What's the Frequency...


I just recently had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Nisbet (and her 2 person and 1 dog crew) as she passed through Champaign-Urbana as part of the journey with her "Exchange Project." They were hosted by the Open Source art space. The project is a kind of personal barter system operating in the context of NAFTA, RFID tech and global transport. I thought it would be useful to post this here, as the iDC list has been seeing a somewhat heated discussion over the merits and critiques of social software and the hype of "Web 2.0." The use of RFID technology by artists has been another topic that generates a fair amount of arguments. The major points of the project as outlined by the artist are:

Politics: Exchange engages in cross border, person-to person, trade negotiations. It offers artistic resistance to international economic agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Surveillance: Exchange critiques and exposes Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. Fears of terrorism, national security, and identity authentication have bolstered the demand for RFID.

Identity: Exchange questions and disrupts correlations between corporate consumer data and personal identity through the dispersal and exchange of personal belongings (corporate data elements).

I'm interested in the differences, not in a polemic sense, but in a qualitative sense, between projects like the Exchange Project and another recent project that Natalie Jeremijenko (among others) is working on called "How Stuff is Made." Both have a didactic and experiential component at their core, but stake out different positions for the role of the artist. Both engage in the currency of "Thing Theory" to a degree, but I think from a critical perspective rather than from a utopian one. Not that there isn't some utopianism there...


06:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Power of Words and "Semantic Capitalism"

Research in semantic web and in text processing provides some very useful tools of classification that happen to become tools of criticism, as recent new media works have demonstrated recently.

This encounter of semantics and statistical analysis is already a fruitful method implemented in social softwares such as del.icio.us or Flickr, under the form of tags.


Tags are an alternative to traditional data classification as a real-time visualizer of how language is used in communities through keywords: a keyword (and the ideas and objects behind it) has a reality only to the extent that it is picked up frequently. The more people choose a keyword to tag their pictures or their bookmark, the more likely the tag will appear on a "popular tag" page. From there, it will be picked up more frequently due to exposure; thus it will grow bigger among other tags.

The access to information in these social softwares is determined by trends and rhetoric. It is always a surprise for me to find out that a picture of my cat playing with my swimming suit and that I tagged "bikini", as been visited 10 times more than any other of my exquisite pictures. See del.icio.us most popular tags and Flicker's tag page.


Two important blogs have recently accounted for such experiments in semantics and statistics, but with a critical perspective, with an application to the rules of web searching, or to the rhetorics of political speeches.


Powerofwords On the Information Aesthetics blog, the visualizer project called "The Power of Words, a Text Analysis of Political Discourse During Times of Crisis" by MMEDIA: a textual analysis visualization of keywords mentioned during famous speeches (ranging from G.W.Bush to W. Churchill). The visual display breaks down the rhetoric, takes the words out of context, & treats them at face value in order to analyze the breakdown of content. Each group of metaphors (e.g. decline, controversy, war, imagination) is color-coded, & sized based on frequency.

On We-Make-Money-Not-Art, an interview of French net-artist Christophe Bruno who defines his work as "diverting global symbolic structures like Google search engine or the blogosphere [using] language as a medium". His has gained recognition for the Ad-Word Happening project (rewarded at the 2003 Ars Electronic festival). In this interview he asks "What is speech at the "age of access", at the age of globalization and "taylorization of discourse"?". Here are a few quotes:

"It's clear to me that the history of Internet goes from utopia to dystopia. It started with a hope about sharing ideas, sharing media, free speech etc. and ended (well it's not over of course) with the commodification of language. On the political point of view, there is a clear will, from any power, to lock some of the libertarian aspects of the Internet. But what interests me are the economic dynamics that are in play here and how they interact with the political and social context. For instance, the relation of Google to free speech is very interesting: in fact free speech is the precondition for them to track and analyse the intimacy of the millions of bloggers. In other words Google's ethics of free speech (although they sacrificed this rule in China) lies in its economic dynamics, they need it to optimise their adwords/adsense system. (...)  I called this loop mechanism between control and spectacle, the "Taylorisation of speech". (...)

Google.art, let's call it like that, brings its own questions about the promethean myth of the separation between man and machine, which is nothing but the long term question: what is the Subject of speech?"

Read the whole interview here and find the AdWords Happenings there.

Adword Christophe Bruno AdWords Happenings plays with the rules of  the Sponsored Links service proposed by Google. He wrote little " spam poems" in the ad boxes that appear selectively to the user according to his personal search. (better picture of this here).

Clicking on these links would of course redirect the user to Bruno's website. Bruno then collected enough data to draw tables rendering the values of a number of keywords: their price relatively to their use (you click, he pays). After being rebuked by Google for not playing the game of advertisement, Bruno was then able to figure some of the rules of what he calls a "generalized semantic capitalism".

This is interesting in the light of Theodor Adorno's definition of the jargon: "The jargon has as its disposal a modest number of words which are received as promptly as signals" (The Jargon of Authenticity). The idea of signal points out to this other idea that a message is encoded. This encoding can be seen as the digital form of jargon: the rules of encoding do promote something, but it is not see-through, thus it can easily become a medium of control (cf. Benjamin's critique of the use of cinema and radio under authoritarian regimes). Adorno was criticizing the social values and political implications behind the jargon, and Christophe Bruno, in the era of spam, is interested in the economic values:

"One of the most interesting fact is that we have reached a situation in which any word of any language has its price, fluctuating according to the laws of the market."

These experiments play, to some extent, with the idea of early wittgensteinian idea of language as image - a proposition shows the structure of what it is stating, the factuality of it. But in these cases the artists deal with a language that has been devoided of factuality (let alone of reality): what they state is just an empty structure, a mere rhetoric. In these two works, the rhetoric hides a very complex structures of vested interests that gain efficiency through a visual manipulation of words. The text dimension of the Internet becomes literally a space in which you find your path, or where you are forced into routes, through smart visual manipulations.

Both Bruno and MMEDIA work on unraveling these hidden structures.They seem to take the idea of fact, by interpreting factuality in discourse, as an ideological event. The notion of event is indeed highly ideological in the sense that it is based on social conventions and political or economical rules. The Wikipedia entry for "Event" sums it up: "A significant occurrence or happening", i.e. an arbitrary meaning meshed into language and action. Our textual navigation is determined by these pseudo-events, thus shaping our habits.

12:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

Quality and Competitiveness in Distributed Poetics

Poetry On Wednesday February 15th, 2006 at Penn State University, Charles Bernstein (English Department) and Nick Montfort (Department of Computer Science) organized a reading at the Kelly Writers House. This time, it was under the new name of the "Machine Reading Series", and it was fortunate that the two visitors were "machine" poets themselves. It was also fortunate that I was attending, so I could take some notes. They are linked here.

Loss Pequeno Glazier (Department of Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo) and Jim Carpenter (Computer Science Department at Penn State University) were invited to read and talk about their work. Although the crowd was mostly coming from the literary field, the presence of Jim Carpenter oriented the event towards a technical discussion about the possibilities of language engines. In spite of that, the topic was most of the time drifting back to aesthetics problems such as "What makes a poem worth and/or work?", "What can a prosthetic process bring to a human poet?".

Jim Carpenter brought up two interesting notions: quality and competitiveness. This triggered an interesting debate, quite original among literary scholars: what difference can we make between publishing houses' or poetry reviews' standards (= competitiveness) and the poet's work free from these standards (= quality). To me the distinction appears to be quite artificial as it repeats the traditional dissociation between the commodity/reproduction work and the authentic work of art that does nothing else but flattering the poet. Did not the printed review activities in the 20th century sufficiently demonstrate the experimental potential of reproduction and distribution? And the digital medium allows even more possibilities.

But the core of the debate was really Artificial Intelligence: what Aspen Aarseth calls the Cyborg Author was at stake. It was interesting nonetheless as the cyborg-problematic eventually raises the problem of control over text. Here, it was less a matter of control over writing than a problem of control over reading (How do I react to a poem generated by a machine?). The question of control was transferred from authorship to readership. How do you tell what's worth reading? What is quality? What does it mean to produce something that is competitive? How do you control the cultural field that you chose (or not) as your environment? All these questions were implicit, but not too much discussed.

The two guest poets directed their reading towards this problematic of reading and reception:

1) Jim Carpenter implemented a language engine, the Electronic Text Composition (ETC) project. It has a "geodesic structure" that generates words from the British National Corpus. The paratacic dimension of the program eventually leads to output poetry that stands for pastiche to any literary scholar. It summarizes the history of modern poetry via language experiments on disarticulation and pacification from late romanticism to post-modernism. While, through pastiche, the output poems can become competitive (because they correspond to the review literary standards), the notion of quality is now attributed to the writing of the program itself. The computer program becomes poetic in that sense.

2) Loss Pequeno Glazier, director of the Electronic Poetry Center gave a retrospective overview of his work. He focused on his pieces that experiment new ways of reading. The machine here intervenes as a real-time editor of the poem, disturbing the linear reading by changing the text, allowing semantic jumps. The problem of database was tackled with this other perspective on poetry reading: What value has a poem if it is composed of variable fragments?

This debate was interesting for someone with a little knowledge of the potentialities of electronic textualities. The often-uneasy reaction of the audience (part ironic, part sympathetic) was telltale: how do you recognize a robot production from a human one? How do you value a poem according to this distinction? To me it comes down to the question of the caring for literature in the first place: what draws you into a text - which is the most difficult question perhaps.

Charles Bernstein insisted on the necessity for literary scholars not to forget the notions of database and access, two major properties of the New Media object according to Lev Manovich. He focused on the importance of formats and information processing within the literary world, something that is easily forgotten. Someone told me that it was shocking how English and Linguistic students didn't have a clue how to deal with Internet tools - that might be a caricature, but it also might be true that there is a new form of textuality that we literature students are missing. Pointing in that direction, Bernstein suggested that a poem may be analyzed in terms of data processing. What was the relativity of hermeneutics (several readings of the poem) can be reinterpreted today as a multi-functionality of the poem through the software program.

Camille Paloque-B. (Lyon, France)

02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Learning on the go

Walk1_2_11_06_1_1 The iDC list has had some great conversations (still going on at the moment!) about conferences and such recently, discussing alternative formats the problematics of bringing people together to share ideas, develop tactics and strategies, network and learn from each other in general. In a lot of ways, it seems that the whole point of conferences is to extend the traditional space of the classroom and other learning environments into more professional and specialized spaces. Of course, i'm speaking in a completely idealistic and non-cynical manner here.
But i think a lot of innovations that can be applied to educational settings can also be considered in relation to professional conferences if we want to take them as seriously and assume that they are indeed more than lines on a resume.
i was considering this while following a new course here at UIUC being taught by my colleague Kevin Hamilton, library science (& more) researcher Piotr Adamczyk and visiting artists Laurie Long and M.Simon Levin based on a larger series of events. The class, titled Mobile Mapping for Everyday Spaces, involves students from various disciplines (including art, dance, computer science and landscape architecture) in the study and creation of cartographic technologies based on walking. Without going too much into it, one great thing that i gather is going on from my limited involvement in the course is the focused back-and-forth between discursive exploration and shared problem solving. In other words, they read/view and discuss others' works related to a topic and then work on specific problems in collaborative groups, which is then fed back into discussion.

While this is extremely simple (my description, not the class), i wonder if conferences and the like could benefit from this kind of discursive workshop model. How can conference sessions actually organize response mechanisms (i.e. focused on the feedback) rather than the delivery of singular "vanguard" positions?

09:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Talking with Your Mouth Full


Last night, I attended a dual talk by writer Lori Waxman and artist Michael Rakowitz (both in from Brooklyn) at Mess Hall in Chicago. Lori presented a paper that she's written on FOOD, the artist-collaborative restaurant started by Gordon Matta-Clark, Carol Goodden and Tina Girouard in 1971 in SoHo (I think I'm remembering the location correctly?). FOOD seems like an early experiment in what would later become service-based aesthetics and also an investigation into the growth of the service economy and the "flexible personality" of the artist. Having seen the Matta-Clark film bearing FOOD's name, I had only known that such a project existed, without any details... a fact reinforcing Lori's assertion that, when FOOD is discussed at all, it is largely done so within the framework of Matta-Clark, a framework that gaines power from the artist's early death (not unlike Smithson). The restaurant became more of a business concerned with its economic vitality after 1973, when the artists pretty much left and the specific geo-cultural situation changed. Lori ended with the looping, and unresolvable question of whether the artists left because FOOD was becoming a business, or if it became a business because they left.

Rakowitz talked about some of his past projects, including the PARAsite project (which was recently represented in Ljubljana) and Minaret. He also went into a new, developing work that involves running an import business. Based on his family history, Jewish Iraqis that immigrated to NY after the creation Isreal, the business imports products (especially some apparently really tasty Iraqi date syrup - Rakowitz claims Iraq produces the best dates in the world, with hundreds of varieties.) from Iraq at a loss due to the ridiculously high tarrifs placed on Iraqi imports. So your four dollar can of date syrup would run 35 dollars! To paraphrase the artist, "If you don't get pissed off about people dying in Iraq, maybe you'll get pissed off about the price of your date syrup." These projects, as Michael explained them, explore his interest in the possibility of failure (in terms of absolute function) to create a meaningful disturbance in discursive and symbolic space.

There are many questions brought up by both presentations related to the economics of art and the possibility for engagement through mundane and "everyday" processes. In the historical context, there is always the question of sustainability of the record (the official archive), but maybe the more important questions relate to how art, without taking for granted its accepted role and definition, interacts with/in what's going on around us.

12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

LA Weekly article

Naimark“I’m going to put the phone down now — just hang on.” http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/49/digital-willis.php

"Media art is not only notoriously difficult to define, it’s nearly impossible to sell and it’s a pain in the neck to exhibit. Generally, the term “new-media art” designates artworks that incorporate some form of electronic media, often entail viewer interaction and frequently reflect back on our immersion in a technologized world."

09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Art Formerly Known As New Media

An exhibition to mark the 10th anniversary of the Banff New Media Institute
Curated by Sarah Cook and Steve Dietz
Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre
September 17 - October 23 2005

Shu Lea Cheang, Francesca da Rimini, Sara Diamond, Garnet Hertz, irational.org, Michael Naimark, Greg Niemeyer, r a d i o q u a l i a, Catherine Richards, Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg, Maciej Wisniewski

September 17 1 pm (in JPL 204): Artists' Talks - Garnet Hertz and 
Greg Niemeyer followed by performances of the works of Greg 
Niemeyer and Catherine Richards in the gallery

September 17 2 pm (in the gallery): Curators' Tour of the exhibition and Opening reception

Press Release and images available:

Souvenir t-shirts available also!

05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Prog:Me Review (Rio de Janeiro 2005)

Progme4Rio de Janeiro currently presents its first media art festival. Four floors in the newly opened Centro Cultural Telemar are dedicated to "Prog:Me." Tickets are free for this venue that focuses on art and technology and the crowds of Rio are coming-- from kids who interact with game art pieces to youngsters who return to see the daily changing video program. This festival does not compete with the Electronic Language International Festival (FILE) that was founded in Sao Paolo in 2000 because mobility is still limited for most people here. The exhibition hopping art nomad is not far as common in Brazil as she may be in Europe or the United States. For the local context this festival offers an introduction to interactive media art installations, net art, and critical artist games. The symposium that is organized in tandem with the exhibition launched with a series of artist talks and presentations by media theorists from Brazil and North America. The culture-activist, translator, writer and organizer Ricardo Rosas gave an introduction to the history of net art and zoomed in on web-based works from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico that are often overlooked. He is aware that we don't live in what Vuc Cosic called the 'heroic times' of early net art when the networked multitudes were still thrilled about the ability to access artworks independent of curators and their institutions. Rosas points to the fact that in South America it is mainly the middle and upper classes that have access to the internet. And those others without network privileges at universities or at work are completely left out. Ricardo Rosas and Carlo Sansolo collaboratively curated the net art section of the festival. With their selection of hundreds of works they go beyond the likes of the Belgian/Dutch duo Jodi who were put forward in the books by Julian Stallabrass and Rachel Greene. The curators do not only include artworks from the cultural capitals of Brazil-- Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo -- but also exhibit pieces from the Brazilian cities of Minas Gerais and Recife.

Progme2The project is encouraging also in other ways. To this day, Brazilian artists when entering the international circuit are expected to work in relation to the Brazilian artistic über-parents Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. The desire for preconceived authenticity makes it quite difficult for younger artists working in new media to contribute their voices to this context. For Rio de Janeiro 'Prog:Me' is a first go at experimenting with contexts for new art avoiding such curatorial shortfalls. Monitors throughout the exhibition allow visitors to browse, think, listen and play their way through the armada of net art pieces made available here. A more educational, dialogical approach that would have included attention to the specificity of each net art piece and brief introductions to the often very conceptual works was not the intention of the curators. For them it was important to show the broadest possible range of work. Sitting in front of one of the monitors clicking from one piece to the next, each individual artwork becomes a frame in a cinematic loop. Like in the blogosphere (the network, or linked community of all weblogs) the individual blog is not what creates the overall meaning. The interconnections between the writing on the weblogs creates meaning. Browsing through the net art pieces in the festival one is left with the general impression of art as network and social esthetics. The meaning of the artworks appears in their cinematic juxtaposition. 
When the exhibition closes in two months a trace in the form of a link collection on the festival's website will remain. This may become a situated knowledge pool for Portuguese speakers for whom US American or European books on media art and theory are unaffordable, not relevant to their local context or simply in need of translation.

TelemarThe vast majority of pieces in the exhibition are web-based, which is partly due to the fact that the shipping of hardware is costly and often requires the artist to be flown in for the set up of her piece. For the Brazilian user/consumer/producer today, net art may be especially inspiring because the "you can do this too" call of the early days of video may echo here with those who have the basic hardware, net connection and free software. While it takes a good education to start thinking about the making of net art, the means of production are available to many and screen-based work may indeed be a good entry point to media art production in Rio. 

This media art festival is an ambitious effort facilitated by the artists Carlo Sansolo and Erika Fraenkel who worked as curators invited by Alberto Saraiva at the Centro Cultural Telemar. We should look again when the next Rio media art festival comes up. A catalogue in English and Portuguese will be published by the Centro Cultural Telemar and can be ordered there starting at the end of September.


Trebor Scholz, July 2005

12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A conference on curating digital media

A conference on curating digital media


Tate Modern, London
4 June 2005, 10.00 ­ 18.30

If the assumption is made that traditional curating follows a centralised network model, then what is the position of the curator within a distributed network model? This conference investigates this question in relation to recent ideas around the Œimmateriality¹ of cultural production and dynamic systems leading to contradictory tensions between increased collectivity and curatorial control. It asks how curators respond to new forms of self-organising and self-replicating systems, databases, programming, net art, software art and generative media within the wider system of (im)material culture? What new models of curatorial practice are needed to take into account the transformative nature of objects, and production processes that are collaborative, shared and distributed?

The conference also introduces 'KURATOR' - a free software application designed as a curating tool for source code that can be further modified by users.

09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)