Posts for June 2012

The Download: Mendi + Keith Obadike


This month The Download features American Cypher by Mendi + Keith Obadike.

Still from American Cypher (2012)

American Cypher is a suite of projects that respond to American stories about race and DNA. The first module of the project was a sound installation inspired by the relationship between U.S. Presedent Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave and mother to his children. The instantiation of American Cypher offered this month through The Download, takes the form of a score for performance; combining poetry and video recorded in the basement of Jefferson's plantation, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the following excerpt from an interview Rhizome contributing writer Jason Huff conducted last September, Mendi and Ketih discuss the role of race and history in their multi-disciplinary practice.

Many of your pieces are concerned with race and identity and confront those issues through technology. In your 2001 piece "Blackness for Sale" you were asked to remove the auction from eBay because of its inappropriateness. Thinking about growth of identity and social networks on the internet over the last decade, do you feel that it is important for artists to continue to make political work that engages the internet and other new media?

While our early sound art works like Sexmachines, Automatic, or the Uli Suite were not about race/identity, certainly many of the early Internet works were. We would say that race itself is a technology, and so making work that looks at how issues of race or identity play out online is a way to highlight this fact. The Internet is by nature a contested space, so any work that engages with this terrain is of course political. Many of the questions we started asking in the late 90s around narrative structures, technology, and identity seem to remain relevant today ...


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Rhizome Digest: Best of Rhizome May


Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: Television



Art from Outside the Googleplex: An Interview with Andrew Norman Wilson

Artist Profiles


Social Media Marketing Masterclass





Artist Profile: Bradley Pitts


Singluar Oscillations: Correspondences (email), 2008

First, could you talk about your two degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics? Specifically describing the moments when you decided to reroute the instrumentalities of your field, and pursue them instead in a highly singular, individualistic exploratory way?

I started MIT thinking I wanted to be a theoretical astrophysicist due to the philosophical implications of that field. I quickly realized though, that I needed more tactile engagement in my work in order to be satisfied. Aeronautics and Astronautics was a way for me to combine my interests in space and material. It mixed scientific concepts with material application, but wasn’t able to satisfy my desire to contemplate and build meaning. Only in my architecture and visual arts studies did I find a space to combine concept/theory, material, and meaning into a “tactile philosophy”. In these disciplines there was less discussion about rules and solutions, and more discussion about one’s interpretation of context, intent, and the implications of one’s process. This opened up the possibility of designing experience and meaning over objects and functionality. 

Throughout my undergraduate studies I thought I would go on to get a Masters in Architecture and be an architect, but this changed when I was part of a team that conceived, designed, and built a group of micro satellites. At the end of the course we tested them aboard NASA’s parabolic-flight aircraft, the “Vomit Comet”, which produces 25-second periods of weightlessness and double-gravity. Instead of going to grad school in Architecture I got a Masters of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics where my research was on advanced spacesuit design, a perfect combination of my interests in space, architecture, and bodily experience.

If there were any major turning points, they were spread out over my time at MIT ...


Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: The Female Pixel


 A collection of items from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the web, around the theme of 'The Female Pixel' 

Paragon Sexa Doll [Intro] by fmtownsmarty [PK]


A monthly on-line / offline happening celebrating female pop-culture icons

Above: Examples of gif put together by Andrew Benson (Grace Jones), Haruko Hirukawa (Marianne Faithfull), Jennifer Chan (Dolly Parton), and Yoshi Sodeoka (for Grace Jones). Grace McEvoy (first event gif.) Emilie Gervais &Sarah Weis (second event gif.) Also included above are animated gifs taken at various event nights created by Lorna Mills and Tony Halmos.

"Sheroes is a monthly limited-run art party series bringing together on and offline works that playfully and performatively explore the iconography and cultures of fandom surrounding an ever-expanding "League of Legendary Ladies": Joni MitchellChaka KhanTina TurnerMadonnaYoko OnoErykah BaduEtta JamesMarianne FaithfullDolly PartonGrace JonesDusty Springfield & more. 

Sheroes is presented by salonnière reeraw (Rea McNamara). Based in Toronto, the series curates specially commissioned performancessounds,installations & visuals."

As well as the monthly happenings there is also an upcoming day-and-night SHEROES Virtual Season event at the WhipperSnapper Gallery, featuring work and performances from the year-long run as well as musicians and net-art installations.

More about the Sheroes project can be found at their Tumblr Blog and their Google+ Page 

Lillian Schwartz

Self Portrait

Pioneer of art created with the computer: 

Lillian Schwartz is best known for her pioneering work in the use of computers for what has since become known as computer-generated art and computer-aided art analysis, including graphics, film, video, animation, special effects, Virtual Reality and Multimedia. Her work was recognized for its aesthetic success and was the first in this medium to be acquired by The Museum of Modern Art.

Her contributions in starting a new field of endeavor ...


On the Natural History of Surveillance


Still from The Conversation (1974)

Upon hearing the phrase, we may not know exactly what a “cephalic sniffer” is, nor whether it is a real piece of technology. However, as to what such a nefarious device might be able to do, we could surely begin to imagine from the name alone. And as for whether it is technological reality (it is not, being invented by Philip K. Dick in his story Clans of the Alphane Moon), from its “sci-fi” sounding alliteration we might guess correctly that it is purely fantasy.

At least it was fantasy when PKD invented it in 1964. Today, advances in biometric identification mean that while a device that can search out an individual by his or her brainwaves is not yet on the market (at least publicly), searching out a person by face or speech pattern is decidedly real. Furthermore, brain-computer interface devices (BCI) have been commercially available since at least 1999. So how far are we from the technological reality of a biometric tracking system hacking BCIs and tracking individuals? If we change the name to “brainwave keylogger”, it suddenly is less fantastic, and frighteningly plausible.

Submitted for your consideration: an entire list of surveillance concepts, proposed by science-fiction stories. Note the technologically real items: Augmented Reality, ubiquitous surveillance, drones, eavesdropping rays, and tracking systems. These are all things that we might call “cutting edge tech”, but indeed, certainly real tech. Surprise, shock, uncanniness, paranoia— yes, it is repeated enough to be cliche--the future is here.

But what is truly uncanny about our present “not-so-distant future”, is that we continue to refer to it as the future. There is no need to speculate. We have a fully evolved culture of surveillance technology in the United States. Here is another list: this time of non-fictional surveillance concepts. They range from the slightly-troubling to the fully-horrifying, but they all are now employed by the government of the United States for the purposes of so-called “National Security”:

PalantirNo-Fly ListFull Body Scanners, “If you see something, say something”, Border Searches are Exempt from the 4th AmendmentStop and FriskNYPD spying on Muslims,TSA harassment of children, the elderlyDHS spying on activistsThat DHS existsFBI terrorism entrapmentDomestic Drone SurveillancePrivate PrisonsOver 1% of US Citizens in JailNational Security LettersFISC CourtsImmigration PolicyAbu-Ghraib Prison AbuseGuantanamo Prison CampExtraordinary RenditionTortureCodifying Indefinite DetentionFBI seeking backdoors in electronic communicationsICE raids on websitesIris scans of civil disobedience protestersWarrantless WiretapsRecorded FutureThe Domestic Communications Assistance Center

Nevertheless, the primary means by which we engage with surveillance culture outside of the news media is still speculative art and fiction. Speculation allows us, as both creators and readers, to play design-fiction with reality. It is rapid prototyping in emerging psychological patterns. But these thought experiments do not exist in a vacuum.



Hennessy Youngman Beyond Youtube


Jayson Scott Musson as Hennessy Youngman

A few weeks ago, Electronic Arts Intermix hosted an evening with the newest edition to the EAI galaxy of stars, Jayson Scott Musson. Better known as his online persona Hennessy Youngman, host of ART THOUGHTZ, a series of lectures in which he discusses everything from Bruce Nauman to the Sublime. Musson's work—originally availably only through Youtube—will now be archived and distributed by EAI. The move was roundly thought of as bizarre—especially since EAI will begin charging rental and purchase fees for works that have been and will remain visible free of charge on Youtube.

While Youtube may provide an invaluable service for anyone trying to circulate their work, it is important to remember that Youtube plays by its own set of rules. Musson described his frustration when one of his first videos to garner 100,000 views was removed for language violations. He was unable to replace it with a clean version or communicate with anyone at Youtube. Previously, Youtube has censored work by artist Petra Cortright. While Youtube may seem like an online space designed to allow users to share whatever they want, it's really an institution that controls the content it allows online.

Furthermore, though Youtube has incredible archival potential it remains an unreliable archival source. While ART THOUGHTZ  is currently on Youtube, there's no guarantee it will remain there in the future. EAI has a function that may involve pulling works from their original contexts, but ultimately ensures not only that artists' work is reliably available, but also that they recieve compensation for that work. No one balks at EAI's preservation and distribution of The Medium is the Medium, a 1969 collaboration between WGBH and emerging video pioneers. Though made for broadcast TV, you ...


Queer Media Art & Theory on empyre


This month Empyre is devoting to a conversation on Queer Media Art & Theory including Rhizome contributor Jacob Gaboury. The conversation is moderated by Zach Blas, (interviewed by Gaboury for Rhizome in 2010.)


Moderated by Zach Blas (US) and Micha Cárdenas (US) with Amanda Philips (US), Margaret Rhee (US/Korea), Jacob Gaboury (US), Jack Halberstam (US), Homay King (US), Michael O’Rourke (Ireland), Jordan Crandall (US), Patricia Clough (US), Lauren Berlant (US), Pinar Yoldas (Turkey/US), Ricardo Dominguez (US), Heather Davis (Canada) and more.

This month’s focus on empyre will explore queerness and its relations to media art and theory. Featured guests will introduce their artistic and theoretical practices to consider and reflect upon the multiplicitous terrain of queerness and technology.

We understand queer new media--art and theory--as something more than just new media produced by LGBTIQ peoples. Queer new media to us encompasses queer methodologies and political commitments, a general troubling of binaries from the technical level and beyond, a continuous challenging of gender roles, the explorations of possibilities for sexuality, alternative friendship and kinship structures, and a general desire for the non-normative, strange, subversive, and utopic. Importantly, queer new media for us is about the continual re-making and refashioning of queerness. New media theory has taught us for some time to pay careful attention to materiality, in all its human and nonhuman forms. Queer new media practices engage our material world and consider the shifting feedback loops between the construction of queerness and material existence. What happens to queerness when we engage it with / through new media?

These discussions emerged out of conversations between Blas and Cárdenas based on their shared practices. Recently, we created a mailing list, Q [], because we saw a need for ...


Artist Profile: Adam Harvey


From the set of "How to Hide from Machines"/CV Dazzle photoshoot

It's interesting that your career has gone from taking pictures to thwarting cameras, with projects like CV Dazzle and Camoflash. When did you become interested in camouflage and face-detection spoofing?

I became interested in spoofing and camouflage when cameras metamorphosed from art making tools into enablers of surveillance societies. This happened gradually over the last decade starting with the Patriot Act in 2001. To me, this document marked the beginning of the end of photography as I knew it from art history books. Now, 175 years after the daguerreotype was invented, cameras integrated with facial-recognition systems comprise the fastest growing sector of the biometrics industry.

But the use of photography in biometrics is almost as old as photography itself. In the late 1800s Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin and pioneer of biometrics, used composite imaging in an attempt to predict criminal behavior and illness. For example, if a subject has similar facial features to that of a criminal he or she was more likely to commit a crime.

I see spoofing and camouflage as intelligent responses to the uses/misuses of photography: surveillance cameras, biometric systems, and paparazzi photography.  Though these uses have always been part of photography at large, it’s impossible to ignore their presence now.

Sometimes this negative omnipresence supersedes the camera’s role as an art-making tool. As a photographer, I think spoofing and camouflaging tactics can help offset this effect and make photography more interesting, more communicative, and that this can lead to better pictures. Camoflash and CV Dazzle are projects centered on making photography more interesting.

One of my favorite quotes, by René Magritte, is that “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” When everyone is photographing and revealing the world, it becomes interesting to try and cover it back up, to reveal anonymity.

Thinking of "How to Hide from Machines," included in the exhibition FaceTime at On Stellar Rays last winter, in which DIS magazine assisted with your tactical makeup and hairstyling ideas; there's something very stylish about CV Dazzle in addition to its function. What was your inspiration? Do you consider these looks "design fiction" or something we might one day see out on the street?

I think it depends on the cost associated with being exposed in public. If there is an increased threat to privacy or instances of abuse in the biometrics industry, then I think it is very likely that spoofing in public could become more acceptable.

The looks I collaborated on with DIS magazine could easily be classified under design fiction, but so could a lot of runway fashion. One of the goals of this project is to make camouflage communicative. The looks we designed were meant to make the wearer feel protected but not invisible.

It was interesting to see how the models reacted to wearing it. One of my favorite images from the shoot with DIS is when one of the models started texting and smoking while wearing CV Dazzle. This made it seem as if it had already become practical...



Reality Drone TV


Former President George W. Bush standing next to a Predator Drone in 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper.

On a monthly basis, the US military collects over 10,000 hours of footage from Predator Drones that needs to be watched an analyzed. The Warholian challenge of sifting through the amassed footage and waiting for a moment of interest to the intelligence community has overburdened the military's viewing capacity. The load is only expected to increase with an over-extended drone program at the US-Mexico broder and the introduction of enormous new surveillance suites in Afghanistan and beyond.

The military turned to stalwart consultant geniuses the RAND Corporation. RAND's final report, The Future of Air Force Motion Imagery Exploitation: Lessons from the Commercial World [PDF], turned to a group of people most familiar with waiting patiently for a payoff: America's reality television producers. RAND consulted with producers from reality TV hits as diverse as Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and Rock of Love: Charm School. Wired reports that the operations of a reality TV production and military drone footage analysis are not so different:

The volume of footage exploited in a reality TV control room, the report states, “is comparable in scale” to what an Air Force ground station processes. Operations in both scenarios run 24/7, with operators required to “record and report events in near realtime.” And in both settings, footage can be mundane for hours on end — until unusual or important events occur unexpectedly.

“You can’t have someone staring at the empty Jersey Shore living room for 24 hours a day,” Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who did not contribute to the report, tells Danger Room. “But when something crazy happens at 3 a.m., you want to be ...