeson and Joel Holmberg.
Tributes to the honorees punctuated the evening. Rhizome Artistic Director Michael Connor celebrated Cortright's digital painting process by demonstrating how a work comes together Photoshop-layer-by-layer. Lauren Cornell, New Museum Curator, Triennial 15, narrated Paul Chan's inquisitive career and Badlands' continued prodding of publishing after the internet.
Congrats to Petra, Paul, and the Badlands crew: Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand, Matthew So, Cassie Raihl, Jessica Jackson, Nickolas Calabrese, and Karen Marta.
Photos from the evening are below, generously provided by Billy Farrell Agency (All photos taken by Madison McGaw, unless credited otherwise).
Rhizome Artistic Director Michael Connor and Mary Evangelista
Cellist Isabel Castellvi
Marc Horowitz, Petra Cortright, and Jon Rafman
Body by Body (Melissa Sachs and Cameron Soren)
Anne Palmer, William Palmer, Sima Familant, and Travess Smalley
Special Editions by Lynn Hershman Leeson and Joel Holmberg
Laurel Schwulst and Kaela Noel
Yukari Matsuzawa, Rhizome Board Chair Greg Pass, and New Inc. Director Julia Kaganskiy
Vera Alemani and Katja Novitskova
Fred Benenson and New Museum Deputy Director Karen Wong
Executive Director Heather Corcoran welcomes the crowd
Rhizome Founder Mark Tribe at dinner
Lisa Phillips, Oliver Frankel, Ebony L Haynes, and Chrissie Iles at dinner
Megan Newcome, Sara Ludy, Annie Werner, Heather Corcoran, and Lindsay Howard (Photo: Lindsay Howard)
Gabriele de Seta is a PhD student at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, currently researching digital folklore and media practices in mainland China. I met de Seta a few times in Hong Kong to discuss his research after following his research archives and reports on Tumblr and NewHive. While much has been written about the Chinese internet in terms of governance, censorship and contention, de Seta focuses instead on the complexity and nuance of the forms of vernacular creativity which characterize Chinese internet culture. This interview was conducted over email.
Ben Valentine: In your most recent NewHive post, you explore Chinese Internet culture (网络文化 or wangluo wenhua) through the visual vocabulary produced by image search results from Baidu, China's largest search engine. Could you share some indicative images and briefly describe their value for Chinese net culture?
Gabriele de Seta: I put together that short essay precisely to question certain assumptions that are almost automatic when talking about China and the internet. My hypothesis was that "internet culture" as a concept is itself part of a very specific Euro-American discourse around digital media—when I talk about internet culture, you know perfectly well that I am referring to multiple platform-specific repertoires of genres of interaction and user-generated content: you know I am talking about internet memes and YouTube celebrities, rickrolling and LOLcats, animated .GIFs and greentext stories. The idea of an internet culture, so to say, is itself part of our own internet culture—an idea rooted in the early communities of garage geeks and programmers, the aesthetics of the home computing era and the hacker ethics of the '90s. But is this the case everywhere?
Opening ceremony of "The first exhibition of Hubei network culture," photo retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website
In Mandarin Chinese, the direct translation of internet culture (网络文化 wangluo wenhua, literally "network culture") can indeed refer to a similar domain of trending topics, popular neologisms, and online phenomena, but it also means other things. For example, as I show with the book covers that pop up in the first pages of Baidu image search results, the term has been used in Chinese academic writing since the late '90s to indicate broadly the intersection of the web and culture at large. But it has also been used by the national and local authorities to promote the informatization of the country and the popularization of internet connections; in this case, wangluo wenhua means something closer to "internet acculturation." It is represented through polished stylizations of green urbanism (and floating IE icons); it carries undertones of governmentality ("create civilized websites"), and it animates promotional festivals complete with pin-ups and internet celebrities.
"Create civilized websites, establish civilized customs" banner retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website
In legal terms, "internet culture" does also appear on a kind of official certificate that you need to obtain from the Chinese Ministry of Culture to run a website providing content—the quantity of these certificates popping up in Baidu image search results is explained by the fact that you are legally required to display them on your website. Conversely, in Chinese news media discourse, wangluo wenhua often carries risky and moralizing undertones, as exemplified by the wealth of comic vignettes accompanying news articles: internet culture implies dangerous rumors, personal attacks, false information, and illegal practices. With so many contextual appropriations of the term, one starts doubting about its usefulness in approaching digital media use in China, especially when it comes to the kinds of vernacular creativity I am interested in. This is why the "local knowledge" (as anthropologists call it) comes in handy.
Example of an "Internet Culture Business License" (网络文化经营许可证 wangluo wenhua jingying xukezheng), retrieved via Baidu Image search from http://www.chinaacc.com/licence/www.htm
BV: What is the relationship between this "local knowledge" and the concept of digital folklore you adopt?
GdS: I take the term digital folklore as Olia Lialina & Dragan Espenschied define it in their Digital Folklore reader: the objects and practices emerging from the users' engagement with digital media platforms and computing applications. Olia and Dragan focus on the digital folklore of the early days of the internet and see the massification of Web 2.0 as the end of vernacular creativity; conversely, I think that as long as there are platforms and devices, users continue creating digital folklore—if anything, by now it might have become post-digital folklore. Local knowledge becomes the key to understanding (post)digital folklore: rather than asking "what is Chinese internet culture?", one tries to understand what neologisms such as egao (恶搞, "making fun of something in nasty ways") mean to the users who share this content; who calls whom a diaosi (屌丝, "luser") in which sociolinguistic context; how ACG communities (Anime, Comic & Games) mediate and translate Japanese otaku products on discussion boards and video streaming websites for a local zhainan (宅男, "nerd") audience, and so on. It is the typical anthropological move of trying to understand a context through the local practices and categories of commentary, only applied to digital media practices rather than, say, gift exchange in Papua New Guinea.
Local knowledge: Unknown author, "You are not alone, we are always with you - virgin, unemployed, suicidal, me, poor, fat nerd," Feels meme repurposed with Chinese categories of social solidarity (collected on dajiangyou).
BV: I want to talk about the mob element found in the Chinese internet. While in the West there is a growing conversation about the problems of internet trolls, this problem is taken to a new level online in China: from astroturfing to the 50 cent party, from spam to spam wars, and from doxxing to human flesh searches. Can you talk about that?
GdS: I think this issue has two components. The first is a standard assumption that in our good old Euro-American West, problems always arise from more or less deviant individuals (trolls, harassers, etc.), while in China things are stereotypically projected on the mass scale: gold farmers invading online gaming, armies of governmental censors, mobs of online ideological vigilantes, and so on. The second is the local predilection—in Chinese news media, propaganda work, and popular opinion—to hark back to the "angry mobs" of the Cultural Revolution (and many other tumultuous moments in Chinese history) when framing certain contemporary phenomena.
The situation, I think, is more nuanced: that the so-called 50-cent party(五毛党 or wumaodang) of propaganda workers supposedly paid half a RMB for each post does surely exist in some form (hopefully better remunerated), yet the term has by now become a common accusation hurled in online discussions at anyone expressing a vaguely reactionary or contrarian opinion. Another interesting thing is the way in which the public opinion guidance methods of the wumaodang have quickly been repurposed by private companies for commercial astroturfing. You don't have to be the Chinese government to benefit from personal spam teams—now pretty much anyone can hire a bespoke squad of paid posters (网络水军 or shuijun, "water army") to spread rumors about competitors, boost product reviews on e-commerce websites, or wage opinion-wars on bulletin boards and comment sections.
As for the so-called human flesh searches (an awkward translation: 人肉搜索 or renrou sousuo could be simply rendered as a much less intimidating "crowdsourced search engine"): the first cases of renrou sousuo were often hailed by commentators as promising birth pangs of Chinese citizen vigilantism. Then some cases started crossing the line between exposing and stalking or harassing, sometimes even violently, and the narrative about it has changed accordingly, both inside China and abroad. I guess that in the wake of GamerGate, there have also been interesting shifts in our discussions about trolling, harassment, and privacy.
Shuijun ("water army") comic, retrieved from Sina Games article "Retired 50-cent party member reveals: Online games water army makes a million per month" http://games.sina.com.cn/y/n/2011-04-11/1023488839.shtml
BV: During my few months traveling around Asia, I've loved finding localized remixes of Western memes. How are Chinese netizens remixing and localizing western media?
GS: This is a very interesting question which I've been grappling with recently. The binary opposition of global and local—especially when applied to genres of vernacular creativity—seems a bit stiff. While backtracking through the collection of content I compiled during my research project, I ran into a substantial percentage of pieces of digital folklore that were impressive cases of translation, often showing the layered traces of passages between multiple languages, platforms and contexts: a series of Japanese textbook illustrations are screen capped and framed by a Chinese punchline, while still preserving the original Japanese marker of authorship as part of the joke; an American "Feels" meme is re-contextualized with Chinese slang terms in traditional characters in Taiwan and successively disseminated on mainland social media platforms; animated GIFs of Obama and Kim Jong-Un are shared as emoticons on instant messaging platforms like QQ and WeChat, ridiculing international relations and world news; rage comics, from a self-referential genre of humor created by 4chan users making themselves reaction faces with MSPaint, are re-appropriated by a company based in Xi'anand transformed in different genres of web comics and, more recently, even live-action videos. This kind of translation comes full circle as the famous "Bitch Please" stylized face of Yao Ming—first popularized on Reddit—travels back to China as one of Asia's biaoqing san jutou ("Big Three Emoticons") along with Korean actor Choi Sung Kook and Japanese voice actor Hanazawa Kana.
"Asia's Big Three Emoticons" as presented by Wangyi news portal, retrieved from http://lady.163.com/13/0523/15/8VIO3R6U00264IJ2.html
Are these digital objects local? Are they a global genre of humor? Is this the local accent in a global culture, or vice versa? Again, assuming the locality or globality of an internet culture would first require giving it boundaries, which is in itself a complicated task – content moves incredibly quickly between platforms, and the practice of translation itself is often used as a mediating strategy to make sense of oneself and the others. Maybe the right answer is that in circulation, vernacular creativity is relational – remixing, copy-pasting, taking screenshots, editing and captioning are ways of getting in touch with each other while having some fun.