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Excessive research

Liverpool, UK, November 3-5, 2015

Month

September 2015

Scott Wark – The Meme in Excess of its Instance

0. INSTANCE

 

Probably the first Lolcat

Anyone with a cursory familiarity with the internet will recognise the archetypal meme instantly: an image that can be humorous, but isn’t always, and that’s overlaid with header and/or footer text. It might be an image of cats, dog(e)s, frogs, or other animals; celebrities or pop culture scenes; hi def or lo brow photo-shopped or MS Paint graphics that are real, drawn, or computer generated; white Impact font in ALLCAPS or primary-colour clouds of Comic Sans text; or, at the limit of what we might consider an image, the looped movement of the GIF. This content is more or less schlocky and popular. In broader terms, the word has been extended to other forms of digital media, including easily re-shared (often inspirational) phrases; short videos, like vines; or even embeddable audio clips and sound-boards. The meme has sloughed off its neo-Darwinist associations and is now taken to be internet culture’s minimal, circulating unit.

 

 

The meme is not just an image, but it is usually consumed, produced, disseminated and manipulated through graphic user interfaces and distributed platforms. The interface is the non-visual meme’s visual frame. Perhaps, like Hito Steyerl’s “poor images”, the meme moves like an “errant idea” (Steyerl, 2012: 32), tracing the path of that which goes astray. Steyerl also says of the poor image that, “[i]n short: it is about reality” (44). The meme is internet schlock, but its errant movements also expose us to the massively distributed networks that are less a virtuality than an other elemental milieu. Like the more strictly defined internet images that Maria Olson describes, memes “circulate in excess” (Olson, 2008: 280). This excess, the internet’s, is what the meme indexes. Not only because it exploits network infrastructure to make internet culture move, but because the meme is, in a very basic way, in excess of itself.

 

1. SERIES

The meme is always more than a particular instance because it has a double character. To function as a meme, media must express an organising syntax. The meme-instance is also, always, a member of a meme-series. But this quality makes it this almost-contradictory excessive unit hard to theorise. The meme resists reduction to its putative “content”, troubling typical – discrete, additive – understandings of cultural objects.

 

A definition of the meme like the one Limor Shifman offers is indicative. Shifman’s definition identifies three main characteristics: it encapsulates “a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance”; it states that these items “were created with awareness of each other”; and it stipulates that these items “were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the internet by many users”(Shifman, 2013: 41). Or: the meme is serial; produced collectively; and it circulates. Whilst Shifman’s definition is useful, it is also limited.

 

Probably the earliest Doge meme

Take the Doge meme, one of the most popular (Anglophone) memes of the past few years. The popular Know Your Meme (KYM) platform, a user-generated meme encyclopaedia, constructs a taxonomy of the Doge meme by identifying its common characteristics. These include the ur-content of the now-iconic Shiba Inus breed of dog and the Comic Sans MS font overlay in basic, bright colours; the twisted misuse of the formal grammatical modifiers, much, many, so, very and such (as in typical phrases like “very Doge, much cool”); and the related ironic “contemplative” stance that, it is argued, these features engender. KYM historicises these features by relating them to key platforms, like the “Shiba Confessions” Tumblr, or media, like the seminal clip from the early comic web series, Homestar Runner, that is credited for spelling out and so initiating writing/saying D-O-G-E.

 

How are we to use these materials to understand what a meme might be? Taken alongside Shifman’s framework, the data that KYM archives can be stitched into a history by enumerating instances and bringing them in to a more or less adequate genealogy. The second-person plural past tense Shifman uses – memes “were” created, “were” shared – defines the meme as a nominalistic collection of instances with a trackable provenance. This approach allows us to understand the meme as an accretion of instances that merge, like tributaries, into its contemporary instantiation. But this reduction to the collection of instances elides the meme’s collective, excessive character, because the “group” it describes is not the same as the “series”.

 

This approach fails to escape a basic theoretical aporia confronting any theory of the meme: that “Doge” designates both a Doge, an instance, and the Doge, the series. The series can neither be reduced to nor transcend the collection of instances that comprises it. Or: it is in excess of its apprehensible content. This claim can be clarified by Georges Bataille’s distinction between a “restrictive” and a “general” economy. In Shifman’s model, making memes is the prerogative of participatory users and amounts to a kind of collective activity. It presents what Bataille calls a “conventional set of human activities”, or a restricted, enumeratable group (Bataille, 1988: 68). In the face of this model we might ask, what’s the return on a meme? Can the meme be limited to the sum of its constituents, or does the meme put something more into play? How does a meme, like the Smaug meme below, emerge out of, mutate, or deconstruct the Doge?

 

Smaug-Doge (Smoge?)

 

The tendency to reduce the meme-series to its content is symptomatic of a broader problem in media studies. A meme is only a meme, or a meme-series, when it enters circulation. Yet media studies so often fails to account for what the mechanism that underpins distributed cultural production, the circulation of media, actually is. When the meme ceases to circulate, it ceases to exist. The “irreducible movement” that Bataille ascribes to his “general economy” (68) is integral to both its mediation and its basic continuation. To understand why the meme is in excess of its content, we need to ask what it means for a meme to return.

 

2. CIRCULATION

 

Circulation could be described as fundamental to large-scale media, but it’s not very well theorised in media studies. Our usual understanding of circulation is problematic, because it’s tautological. The etymology of circulation, which denotes or has denoted something spreading or moving through something else, is inscribed with its own media theory. Circulation is usually understood as the circulation of content through a medium. Sianne Ngai, for instance, defines circulation as “the technologically-mediated movement and dissemination” of things like “information, discourse and commodities” (Ngai, 2012: f.n.1, p. 246). For memetic media to be reduced to content, then, they need a carrier: the networks that content passes through. But this division between content and network, or matter and form, generates a problem.

 

The problem plays out like this. When we ask the question, “what is circulated”, we get the following answer: content. But if we follow this question with another, “what is circulation?”, we get a tautological answer: circulation is the circulation of content. If content is already understood as, by its very nature, having already been put in circulation by its technological substrate, the circular nature of our conception of circulation becomes clear. Content circulates; technology circulates content. The concept of the circulation of content is without content.

 

I’m just going to leave this here

 

“Content” is the death mask of circulation. Content is content because content is content, which is to say because it isn’t anything in particular. If the meme is analogous to content, it has no utility as a concept. It would signify a contradictory impulse: to understand the meme as a unit that is both informational, and so seemingly free to circulate; but also phenomenal, and so understood through and for us. The impulse to reduce the meme to its instances does violence to the concept because it assumes that the meme’s singular, phenomenal form is primary. It elides the meme’s irreducible, nonhuman movement because it assumes that the economy of the meme produces returns that can be cashed in by an aggregate of human actors.

 

That’s probably not realistic, Keanu.

 

We can apprehend this movement’s velocity when we ask, instead, what it means for a meme to return. Karl Marx’s concept of circulation helps us to frame this question. Marx argues that the circulation of capital must be “grasped as a movement, and not as a static thing” (Marx, 1993: 185). Capital’s movements intersect with, but are not equivalent to, internet culture’s. But, we can nevertheless begin by focusing on circulation understood in excess of its infrastructural carriers. Circulation is the process through which something returns – but not necessarily to us. Circulation forms a circle, “autonomising” a process that is abstracted from its contents (Marx, 185). Sheared from the dynamics of capitalist value creation, this process – Verselbstständigung, achieving an independent existence – autonomises the meme as a processual series. The meme that enters circulation returns to itself.

 

If the meme is neither content nor instance, what kind of media is it? The concept itself exceeds the mere image, encapsulating GIFs, vines, bits of text and short audio clips. Memetic mediation is irreducible to the instance, but it shouldn’t be confused with its network infrastructure. The meme in excess of itself reorders what we think of as media, because its mode of mediation exploits the processual, constantly mutating distribution of the network itself – and makes it available for manipulation.

 

(In simple terms)

 

3. MEDIA

Sybille Krämer argues that “”mediation” must be understood as radically extrinsic, as the back-and-forth of circulation itself” (Krämer, 2015: 54). What we would otherwise call the meme’s “content”, its intrinsic qualities, are secondary to its extrinsic quality, that it has entered circulation. The instance or its content is a retroactive epiphenomenon of the process of the meme returning to itself. Steyerl says of the poor image that it “is no longer about the real thing – the originary original” (Steyerl, 2012: 44). The Doge’s genealogy is secondary. What it’s about are “its own real conditions of existence: [] swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities” (44). To return to what I said she said before, “in short: it is about reality” (44).

 

The Doge meme has also morphed into a Cyrptocurrency with a real world value, mixing alternate modes of circulation – and the modes of reality they produce.

 

The meme is a kind of media, only not the kind we’re used to dealing with. Bernhard Siegert has critiqued media studies’ tendency to reduce media to usually screen-based devices and interfaces (Siegert, 2015: 87) – to that which is discrete. But the meme’s circulation mediates, and can be used to manipulate, a specific relationship to reality. The meme can only return to itself, or exceed itself, because it can collect a certain kind of return made possible by another kind of abstraction.

 

What we call the internet is not an internet, but a series of networks governed by protocols, technologies and distance (Dourish, 2015). These networks trace a very terrestrial material infrastructure: the letters labelling Google’s search interface transmitted to us, along fibre-optic cable routes first laid for telegraphic communication (Easterling, 2014), from massively-polluting data centres whose cooling pipes echo this logo’s hues. The internet is not an abstraction or a frictionless space through which data flows, because we can point to where it quite literally is. But circulation nevertheless generates a kind of abstraction that subsists in the joints of its massive, global distribution.

 

 

Benjamin Bratton’s fiction of “the black stack”, which describes this global distribution, has a certain kind of utility for thinking memetic mediation. Global data movements might not flow freely – or at all (Sutherland, 2013) – but they are in excess of our ability to either comprehend or to calculate them meaningfully. As John Durham Peters quips, “ontology, whatever else it is, is usually just forgotten infrastructure” (Peters, 2015: 35). The internet is not reducible to a re-presenting network map. Rather, this kind of mapping is a “cultural technique” that, given Siegert’s argument that ontology emerges out of “concrete ontic operations” (Siegert, 2015: 87; 2013), provides us with one way of dividing and mediating the internet’s distribution. The production and circulation of memes is another kind of technique.

 

If the meme has any utility as a concept that is non-medium-specific, it is because it emerges from a cultural technique that is specific to a massively distributed network real: the meme that returns, in excess of itself, is first made as a kind of offering.

 

4. EXCESS

The fiction of the stack or of massive distribution has a limited kind of phenomenological truth: the internet is in excess of us. The eventual heat-death of our solar system undoes any empirical efficacy that Bataille’s concept of a “solar economy” might have had as energetic apeiron. But his idea of squander is still useful for thinking the excessive dynamics of memetic circulation. Making memes is a kind of expiation, a kind of offering made to what we construe as excess itself. Any return that we might get from this meme is secondary to the originary return it must first make to itself.

 

The limits of the solar real

 

Memes aren’t for us, but they participate in what Alexander R. Galloway calls the “furious” network real (Galloway, 2013). Memes are non-media-specific because the basic technique that presupposes them is the mediatic mode of making an offering to the network. This is, in the end, why the meme’s content is epiphenomenal. The “content” of the meme, or what we consume, is retroactively condensed as a set of associated, and, contingent techniques: the Shiba Inu, Comic Sans, etcetera. It’s real “content” that we consume is not, originally, what the meme contains, but that it is able to circulate.

 

How a meme doesn’t work

 

This expiatory technique is processual and recursive: we – where this term is understood, always, in terms that are singular and collective (see Stiegler, 2009) – try to manipulate the abstract reality of massive distribution by making memes. Olson has described internet images as “the vertebrae of a body that we otherwise seek to theorise as amorphous” (Olson, 2008: 281). Memetic mediation gives the network a furious, mutating, threatening spine.

 

But if this expiatory technique traces a mode of existence, it is one in which what is shared is only shared indirectly and may never return to us, as either profit or as experience. By exploiting the furious reality of distributed networks, this technique traces the outlines of alien processes that we can only ever access obliquely. The mode of existence of technical beings (see, i.e., Simondon 1980) introduces scale into experience. What is huge may be entirely indifferent to what isn’t. Though our sun radiates huge amounts of energy, it will one day die. We rely on it, but it is radically indifferent to us.

 

Like magnets, the fractal notion of scalability is rather mystical

 

Or: we may make our offerings to the internet, but the internet will remain unknowable in its entirety. Contra Bruno Latour, networks are not necessarily available at all of their points. This is an abstraction, but it’s also real. The relationship between the act of expiation and subjectivity is oblique at best. Its effect on us is less like the sun’s excessive rays and more like an enveloping atmosphere, a milieu that can only partially be perceived (Peters, 2015: 46). What does it mean for experience if the act of giving to an abstraction is not only not reciprocated, but that the non-reciprocity of what is massively larger than us can be exploited as a technique? The meme errs because it doesn’t rely on us. The furious “non-human” swarms.

 

 

// BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. New York: Zones Books, 1988.

Bratton, Benjamin. “The Black Stack”. E-Flux No. 53 (2013). Online: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-black-stack/

Dourish, Paul. “Protocols, Packets and Proximity: The Materiality of Internet Routing. In Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Infrastructure, eds. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

Easterling, Keller. Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space. London: Verso, 2014.

Galloway. “Love of the Middle”, in Galloway, Thacker and Wark, eds. Excommunication: Three Inquiries into Media and Mediation. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2014. 25-75.

Krämer, Sybille. Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy. Trans. Anthony Enns. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015.

Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 2: A Critique of Political Economy. Trans. David Fernbach. London: Penguin, 1993.

Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Olson, Maria. “Lost Not Found: The Circulation of Images in Digital Culture”. In Words Without Pictures, 18 September 2008, online: http://wordswithoutpictures.org/main.html?id=276

Peters, John Durham. The Marvellous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2015.

Shifman, Limor. Memes in Digital Culture. Mass.: MIT Press, 2013.

Siegert, Bernhard. “Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in Germany”. Online: Theory, Culture & Society, 2013. 1-18.

—         “Media After Media”. In Media After Kittler, eds. Ileni Ikoniadou and Scott Wilson. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Stiegler, Bernard. Acting out. Trans. David Barrison, Daniel Ross and Patrick Crogan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image”. In The Wretched of the Screen. Berlin: Steinberg Press, 2012. 31-44.

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Cansu Topaloglu-Media Archaeologies of Digital Humanities: A Genealogy of Digital Humanities, Archives and Interfaces

Abstract

I seek to undertake a detailed analysis of the historical perspective of Digital Humanities in a technology oriented media age, and would like to investigate how digitised records (consisting of visual or a textual data) and interfaces defined by algorithmic systems within computational machineries was transformed by informatics within interfaces. As well as the theoretical perspective, my research will continue to deal with the case studies theorising within a media archaeological perspective including the concepts of materiality, medium and dynamics of interfaces in keeping up with the hybridity of digital humanities.

Introduction

It is largely recognised that the frameworks of a system in media-historical principles are based on the perspective of the archivological approach in the sense of Digital Humanities. A media archaeological approach, in an advanced notion of storing data, refers to the idea that historical objects are not possibly constructed by only the media itself. The context of the various media systems from Library catalogs to microfilming have been affected as well as the notions of the historical remains of the archive itself. (Ernst 2013) The traditional understanding of storing data is based on the idea of classifications of inventories. This, however, is replaced by a fluctuating order of information by dynamic access. Thus, it is observed in scholarly research that the archive is redefined by the transformation from being passive storage to an alghoritmically-generated process. (Ernst 2013) In this regard, this article analyses this dynamic transition among data, archive and the digital medium, examining their connections by inspecting interfaces through theorising the historical approach from a critical perspective.

In accordance with the hybridity of the digital humanities, the surrounding research for the article draws on the realms of history and media archaeologies crossing interdisciplinary studies to develop a broader theoretical analysis. The main subjects of the article provides the research questions by giving a brief summary by answering the questions: (1) What is the main reason(s) of the transformation of traditional Humanities and how is Digital Humanities reconceptualised regarding its metamorphosis analysing its context and theory? (2) How and what ways can Digital Humanities be investigated regarding the historical perspective of interfaces? (3) What is the relationship between the narrative and the object as a medium through a close attention to the case studies in a comparative basis in terms of materiality, and how, regarding the case studies, are interfaces and computational archaeologies influenced by the operations of cyber culture?

The centrality of the archivology draws a study around cultural and media archaeology through a Foucaultian concept from the physical concreteness to abstract discourses in terms of storage. In a regular sense, the archive is supposed to be a mileux for storage, preservation, classification and access. (Rossaak 2010b:11; Parikka 2012) In other words, it can be seen that the archive is considered as an abstract concept of storing data of modern culture, which operated as a medium itself. (Parikka 2012) In this regard, the article centralising the studies of multiple disciplines of history and media, hybridised with the theoretical research based on solidification of “intangible cultural heritage” (Laszlo 98; Flanders, Piez and Terras 2007) that aims to demonstrate a critical analysis depending on case studies.

Materiality

It is commonly seen that primary sources of heritage content and resources have been increasingly digitised in arts and humanities. Museum archives and libraries are additionally changing its medium and digitised, yet, changing digital objects are supposed to be considered as collections in their own right, and it is observed that most of the artefacts are documented digitally by mediating its medium. According to Hayles,

Collection databases with digital images of objects have been augmented by innovative ‘born-digital’ interpretive resources such as themed ‘guided tours’ of ‘highlight’ objects, illustrated timelines, and innovative approaches to object-based history such as the masterful History of the World in 100 Objects: a British Museum–BBC co-production broadcast on radio and podcasts with an accompanying website that extends the programme’s content and interactivity.” (2004)

Most of the museums and sites that express historical significance are proposing multiplicity in angles on a historical symbol offering wireless connections and applications in their exhibitions and permanent galleries. The artefacts that allow interactive usage of the medium are naturally greater in major, especially in well-resourced institutions, yet, the museums such as National Museum of Samoa offer modest options sharing their culturally-significant resources/collections through software based dashboards/platforms. It is obviously observed that the process of spreading cultural heritage through mediums which are defined by protocols and algorithms has been widening its reachability which associates the fact that especially “ethnographic” objects and archives accumulated within networks of colonial power, enables communities and the general public connected with collections which were used to have limited access. As a result of this, it is seen that the attempts to make the information and material as a collection, ‘set within the context of increasing the public engagement with digital technologies in general, are beginning to unsettle the often assumed ‘radical distinction between material and virtual’ (Witcomb 2007: 35; Hayles 2004). According to Andre Witcomb, material/virtual, weight/surface, aura/insubstantiality, authoritative knowledge/popular ideas, and elite privilege/democratic access do not express any division. Digitally defined objects which initiate particular features precise their own materiality and considered to have their own physical presence in an exhibition. With its unique technicality and substantiality, they can be considered as objects themselves which enables matters of distinctions (Witcomb 2007: 36; Hayles 2012). Born-digital objects might confuse the situation since the material itself increases the importance to future historians. (Hayles 2012) Furthermore, Hayles illustrates the fact that the body within postmodern definitions draws an immaterial informational structure by comparing to materiality with perceptional definitions,

[T]he human body, our body, seems superfluous in its proper expanse, in the complexity and multiplicity of its organs, of its tissue and functions, because today everything is concentrated in the brain and the genetic code, which alone sum up the operational definition of being.” (2004)

David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s work Remediation (1999) demonstrates the fact that media itself expresses a constant change within a repeated movement of resemblance offering a simultaneous form of mediation through the scope of medium specified analysis (MSA). It depicts an alteration in the language of media communications such as text mediating into a digital medium as a vocabulary of screen and page processing in a digital software and analogue interface with the hybridity of code and ink, controllable buttons and images in an algorithmic system. (Hayles 2004) In this regard, a distinctive infrastructure between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media was offered by Manovich to be able to conduct MSA; which are (1) numerical representation; (2) modularity; (3) automation; (4) variability; and (5) transcoding. Emphasizing Hayles’ ideas on transcoding, it is seen that “numerical representation” is considered as the most viable matter in terms of its dynamics and programmability at medium’s specificity.

To be able to investigate these dynamic interactions, Medium-Spesific Analysis (MSA is seen necessary. It constructs an electrifying neocortex of literary criticism into recognising which strands on a traditional emphasis on materiality which are examined paradigmatically emphasising on the literary effects emerging the materiality of the texts that refers to the hypertext commonly used in both digital and print media.

Regarding her cognitive approach on materiality and new media tools, Hayles claims the fact that specifying materiality cannot be possible since it proposes a borderland between physical and mental, the artefact and the user, which provides an ideal chance to investigate the dynamic connection between the artifactual characteristics and the interpretation that materiality embodies. Hypertext proposes a medium by analysing dynamic interactions of the artifacts and their characteristics, and the interpretation that materiality embodies. (Hayles 2004)

Aura

In alignment with the auraic potential of the material outlined by Walter Benjamin discusses the unique existence of the physical object regarding the time and space, and it is claimed that the originality vanishes in reproductions since it tarnishes the ritual of the object through the process of digitisation. In this regard, it is claimed that the originality of physical objects loses its authenticity. In his work “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Benjamin claims that the metarial objects have a one-time experience in terms of their uniqueness. According to him, the aura represents for this experience of unique value which stresses on the fact that objects cannot be multiplied or reproduced. Another similar argument that he proposes is the “aesthetic experience” of the aforementioned one-time experience. An aura can be applied to the original piece of work. Replicas of the objects ruin the authentic aura of the unique experience. In this regard, centralising Benjaminian arguments, the article draws a critical approach of both of the case studies in terms of archivological sense.

For Benjamin, aura itself represents a distinctive dimension through the gaze of human beings: “There was an aura about them, a medium that lent fullness and security to their gaze inasmuch as it penetrated that medium” (SW, 2:515– 17; GS, 2:376; Hansen 2008, 342) In another saying, aura refers to a great structure which authorises the indication of the gaze, developing the capacity of its context. However, it is implied that the post-McLuhanian term with technological mileux should not be merged with Benjamin’s definitions since his understanding of medium aligns with philosophical usage (centralising Hegel and Herder), mentioning “an in-between substance or agency—such as language, writing, thinking, memory—that mediates and constitutes meaning; it resonates no less with esoteric and spiritualist connotations pivoting on an embodied medium’s capacity of communing with the dead.” (Hansen 2008)

History of Digital Humanities: From Hermeneutics to Computation

Traditional humanities which consists of the notions of hermeneutics transforms its form as a meaning and context since the material form text has experienced its metamorphosis in terms of its medium. This change, thus, concluded with the fact that the emphasis of “human” in humanities has shifted through a software-oriented focus by the “second wave” of the digital humanities. (Heftberger, 2012; Berry 2012)

It is observed that the phoenix-born sense of concept in Digital Humanities which documents a quantified algorithmical measuring as a numerical processing construct a distinctive form of humanities by the Berry-sense of term, the “computational turn” (2011). The tools and archives of digital humanities within a computational space, topologically extended by the internet hosting a systematic information patterns, parametric signals and protocols expand the notions of network. Migrating data to a networked space within calculable softwarised machineries reveals a distinct notion in terms of informative qualities and aesthetics. (Ernst 2013)

Archival objects which represent a cultural value in the scope of Digital Humanities, are metaphorically divorced from physicality and transforms into a distinctive form of material as they are stored in computational algorithms that are connected to a protocol. In this regard, this chapter will include a detailed historical aspect of the digital humanities analysing the metamorphosis of the medium by the “computational turn” (Berry 2011), and how digital humanities is mediated through computational surfaces.

The Genealogy of Digital Humanities

This chapter aims to analyse the component arguments connected to its humanistic attitude of the transformation by regarding the genealogical sense of digital humanities focusing on textual medium offering concrete examples in relation to interfaces through the lens of narrative theory, networks and aesthetics in an historical sense.

Unlike many other interdisciplinary experiments, humanities computing has a very well known beginning. In 1949, an Italian Jesuit Priest, Father Roberto Busa, began what even to this day is a monumental task: to make an index verborum of all the words in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and related authors, totalling some 11 million words of medieval Latin.

Historical scope of archives tends to keep the record which was related to Aerarium near the Capitoline Hill during the Ancient Roman administration, considered as a birthof the archives of the state treasury including metals, reserve funds, insignia, senate resolutions and the other administrative papers. (Vismann 2008: 57; Parikka 2012)

It is seen that the frameworks of modern archival theory as preservational practices were articulated through the twentieth century. (Parikka 2012) The traditional understanding of the archives based on the fact that archive as a form is territorial, spatialised and walled which represents a functional symbol as an institution. To borrow Vismann’s words on record-keeping and archaeology of files: “The wall designated to surround the symbolic order of the law once the codification is complete turns everything outside into rubbish and file trash”(2008:64; Parikka 2012)

As Parikka states; “The new archives have to take into account formats, medium specifity, as well as various software related themes such as encoding.” A constructive approach in the dynamic nature of the world was faced in computational culture and softwares and computers were given as samples of the situation, which was also seen as a big future task for such museums of science & technology as, for example, The Science Museum, “building a new gallery of Modern Communications, which will also feature computing and networks (especially World Wide Web).” (2012)

A web novel “The Book of Going Forth by Day” by M.D Coverley indicates how navigation elements deploy an indicative action for electronic hypertexts. Following the spatial composition of prototyped Egyptian hieroglyphs, the interface engages both horizontal and vertical records. To borrow her words in order to employ a genealogical approach, Hayles indicates that;

“The horizontal panels provide the narrative, while the vertical panels give linguistic, historical, and geographic information about ancient Egypt, modeled after the rubrics that in hieroglyphic texts give information on how to interpret the depicted events. The correspondences between Egyptian hieroglyphs and the interface suggest deep connections between inscription systems, cosmological beliefs, temporal orderings, and geographic assumptions.” (2012)

Ancient hieroglyphic inscriptions were documented through any aspects in terms of directions; left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up, edging sideways into margins, or spiraling in a circle, with the order of reading indicated by the direction the figures face. Going Forth indicates a roundabout and unintended way of ancient Egyptian judgements about the “endless geometry” of the world. Additionally, it is signified that Going Forth expresses its inscription incomplex topologies in terms of its message, which allows flowing progression between exposition, narrative, maps, photographs, linguistic information, and historical context. (Hayles 2012) Going Forth proposes that the difference between writing and art was ambiguous in ancient Egypt, which indicates a fact that the worldview and inscription system had correlations. Migrating into a computational environment, the interaction adopts a form of perplexive connection between multimedia elements and navigational functionalities. (Hayles 2012)

Conclusions

This article has far intended to investigate the concentration of theories connecting to database, software, interface and materiality applying the case studies by the analysing of distinctive concepts. In this regard, in accordance with media archaeologies of digital humanities, my respective work represents an exploration in interface analysis of the medium through the scope of archivic objects migrating from a concrete medium to a digital mileux regarding the concept of intangible cultural heritage and materiality of the archive. Along with the aforementioned methodologies and literatures, the transformation of material and the medium was pertained by the most frequently question among digital humanities scholars and historians; “what happens to the archivological material once it is replicated and deported through a distinctive medium?” To borrow Hayles’ words; “as inhabitants of globally interconnected networks, we are joined in a dynamic co-evolutionary spiral with intelligent machines” (2006) referring to the inevitability of machinerised technologies which employs dynamic activities in terms of the association with human as a subject and information technologies.

 A computer contains not only hardware but also a digital medium with texts and images as a representation on its screen. As such, interfaces are making an interpretation of the computational procedures into mitigating, well-known or “user-friendly” visuals and metaphors as known from much software, along these lines masking the computer as something surely understood. Through this frequent notion of the interface (as a surface), computational processes and the way we co-exist with computational processes are critiqued, and it is asserted that the understanding of interfaces requires to be subjected. As Dragana Antic and Matthew Fuller argue in “The Computation of Space”, it is indicated that the interchangeable dynamics of computer-interface connectivity regard the space and production of medium. As it is observed that the interface turns into a co-extensive medium concerning its reflectivity on computation through spatial design and experience within a genealogical approach.

 

Works Cited

Andersen, C. and Pold, S. Interface Criticism. Aarhus [Denmark]: Aarhus University Press., 2011. Print
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Burns, J. Digital Facsimiles and the Modern Viewer: Medieval Manuscripts and Archival Practice in the Age of New Media. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 33(2), pp.148-167. 2014

Deegan, M., McCarty, W. and Short, H. Collaborative research in the Digital Humanities. Farnham, England: Ashgate. 2012

Ernst, W. and Parikka, J. Digital Memory and the Archive. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2013

Greenhalgh, T. and Stones, R. Theorising Big IT Programmes in Healthcare: Strong Structuration Theory Meets Actor-Network Theory. Social Science & Medicine, 70(9), pp.1285-1294. 2010

Halpern, O. Beautiful Data.Duke University Press. Durham and London. 2014

Hayles, K. How We Became Posthuman. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. 1999

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Hookway, B. Interface. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2014

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Huhtamo, E. Illusions in Motion. Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2013

Jones, S. The Emergence of the Digital Humanities. Routledge. 2014
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Kittler, F., Winthrop-Young, G. and Wutz, M. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 1999

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Lyndsay Mann – The Extended Voice

Versions of self are articulated through pre-defined terms, states Judith Butler: ‘We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose’, suggesting that to develop experiences outside of established patterns, ‘we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones…’ (Butler).

Extended Mind Theory is a key concept in Philosophy of Cognition addressing the role of social and material structures in the construction of mind, where mind extends beyond the boundaries of skull and skin. Ideas from Extended Mind Theory re-contextualised in relation to moving image, in my view, facilitate the active development of a vocabulary of the liminal zones between mind, body and world relations, which adapt to, and expand, ideas of voice. The term “recruitment” describes the process by which an agent appropriates available materials or equipment – a walking stick, for example – to extend and restructure their engagement with the world. Such recruitment induces a reconfiguration of experience. In relation to voice, I propose, this amounts to a reconfiguration of established conventions of address and the accepted (power) dynamics contained within them.

Embodied cognition concentrates on the complex ways in which bodily skills and action inform perception and thought. The incorporation of new ‘equipment’ into ‘the thinking and acting systems that we identify as our minds and bodies’, thus expands ‘the negotiability of our own embodiment.’ (Clark 32). These external systems or objects extend the agent’s literal reach, in the example of a (walking) stick, and equally extend the agent’s opportunities, which includes the well cited example of dementia sufferer Otto’s trusted notebook with directions enabling his visit to MOMA in New York[i] (Clark and Chalmers). Embodiment in this view is a negotiable experience and open to change; it is a fluid and potentially constantly evaluative state of being inhabiting the liminal zones between mind, body and world. In what circumstances could voice function as such an extension?

The contact point or threshold between agent and extension, and where the performance-relevant interaction can be reliably defined, is the ‘interface’. The case for cognitive extension relies on the special features of the flow of information across those thresholds, and the resultant properties of the ‘new systemic wholes’ created through the newly incorporated bodily and sensory enhancement. (Clark 33) The speaking subject that is also a hearing subject simultaneously affects herself in a feedback loop transmitting and receiving all at once (Kane, 192) as voice is both delivered and received by the agent in the moment of speech. In this context, I suggest that ‘new systemic wholes’ brought about by voice occur where voice is both subject and object. Voice has the dual capacity to present the agent in the moment of speech (subject-voice), and represent the agent (object-voice) where object-voice is the voice heard by the speaking agent in their moment of speech. In other words, voice can be recruited as object; voice originates from the agent and can be extension for that agent. Voice itself is a threshold between subject and object, agent and extension, and we could describe as the process of voice, the liminal territory enacted between the subject-voice and its position as object-voice. This process I consider a form of embodied extension.

The Present Voice

Voice is positioned in the dynamics of movement, time, force, space and intentionality or directionality. (Stern 9) These ‘vitality forms’ enable us to understand the nuances and meanings beyond ‘official’ language and in relation to their implicit, contextual and/or culturally specific readings. The shifting formal and temporal qualities of voice in spoken address heard in variations of pitch, tone, volume, speed and directionality, make up the foundations of voice training for actors and public speakers to share emotion and meaning with their audience through methods of delivery and beyond the content of what is actually said. In my moving image work I avoid these intentional forms of vitality to offer a passive-dynamic vocality for the audience, in other words, I do not wish to deliver more than the content of what is said, there is no intention to emote or convince. Working to avoid these pervasive techniques I practice a flattened tone of voice with reduced forms of vitality to deliver spoken testimonies of subjective knowledge collected from archive and autobiographical materials: diaries and journals, documented correspondences and interviews I conduct. In my view this offers a more ambiguous and liminal context for the listener in the sense that it does not aim to inhabit or share any particular state of being. This is also used to merge the visual and vocal fields in sharing equal position rather than a voice-‘over’ the images: voice is part of the fabric of the film, its texture belongs to the images and is not a didactic presence with a singular authoritative position. Voice positioned ‘over’ images can be addressed by volume but is frequently and more pervasively done through certainty of voice. As part of this approach of passive vocality, rather I engage environmental sounds to harness auditory description and vitality dynamics with the aim of sharing embodied engagement through the environment and thus position the viewer on a shared ground with the speaker/voice. One such example is found in my work, A Desire For Organic Order (2015), in which my, at times, breathless speaking voice relays a presentness and physicality to what is said, recorded as I walked the grounds of the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh where birds, distant voices, cars and planes overhead can all be heard delineating an area of nature within a city environment. These are details that my professional sound-mixer suggested be removed, concerned they may be heard as distractions and interpreted as erroneous due to their impediment on the clarity of a voice over image. The sound and voice share an embodied expression of the site and my own bodily position journeying within it. This is recorded with two different types of microphone: a set of binaurals and a stereo voice mic. The binaural microphones take the shape of small headphones, which are placed inside the ear to record the exact dynamic properties of sound in relation to the listening agent’s bodily position and perspective within the acoustic environment. Not commonly used for recording voice, I used this method’s proximity to my throat to capture detail of my internal noises, swallowing and breathing, as I walked and talked, and conceptually to record my object-voice from the position of my ears, in other words to document how I ordinarily hear my own spoken voice returned in the moment of speech. The second microphone was a hand-held stereo recording device carried in front of my body to record my spoken voice as it would sound to ‘other’. These dual recordings play simultaneously on the soundtrack creating a third voice that inhabits the between.

The Re-presented Voice

We make auditory inferences as viewers watching a talking head on TV whilst their voice emanates from the location of the speakers. The sensory integration is described as ‘drag’ on each of the senses to arrive at a satisfying ‘between of measures of precision and imprecision’ (Hohwy 131). This articulates the physical liminality inhabited by the viewer stationed between the TV image and the speakers’ projected field, as well as the viewer’s sensory liminality present in the moment between the essentially conflicting visual and auditory sensory inputs.

Ideas of extension connected with the occupation of these liminal or suspended spaces, for embodied viewing/listening and for the on-camera embodied subject, are those of near and far space for the body. In the example of holding a stick, which works to alter the brain’s understanding of near space (within reach) and far space (outside of reach), ‘simply holding a stick causes a remapping of far space to near space. In effect the brain, at least for some purposes, treats the stick as though it were a part of the body.’ (Berti and Frassinetti quoted in Clark 38). By expanding near space, the agent could be described as taking up more space in the world. In relation to voice we could consider that in everyday situations we know the capabilities of our voice, the range and audibility to an extent, and therefore our reach in common circumstances. When we speak we expect to be understood and this is broadly unchanging within our local environment, yet the circumstances of our speech (background noise or echo, one-to-one or group conversation) are in constant flux, and the voice must respond accordingly: to be heard, to be understood, to take account of the proximity of the hearer, etc. A vocal example of ‘holding a stick’, I suggest, is the reverberating, echo-ing voice. By calling out in a cavernous space, hearing our own temporally-delayed, suspended voice repeated and returned to us as an independent object, we are present in a situation where we experience an embodied extension beyond our bodies’ natural reach. Echo ‘takes the moment of a sound and repeats it, expanding beyond the original event, and yet also returning it, as other to itself.’ (LaBelle 169). This articulates the duality of the voice, where the distance created by echo illuminates the thresholds between subject and object that voice inhabits. In this example, the original release of the voice is an embodied presentation of self extended by repetition, while the returned voice, a representation of self, takes the role of ‘the stick’, an independent object expanding the reach of the body, which through our embodied recognition and sense of ownership of it, we could imagine the brain treating as part of the body. This is an opportunity for the brain to remap far space to fall within near space, thus expanding what is considered near space.

Address to camera could perhaps be considered as a version of the echo-ing site. Just as calling out in a cavernous space results in an echoed voice, of a suspended version of self that could be said to expand near space by extending the distance between the subject-voice release and its return as object-voice, we could say for people in the public eye who frequently hear their words returned to themselves via television, printed press or radio, it performs a long-delayed echo. As this becomes embedded into the agent’s patterns of behaviour and action, it provides a sense of extension into the public realm, expanding their vocal sense of near space. The embodied agent in this context experiences a sense of taking up, or perhaps requiring, more space in their environment.

The returning voice of the echo is ‘an iteration whose reverberations expand to pry open a space between the “original” and its rearticulation … to put into motion an uncertain trajectory, where orientation may also tend toward disorientation; where singularity may give way to multiplicity.’ (LaBelle 170). This articulates well the suspended-self produced through the echoed voice; a version of self that not uncommonly people in the public eye suggest is ‘not the real me’. The experienced and authoritative voice, or version of self, harnessed through these forms of direct address to camera, also doubles as the exposing voice: ‘the voice as authority is one part of the story. On the other hand it is also true that the sender of the voice, the bearer of vocal emission, is someone who exposes himself, and thus becomes exposed to the effects of power which not only lie in the privilege of emitting the voice, but pertain to the listener. The subject is exposed to the power of the other…’ (Dolar 80). This dual state can be often be witnessed by politicians and other powerful individuals aiming to straddle two opposing versions of address: of authoritarian leader, and fallible human. The address between agent and camera inhabits an intimate dynamic, in the moment of speech the voice is absorbed and simultaneously returned to the speaking agent by the mute, un-flinching lens. This physical dynamic could be compared to that cultivated in analysis, between analysand and analyst, where the intended hearer of what is said is the speaking agent who hears him/herself through the silent listener. In address to camera, the imagined audience is the intended hearer present at the time of address but only in the mind of the speaker, and in this way the speaker is talking to him/herself as other.   The camera facilitates hearing oneself back through a silent, listening other as the speaker accesses an imagined audience via the camera. Address to camera in this light is an interface that facilitates ‘performance-relevant interaction’ where a new agent-world circuit is produced through the special features of the flow of information across thresholds: a looped dialogue between the speaking agent and their self as other.

________

[i] Inga hears from a friend that there is an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. She thinks for a moment and recalls that the museum is on 53rd Street, so she walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. Otto suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. [He] carries a notebook around with him everywhere he goes. When he learns new information, he writes it down. … Otto hears about the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. He consults the notebook, which says that the museum is on 53rd Street, so he walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. […] Otto believed the museum was on 53rd Street even before consulting his notebook. … the notebook plays for Otto the same role that memory plays for Inga. …it just happens that this information lies beyond the skin.’ (Clark & Chalmers 12-13).

Works cited:
Butler, Judith. Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler, 2014. Available from: http://www.transadvocate.com/gender-performance-the-transadvocate-interviews-judith-butler_n_13652.htm
Clark, Andy. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Clark, Andy. & Chalmers, David. The extended mind. Analysis, 58 (1), pp.7–19, 1998.
Dolar, Mladen. A Voice and Nothing More. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press, 2006.
Hohwy, Jakob. The Predictive Mind. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Kane, Brian. Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice. New York, NY, OUP USA, 2014.
LaBelle, Brandon. Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary. 1 edition. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Mann, Lyndsay. A Desire For Organic Order, 2015. Further information: http://lyndsaymann.com/av/desire
Stern, Daniel. Forms of vitality: exploring dynamic experience in psychology, the arts, psychotherapy, and development. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lea Muldtofte Gestelev – I Like What I See: The Constitution of Subjectivity Online

Introduction

“I Like What I See” is a Chrome extension created by the artist Steve Klise. When activated this experimenting piece of software will click the Like bottom on every post you encounter, while scrolling down your newsfeed. Consequently, this means that you do not have to neither Like nor like anything, the “I Like What I See” application will, literally, Like what you see for you. Klise’s experiment is obviously a response to the paradoxical numbness in liking, which arguably is installed in and intensified by the Facebook like-economy; within this social site it is extremely easy to express approving emotions detached from any truly embodied affect. In fact, it only takes a click. However, Klise’s project is also shedding light on other relevant troubling aspect encompassed in the realm of interface culture, which became evident when Mat Honan through his Facebook profile liked everything he saw manually; this liking-everything-activity not only blurs the profiled user’s true interests, but, as Honan reported, it also explodes the newsfeed with strange, irrelevant and – for the greater part – commercial content (Honan).

How does this pollution of irrelevance happen? Because inherent in Facebook we find the newsfeed algorithm called Edgerank, which monitors and analyses a user’s Like, shares and comments. This in order to show the user, what he or she is most likely to be interested in – maybe especially provide the user with ads for products, he or she is most likely to buy. Thus, if everything is Liked, the algorithm will push everything in the user’s direction.

The fact that our activity online is monitored by algorithms and therefore available for analysing and tracking, is the condition we accept as users of social media sites. The premise is, as is the point of Tiziana Terranova as well Bernard Stiegler, that the asymmetrical, passive/active relationship in communicative situations between human beings (like/being liked for instance) has become objects of grammatizations; discrete, written data-entities within online forums. This means that buttons constituting our social and interactive behaviour online are “linked to underlying data structures (…) and subjected to the power of ranking algorithms”. (Terranova 394). Consequently, due to an underlying code, Like, Share, Go, Tweet, Accept, buy etc. are indexically referring back to the clicking user.

With the point of departure that monitoring and analyzing algorithms are part of our everyday communication practice, I am in the course of this paper going to investigate subjectivity in language when the subject is constituted in language plus an underlying computer code. As is the case of Facebook, when we click Like and socially express approval and at the same time are indexed and analyzed accordingly. In other words, how can we approach subjectivity in language, when we speak in language plus an underlying code, which operates simultaneously with the enunciating practice on the interface of the user?

As “I Like What I See” illustrates, even innocent Likes can cause an excessive online existence, since our information is perpetually available for algorithms owned by advertising agencies, when the click links to invisible data structures.

I am the one who says I

In order to discuss subjectivity in language, I draw on the linguist Émile Benveniste and his theory of enunciation. In his line of thinking, the unique person, the subject, is constituted within language in use – or language in discourse – and only here. In other words, it is in exercising language, we can articulate ourselves as ourselves; it is in exercising language we are able to say “I”. Thus subjectivity happens in language, when the enunciating speaker is setting himself up as such – pronouncing himself the speaker in terms of appropriating I.

To emphasize, linked to subjectivity in language, the personal pronouns become significant, especially I. In the article “The Nature of the Pronouns” Benveniste shows that by contrast to other nouns referring to a fixed object in the world, personal pronouns are instruments without a definable, identical object. And as a result, because of the particular referential organization of I “[e]ach I has its own reference and corresponds each time to a unique being who is set up as such” (“The Nature” 218). Not to be taken as a figure, but a linguistic form indicating ‘person’, I is an empty sign, always available and becomes “full” when converted from the language system to language use, from langue into discourse by a unique person in a unique time and place. Accordingly, I signifies “the person who is uttering in the present instance of discourse containing I” (“The Nature” 218). Poetically, Benveniste calls the consequence:

Since they lack material reference, they cannot be misused; since they do not assert anything, they are not subject to the condition of truth and escape all denial (“The Nature” 220)

I, by its virtue of being empty, exists not before, not after, but only within an actualization in an instance of discourse. Consequently, it is only “by identifying himself as a unique person pronouncing I that each speaker sets himself up in turn as the “subject”” (“The Nature” 220). It is when I designates a speaker the speaker becomes the subject, and as language is the instrument of communication, the speaker, implicitly or explicitly defines a you, when defining herself as I. Subjectivity, then, is not the feeling of being oneself. Instead, in this line of thinking, it emerges as a property of language; “ego” is the person who says “ego” (“Subjectivity in Language” 224). Benveniste concludes: “And so it is literally true that the basis of subjectivity is in the exercise of language” (“Subjectivity in Language” 226). Thereby he says that subjectivity is literally, when I is transformed from an element in a system to a unique designation. Consequently, Benveniste shows, that temporality and subjectivity is inseparable, the time at which one is, is the time at which one is speaking:

[…] there is no other criterion and no other expression by which to indicate “the time at which one is” except to take it as “the time at which one is speaking. This is the eternally “present” moment, although it never relates to the same events of an “objective” chronology because it is determined for each speaker by each of the instances of discourse related to it (“Subjectivity in Language” 227)

Every time the I is employed by a speaker, the present time of the utterance and, inevitably, the presence of the speaker is introduced as well (”Le Langage et L’Expérience Humaine” 67-68). And this is how the “present” moment becomes eternal. The moment of the utterance cannot escape its own presence. The present time is always inherent in the discourse and, thus, always inherent in the constitution of subjectivity. An utterance is never repeated, it is enunciated again, every time employing this present moment, every time producing a new subject, every time a new I, here and now.

Click – enunciation online

To sum up, according to Benveniste, language as system holds voids in the shape of pronouns, and subjectivity is constituted when a speaking subject enters language, fills up the void and designates itself as the speaker in a present time discourse. I is the person uttering within the present discourse containing I, or, in other words, the subject is the I speaking here and now.

So how is this relatable to the constitution of subjectivity online? Where is the empty signifier I, which can be filled by a human subject in language plus code? Why is it relevant in relation to compulsive Liking, which subjects us to the power of algorithms? Christian Ulrik Andersen argues that the linguistics voids in a computer interface equates the buttons connecting the user with a given function (Andersen 208). Following this point, the buttons we manoeuvre with the mouse or the keyboard of the computer can be said to equate the empty signifier I as they offer themselves to be appropriated by a speaking subject. However, in the matter of subjectivity, it would be problematic and imprecise to make a complete parallelization between buttons and the linguistic I, since the computer interface already functions within the symbolic realm of language. The empty signifier I in computing seems to be several different buttons, all of them, very literally, offering themselves to be clicked by referring to their individual function in a particular situation either symbolically (i.e. search) or iconic (i.e. thumbs-up). Opposing the empty character of the personal pronoun by already entailing a referent, which is fixed in a given function, it is evident that buttons in computing are already filled and thus hold value before the instance in which they are used.

Nevertheless, for this study, like several scholars before me (Friedrich Kittler, Alexander Galloway, N. Katherine Hayles, Florian Cramer, Wendy Chun etc.) I perceive code as a sign system, a structure similar, or even parallel, to language; a sign system in which we speak and communicate (emails, status updates, comments, search queries etc.) and therefore a system, which can be actualized or realized on a semantic level. I would then argue that computational media holds the quality of being conditioned by a discrete data structure, which enables activation of language in two semantic layers, with two different semantic values of meaning; a “conscious” layer in natural language (the interface of the user) and what I will call a sub-semantic layer in the underlying code.

Following this, these parallel semantic layers must also allow for two different referents, each employing and producing meaning in their respective system. This then qualifies the postulate that the interface button – being natural language plus an underlying code – can be filled in natural language and at the same time be an empty, available signifier employed in code as a language system. Accordingly, the interface button, as for instance Like, has two referential organizations in its click-ability: the filled, fixed Like of natural language, and the empty, available I, unique in its use each time, depending on the individual click. In other words in the instance of clicking Search, Share, Like, Post, Tweet as well as Buy and Accept you are also saying I. Hence, the click is the act of enunciation, the act of transforming an empty available signifier in code as a language system into a unique designation of a speaker – just as saying I transforms the system of language into discourse.

To crystalize the point here, the click automatically prompts the coupling of natural language and computer language, since it is in the click and only here this extra language is “spoken”, converted into discourse, into use, by a speaking subject. Basically, this means that even when typing 140 characters into my Twitter-profile without pressing tweet, or creating a status update on Facebook without clicking post, while this designates me as subject of the given enunciation in natural language, it will not be an enunciation within language plus code. The code as language has not yet been actualized in the click, and so the enunciation remains on the level of natural language. With click the subject couples the two systems and is, thus, produced within both.

Furthermore, in Benveniste’s theory of enunciation it is important to clarify that subjectivity is a property of language – that is to say, subjectivity takes place only insofar as a person speaks. The subject exists solely within its own utterance, in the immediate act of the enunciation. Inevitably, as a consequence, the subject does not exist before or after the instance of discourse in which it is speaking. Following this, given that the subject is constituted in the appropriation of the I, then the click in this analysis must include a double subjectivation of the speaking subject online. Accordingly, the subject is constituted within and produced through not only language, but is in fact a property of language plus code, when the click as an empty signifier is appropriated by an (already) speaking subject.

What “I Like what I see” demonstrates is the fact that I with my Like also Like what I do not see. And what I do not see is underlying data structures such as news feed algorithms. Consequently, I become a subject of the algorithms flooding my Facebook with customized offers; algorithms producing me in not only language as a system, but also in systems mirroring my predicted consuming, political etc. intentions. Click produces an excessive me.

Work cited: 

Andersen, Christian Ulrik: Det Æstetiske Interface, Digital Aesthetics Research Center, Aarhus: 2009 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: ”Le Langage et L’Expérience Humaine” [1965] in Problèmes de Lingustique Générale II, Paris: Édition Gallimard, 1974 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: “The Nature of the Pronouns” [La Nature des Pronoms, 1956] translated by Mary Elisabeth Meek in Problems in General Linguistics, Miami: University of Miami Press, 1971 (print).

Benveniste, Émile: ”Subjectivity in Language” [De La Subjectivité Dans La Langage, 1958] translated by Mary Elisabeth Meek in Problems in General Linguistics, Miami: University of Miami Press, 1971 (print).

Honan, Mat: I LIKED EVERYTHING I SAW ON FACEBOOK FOR TWO DAYS. HERE’S WHAT IT DID TO ME, Wired, 08.11.14.

Stiegler, Bernard: “The Most Precious Good in the Era of Social Technologies” in

Unlike Us Reader, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam: 2013 (print).

Terranova, Tiziana: “Red Stack Attack!” in Avanessian Armen & Mackay, Robin #ACCELERATE, pp. 379-399, Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014 (print).

Marie Louise Søndergaard – Sharing the abject in digital culture

Introduction

“The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious” (Douglas 142)

Digital technologies, wearables, and self-management systems have set a standard for the bodily exchange system. Bodily performances are quantified down to the last detail. If the principle of exchange has established itself in our bodies and minds (Sützl), can we think of anything that cannot be understood under capitalistic terms of exchange?

In a ‘general economy’ the excess is what cannot be comprehended in well-known systems as money, or more abstractly under the phenomenon of exchange. Georges Bataille saw this present in the luxuries of eating, death, and sexual reproduction, among others (Bataille The Accursed Share 35). These, he argued, are moved into the dark, forming the dark side of culture. Consequently, the “excessive” body is concealed and tabooed. But according to Bataille the enemy of a ‘general economy’ is not shortage, but rather excess, and as we will see the “excessive” body might be a way to question and critique the status of exchange today.

The movement of things like pain, sex, and menstruation into the dark is better understood if we understand the systems under which taboo and dirt are organized. Julia Kristeva, who has developed her notion ‘the abject’ on Mary Douglas’ analysis of dirt, and Bataille’s notion of informe, shows that abjection does not only let us understand how bodies are perceived under social rationalism, but also how abjection might be an enemy of ‘general economy’, because abjection cannot simply be commodified and therefore underlines the fragility of objectivity.

In this text I aim to question this relation between excess, the tabooed and abject in a wider technological framework. What happens if ‘the abject’, such as menstruation, changes value from excess to exchange? With this speculation I aim to challenge the standardized conception of bodily exchange, and argue that taboos in tech industry remains to be taboos exactly because these phenomena cannot be governed by the principle of exchange. In a sense this means, that taboos are what cannot be exchanged. But rather than accepting this premise, I want to point to the generative power of pollution, suggesting that what is commonly perceived as anomalous abject objects in digital culture might be a generative power for future-making.

 

Menstruation as dirt and danger

“Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state, nor the next, it is indefinable … The danger is controlled by ritual” (Douglas 119)

A phenomenon of special interest for both Douglas and Kristeva is menstruation. In a very literal sense menstruation is an excess of the bodily system. It is associated with non-reproductive sex, but also with death, as menstruation has the impossible status of a dead being, who never lived. In particular, menstruation is what Kristeva terms ‘abject’; something that is neither me nor recognizable as a thing (Kristeva 2). The abjection of menstruation, Kristeva argues, points to the liminality of the subject itself as the abjection of menstruation comes from her own body, and consequently leads to the abjection of self.

Whereas Kristiva builds her menstruation analysis on the psychoanalytical notion of abject, Douglas’s analysis is grounded in social anthropology and a structuralist understanding of dirt. Here menstruation as dirt is a matter out of order (Douglas 44). If we in a European culture understand menstruation as dirt, it is not (only) as a symbol of bad hygiene, but rather, and more importantly, as a symbol of an inappropriate element in a systematic ordering and classification of matter. As such the menstruating woman does not fit in a European female system, as she neither equals sex, nor reproduction. In some primitive societies, e.g. the Mae Enga, menstruation is seen as a female pollution, and even married men fear menstrual blood, as “they believe that contact with it or with a menstruating woman will sicken a man and cause persistent vomiting” (Douglas 182). Whereas we might think, that the ritual pollution, that some primitive people fear, is only of symbolic order, something that does not fit with our Western ideas of dirt, we might find that our Western ideas of dirt and hygiene is equally a question of symbolic order. At least in Northern European pop culture menstruation is treated as something dirty, disgusting, and embarrassing, symbolized through blue gel in advertisements and hidden in small pink boxes in school. Rituals, in primitive as well as Western societies, control this “danger”. In pop culture it has become a ritual to hide menstruation, to cover it through synonyms such as “the curse” or “Aunt Flo”, and to reject its material status through jokes about PMS, etc. We have learned to behave as if it did not exist.

 

Periodshare – push your cycle to the world

To better understand the dirt and danger of menstruation, I designed a system exploring menstruation not as a danger, but as a power. With the aim of breaking the menstruation taboo, not by hiding it but by sharing it, Periodshare questions the symbolic order of menstruation in a post-digital context[i]. The speculative project Periodshare features a wearable, wireless menstruation cup connected to an app. The system automatically tracks the period, and makes it easy for the subject to inform her boyfriend, boss, and friends about her period. She can even live-tweet her menstruation data, hereby making something very private a public issue. Periodshare explores the boundaries of inside-outside, private-public, and material-representational data. More importantly, Periodshare questions the status quo of menstruation; what is the value of menstruation in a post-digital age. While a number of artists fight the censorship of this body fluid on social medias, start-ups and tech industry invite menstruation to new operating systems. The project speculates if it would be inappropriate to say, that menstruation slowly changes value from excess to exchange.

In Periodshare the material status of menstruation does not only change status from something inside me to outside me, it also changes status from something outside me, to something inside my smartphone, and my social network. It is a transformation from material to representation, from blood to data. Still, the data is in a transitional state between being an extension of my body and representational, incorporeal data. Based on the notions on dirt and abject, this leaves us with two interconnected questions; can data change the symbolic order of things – from dirt into purity? And who am I in my exchangeable intimate data?

periodshare_designantro

Bataille’s critique of capitalism’s roots in exchange 

Periodshare explores the limits of an exchange economy. It questions what we as intimate beings are willing to share in a very literal sense, and what consequences the principle of exchange have for the “excessive” body.

As Sützl argues, the principle of exchange has established itself in our bodies and minds. Consequently “no one is allowed to be a loser”, and it gets “increasingly difficult to say words like ‘death’, ‘absence’, and ‘pain’ in a meaningful way” (Sützl). In this world, the user of Periodshare might be a loser, but in a possible future (Dunne & Raby 2), the user is not a loser. She loses blood and maternity, but she does not lose in the cultural game of social medias, as the technical and cultural prescribed rules are different from what we know. She tries to say words like ‘menstruation’ in a meaningful way, and instead of being excluded her social network accepts the premise of a change of rules. Sharing menstruation data becomes her empowering tool; a generative power of female pollution.

Focusing on sharing as a political act, that limits exchange, Bataille seeks to the forbidden, the atrocious, and the amorphous; the anomalous objects of culture. He points to the informe, the formless, as a violent tool against capitalism, and shows that limitations and fragilities of our bodies are indeed political moves as they resists to take shape and fit properly into a categorization system (Bataille Visions of Excess 31). Hereby Bataille’s body is a model that stands for the bounded system of a shared world. It is a body with boundaries, which are threatened by the exchange world, but these same boundaries threatens the exchange world as they points to the fact, that in every system, there is a remainder, whether it is the system of cosmogony, sacrifice, bodies, or networks. This remainder not only challenges the established arrangement of a system in order, it also challenges the question of ownership. Who owns what remains? As seen in Periodshare it becomes important to think of ownership when we are talking about intimate data. Whereas the shared period data can be an empowering tool for the subject, as just described, the tracked data can just as easily be a violation of the intimate boundaries of the subject if the data is owned by big data actors. As digital symbolic representation has made it easier to form the formless, violation of the abject becomes a question of agency.

 

Sharing anomalous objects in digital culture

Jussi Parikka and Tony Sampsons views spam, computer viruses, and excesses of Internet porn as anomalous object of digital culture. But rather than seeing these as remainders, junk, or noise in a system they are approached as something that has become central to today’s communication theory (Parikka and Sampson 3).

So if we look at something like Periodshare, which as argued, seek to change something culturally seen as ‘dirt’ into a more appropriate, ‘pure’ cultural object, which part does the sharing play? In Periodshare sharing is a commodifying tactic to change the status of menstruation from ‘dirt’ to ‘purity’, and to question the rules of the abject through the explicit use of something abject. This complicated things a bit, since the sharing act makes the project linger between excess and exchange. The cultural aspect shows that menstruation is a question of (bodily) excess, a tabooed and darkened cultural object, but the technological (and economic) aspect shows that menstruation might be a question of exchange. Menstruation can possibly be exchanged, and it can gain a new economic value if it is tracked and sold to third-party services. But if it is not sold, and it would still use the tactics of exchange, as something invaluable as menstruation is tracked and changed to something valuable (data), can we then still think of abject, excessive objects, which use the tactics of exchange in order to question status quo? Here it is exactly the process of changing something “disgusting” material, to something “pure” immaterial that makes it more appropriate to talk about menstruation. Menstruation blood is dirt, whereas menstruation data is pure. Periodshare looks at this symbolic representation of menstruation as data, and questions the rules under which “excessive” design might be possible in an exchange economy. An approach where designing with the abject as both dirt and value might challenge the abject as taboo, and hereby criticise the foundation under which it exists – a critique of the exchange economy – and propose ways to engage with the “excessive” body in a technological future.

 

Works Cited

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share : An Essay on General Economy, Volume 1: Consumption. New York: Zone Books (first published 1949/1967), 1988.

Bataille, Georges. Vision of Excess, Selected Writings, 1927-1939, in Theory and History of Literature, Volume 14, edited by Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger : An analysis of concept of pollution and taboo. New York: Routledge Classics, London, first published in 1966, 2004.

Dunne, Anthony & Raby, Fiona. Speculative Everything : design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013.

Foster, Hal. “Obscene, Abject, Traumatic”. October, Vol. 78 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 106-124, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kristeva, Julia. Power of Horror : An Essay on Abjection, New York: Colombia University Press, 1982.

Parikka, Jussi & Sampson, Tony A. The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, chapter 1: On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture : An Introduction, New York: Hampton Press, Inc., 2009.

Sützl, Wolfgang. “On Sharing”. Collective Sharing, COLLECTIVE MAKING 2015-2016, Kunsthal Aarhus, Aarhus, 2005.


[i] Periodshare was a research-through-design project made in spring 2015. The project included a speculative prototype and a Kickstarter campaign. More information can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/752149579/periodshare-push-your-cycle-to-the-world

Pablo Velasco – Logics of excess: waste and surplus in Bitcoin mining

Superabundant design

Cryptocurrencies are surreptitiously inhabited by a nature of excessiveness. Logics of overabundance are expressed in different levels: first and more important, on the core technique used for the double purpose of securely validate transactions and produce tokens, also known as mining. Second, as a consequence of the former, in the energy consumption and production of waste of specialized mining hardware. Particular logics of excess are expressed in the large and futile surplus of algorithmic power, energy, and waste embedded in cryptocurrencies’ operation of a successfully secure transaction system.
In Bitcoin, the prototypical cryptocurrency, the intrinsic value of the tokens settles under an algorithmic regime of language quite related to excessiveness. A very introductory video explains that “the bitcoin network is secured by individuals called miners. Miners are rewarded newly generated bitcoins for verifying transactions.” (WeUseCoins). Miners are machines that verify the signed public keys for each transaction and which validate these into blocks in a public registry (i.e. the Blockchain). The job for successfully validating and packing the transactions produces new tokens for the miner, and generates a Proof-of-Work. The former is the result of a ‘puzzle’, which can be then easily checked by any other machine in the network. Since the design of the system seeks a controlled pace, if the coins are generated to fast (because there are more and/or stronger miners) the ‘puzzle’ becomes harder (Nakamoto).
The analogy of a puzzle is only appropriate within its algorithmic dimension, that means it must be understood not as a toy or a game, but as a problem that must be solved by following a set of rules. More accurately, the puzzle consists in generating aleatory hashes (a string of numbers and letters with a defined length) until one of them fulfils the requisites asked for the difficulty (in the case of Bitcoin, a number of zeroes at the beginning of the resulting hash). Due to the random non-repeatable number involved in the operation, the ‘nonce value’, it is especially difficult to create a ‘desirable’ hash. Every attempt to come up with a successful hash uses a new random number, thus randomizing the result. Difficulty is hence, in this context, associated with probability and far from tribulation. Regarding Bitcoin, difficulty is an algorithmic adversity.

Difficulty (D) is now (19th September 2015) set on 59,335,351,233.87, which translates as a 225xD number of average hashes to find a block. This means one opportunity to build a block for every 19,909,640,081,173,010,000 (A) tried hashes. The only way to deal with the odds involved in this operation is to have a machine capable of generating as many number of attempts per second as possible. A state-of-the-art dedicated unit available today can manage to make 5,500,000,000,000 [SP20 Jackson by Spondoolies-Tech]. To calibrate the surplus involved, it is better to think of it in negative terms: unlike the lottery (at which a lonely miner would have better odds) where every non-winner plays a passive role, the miner is a machine that actually uses computational power to actively generate 19,909,640,081,173,009,999 (A – 1) useless hashes. It is hard to think of a greater surplus for a system.

Waste and energy

The excessive nature of the puzzles that mechanically produce hashes takes place on a logical level, but it also transforms itself into a material overflow. Controlled production of tokens directly translates into a relevant issue of consumption of energy and production of waste. From the deployment of the device up until the middle of 2010, mining was a task that any modern CPU could handle, even thought the process would push it to its limits and heavily reduce its lifetime. Until mid-2011 the workload moved to GPUs, but was rapidly surpassed by FPGA’s (Field Programmable Gate Arrays), which reduced energy consumption while achieving more hashes per second. The next natural step were ASIC miners (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) at the beginning of 2013. [For a history of Bitcoin mining hardware, up until the end of 2013, see (Taylor)].
Even thought the network was maintained at the beginning by every enthusiast with a computer and some energy to spare, today the mining industry is populated with pools and dedicated farms. This evolution was foreseen in Bitcoin’s design (Nakamoto, ‘NCML’). In pools, different miners contribute their processing power to calculate a block together. The reward is then distributed among them, usually accordingly to the computational power given, although each pool has its own share protocols). Each one of these clustered miners can have one or multiple ASIC’s. Mining farms on the other hand are dedicated places that behave in an undistributed fordist fashion, and are even located in old factories or abandoned stores, which house swarms of ASIC’s (‘Bitcoin Mining in an Abandoned Iowa Grocery Store’). The energy consumed in farms is noteworthy. A one year old paper estimated (Malone and O’Dwyer) that the mining network at the time was on par with the electricity consumption in Ireland. Mining units have improved in the last year and also its energy efficiency, but the difficulty enlarged too, resulting on a considerable energy footprint problem. An specific still operating farm has been told to have 10,000 S3 mining units (‘My Life Inside a Remote Chinese Bitcoin Mine’). The Antminer S3 is able to produce 441 GH/s and consumes 800W/TH: that is roughly 4761 Watts in a day, for just one unit. A farm with 10,000 of these units would consume 47,616 KW a day. Comparing these figures with home energy consuming estimates in the U.S. (‘How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use? – FAQ – U.S. Energy Information Administration’) shows that just this farm consumes 1,571 times more energy than an average household.
Mining, at this point of the evolution of the device, is a race, and reducing the energy footprint is not grounded in pollution awareness, but in costs cutting. And while mining units become progressively more energy efficient, they simultaneously become more obsolete. A constant refill of state-of-the-art equipment is necessary to stay in the race. Obsolescence of hardware is not exclusive to the Bitcoin phenomenon, smartphones and all sorts of gadgets are ‘recicled’ every year as a complex economical and cultural outcome of, among other things, planned obsolescence -an appealing subject for marketing and industrial economics some decades ago, but recently reborn within the scope of ecological awareness (Guiltinan). But unlike the smartphone market, mining units do not suffer of a short life because of its hardware resistance, cheap materials or fashionable ideologies of consumption, ‘planned obsolescence’ for ASIC’s resides in the scarcity model of Bitcoin’s design. Tokens have a fixed limit (21 million) and are getting harder to obtain, so the fast production and consumption cycles of the hardware are intrinsic to the system. At least until the mining becomes unprofitable, in such scenario the number of miners diminish and with it the difficulty (which, again and recursively, makes the people interested in mining to go up). Difficulty, however, rarely drops, and on the long run describes a stepping curve (‘Bitcoin Difficulty Chart – Chart of Mining Difficulty History’), which makes mining hardware to age fast.
Being specific circuits optimized for hashing, ASIC’s do not have a second life. Unlike GPU’s, they are useless for any other tasks, which makes them completely worthless after its useful, yet short, life. Since there is no second hand market for mining units, they rapidly add up to High Tech trashing problems. Electronic waste arguably conforms today about the same amount as plastic packaging waste (in municipal numbers) (Puckett and Smith). Most of the e-waste is recycled in foreign countries because of low labor costs, and loose environmental regulations both externally (at least in the, U.S. for export of hazardous materials) and internally (waste handling in the host countries). Arguably, around 80% of e-waste is exported to Asia, and 90% of these exports goes to China. The hashing power that runs throughout the bitcoin network, i.e. the most and more powerful machine miners, clusters in China too. On a rough estimate (‘Bitcoin Hashrate Distribution – Blockchain.info’) more than 50% of the hashing power is concentrated in Chinese mining pools and a significant part of the rest is in the U.S., meaning that most bitcoin’s e-waste hazardous recycling labor will end eventually in poor communities of Asia.

Surplus logics

The number of mines and of ASIC’s in them is obscure. Nonetheless, the quantity of e-waste coming directly from mining does not compare to the waste produced by other gadgets, like those of the smartphone industry. The discussion around excess is not so much framed in quantity, however, but in its lifespan and purpose: hardware mining units are limited to the one and only task of producing hashes. The substantial empty computational work, energy usage, and e-waste produced in the mining operation has no other goal, and so far no other purpose, than to keep the machine running. Cryptocurrencies’ personal system of consumption is a medium to an end, and whether this surplus is void or not hangs from the latter. To the question if Bitcoin mining is a waste of energy Bitcoin Foundation (‘FAQ – Bitcoin’) answers that “Spending energy to secure and operate a payment system is hardly a waste”. The former phrase can be reformulated as “it is not a waste, as long as the system works”. The idea of waste is superseded by efficiency, and annulled in a scenario where the system is fully operative.
The competence and superior security of the system, underpinned by the former logics of wastage, is what gives Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies a compelling symbolic value. An economic value is added to this initial computational worth after media attention and market performance effectively consider the tokens of this system as assets or financial objects. A rush to adopt and exploit the venues followed, as the system became more and more public, in great part due to its speculative disposition, which ended in more traditional representations of excess in the form of financial bubbles.
Due to the layered nature and fuzz of cryptocurrencies, it is difficult to avoid the accumulation of different expressions of symbolic, economic and informational value. Cryptocurrencies and its ecosystems are expressed in diverse financial fields; social platforms, project platforms (i.e. Github), mainstream and dedicated news (i.e. Coindesk), scholar research, and its own material network and Blockchain. Open research questions arise from the multiple informational sources of the object: How to frame research within this information overload? What is research surplus here? How much of the object’s nature resides in its very excessive performances and how much is made up through mere contemporary compulsive research? Are the former logics of wasted surplus to keep systems running exclusive to Cryptocurrencies, or is it the subtle milieu of a networked/algorithmic society? It has been argued that information technologies, material production and disposal included, operate as technologies of excess and, recursively, the devices involved in these cycles are “the very devices through which we can trace emerging forms of proliferation” (Gabrys 33). As research gets involved with the digital, both as an object of study and as a methodology device, the surplus that comes from within it is inherited in different forms. In the case of cryptocurrencies, a network communicates uninterruptedly to share an undetermined number of registry’s copies, in order to create what probably are the first truly unique digital tokens. Peculiarly, the token is a non-duplicable unity enabled by the performance of a multiplicity of machines, the entropy of a large number, and the logics of (an illusive) overabundant machine labor.

References

‘Bitcoin Difficulty Chart – Chart of Mining Difficulty History’. CoinDesk. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
‘Bitcoin Hashrate Distribution – Blockchain.info’. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
‘Bitcoin Mining in an Abandoned Iowa Grocery Store’. Motherboard. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
‘FAQ – Bitcoin’. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
Gabrys, Jennifer. Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. Reprint edition. University of Michigan Press, 2013. Print.
Guiltinan, Joseph. ‘Creative Destruction and Destructive Creations: Environmental Ethics and Planned Obsolescence’. Journal of Business Ethics 89 (2009): 19–28. Print.
‘How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use? – FAQ – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
Malone, D., and K.J. O’Dwyer. ‘Bitcoin Mining and Its Energy Footprint’. Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2014. 280–285. CrossRef. Web. 23 July 2015.
‘My Life Inside a Remote Chinese Bitcoin Mine’. CoinDesk. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.
Nakamoto, Satoshi. ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’. Consulted 1 (2008): 2012. Print.
—. ‘CML: Bitcoin P2P E-Cash Paper’. Archive. Cryptography Mailing List. N.p., 1998. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.
Puckett, Jim, and Ted Smith, eds. Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia. Seattle, Wash.: Diane Pub Co, 2003. Print.
Taylor, Michael Bedford. ‘Bitcoin and the Age of Bespoke Silicon’. Proceedings of the 2013 International Conference on Compilers, Architectures and Synthesis for Embedded Systems. Piscataway, NJ, USA: IEEE Press, 2013. 16:1–16:10. ACM Digital Library. Web. 23 July 2015. CASES ’13.
WeUseCoins. What Is Bitcoin? (v2). N.p., 2014. Film.

Graziele Lautenschlaeger – Sensing phenomena and the translation of materialities in Media Art

Abstract

In order to overcome dichotomies that usually impoverish the debates and the proposals on the Media Art field, this research is based on an object of analysis related to its very materiality: the sensing phenomena. It studies sensitive materials and devices, specifically the photosensitive ones. Organic and machinic sensors are on spot, whose ambiguous nature of being a concept and a device at the same time is a key element to feed a transdisciplinary discussion. Sensors enable us to bridge the physical and conceptual worlds. While creating a genealogy of the sensing phenomena related to the Art field, the research analyses the sensing phenomena in relation to two main operations: the translation of materialities, and the role it plays in the automatization and regulation of systems. The methodology has a historical and analytical approach, through Media Archaeology, Cultural Techniques and Second-order Cybernetics. It reviews and inquires the traditional and established paradigms of Media Theory, structuring a thought which integrates thinking and doing aspects of Media Art production, towards a “material philosophy” or a “philosophical engineering”. For that, a practical project is developed as part of the investigation’s method, an aesthetic experiment called “Self-portrait of an absence”.

Keywords
Media Art, materiality of communication, sensing phenomena

 

Introduction

The main purpose of the research is to develop a critical approach to contemporary Media Art production, in which artists constantly offer us conceptual and/or technically very hermetic proposals, reflecting also an historical and cultural constructed gap between theory and practice in creative processes. An expression of this distance is a statement by Edmond Couchot, a renowned author and critic of the field. In the book Media Art Histories, he states:

With digital images, a radically different automatization mode appears. Let’s not forget that digital images have two fundamental characteristics that distinguish them from the images mentioned earlier[from photography to television]: they are the result of an automatic calculation made by a computer. There is no longer any relation or direct contact with reality. Thus the image-making processes are no longer physical (material or energy related), but ‘virtual’ “(Couchot, 2006, pp. 182-3).

When Couchot says that “the image-making processes are no longer physical (material or energy related)” he ignores all the existent materialities that his limited human senses cannot perceive.  It is maybe a result of the separation between the world of thinkers and the world of the makers. Facing this situation, emerges the question of what would be an interesting and effective entrance to inquire such kind of misinformation that only reinforces the gap between conceptualization and hands-on, and therefore allow me to produce a significant material for media art community, contributing for makers and thinkers to visit each others world’s. Materials and devices related to the sensing phenomena showed up to be a promising vector for the investigation.

Sensing phenomena: Some definitions

Before articulating sensitive elements and the Media Art field, it is important to have some definitions as starting point. Let us consider that the sensing world is divided into natural and man-made sensors, as classified by Jacob Fraden:

On the one hand “The natural sensors, like those found in living organisms, usually respond with signals, having an electro-chemical character; that is, their physical nature is based on ion transport, like in the nerve fibers” (Fraden 01).

On the other hand, “in man-made devices, information is also transmitted and processed in electrical form – however, through the transport of electrons. Sensors that are used in artificial systems must speak the same language of as the devices with which they are interfaced” (Fraden 01-02).

Moreover “The purpose of a sensor is to respond to some kind of an input physical property (stimulus) and convert it into an electrical signal which is compatible with electronic circuits. We may say that a sensor is a translator of a generally nonelectrical value into an electrical value” (Fraden 02).

This technical definition using the idea of translation is in consonance with the idea that sensors are elements that enable the translation of materialities, topic to be further discussed. The argument is that they play an essential role in Media Art and in its simultaneous effects of presence and meaning production, towards Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s concept of materiality of communication.

Since there is the huge variety of sensitive materials and sensors existing, in the scope of this research, it was opted to focus on the photosensitive ones.

Photosensitive elements and media

Starting by the natural sensors, we can mention the sight sense of plants, phenomena that has already been used in some artworks. Plants cannot properly ‘see’ like a human does, but it is essential to their lives the sensitivity they present to light. Besides their photosynthesis ability, sensors placed in the tip of plants stem, for instance, allow them to notice the direction of light, triggering the growing process towards light source (phototropism). Another sight sense is located in the plant leaves and manages the flowering process, which is influenced by the amount of red light or by the length of the night (photoperiodism). The phytochrome of the plant leaves measures the red light and takes over the role of a light activated switch. Depending on the kind of red light the flowering process is turned on or off.

Another interesting example of natural sensing phenomena is called Quorum Sensing. In most cases it consists of a system of stimulae and response correlated to population density. Quorum sensing is used by several species of bacteria to coordinate gene expression according to the density of their local population. Similarly, some social insects use quorum sensing to determine where to nest. It can be understood as a sensor in a social scale and can function as a decision-making process in any decentralized system.

Bacteria that use quorum sensing produce and secrete certain signaling molecules (called autoinducers or pheromones). They also have a receptor that can specifically detect the signaling molecule (inducer). When the inducer binds the receptor, it activates transcription of certain genes, including those for inducer synthesis.

Quorum sensing was first observed in a bioluminescent bacterium that lives symbiotically in the photophore (or light-producing organ) of a Hawaiian bobtail squid. When the bacteria’s cells are free-living, the autoinducer is at low concentration, and, thus, cells do not luminesce. However, when they are highly concentrated in the photophore, transcription of luciferase is induced, leading to bioluminescence. In addition to its function in biological systems, quorum sensing has several useful applications for computing and robotics.

An example closer to our physical reality is the human eye, usually understood and modeled in anatomy and physiology books as a metaphor of a camera. Playing the role of film or a CCD, the photosensitive cells of our eyes are located in the retina: they are rod and cone cells. Located on the outer edges of the retina, rods are responsible for the reception of small intensity light and for peripheral view. Cones are further classified into 3 kinds of cells, each type responding to visible light of different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. Long cones respond to light of long wavelengths, peaking at the color red; medium cones peak the color green; and short cones are most sensitive to wavelength of the color blue. According to Kittler, it is very much possible that, the development of color images in Media technology – the RGB system – became only possible after the understanding of such cells in our eyes. He states:
In a similar way, the construction of images on television corresponds to the structure of the retina itself, which is like a mosaic of rods and cones; rods enable the perception of movement, while cones enable the perception of color, and together they demonstrate what is called luminance and chrominance on color television”(Kittler 36).

First, technology and the body: the naked thesis, to place it immediately up front, would read as follows: we knew nothing about our senses until media provided models and metaphors” (Kittler 34).

These are only some examples that show how the understanding of the natural world and human ability for building machines are mutually influenced. As the sensing phenomena can not be isolated observed, it is part of the research processes to identify and analyze the operations related to it, specially regarding expression on the fields of media and art. For the occasion of the workshop, the operation that I would like to focus is the sensor’s role in the idea of translation of materialities.

Translation of materialities

The photophone is an example that illustrates sensors in their interface functionality: the translation of materialities.

Coincidentally, the photophone is an invention whose origin is based on the discovery of new chemical elements in nature, specifically the Selenium, a photosensitive element. The photophone was a telecommunications device which allowed for the transmission of speech on a beam of light. It was invented jointly by Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter in 1880, at Bell’s Laboratory. It worked through the exchange of two parts: transmitter and receiver. The receiver was a parabolic mirror with selenium cells at its focal point. One can say this device is a precursor of optic fiber technology.

When sensitive materials are associated to electronics and digital processes, the creative possibilities of human beings are refreshed. When Vilém Flusser discusses about the zero dimensionality of digital media this means that those media offer us the possibility of gathering all materialites in a lowest common denominator and, in second step, transform them in other possible materialities, playing around the flux between the abstract and the concrete worlds. In other words, this aspect of digital media drives us to translation issues, once they theoretically allow us to translate anything into anything.

The media art scene is also translating data and materialities the whole time. And it is quite often that we see artworks whose translations are meaningless or not powerful enough to trigger conversations on audience and contribute to the emergence of new knowledge. What kind of translation has been done? Why are we so obsessed about translating?

The Italian humanist Leonardo Bruni was probably one of the first modern thinkers to write a scientific treatise about the issue of ‘translation’ in the fifteenth century. Later on the twentieth century many other theoreticians discussed the topic, such as Croce and Rosenweig, Benjamin (“The task of the translator”) and Steiner (“After Babel”). The interest of those thinkers in the topic is a sign that the importance of translation reaches beyond the language domain, to encompass ontological and philosophical territories. Moreover, it is not by chance that the concept is also used in Molecular Biology and Genetics, calling translation the process in which cellular ribosomes create proteins. Such a broad spectrum of uses leads us to understand translation as playing out in the middle space between one reality and another.

A significant artwork concerning this definition is “Genesis”(1999) by the Brazilian based in USA artist Eduardo Kac. The key element of the work is a synthetic gene that was created by Kac translating a sentence from the biblical book Genesis into Morse Code, and converting Morse Code into DNA base pairs. The “Genesis gene” was inserted into a bacteria and the audience on the internet could turn on an ultra-violet light in the exhibition space, causing real biological mutations in the living organism, which was at the end retranslated into the Genesis book.

On the one hand this artwork is an example that demonstrates radically what translations can be and its implications, whereas on the other hand, it is very good at constructing the metaphors of the most current “problems” on translations also outside of the art word: ambiguity, noise, and subjectivity. As long as each ‘reality’ or ‘system’ has its own structure, it is absolutely impossible to find exact correspondences in both universes. That also explains the difficulties in translating poetry.

Overcoming the obsession of precise analogy, the French philosopher Paul Ricouer states that despite our excessive desire for translation, it is impossible to find parameters to identify what is a successful translation, able to reveal the same issues from different universes while retaining their specific logic and structures.

Self-portrait of an absence

Using the eye as the closest reference of photosensitive element, a practical part of the research is planned, a project being called until now by “Self-portrait of an absence”. The project consists of an eye-tracking device attached to the blind eye of the researcher, programmed to generate sound landscapes. It exercises a flusserian dialogue, sharing an absence and translating, beyond light into sound, an intimate characteristic into a universal experience. It is related to Wolfgang Sützl’s inquiries specially concerning the fact that “Where everything must be exchangeable, the concept of loss has no meaning”. Beyond the commercial use of biodata, the project grasps symbolic and aesthetic levels of relationships between body and technology.

Mixing the inputs of the conceptual framework and the practical experiment, the aim is to discover why do we translate and how this human inherent desire extent to materialities and contributes to overcome the pre-established dichotomies between nature and culture, especially reflected in the Media Art scene.

 

References

Couchot, Edmond. “The automatization of figurative techniques: towards the autonomous image”. In: Grau, Oliver. (Ed.) Media Art Histories. London, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007.

Flusser. Vilém. Universo das imagens técnicas: elogio da superficialidade. São Paulo: Annablumme, 2008. 

Fraden, Jacob. Handbook of Modern Sensors: Physics, Designs and Applications. New York, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2004.

Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Production of presence: What meaning cannot convey. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Kittler, Friedrich. Optical media: Berlin Lectures 1999. Translated by Anthony Enns. Cambridge, UK/Malden, USA: Polity Press, 2010. (first published in German as Optische Medien / Berliner Vorlesung 1999. Merve Verlag Berlin, 2002).

Bassler, Bonnie. “How bacteria ‘talk’ In: TED Talks, Feb, 2009. Web. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate. Web. Accessed 28.Jun 2015.

Ricouer, Paul. On translation. London, New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2006.

Weil, Florian.  Artistic Human Plant Interfaces. Masterarbeit zur Erlangung des akademischen Grades Master of Arts. Universität für künstlerische und industrielle Gestaltung – Kunstuniversität Linz. Institut für Medien Interface Cultures. Linz, Österreich, 2014.

Long, Chris; Groth, Mike. “Bibliography of early optical (audio) communications” In: Bluehaze. June 2005. Web. Available at: http://www.bluehaze.com.au/modlight/ModLightBiblio.htm. Accessed 27.Sept 2015.

Aideen Doran- Power Users

 Cybersyn & Arpanet    

Cybersyn, designed for Salvador Allende’s Socialist Chilean government by the British cybernetician Stafford Beer in the early 1970s, has been called “a socialist Internet, decades ahead of it’s time.” (Fisher 144) Cybersyn comprised of a network of telex machines and communications devices that would allow workers unprecedented control over their own lives and work. The central module collected production data from factories across the nation and responded to them in real time, rather than dictating economic policy from central government. Eventually it was hoped that it could be developed in a way that would allow citizens to communicate their feelings about the workings of the state directly to the government, an enterprise called Project Cyberfolk. It was a wholly unrealised ambition: Allende’s government was overthrown in a military coup led by general Pinochet in 1973. Cybersyn never had a chance to flourish. The images that remain from the Cybersyn project seem like a dispatch from the future, a glimpse of a world that could have been ours: an ‘alternative Internet,’ another kind of networked commons, built to ensure abundance for all.

Cybersyn was developing contemporaneously with military research in the United States towards building an inter-connected system of computers. The mandate was to create a distributed network of computers that could resist any single point of failure, preserving information and remaining operational in the event of nuclear catastrophe or hostile attack. Called Arpanet, it was an initiative of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, an agency of the United States Department of Defence. DARPA was one of the driving forces behind the development of the Internet, and more recently has been at the vanguard of research into virtual reality, battlefield robotics, and interstellar travel.

The End of the Internet

The Internet as we know it today “arrived from two directions: one top-down and the other bottom-up,” (Lanier 27) the cumulative result of military and governmental research alongside the efforts of independent computer scientists, programmers and entrepreneurs. To many, the de-centralised nature and universality of the Internet, both expressions of the “universal and non-discriminatory” (Semeniuk 47) principles of its design, seemed to promise a wider decentralisation of power and the creation of a new global commons, as the collective knowledge of the world became universally available, and creative and intellectual collaboration over the Internet became possible.

The revolutionary potential of the Internet to usher in an era of the democratic and free exchange of all the world’s knowledge has been compromised by a counter-revolution of enclosure, surveillance, and a concentration of corporate and governmental powers. At the present time, the experience of living in the world where the Internet is a ubiquitous phenomena contrasts starkly with the utopian ambitions of the early network pioneers. Both economic and political power is now greatly augmented by dominance over information. Singular, monolithic corporate entities have come to dominate popular niches of Internet activity such as social networking. The most iconic corporations of the new century, e.g. Google and Facebook, have made access to and control over huge swathes of data enormously lucrative. We live with what the artist and writer Hito Steyerl calls an ‘Internet Condition,’ in which the conditions of surveillance and corporate monopolisation, normalised on the Internet, spill over into the ‘real’ world. The Internet, according to Steyerl, “is undead and it’s everywhere.” (Steyerl, “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?”) Every action online we make can be tracked, traced and stored, your location monitored, your life surveilled in the interests of both capitalist accumulation (e.g. online tracking) and state security (e.g. mass data collection by GCHQ and the NSA). We live in a kind of digital panopticon, a high-tech version of Jeremy Bentham’s ideal panopticon prison, where prisoners were aware of being watched at all times without being able to see or identify the watcher. The Internet has become a tool of social control, where it once could have one of emancipation and commonality.

The Disappearing User

In addition to this concentration of powers, there is another troubling aspect to digital network technologies as they exist now, and that is the complete disappearance of the interface as we know it. Internet artist and theoretician Olia Lialina has written about this issue, suggesting that the boundaries between technology and us are becoming increasingly invisible:

Computers are getting invisible. They shrink and hide. They lurk under the skin and dissolve in the cloud…with the disappearance of the computer, something else is silently becoming invisible as well — the User. Users are disappearing as both phenomena and term, and this development is either unnoticed or accepted as progress — an evolutionary step.
(Lialina, “Turing Complete User”)

Computing processes are completely ubiquitous yet increasingly opaque. Computers begin to disappear as discrete objects, distinct from other consumer objects in the world and are absorbed into all other objects from watches to toasters in the Internet of Things. An interface is no longer an interface, but an experience. Many of the leading contemporary technology companies actively pursue the development of software interfaces that are both intuitive and ‘invisible’. When the interface disappears, the user too becomes invisible, when the term user is a useful reminder that the computer is a programmed system designed by another. It is not neutral. To fail to recognise that a person is a user of a system puts in jeopardy the users’ right to question that system, and to critique it.

An interface designed to be invisible renders a device almost unrecognisable as technology: it instead becomes naturalised as a benevolent, non-human factotum, a familiar spirit. We touch immaterial images and symbols on the glass screen of our smartphones, while fitness trackers and smart watches track our heartbeats and metabolic rates and weight loss apps send daily diet reminders and motiving messages. The intimate details of our lives are shared freely on social media, read by scopophilic algorithms and used to more efficiently market products and services. As Donna Haraway writes, “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.” (152) The experience of living with networked information technologies is interpenetrated on multiple levels by elements of embodied and affective experience, yet the ways in which we engage with technology are more often framed as a disembodied experience, one that is structured by language and overwritten by Heidegger’s ‘rule of instrumentalism.’

In The Question Concerning Technology (Heidegger, 1977), Heidegger describes how in a technocratic society all things “live under the rule of instrumentalism” (Bolt 71) in which the earth is a resource to be used to do or to produce, a resource which can be mastered through technological means. Our engagement with technology is limited to what technology can do for us rather than an engagement with the fundamental essence of what it is. However technology is more than just means: it is also a “challenging revealing,”(Heidegger 16) a system of thought which orders the world in a constant cycle of unlocking and transforming the energy in nature and then storing and distributing that energy through production. This revealing is a system of thought that delegitimises and drives out other ways of thinking about technology outside of its particular system of enframing. (Bolt 75) The instrumentalising effect of a technological enframing begins to colour all other relationships according to this system of thought, reducing the world and humanity to a “standing-reserve” (Heidegger 17) of energy and all beings to resources awaiting use (an effect that is vividly expressed in the managerial language of ‘human resource management’). In opposition to this, Heidegger sets out poiēis, (10) a mode of bringing-forth presence that involves “openness before what is” (Bolt 80) rather than ordering and mastery. Heidegger associates art with poiēitic revealing, but also with techne, an ambivalent term between poiesis and technological enframing that is the etymological root of the word ‘technology.’ It is both its likeness to and its difference from the technological that gives art a unique power to unsettle an instrumental view of the world, arts’ ‘accursed share’ (Bataille) of non-recuperable excess.

Radical Boredom

A refusal to engage with, to share in, a digital network culture that demands a permanent state of receptivity, can be a powerful statement personally and politically. Boredom, melancholy and negativity can be refigured as productive affective states, alike to art in that they, too, are possessed of an ‘accursed share.’ We are surrounded by anti-boredom devices, and we can be bored as well as overwhelmed by information overload- but it’s a mediated form of boredom that allows no room for thought or reflection. The sociologist and critic Sigfried Kracauer went even further, suggesting that only ‘extraordinary, radical boredom’ (Kracauer, quoted in Morozov ‘Only Disconnect’), as opposed to the ‘radical distraction’ of a real-time social media news feed, could reunite us with our body, our heads and the lived materiality of the world. Only in moments of silence and solitude could one flirt with radical and unscripted ideas. Boredom was rethought as political. In Kracauer’s writing, boredom allows us to experience the world at different temporalities, and to reimagine not only what the present can look like, but what the future could look like too. To Kracauer, boredom is not only our “modest right” (303) to do no more than be with ourselves, but it is also “the necessary precondition for the possibility of generating the authentically new.” (301-2) If an individual is never bored, then they are also never really present. So, if to be bored is to be present, then ‘radical boredom’ brings us back to Heidegger and his concept of Dasein, ‘being in the world,’ wherein human existence is grounded in the body and in the specific place in which we live. Being in the world emphasises that we are more than just an incorporeal self that is distinct from the “confining prison house”  of the body, (Cottingham 252) that consciousness is more than a string of information that can flow seamlessly between and the synapses of the brain and the silicon chips of a computer. An explanation of consciousness as an informational pattern, equally replicable in organic or non-organic materials, falls short of accounting for ‘Dasein.’

The culture of distraction demands not only a permanent state of receptiveness, but also a permanent ‘now,’ a temporal state radically different from the ‘being present’ of Dasein. The temporality of the network world is one of urgency, of being ‘just in time’ rather than ‘in the moment’. Zygmunt Bauman describes this as “the insubstantial, instantaneous time of the software world,” (118) an inconsequential time, immediately evanescing from experience into “exhaustion and fading of interest.” (ibid) Exhaustion is the inevitable result of the over-participation and over-sharing demanded by the network world, yet withdrawal and recuperation are not necessarily solitary and isolated acts. As Jan Verwoert writes, “the exhibition of exhaustion produces public bodies.” (Verwoert 107)

Works cited:

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Print.
Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. New York: Zone Books, 1991. Print.
Bolt, Barbara, Dr. Heidegger Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts. London: I.B. Tauris, 2011. Print.
Cottingham, John. “Cartesian Dualism: Theology, Metaphysics, and Science.” The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Ed. Cottingham, John. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 236-57. Print.
Fisher, Mark. “Picture Piece: Cybersyn, Chile 1971-73” Frieze. March 2014. P144. Print.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge 1991. PP 127-48. Print.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York, London: Harper and Row, 1977. Print.
Kracauer, Siegfried. “Boredom.” The Everyday Life Reader. Ed. Highmore, Ben. London: Routledge, 2002. 301-04. Print.
Lanier, Jaron. “The Suburb That Changed the World.” New Statesman. 18 August 2011: 27-30. Print.
Lialina, Olia “Turing Complete User.” Contemporary Home Computing. n.p. 12 December 2012. n.d. Web. 26 December 2014.
Morozov, Evgeny. “Only Disconnect ” The New Yorker. The New Yorker Magazine. 28 October 2013. Web. 18 May 2015.
Semeniuk, Ivan. “Six Clicks of Separation ” New Scientist. March 2006: 46-48. Print.
Steyerl, Hito. “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?” E-Flux. E-Flux. 1 November 2013. Web. 01 December 2013.
Verwoert, Jan. “Exhaustion & Exuberance: Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.” Dot Dot Dot 15 (2008): 89-112. Print.

Elisavet Christou – The New Condition of Art Exhibition

INTRODUCTION

Art exhibition has been through major changes since the emergence of the World Wide Web. Galleries and museums have been active players in the forming of new modes of cultural consumption and participation online while technology companies like Google invest in online platforms for digital exhibition (Google Art Project). From virtual exhibitions and online archives to multimedia applications like games and 3D, cultural organizations are learning to utilize the best digital technology has to offer in order to expand their reach and become more competitive. Social media in the beginning of 2000s allowed for new exhibition practices that were no longer associated with art exhibition as an event but rather as a condition. Free and open posting, sharing, curating and publishing has become a reality through these platforms. Entire social networks like pinterest, instagram and flickr are open exhibition spaces available for mass consumption anywhere and anytime. Physical or digital artworks are designed to fit in this online exhibition (photographs, videos etc.) while internet and post-internet art is designed online and for online exhibition (often for both virtual and physical spaces (Vierkant, Image Objects)).

The digitization of art exhibition has resulted in a massive shift on how we evaluate art, since much of today’s art success depends on reach and popularity (Arora and Vermeylen 206). Online, every artwork has an audience to find. Follower culture makes audience engagement easier and interaction between artists and audiences instant. An artist’s follower can have direct access to the artist’s work and progress and either approve or disapprove by altering her social network relationship (ex. Friend/unfriend, follow/unfollow, participate by commenting & sharing/not participating). Artists can have instant feedback on their work and themselves by using network and website analytics, effectively treating themselves and their work as brands. The artist becomes a public persona (famous artist Ai Weiwei has 288K Twitter and 146K Instagram followers), selfies, social updates, commentary are few of the tools used by artists in order to engage with and expand their audience, popularity and status. Exposure means popularity, bigger audiences and more possibilities of financially surviving the hard reality of the art world. The above results to a confusion as to what art exhibition entails today, who is involved and where and when it takes place.

I attempt to examine these phenomena, behaviors and interactions from both a technical and theoretical understanding. Often art research fails to examine the technical and systemic characteristic of the medium through which art is being mediated and the apparatus through which art is being systematized. The internet is not simply “open” or “closed” but above all a form that is modulated. Information does flow but it does so in a highly regulated manner (Thacker xix). As Bowker et al. argue, these embedded technological frames are often invisible to perceive in social systems such as the art world; hence to genuinely comprehend its impact, it involves the unfolding of ‘the political, ethical, and social choices that have been made throughout its development’ (Bowker et al. 99; Arora and Vermeylen 6). This falls under a wider discussion of how the social and the political are not external to technology and of how technological developments (research, design, use, distribution, marketing, naturalization, consumption) affect and/or determine all aspects of social life (Thacker xi).

EXHIBITION AS AN EVENT AND AS A CONDITION

Traditionally art exhibition is understood as an event. It takes time and resources, it requires preparation by the artist/s, venue, and curator/s, it has a lifespan of a set time and it has an afterlife through documentation, evaluation/critique, reflection, impact, publication and archive. Exhibitions can be reproduced or travel yet their spatiotemporal lives are limited by physical and logistical laws. Such art exhibitions constitute some of the major events (Biennale, Documenta etc.) in the art world and produce great revenue for cultural organizations and institutions. The life span of art exhibitions though has been massively affected by Web 2.0. Escaping the limitations of the physical world, art can be exhibited and accessed anywhere, anytime and by anyone. The whole wide web is available for exhibition, it is an open venue for both art and artists, servicing some of the traditional purposes of art exhibition like communication, audience reaching, cultural exchange and discourse, popularity and of course sales. Time, space, accessibility and audience participation are some of the major changes of how art is being exhibited online but in order to understand what makes art exhibition today a constant condition, I will briefly discuss here two specific effects of online interactions, the mixed reality effect and the bandwagon effect.

THE MIXED REALITY EFFECT

As technological innovations continue to extend our notion of the visible experience we now recognize ourselves as both the observer and the observed on a constant basis and we often understand this as a requirement for belonging. At the same time our notion of what is a visible experience has massively changed as visibility now belongs to both physical and virtual realms. These experiences are taking place in very distinct spaces online, that are both controlled public spaces and monitored private spaces – neither public nor private, neither here or there, they are heterotopic as Foucault describes them or interstitial spaces as Paul Virilio describes them. These spaces are what we call non-space. Originally these non-spaces refer to spaces one travels rather than inhabits. These are airports, hotel lobbies, shopping malls etc. Today non-space can describe the public/private, physical/virtual, instant/past and future spaces of online interactions. Heteropic, interstitial and non-spaces theories, fall under the more generic concept of the mixed-reality effect.

Mixed-reality ideas and theories are the results of a greater confusion in post-modern and contemporary years around time, space, public sphere, individuality and community that emerged through the online technologies of WEB 1.0 and WEB 2.0. Physical and digital events have merged into a cluster, while artists, curators and organizations have lost control over the lifespan of exhibitions through the uncontrollable reproduction of posts, photos and information that social media sharing allowed. Originally, mixed reality was used to describe the merging of real and virtual worlds that produce new environments where physical and digital objects co-exist (Ohta and Tamura 6). Today mixed reality theory is used in order to explore various phenomena of co-existing in both physical and virtual spaces. In Mark Hansen’s Bodies in Code (139), all reality is mixed reality which means that instead of thinking of our digital identity and our real-space/physical identity as two separate things, today we understand reality as a fluid space of both virtual and physical; both states are equally real and exist as one. This mixed reality condition challenges the spatiotemporal constrains of experiencing art exhibition – amongst other things – as an event. We could argue that as reality is a condition, a state of things, today’s mixed reality is also a condition which escapes the boundaries of the physical world and allows for new understandings of our experiences. These new conditions are the result of the specificity of the digital computer, the internet and the web as a medium, a medium with its own protocols and networks that needs to be examined as such.

THE NETWORK EFFECT

Networked society’s online culture and its compulsory characteristics of exhibiting ones work, actions and value by constantly sharing and participating in an effort to stay relevant, become formal measurements of effectiveness. If everyone is part of the networked society and you are not, how can you form connections, be visible and get noticed? If you can’t form connections, be visible and get noticed how can you affect change? It is a matter of scale. The medium’s ability of reaching massive audiences together with the systemic characteristic of network effectiveness based on popularity creates a network effect and a bandwagon effect. For example, the more people already use a social network the higher is the chance that more people will start using it as well (Bandwagon Effect). This results to social networks becoming extremely valuable to individuals and communities as the more people use them the more valuable they become to each user (Network Effect). Thus, chances of being effective are higher within a medium used by everyone.

Even if someone is targeting a niche audience, audience members are more likely to participate and engage with ones work in a familiar environment (like facebook) where the platform, its looks, feel and functions require no extra effort of environmental adjustment. Consequently, cultural interactions in such environments create a positive first impression since this is where people would expect to come across something relevant to their cultural preferences (by targeted advertisement and curation algorithms). Finally, this is where people can publicly exhibit their action/participation to someone’s work by joining events or by commenting and liking (actions that will later appear on their wall), fulfilling this way their part of exhibiting activity and participation. Other social networks like instagram, flickr, youtube etc. allow for similar behaviors within their systems, structures and environments. This network effect makes acting outside these platforms a very hard choice.

CONCLUSION

Remaining active, sharing and participating become measures of value for sociality, popularity, work and impact to the level of excess. At the same time acts of artistic exhibition online, add to this constant condition of making and receiving information for cultural consumption within mixed reality conditions. Social and behavioral norms along with systemic characteristics of the digital medium like protocols, software, applications and its commercial character become the gatekeepers of how we evaluate and interact with art today.

As more and more artists and cultural organizations become active participants in online environments and as more and more novel art spaces emerge online, we need to examine the conditions under which the art world is changing including the ways of exhibiting art. The art world online is being transformed into a network within a network. Further research is necessary in order to examine the impact and significance of the new technological developments on the art world and the massive changes in its hierarchies, knowledge production and valuation systems, and of course its exhibition practices and conditions.

Above all, our very short experience of life with the internet reveals issues of digital reproduction, digital mediation, digital surveillance and a generalized application of systemization. Our communication practices, our language, our image, our creativity and culture including art, is being mediated and systematized to fit online. This can liberate and/or restrain us at the same time but it certainly won’t leave us the same.

WORKS CITED

Arora, Payal., Vermeylen Filip. “The End of the Art Connoisseur? Experts and Knowledge Production in the Visual Arts in the Digital Age”, p. 6, p.206 Information, Communication & Society, 194-214, Routledge, 2013. Print

Bowker, Geoffrey C., Baker, Karen., Millerand, Florence., Ribes, David., “Toward Information Infrastructure Studies: Ways of Knowing in a Networked Environment”, International Handbook of Internet Research, pp. 97-117, Springer Netherlands, 2010. Print

Foucault, Michel. ”Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias”, Architecture/Mouvement/Continuite Journal, 1984. Print

Google Art Project, 2011 – ongoing https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project

Hansen, Mark B N. Bodies in Code, p.139, Routledge, 2006. Print

Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. City of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication (Print, Web, Film etc.).

Ohta, Yuichi.,Tamura, Hideyuki. Mixed Reality: Merging Real and Virtual Worlds, p.6, Springer, 1999. Print

Thacker, Eugene.”Protocol Is as Protocol Does”, p. xi, p. xix, Galloway, Alexander R., Protocol, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004. Print

Vierkant, Artie. Image Objects, 2011 – ongoing.,http://artievierkant.com/imageobjects.php

Virilio, Paul. Negative Horizon An Essay in Dromoscopy, Continuum, 2005. Print

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