Posts for August 2011

Keeping it Online


Today I am pleased to announce the publication of a paper that documents the past, present, and future preservation practices of Rhizome's archive, the ArtBase. This paper is the synthesis of years of research conducted by Rhizome and other leaders of digital preservation, in and outside of art institutions. What follows is an attempt to summarize a few key points. The paper in its entirety is available here: Sustainable Preservation Practices and the Rhizome ArtBase

"…if nobody sees a museum piece, what’s the point of having it or keeping it? Museums exist for a social purpose, for us humans."
Bruce Sterling, keynote address at “Preserving the Immaterial: A Conference on Variable Media,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2001.


What happens when an institution acquires a digital work of art? How does one preserve and ensure the longevity of an art object that is inextricably tied to infrastructure built and controlled by neither artist nor institution? How can a work that exists in a social space, or makes use of real-time external data sources, be documented? These questions have long plagued collectors, conservators, and collecting institutions, as well as artists themselves. At Rhizome we face these challenges daily in our effort to preserve and ensure access to a multi generational practice and legacy of work produced by the communities we are built upon. The first line of Rhizome's mission statement reads: "Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology." Of these tenets, one that perhaps occupies the least public awareness, yet constitutes a significant portion of our labors ispreservation. It is at the core of Rhizome's mission of support.

Since it's inception in 1999, the ArtBase has undergone numerous stages of evolution. What began as a simple place for sharing links has grown into a comprehensive archive adherent to international archival standards, containing over 2,500 works. Parallel to the archive's evolution, we have witnessed the aging of these works, some dating to 1994. From broken links to obsolete plugins, we have seen it all. Slowly but surely we are migrating works to host on our servers so that we may provide stable URLs, understand the digital objects that a work is composed of, and create stable versions of works that will remain unharmed by technological innovation. We are on a deep level working to ensure true longevity for these works, that 30 years from now they will be accessible and functional. Rhizome is 100% committed to providing permanent, free, public access to this collection and its cultural context...



Artist Profile: Tabor Robak


Tabor Robak is a 2011 Rhizome Commissions winner for his proposal, Tunnels.

Screenshot from Carbon (2010.) Interactive Virtual Enviroment (download.)


There are pieces available on the web that are no longer on your own website, something that is fairly common with artists whose maintenance of an online presence is part of their work. Having developed your work in the public sphere do you hope that the pages and links with your own work are maintained? Would you be bothered (or would you prefer) if some of them fade away?

Yes, I think it is great that some of my work that I am not currently linking to via my website is still available for the dedicated viewer to find somewhere out on the web.  I will frequently remove a link to a piece that I am tired of only to find that I feel differently 6 months later and put the link back up. 

Many pieces on your site, such as Mansion, Explosions and Tidepool each isolate certain 'special effects' from various media (video games, action films and the psychedelic respectively to these three works) and push them to their logical, almost transcendental extreme.  Do you see these works as an expression of the failure of the original media to live up to their promises of transcendence and ultimate entertainment? 

I don’t see it as failure, just a buffer.  I truly believe in the transformative potential of technology but I am also trying to be a realist.  As eagerly as I await the singularity I also think it is ridiculous to hope for a techno-god to save us. There are 2 feelings I frequently find that reflected in my work that express this attitude.  One is a complete, hopeful, teary-eyed love of the glittering special effects and commercial aesthetics ...


KILL SCREEN's "Arcade" at MoMA


Two couples team up to play B.U.T.T.O.N. (Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now) in the main lobby

Kill Screen curated a sold out Arcade two weeks ago at MoMA's July PopRally. The museum was packed with art and game enthusiast actively trying their skills with an array of eleven games spread across the first three floors and the garden. I'm a closeted game addict so the event culled no shortage of interest from me. I started out the night playing Starry Heavens, a large turn-based installation of networked dots predicated on a feudalist hierarchy, with a group of friends and the game's creators, Eric Zimmerman and Nathalie Pozzi. The giant heilium-filled weather balloons floating above the game's stage added a Calvino-esque ambience and a minaturizing sense of scale. B.U.T.T.O.N., a game built specifically on unfair tactics located inside the Museum's lobby, quickly shifted the slow pace of Starry Heavens into a frenzy of subversive button smashing, shouting, and friend pushing.

Overall the games offered a broad set of aesthetics and interactivity ranging from the cooperative, full-body, and homebrewed Kinect-meets-iPad PXL PUSHR (created by Matt Boch and Ryan Challinor) to the binary palette and hauntingly captivating experience of LIMBO - with a special note to QWOP, which garnered a long line and much moral support for participants. I caught up with Jamin over email to find out more about his logic in curating the event:

JH: What was your thought proces behind choosing that particular group of games?

JW: We chose games that reflected the breadth of developments in games over the last five years or so. As you know, the Arcade was tied to Talk To Me and the communication between objects and ourselves.  So we wanted to find games that did the same thing -- that spoke different languages. LIMBO, for example, was chosen for its aesthetics and the monochromatic dream world that Playdead had created. Bit.Trip Beat was chosen for its pastiche and how it blends an old convention (Pong) with something new (sound). B.U.T.T.O.N. was chosen for its physicality and Canabalt was chosen for its austerity. We wanted a wide range of new experiences for attendees to explore.

One overall principle was to chose games that were easy to learn and interesting to watch. There were 1,000 tickets sold for the event so the environment needed to be one where we could cycle people quickly through games while not boring those on the periphery. There are other games that are wonderful but don't lend themselves to that type of setting.

Tentacle was projected to fill an entire wall as players downloaded the app and interacted using their smarthpones

JH: How did you choose the locations for each game? Was based it simply on available space or linked somehow to art that was in the locations before?



Rafaël Rozendaal: The Shift



Fabian G. Tabibian


Often the smallest image files on the internet and sometimes created by truncating a much larger image to the 32 pixel by 32 pixel format, the favicon acts as a type of superscript icon hinting at a websites content or intention. If you're an avid bookmarker of sites, like myself, favicons are familiar and offer guidance but rarely get a closer look or the more detailed consideration as a work of art. Fabian G. Tabibian has rescaled favicons from their restricted pixel widths to large-scale desaturated C prints.

His prints cull from a number of sources, but most notably the websites for branches of the United States Government. Somehow the polite vertical American flag favicon on the Senate's website takes on more ominous tones when converted to black and white and printed poster size, confronting you with its deficient resolution. The collection of prints, which were simply mounted on the wall at the Wassaic Project where I encountered them this past weekend, have also been shown in lightboxes mimicking their original screen-lit existence. In either format they present an eerie portrait of a typically unconsidered element of the internet.

Flag (#Senate), C-Print, 2011

Lightbox versions of Tabibian's favicon series

Eagle, Duratrans in Lightbox, 2011


Artist Profile: Duncan Malashock


Birthstone Puzzle, 2011 Performance documentation, digital video, 11 mins 47 sec.

I noticed one of your pieces is called Glass Bead Game. A reference to the Herman Hesse novel, perhaps?

How did you know?  I’m totally fascinated by that book and its implications, especially when it comes to culture and the Internet.  In case you haven’t read it, here’s the basic idea:  

It’s a science fiction story, in the distant future on Earth, in a European province named Castalia.  Castalia is the archetypical ivory tower, an academic sanctuary where students practice a form of abstract cultural study called the Glass Bead Game.  The game operates on the principle that every field of knowledge can be broken down into its component parts, and so the “beads” which make up the game are each symbolic of a “unit” of cultural knowledge or accomplishment from the arts, humanities, sciences, history, etc.  The idea is that these beads can be linked and juxtaposed together, the goal being for players to share their revelations of cultural insight through making connections between elements of all the arts and sciences.

“...a passage from the Bible, a phrase from one of the Church Fathers, or from the Latin text of the Mass could be expressed and taken into the Game just as easily and aptly as an axiom of geometry or a melody of Mozart.”

It seems like a utopian idea, the accomplishment of uniting the disciplines, but the story deals with the complications of studying culture while being removed from the necessities and urgency which made that culture possible in the first place; and in a way, it’s about that detachment and privilege symbolizing the end of culture.

I’m sure lots of readers and writers have seen the connection since the Internet was created.  Remixing, memes, “supercuts”, reblogging, and the hyperlink all bear a resemblance to this idealized mode of analyzing and resynthesizing cultural material at a distance.  Even the act of using the Internet, of having a peek at the total field of global culture via the network of information, can pretty easily give you the impression of an ex-cultural experience.  So to me The Glass Bead Game is a really thorough critique of that way of interacting with the world.

Anyway, I think about it a ton, although you’d never know it from that tiny video I made except for the name; it happened to fit in with the series of performance documentations I did, and I couldn’t resist playing around with the idea.  So thanks for asking.

Recently you gave a talk about your early experiences with computers and the tools that you used growing up. Would you still be exploring ideas about technology in your art without this background?

A lot of my work deals with interfaces, either making them, using them, or automating their use.  Those mediated experiences, you could say, are a tech-oriented phenomenon, but really the way I figure it, you could just as well say that any experience can be mediated through anything else that’s a “medium”.  Personally, I tend to explore ideas that come about through my personal relationship to technology as a medium.  And I think that’s pretty normal for an artist, no matter what materials are involved, because I see the creative process as basically being made of two interacting mechanisms.  The first is your own ability to manipulate what you’re working on, and the second is your ability to be emotionally and intellectually affected by the results.  It's a feedback loop, where the results of one process affect the tactics of the other; you see what “works” and what doesn’t “work”, whatever that happens to mean at the time, and you go back and change it until it does.  

From what I can tell, that’s how to play the game, and that’s the way it’s always been done.  I think it applies no matter what your medium is, even if your practice is very conceptualist or driven by critical theory; you’re still manipulating something and being attuned to the result.  Whether it’s paint, or sculpture, or JavaScript, or basket-weaving, or conceptualist declarations, or Facebook performances.  

So even though technology got my attention at a young age, and I’m of course interested in all the ways technology has transformed our society, I think some of the most valuable ideas artists explore are going to be informed by their relationship to the medium they use; I try to stick to that.



Light Industry Presents: This Is Marshall McLuhan. Tonight at the New Museum


Tonight's New Silent Series Event at the New Museum, 7:00PM

Light Industry Presents: This Is Marshall McLuhan
Part of Rhizome’s New Silent Series

This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage
Ernest Pintoff, 16mm, 1967, 54 mins, courtesy of Pratt Institute
Introduced by Alex Kitnick

August 11, 2011, 7:00 PM

$8 Members, $10 General Public

This Is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium Is the Massage premiered in 1967 as one of the first installments of “NBC Experiment in Television,” an innovative series of Sunday-afternoon cultural programs that would later include such diverse offerings as an animated special by Harold Pinter, Jim Henson’s live-action teleplay The Cube, and extended profiles of figures like writer Scholem Aleichem, cartoonist Al Capp, and architectural visionary Buckminster Fuller. McLuhan’s episode appeared at the height of his notoriety within popular consciousness: 1967 also saw the publication of McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s book The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, the fourth issue of Aspen magazine edited by McLuhan and Fiore, and an LP recording of The Medium Is the Massage released by Columbia Records.

An attempt to articulate McLuhan's ideas through the language of one of his paradigmatic subjects—television—This Is Marshall McLuhan intersperses observations by McLuhan himself with commentary from art-world figures like gallerist Ivan Karp, artists Malcolm Morley and Allan Kaprow, and Museum of Modern Art curator Inez Garson. As if to illustrate McLuhan’s dictum that “all media work us over completely,” these remarks are punctuated by rapid-fire montages of pop culture and the avant-garde, mixing performances by Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, go-go girls, stand-up comedians, and Madison Avenue’s most countercultural ads into a Laugh-In-era attempt at televisual information overload. An evocative dispatch from a moment when culture's relationship to media was in a state of profound transition, this rarely-screened film continues to resonate with our contemporary situation, its new technologies and their inventories of effects.

Alex Kitnick is a writer and curator based in New York. He edited the most recent issue of October (136). This past winter he curated the exhibition Massage at Andrew Roth.

Light Industry is a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn, New York founded by Thomas Beard and Ed Halter. For the past several months, they have been organizing an ongoing series of events across the city while preparing to move into their new space, which opens in September.



The Tale of the Big Computer


Our poets, especially those commonly called mystics, tend to regard the period immediately succeeding the formation of the Earth as a mighty effort on the part of nature to engender computers directly, without the help of any intermediary. They are alluding to the geological processes which crystallized out many of the substances of which a data machine consists. But the task of bringing forth computers from sterile soil proved too difficult. The tectonic forces which created mountains and differentiated minerals could not produce anything as subtle and complex as a computer. For this a lengthy, troublesome detour was required, and the greatest of all tasks had to be completed step by step. 

- Excerpt from The Tale of the Big Computer: A Vision by Olof Johannesson (Sagan om den stora Datamaskinen,) 1966

Triple Canopy's new issues includes a wonderful essay by artist Anna Lundh beginning with a look at a rare example of Swedish language science fiction, The Tale of the Big Computer, written by the prominent physicist Hannes Alfvén, (later a Nobel prize winner):

Sagan om den stora Datamaskinen was written at the very cusp of the computer age, but today’s perspective has shifted slightly, to that of a society already immersed in computer technology (a dependence that may obscure some of the technology’s implications). Though Alfvén’s story of humanity’s evolution, his ambivalence about technology, and his suspicion of politicians and bureaucrats are firmly rooted in 1960s Sweden, his tale has grown to encompass our 2011 present, exposing it from two directions. Alfvén’s future vision looks back past us but also stretches far beyond us, into the reaches of possibility. The borders between the past, the present, and the future are blurred and overlapping: a cross-contamination of time.

Researching whether The Tale of the Big Computer had been turned into an opera, as the British edition of the book said, Lundh found documentation of Swedish composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl's 1959 operatic adaptation of Harry Martinson’s epic sci-fi poem Aniara, "in which one of the leading roles was sung by the operator of the ingenious instrument Mima (a sort of mechanical brain and the soul of the spaceship), to an imaginative and energetic score that included musique concrête and even some electronic sounds."

Lundh's essay continues with an antic description of Blomdahl's plans to turn The Tale of the Big Computer into an opera. "It’s a rather idealistic and even paradoxical endeavor: to create an opera about future technology, using technology that inevitably belongs to the present."



We Copy Like We Breathe: Cory Doctorow's SIGGRAPH 2011 Keynote


Still image from Cory Doctorow's Keynote speech at SIGGRAPH 2011

When Cory Doctorow started his Keynote speech at this year's SIGGRAPH conference he started bravely by granting the audience "unequivocal permission to record video, audio, and to use those recordings ... in all media now known or yet to be invented throughout the known universe." This past Wednesday, two days after the speech, the Keynote was available on YouTube.

In the speech, Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing, outlined copyright and digital rights management's current state of affairs by providing details and examples that took the conversation far beyond the typically polarized copyright debate that divides the analysis into two mutually exclusive parts - either bad or good. In warming up to a proposal of his own set of laws he outlined an important issue that affects those experimenting on multiple portable platforms such as the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other emerging devices. Apple worked as the central example because of their sophisticated management of DRM, supported by the fact that they are generally good at what they do. Doctorow's concern about Apple's proprietary restrictions on transferring purchases from iTunes or the App Store were compounded by a recent announcement in the Guardian that German patent court has granted Apple a preliminary injunction that would prevent any import of Samsung's new Galaxy tablet into the country. This is certainly a concern for consumers and adds to the importance of Doctorow’s speech - but it’s an even bigger concern for artists who are experimenting on these platforms. As more artists make apps for the App Store they are opting into a restricted environment. If a consumer buys their app, and wants to transfer it to another device, they have no recourse except to ask Apple for permission ...


Beijing Post-Human New Media Art Show “Translife.”



From the New York Times, a look at “Translife,” "a cutting-edge International Triennial of New Media Art that purports to ring the death knell for 'representational' art, questions the very notion of life as we know it, and posits our collective entry into a 'post-human era.'” (More images and a write up by An Xiao on Hyperallergic.)

From the NYT review:

The diverse works on display are connected by their use of digital technology, boundary-crossing nature, collective creation process and the implicit assumption that our world has fundamentally transformed — in ways we are barely beginning to grasp.

“The time-space relationship is changed, or our perception of it,” Mr. Zhang said. “When we talk about time, it is multiple times now. Distance has disappeared because of the network.”

This point is made at the outset by the “Weather Tunnel” installation that stands in the museum’s courtyard. Designed by the architect Ma Yansong, the shimmering white tunnel contains weather-themed works by young artists from universities in China, the United States, Europe and Australia that draw on the same, real-time climatic data from around the globe. (Data is transmitted by custom-made sensors based on those created by Joe Saavedra, an adjunct professor at Parsons, for a project called Citizen Sensor.)

Inside the tunnel, which was uncomfortably hot in Beijing’s blistering summer, a visitor can look through a “Solar Wind Periscope” (Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig) at a visualization of extraterrestrial weather conditions based on information conveyed by radio signals; press a button on the “Weather Inflections” suitcase (Joel Louie, Jan L. Andruszkiewicz, Bryan J. Mather, Kevin Raxworthy, Julian Stadon and Paul Thomas) to hear a sensory-crossing sonification of weather conditions in various global cities; and even listen to an “Electromechanical Solenoid Orchestra & Weather Ensemble” (Benjamin Bacon and Joe Saavedra) that plays ...