Posts for November 2012

Don't Give Me the Numbers—an interview with Ben Grosser about Facebook Demetricator


Ben Grosser is an artist, composer, and programmer based in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. His work is highly attuned to the role of computation in changing and producing aesthetics, knowledge and social formations and much of it is available to view online at Recently, Ben made a new piece of software available. Facebook Demetricator is a tool for adapting the social network's interface so that the numerical data it foregrounds is removed. No longer is the focus on how many friends one has or how many comments they've gotten, but on who those friends are and what they've written. The following interview took place by email in September 2012:


Facebook Demetricator demetricating likes, shares, comments, and timestamps.
Original (top), demetricated (bottom).

Facebook uses numbers as a key part of the information provided on its interface. Things, or what are there rendered as things, such as likes, friends, comments waiting, events, are all numbered as are the relation of several other kinds of things to time. Facebook Demetricator suggests that Facebook users might step away from enumeration as a way of understanding the service. What role, for you, does the number play in Facebook, and what does the Demetricator propose?

As a regular user of Facebook I continually find myself being enticed by these numbers. How many friends do I have? How much do people like my status? I focus on these quantifications, watching for the counts of responses rather than the responses themselves, or waiting for numbers of friend requests to appear rather than looking for meaningful connections. In other words, these numbers lead me to evaluate my participation within the system from a metricated viewpoint.

What's going on here is that these quantifications of social connection play right into my capitalism-inspired desire for more ...


Five Videos: Ofri Cnaani's YES YES YES: Five Guests and Their Jouissance


“She was not suffering … imagine! … not suffering! … indeed could not remember … off-hand … when she had suffered less … unless of course she was … meant to be suffering … ha! . . thought to be suffering … just as the odd time … in her life … when clearly intended to be having pleasure.” (Beckett, Not I, 1973).

Open lips take some interesting manifestations on screen and stage and become a convention of representation. From Bernini to Beckett, silent to scream, physical to spiritual, pleasure to pain. Five Videos, five guests, and their source for supplementary jouissance:

“In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul then content with anything but God. This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain—though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share”. (Teresa of Ávila, 1510).

The angel that pierces Bernini’s Teresa with an arrow is “not only the most beautiful angel in baroque art, it is also the most beautiful face in the entire city of Rome.”[1] Under his beauty, Teresa’s face—open lips, fainted eyes, milky cheeks—are the face of the petite mort meeting the big death. Marbled in her ecstasy, Teresa refused to accept the binary opposition between physical love and spiritual love. Her out-of-body experience reinforces man’s fantasy of seeing a woman surrender but not for any man’s trick. Her speechless lips call for so many readings. Refusing to speak, the lips become both the receiver and the transmitter: between inner body observation and external knowledge, between the lower lips and the upper ones, between being overly alive and the virtually dead.

What is she reaching for? Yes, seriously, the outlawed barefoot Carmelite…What is she getting off on? Lacan knew the answer was not the phallus. He said, “all you need but go to Rome and see the statue by Bernini to immediately understand that she’s coming. There is no doubt about it.”[2] But knew she does it for no one phallus…. Is Teresa experiencing something more than an orgasm? Can it be that women experience greater pleasure then men? Will that pleasure be an ecstasy?





Last winter, Dan Harmon, who was then the executive producer of the television sitcom Community, shared that he tried, “many times a season” to put star Alison Brie “in a situation, wardrobe-wise, that I know is going to end up as an animated GIF file!”[1] Those GIFs, which circulate on Tumblr and other social media networks that traffic in images, are frame-capture GIFs. Unlike other GIF types, frame-capture GIFs plainly collect and endlessly repeat a single pop cultural moment from movies, TV shows, sporting events, political occasions, newscasts, cartoons, or even video games. As GIFs are silent, text is used to share dialogue or help shepherd the meaning of a GIF. Frame-grab GIFs are low-quality, incessantly mobile things, they can be awkwardly cropped and their focus is always obviously legible. Somewhat counter to this are what Daniel Rourke has termed art GIFs,[2] which, while also frequently sourced from movies or television, contain higher resolutions and have a self-consciously highbrow pretention, usually focusing on subtler, “artistic” moments.

A frame-grab GIF

Writing in the early 1990s, Susan Stewart observed that “with the advent of film, interpretation has been replaced by watching … Here we see the increasing historical tendency toward the self-sufficient machine, the sign that generates all consequent signs, the Frankenstein and the thinking computer that have the capacity to erase their authors and, even more significantly, to erase the labor of their authors.”[3] Stewart's diagnosis of the filmic watching-state returns, in a modified form, with the frame-grab GIF. These GIFs are in some sense the ultimate in self-sufficiency, not merely in the eternal return of their endless loop, but also within what Rourke has called the co-ordination of “their own realm of correspondence.”[4]

The quality of the frame-grab GIF is important. Borrowing insights from Hito Steyerl’s analysis of the poor image, the creation and distribution of frame-grab GIFs “enables the user’s active participation in the creation and distribution of content, it also drafts them into production. Users become editors, critics, translators, and (co)authors of poor images.”[5] Perhaps due to their quality and size, frame-grab GIFs have necessarily abstracted authorship. They are deployed in variable contexts, as reactions, illustrations, or expressions. Art GIFs, on the other hand, are circulated to be admired. Their authorship is also more consistently policed, as their authors demand credit for their work.


An example of what Daniel Rourke terms an "art GIF" (via)

While Stewart’s description of “the sign that generates all consequent signs” is one that erases authorship, the vernacular of frame-grab GIFs does something different. Instead of completely erasing authorship, the creation of frame-grab GIFs rearranges its tenets. Generally centered on a performer, framing the actor/actress in a context removed from the narrative flow of their source media. With their behavior on display, they carry a kind of performative authorial focus within the GIF. While the GIF is not by them, it is of them...


Community Fundraiser: Focus on Editorial


Have you enjoyed an article Rhizome published recently? Have you saved any of our features on Instapaper or emailed a story to your friends? Is there something you first saw on this website that inspired you or made you consider things in a new way?

I invite you to consider making a donation to Rhizome. Your donation allows us to continue our editorial operations and maintain our independent voice.

This past year alone, Rhizome’s editorial team has covered a breathtaking range of topics relating to the intersection of art and technology. Here are several highlights:

Martin Murphy's desktop from Adam Cruces's Desktop Views, featured in Beyond the Surface: 15 Years of Desktop Aesthetics

Photoshopped Sherman
Rachel Wetzler considers how we might think of Cindy Sherman’s photography now that she uses Photoshop in her practice.

Beyond the Surface: 15 Years of Desktop Aesthetics
Using Adam Cruces’ Desktop Views (a response to Alexei Shulgin’s Desktop Is,) as a jumping off point, Jason Huff explores the history of desktop aesthetics.

Screen. Image. Text.
As publishing moves from the page to the screen, Orit Gat considers the unique role of the digital image. She later spoke about this essay on a panel at the Frieze Art Fair.

Shu Lea Cheang on Brandon
Yin Ho speaks with the creator of the Guggenheim Museum’s first digital project, 14 years after its launch.

Image of Democracy: Why I Want to Build Nine Freedom Towers in Tiananmen Square
A personal essay by artist John Powers on public space and its political implications.

The Impermanent Book
An essay from The Piracy Project, an international publishing and exhibition project, on the mutability of text in both physical and digital books.

The Shape of Shaping Things to Come
Speculating on 3D printing’s potential to ...


Artist Profile: Body by Body



Body by Body & Julia Rob3rts, Sculpture for Burning Man (2012)

Why did you choose to create Body by Body?

CAMERON: I wanted to start something like a band but with visual art (but not a collective). Or at least have a Malcolm McLaren type role. I still would like to start a visual art version of Bow Wow Wow. So we started Body by Body, and it was nice to make work that was different from what I did solo.  When we started the Aventa Garden series, we needed a writer with a certain tone of voice, so we made Julia Rob3rts who does all the writing for us and about us.  In this way, we have our own private economy.  She writes all our press releases and sort of plays the 'artist as researcher/digital ethnographer/cyberflaneur' role for us, so we can focus on being symbolic artists and beatniks. This isn't new by any stretch, Pessoa is the first thing that comes to mind...

MELISSA: It was pretty random and not as deliberate as it seems now. Parker (Ito) and Caitlin (Denny) asked me to do something for jstchillin, and at that point I had been out of school for two years and wasn’t really making much work. I said to Cameron, 'I don’t know what to do for this but I think we should make something together and sell it on the site'. Then Cameron suggested we use a pseudonym to identify our collaborative efforts. The name stuck and grew into something else. We started creating other ‘characters’ and giving them a life, but really the pseudonyms function, at least for me, as a psychologically liberating outlet. It helps to not get bogged down in what one thinks they should be making or how ...


John Underkoffler at Eyeo, On the Verge


Two videos for the day: John Underkoffler (Oblong Industries) is the UI designer best known for creating interfaces for Minority Report and Iron Man. His presentation at Eyeo this year was among the most talked about. Also, recently the Verge visited their studio in Los Angeles.

Eyeo2012 - John Underkoffler from Eyeo Festival on Vimeo.

John Underkoffler : Animating Spirit. "A way to change everything is to build a completely new HMI. The new HMI will be exhilarating, beautiful, and capable, a complement and compliment to people. Just as surely as we do it will occupy real-world space, because that’s where the action is and because it will need to pay special heed to hands and what they’re up to. It will be characterized, like living things, by dynamism, by motion elegant and allusive and comic. It will make the pixels it inhabits — projected and barnacled, singular and teeming, sessile and itinerant — it will make these brazenly heterogeneous pixels interoperable: at once incidental and indispensable. This new HMI will embody a conviction that design, that fundamental human activity, is its as well. And it will infect everything built atop it with the same sentiment. The resulting world might well be one we like. So let’s see."

On The Verge, Episode 011 - John Underkoffler

Ross Miller took a trip to Oblong industries to check out their work in multi-screen hand gesture computers à la Minority Report. Then John Underkoffler — Oblong co-founder and chief scientist, as well as the science adviser for Minority Report and Iron Man — talks in-studio with Josh. Fascination, awe, even an ounce of fear — you won't believe Josh's range of emotion.


Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: Internet Coolhunting


A collection of examples where pop culture was clearly inspired by smaller creative activities on the web (with some people not necessarily happy about it). With online chatter regarding the performance by Rihanna on Saturday Night Live and it's adoption to the net-art 'Seapunk' style, it's worth knowing that the mixed reaction is not an isolated occasion. Marketers employ 'coolhunters' to look out for interesting small cultural developments to make their artist's seem 'fresh' and ahead of the game, an activity that has been happening since the early 1990s, which was a key subject in William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. It is now becoming more apparent in our more modern technological age — here are some of the better known examples:

Chiptune / Timbaland

Chiptunes, the lo-fi music associated with soundchips of old computers and gaming consoles, started to make their way into contemporary music with one piece eventually leading to a file for infringement, the Timberland-produced 'Do It' for Nelly Furtado:

Compare this to "Acidjazzed Evening" by Tempest/Damage

For a much more clearer comparison, the Demoscene documentary by Moleman breifly compares and contrasts the two songs. 

According to Wikipedia:

In August 2007, an action for infringement was filed in the District Court of Helsinki against Universal Music, Ltd alleging Nelly Furtado's song "Do It" infringed "Acid Jazz Evening". In January 2009, after a trial that included multiple expert and technical witnesses, a three judge panel unanimously dismissed the plaintiff's case.

On December 17, 2008, Abbott also testified as a witness of prosecution in the Helsinki court in Gallefoss' case against Universal Music Finland. The Finnish court reportedly threw out the case after ruling in only one aspects of the three claims (sampling, performance rights, producer rights), and the case remains in appellate court ...


Visualizing Sandy: An Interview with Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg


Wind Map by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg
All the way in blissfully sunny Los Angeles during the throes of Hurricane Sandy, I watched with growing anxiety as friends and family rode out the storm. I found myself unsatisfied by personal accounts of empty supermarket shelves and mass media coverage of FEMA efforts and felt I needed better awareness of what was happening in empirical, but also meaningful terms. As it turns out, I wasn't alone — cue the Wind Project, from artists Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Wattenberg, trained as a mathematician, is also known for his work on number of classic digital art projects like the Shape of Song, The Apartment, and Whitney Artport's Idea Line, as well as Rhizome's StarryNight. Collaborating with Viégas since 2003, they have served as principles at the IBM Visual Communication Lab, where they initiated the "Many Eyes" project, a user-generated forum for uploading data and creating visualizations through conversation and collaboration, in the hopes of fostering a more social and democratic style of data analysis. Other past projects span from visualizations of Google Image discrepancies of fine art masterpieces to chat histories to baby names. Viégas and Wattenberg currently work with Google's "Big Picture" Data Group in Cambridge, MA and maintain their own practice as Flowing Media, Inc. 
Their latest project is "a living portrait of the wind currents over the United States" using data pulled hourly from the National Digital Forecast Database. The Wind Project site saw a strong spike in visitors in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, as dumbfounded viewers watched the complex choreography of curling, comet-like wind lines circling the eastern seaboard. Though I'm not sure it did much to calm my nerves, the image from landfall — October 29th, 2012 — has become an instant visualization classic. I recently spoke with Viégas and Wattenberg over email about the project and its impact on our experience of Sandy:
Were you surprised by the reaction to the wind map in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy?  What do you think it is about that specific visualization that really captured people's awe but also sense of dread?
We were impressed, but not totally surprised: Hurricane Isaac was kind of a warm-up storm, and we saw a lot of interest then. One big difference was this time we were in the path of the storm. In fact, it's a minor miracle that our data center (that is, one old computer) in Massachusetts had power the entire time...


Help Fund Rhizome's Preservation Program


Rhizome has always placed an emphasis on, and played a leading role in the preservation of born-digital works of art and culture. Since 2001, our archive, the ArtBase has grown to become one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind, and our preservation practices have inspired an emerging generation of archivists. Here at the end of 2012 however, we find ourselves on the precipice of a new moment. Our ambitions have grown, or mission expanded, and we need your help in order to accomplish our goals in 2013. Please consider making a donation to our Annual Community Fundraiser to help us realize our preservation efforts.

Recently, we were generously donated two machines (seen above) from 1993, that functioned as servers for a NYC based electronic bulletin board system (BBS) that many readers will be familiar with: The Thing. This BBS was one of the earliest online communities of artists, curators, and critics, and grew to become a forum for international discourse – all of this pre-dating the emergence of the World Wide Web. In 1994, when The Thing migrated to the web, much of the BBS material was left behind. As well – the material nature of the experience of using The Thing was forever changed – transitioning from a text-based or crude graphical interface, to the new interactive affordances of the web.

Rhizome is on a mission to rescue data from these machines, and others, that contains the sole remaining complete record of The Thing as a BBS. Our goal is to restore access to this data through a virtualization that will allow the public to interact with The Thing BBS. In order to accomplish this task, there are very real costs. This is Rhizome’s first forray into a project involving digital forensics, and with your support we can secure the crucial hardware required for this work.

In 2012, the scale of our web archiving efforts grew exponentially. In the past, works that were preserved in the ArtBase tended to be of relatively small scale – solitary works or projects. We are now archiving sites that are much larger in scope, including the legendary website of prominent collective, Paper Rad. In order to make large scale web archiving efforts a larger part of our everyday operations, we need the community's support in order to grow the Rhizome team.

The past year was a boon for expanding the ArtBase collection. This past summer, the prolific Rafael Rozendaal donated the entirety of his finished works produced to-date – consisting of 75 websites in all. In addition to this sizeable donation, we preserved over seventy works, just a few highlights of which including:

Takeshi MurataPaper RadKari AltmanDragan EspensheidOld Boys NetworkHugo ArcierJustin KempMichael ManningPaint FXBrian KhekTimur Si-QinDigital CraftsBrenna MurphyTabor RobakSebastian SchmiegRosa MenkmanV5mtJohannes P OsterhoffChristine Love

While our preservation efforts and accomplishments in 2012 have been no small feat, our goals for 2013 are ambitious to the extent that we can’t realize them without a bit of help. I hope that you will consider a donation today, so that Rhizome may continue to ensure the longevity of these important slices of history.


Hito Steyerl at e-flux


from Abstract, Hito Steyerl, 2012

Abstract, one of three pieces in Hito Steyerl's solo exhibition at e-flux, shows the artist's visit to the deathplace of a friend. As an eyewitness plainly recounts the evening slaughter, he points out the remains of Andrea Wolf and some 40 other insurgents shot dead by the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. On the adjacent screen, Steyerl shoots the facades of German monuments with her phone. Doing so exposes the material origin for the killing (Turkey is a second market for German arms) and connects the languages of cinema with combat (the shot > countershot; an image becomes a target between crosshairs). As Steyerl acts as both editor and the woman with the movie camera (for her short discussion of Vertov, go here), the exhibit explores an area of overlapping influence between subject and object; aptly, one of her pieces is entitled Adorno's Grey.  

Journalist and PKK revolutionary Andrea Wolf is an ever-present proof of synthesis in the show. In November, we see a young Wolf as a leader of a motorcycle gang (that includes Steyerl) in a Russ Meyer homage. In Steyerl's films, builds happen, not sequences: someone discusses the usage of Costa-Gavras' State of Siege as a training film for young terrorists. See them kidnap, plant bombs, and evade authorities; learn that the film was based on first-hand, real-life accounts of resistance behavior. These films of bad-assery first appear as templates to turn an internal sense of (in)justice into action. They grow into an entangled relationship of images and events that map the formation and remembrance of Wolf's conscience. We may not know her details, but we have a sense of her motivation...