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mapping movement with moving maps: unfixed grids and dynamic meaning

December 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Here is the link to our final project:

In this project, we examine a variety of critiques articulated in discourses on the history of cartography. At the dawn of wide scale technical and cultural transformations made possible by the current development of digital technologies, we propose a number of visual strategies to creatively and critically engage with these critiques.

The design gestures toward our specific interests in mapping. Experiments with surface and depth; background and foreground; scale; layering; connectivity and disjunction; shifting, stasis, and time; the visible and invisible; unhinged structure; and importantly, navigation that continuously reformulates through interaction. The design is a type of aesthetic mapping that moves us toward the kinds of maps we envision.

Four different node clusters cut across the design experiments. Their relationalities emerge as you explore and experience the site, generating a map in dynamic flux.

This site is best viewed at 1920 x 1200 resolution on a large screen with the Firefox web browser.

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mediamodes at sva this weekend

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

it’s around 10pm sunday night. i’m currently on a flight back from new york. there was a lot going on in new york this weekend. i was able to catch a few talks at the new school’s conference on the internet as factory and playground: lisa nakamura gave a great talk on how virtual worlds need a civil rights movement; alex galloway spoke on how racism is operating today; mckenzie wark gave a talk called ideologies of praxis on hackers, gamers, workers, and hustlers; and patricia clough gave an amazing lecture on affect, immeasurability, and branding. all in all, it was quite an incredible mix of scholars.

on saturday, i gave an artist talk at the school of visual arts. i was on a panel with 3 other graduate students. there were 2 artists counting myself, and 2 humanities students. our panel was called “processes and aesthetics of digital art.” in this post, i would actually like to focus on one talk in particular, on the pixel in digital photography. i was very troubled by this paper–not only did i think it was just flat out wrong it what it was saying but the very methodology that was used made me reflect upon larger issues of the ethics and duties of a scholar (especially when one choses to talk about images of war torture, violence, etc.).

i’d like to just first lay out some points from the paper and then move on from there. to be brief, the paper simply argued this: that whether or not an image is digital or analog, people cannot perceive a difference, so thus, because analog photography came first, we think the image as analog and therefore the digital image is always inferior. the digital image was claimed to have a “pre-determined aesthetic sensibility” (hmmm, sounds like technological determinism to me here) and that the pixel is always a “technical crutch to see other images” (a bizarre sort of privileging indeed!). Again, it was claimed that the digital image, comprised of pixels, only appears as traditional photography.

there are so many issues going on here i struggle with where to begin. it seems to me, on a very basic level, what has failed to happen in this paper is to understand and illustrate the difference between thinking about the technicity of the pixel–that is, just understanding practically what a pixel is, and the way a human would sense, perceive, experience, relate to this pixel within the framework of a digital photograph. to say that the pixel comes with a pre-determined sensibility completely misses what the human looking at the image brings along with it…a vast array of interpretive strategies and sensing capacities. how can we ever say that two people experience the same photograph in the same way? is not an “aesthetic sensibility” a relationality? what is there to be pre-determined experientially in a digital photograph?

this points to the fact that we cannot simply privilege the older analog photograph above the digital…nor can we simply link them together as the same thing just because they may look the same. aren’t they 2 very different things?

in this paper, it is claimed that people always experience the digital photograph as a “traditional” photograph. if we even grant the license to refer to older photography as traditional, where does this claim actually get us? what does it mean for a scholar to speak for and make claims that humans only experience the digital photograph in an incredibly narrow manner? i would want to argue that the digital photograph can never appear as a traditional (or analog) photograph because it is not a traditional (or analog) photograph. it seems that we need to completely scrap this way of discussing the image because it evades commenting on what the photograph technically is as well as the situatedness of human experience.

if it’s even possible to believe, the talk moved from these propositions to a discussion of digital war photographs, specifically the now infamous images from abu graib. in quite a shocking passage from this paper, it was claimed that it was absolutely irrevelant that the images from abu graib were digital….again because they are experienced by humans without an ability to differentiate whether the image is digital or not. besides the fact that this is clearly making a lot of people in the world appear much dumber than they actually are, the paper completely misses the important point here about the digital. it is the very nonvisual aspects of the digital image here that prove that it absolutely makes and did make a difference that the images were digital (and hence, comprised of pixels) and not analog. digitality allowed the images to rapidly circulate and spread beyond governmental / military control. and was it not the time code (something absolutely specific to the digital image and not necessarily contained within / on the analog) that enabled the time line of when the images where taken to be constructed (we watched a clip of this in class, right?).

it seems that with the digital image there is a delicate balance that must be carried out when critically engaging with it that must incorporate its technicality (which is visual and nonvisual), the ways it is experienced, as well as how it is contextualized and situated within the world.

in a confusing twist, the end of this paper ended with the claim that the digital image appears more “real.” i’m just going to avoid questioning what real even means here, but i do what to point of that if anything, in the age of photoshop and the ease of digital mutability, wouldn’t we always think of the digital image as always less real than the analog, precisely because its alterability, more often than not, is seamless and imperceptible….

to put it bluntly, this paper made me so frustrated that i immediately challenged the presenter during the q&a on these points. they were very hastily and defensively brushed aside. even more interestingly, an art instructor from sva in the audience claimed my point was “elitist.” this was quite a fascinating moment because i was actually calling for a critical engagement for what exactly the pixel is along with simply recognizing that people experience the surface / appearance of an image in a multitude of ways. so if what i said was too “elitist” for the artist or scholar in the context of a graduate event actually subtitled, “critical thinking with art, technology, and media,” then what should have been said? unfortunately, this experience brought forth the all-too-familiar art school experience….which is constantly battling against anti-intellectualism. that many artists just want to make beautiful things and not only have no interest in other critical matters but get incredibly defensive / argumentative when they are discussed.

what i’d like to say is that i think this paper is an ethical and political mishap.

during the q&a, the presenter stated they did not like digital art. but, is it really necessary to “like” digital art” to write this paper? sometimes, isn’t it necessary to write about things we don’t like or even hate? thus, what does this paper do? where do the claims in this paper take us? is there not a duty of sorts to the images of abu graib? it seems to be that liking here is what has faulted the paper from the beginning. exposing their preference for analog, traditional photography, this completely molded the “argument.”

interestingly, the presenter also said that the “pixel is like a brick.” again, the pixel is not a brick. a pixel is a pixel. don’t we need to start with that to push forward any type of critical engagement with the pixel?

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current research interests

November 12, 2009 Leave a comment

at the beginning of the term, we were asked to make a post about our research. i was just recently invited to be a guest contributor on empyre for the month of november on the theme viral economies: hacktivating design. as i write about my on-going queer technologies project, i thought i would share a recent post i made to empyre. the whole november archive is here if you’d like to read more.

on the virus, the tactics of nonexistence, and political love

i’d like to follow up my post from yesterday and flesh out a bit more on a politics of the imperceptible and its possible relations to viral tactics and aesthetics in political art practices.

as i previously pointed out, in “the exploit,” galloway and thacker write that “future avant-garde practices will be those of nonexistence.” This statement is in response to their question: “how does one develop techniques and technologies to make oneself unaccounted for?” They outline possible answers in their “tactics of nonexistence.” For them, nonexistence is not an absence but a fullness only to be found within the abilities to be a nonrepresentable identity. G&T build off of Agamben here. In “The Coming Community,” Agamben writes, “A being radically devoid of any representable identity would be absolutely irrelevant to the State.” So, nonexistence is the mode or function to escape or avoid sovereign control—not as an outside, some excluded fantasyland, but as a full-outside that is within.

i would like to connect this back to G&T’s point about the virus–that it is “illegible and incalculable.” Queer Technologies is attempting to think about viralities in relation to a tactics of nonexistence. I would be excited to hear thoughts and provocations around what the joining of the virus and nonexistence in this context could offer toward developing tactics, aesthetics, and various interventions.

in his book “the laws of cool,” alan liu attempts to articulate a viral aesthetics through his notion of destructive creativity: a creativity that goes “beyond the new picturesque of mutation and mixing to the ultimate form of such mutation and mixing: what may be called the new sublime of ‘destruction.’ [. . .] the critical inverse of the mainstream ideology of creative destruction [. . . a] viral aesthetics.” (How) Does destruction fit in to viral nonexistent tactics?

Something about being devoid of a representable identity brings the face to mind. Queer Technologies is in development now on a project loosely named Fag Face, which deals precisely with these issues of nonexistence, escape, evasion. I would just like to share some words on Deleuze and faciality (of course, keeping in mind that Jussi Parikka: “virsus, too, have faces.”)

Deleuze: “to the point that if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine [. . .] by strange true becomings that [. . .] make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face.” Yet, one must know the organization of the face before dismantling: “Know them, know your faces; it is the only way you will be able to dismantle them and draw your lines of flight.” Suggested nonexistent dismantlings of G&T, such as nonaction, pointless desertions, unmeasurable or not-yet-measurable human traits, configure against the technologies of the face that must be known. These tactics, therefore, hinge upon a not-knowing, which implies a race of speed—for who will have the means (be they technical, financial, social, etc.) to develop such practices first and force the foe to not-know? When Galloway and Thacker write that “the bland, the negligible, the featureless are its only evident traits,” it is the “de-facement” brought by a not-knowing that construes these traits as such.

Crucially, for them, nonexistence is constituted by a politics of love. Indeed, they call nonexistence “the purest form of love.” Thus, as tactics that are sutured to an avant-garde—that is, a front of the line of technique, nonexistence locates us within a precarious bind, for if the purest form of love is to be found within a tactics that many may well not have the means or technique to perform, what are the feasibilities of nonexistence (and therefore, of this love)? Which faciality will be able to perfect its nonexistence and proliferate its own form of pure love? While nonexistence is the “compassion” that abets the escaping of face, can people escape the face of the sovereign or does the sovereign subsume the people into its faciality machine—its own “compassion”?

For Galloway and Thacker, pure love seems to stem for a notion of political love, which qualifies the tactics of nonexistence as an act excluded from the sovereign. Michael Hardt writes that love as a political concept, in a passionate fusing of the personal and the political, binds us to transformative operations of reason that extend beyond rationality yet hold us within a training or disciplining. In opposition to political love, Hardt notes that evil is this type of love gone bad, the destruction of love as a political concept. While political love produces joy in the construction of difference, evil distorts and blocks. The logic of the sovereign denies itself the obtainability of political love, leaving it to reside somewhere in the bad love of evil.

Can the tactics of nonexistence be enacted both as the trick of sovereign evil and as force of the people nonexisting for love? How do / can we work with this?

I share these thoughts not because Queer Technologies or myself think they are necessarily the best approaches, but these ideas, tactics, and calls to action seem to link up in many fascinating ways to questions of the viral as well as the feasibility of being able to put this to practice?

Is the viral what can allow us to hack into this nonexistence?

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the art of the interface

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment

1) what is an interface? i’d like to start with this question. in the works for this week, a clear, concise definition of interface seems to be lacking. perhaps this is because “interface”–as a concept, a material, arguably a methodology–is allusive. but perhaps it’s worthwhile to attempt to tease out (beyond what we’ve been presented with) what an interface is / can be? or more specifically, what it is / can be in theory and art?

i found söke dinkla’s discussion of interface problematically aloof and was troubled by the initial provocation that the history of interactive art “is essentially characterized by the attempt to ‘humanize’ the interface between system and player.” while i was more compelled by rokeby’s writings on interface, i think the mirror metaphor only gets us so far with this basic question.

i’d like to share a few definitions, descriptions, suggestions of what an interface is by four other media theorists as possible points of departure for understanding the interface and its effects / relations to (interactive) art and the humanities: Galloway and Thacker have defined interface as an “artificial structure of differentiation between two media” in The Exploit, while Florian Cramer and Matthew Fuller begin their discussion of interface in Software Studies: A Lexicon with its etymology, citing Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary to date the term to 1882, noting its emergence from the discipline of chemistry: “a surface forming a common boundary of two bodies, spaces, phases.” Their computational reformulation: “interfaces link software and hardware to each other and to their human users or other sources of data.” In a recent article entitled “The Unworkable Interface,” Galloway returns to the interface, suggesting it is not a thing but an effect, a “being on the boundary,” an artificial differentiation between data and algorithm, “a fertile nexus.” it seems that even these attempts at exegesis are at once specific to computation yet also slip easily into abstraction when interface is used to discuss matters at the edges or boundaries of computation. galloway has labeled the interface a “control allegory” that points toward a specific methodology.

with all of this in mind, what are the productive, useful, critical, creative ways to talk about the “interface” in “the art of the interface”?

2) attempting to withhold my comments on the many annoying remarks made by söke dinkla (such as, “instead of being a commentator standing outside society, the artist now decides to take part in the socio-technological change and judge from within,” or, “new points of view are not formed by physical experience but with the help of new interactive media strategies”), i would like to return to dinkla’s claim that the history of interactive art “is essentially characterized by the attempt to ‘humanize’ the interface between system and player.” in a certain sense, this strikes me as bluntly correct, in that any human action or intervention upon a technology or technological system is an act or process of “humanizing,” but when considering the “attempt” at interface made by the artist, this appears to be a gross reduction. not only taking into account various making-strange activities of the avant-garde but also more contemporary forms of media art (what about jodi.org or the ascii films of vuk cosic? for instance), it is quite clear that many artists work with, against, and through the formal logics of their technologies at hand. indeed, it seems quite reasonable to suggest that all pieces produced by artists working with technology undergo a doubled process of humanization and nonhumanization. this notion of humanizing seems to call forth an anthropomorphic reading of the artwork and the interface, which so much contemporary critical new media works argue against. dinkla writes that interactive works “disclose their actual content only after a sort of decoding.” what happens to content here if it is not humanized? in fact, the concept of content seems to be a human one. galloway and thacker have written that “there is no content.” is the point of all interactive art to reveal a content (which implies a meaning) through decoding? can we think of other critical approaches to this history that doesn’t foreground the human so solidly in the center?

3) dinka’s discussion of interface is quite obtuse, in that many different things are considered to be an interface. david rokeby is certainly much more specific and focused in “transforming mirrors.” yet again, the mirror (usually as metaphor) erases the complex  relationalities between technological systems and people. rokeby even writes that “no interface can be truly transparent.” perhaps it’s more worthwhile to think in terms of thresholds rather than mirrors? the very suggestion of a mirror interface seems to do away with depth, obfuscation, and threshold. does the mirror really get us that far with critically thinking about interactive art? perhaps rokeby unknowingly implies an answer to that question when he writes that “technology mirrors our desires; interactive technologies, in particular, reflect our desire to feel engaged.” but what if we don’t feel engaged because technology does not mirror our desires? what if we are left out, which is certainly the case for many people. to assume that technology mirrors our desires seems to completely overlook the political configurations of technology; technology is never for everybody’s desires. in fact, isn’t this feeling of being left out, of not finding our desires in technology, the very reason why some artists work toward creating various alternative and resistant projects? for some people, there is never a mirror, just a threshold that operates on various levels of transparency and opacity based on the interactions of each specific person. I agree when rokeby writes that “the design of these technologies become the encoding of a kind of moral and political structure,” but this structure is far more complex than a transforming mirror. i still find myself asking the question: what is an interface?

4) i think some interesting results could be found through thinking about johanna drucker’s conception of “the model” in relation to interface. drucker writes that “the model is an intellectual concept according to which all the elements of a project are shaped [. . .] it is an expression of form that embodies a generalized idea of the knowledge it is presenting” (15 – 16). is this model an interface? perhaps more interesting is that the model here suggests a change in methodology: speculative computing calls for new models that include / are computational interfaces. in general, i am interested in the promise the concept of the model offers for creating form in scholarship and criticism.

5) Drucker’s concept of speculative computing hinges strongly upon what the digital humanities is and isn’t. however, i couldn’t help but feel that what the digital humanities is was never adequately articulated. while the field did not feel clearly outlined, drucker also chooses not to speculate upon the future of the digital humanities and were it is moving toward. so first, what is the digital humanities? and does it not maintain elements of speculation as well? based on my brief exposure to work that claims to be “digital humanities” (such as the ucla digital humanities manifesto), could speculative computing be just a subcategory of the digital humanities? is speculative computing one possible direction for the future of digital humanities? in short, isn’t there much more overlap than differences between the two?

secondly, i’d also like to probe further into the “speculative” of speculative computing. just how speculative is it? what actually constitutes something as speculative? is there a difference between open-ended, relational research and speculation? can the digital–as a formal logic–actually be speculative? this seems to be (in part) a question of functionality; speculative computing should equally value the functional as well as the nonfunctional. keeping in mind that drucker’s project is an institutional one, aimed toward academic research and production, what is to become of the radical potentialities of the speculative in a humanities context? is speculative computing–as an endeavor that is theoretical and practical–more suited for the realm of the arts?

lastly (and mostly as a side note): with current works emerging in the last few years around speculative realism in philosophy (and i admit that at this point i know very little about this work), i wonder how these two types of the speculative intersect and/or divert.

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anti-language of new media

September 21, 2009 2 comments

here’s the link for alex galloway’s forthcoming essay i mentioned in class last week on the anti-language of new media.

i’d like to consider for a moment the end of galloway’s article–his call for a politics (or ethics) of new media–because it strikes me as something we can use to think through all the theoretical texts we are readings as well as how we discuss and interpret artwork in this class.

importantly, galloway is not calling for the production of new media art that primarily and actively focuses / engages with the political; rather, his point was one of theoretical methodologies / frameworks. whether or not an artwork directly engages in the political, galloway locates the political as the most crucial point of entry into developing a theoretical framework for discussing these works or just for critique in general. that is, an artwork is political whether it is intended to be or not.

it seems to me that galloway aligns with the interpretive method outlined in fredric jameson’s the political unconscious. in this text, jameson points to the priority of political interpretations of literary texts (17). jameson defines the political as the collective “meaning” of history and suggests “the only a genuine philosophy of history is capable of respecting the specificity and radical difference of the social and cultural past while disclosing the solidarity of its polemics and passions, its forms, structures, experiences, and struggles, with those of the present day” (18). This approach leads to “the recognition that there is nothing that is not social and historical–indeed, that everything is ‘in the last analysis,’ political” (20). notably, the use of political here presents the only option at (trying to) understand the multifarious elements of a text, or art, or work of new media. to not wrestle with the political when performing an interpretive act upon a work is to actually mis-interpret the formal, the experiential, aesthetics, etc.

i am interested not only in how this political method of interpretation is written in theoretical texts as well as used upon various  artworks but more specifically, how this methodology manifests itself in multimedia or multi-modal forms that incorporate art practice, theory, and criticism. in the history of art, i certainly think this is nothing new; that is, artists have always been directly engaged with the political. but what about works that operate as art as well as scholarly criticism? that is, how do these works present or offer a different / new methodology of interpretation through a mixture of text, image, materialities, etc? what new potentials do these multi-modal works offer by intending to be political, like galloway & jameson, and demanding a political interpretation?

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