Friday, June 8, 2007

On Dirty Numbers

I was intrigued by the premise of Epic Romance’s project, Dirty Numbers. We were instructed to share something dirty, and then obfuscate it in binary code – so as to make whatever message we left invisible to human eyes, without actually destroying the content – a pseudo-encryption that had some interesting implications in the context of the class regarding strong / weak ties, networks, etc. It also brings to the foreground something that happens to every bit (literally) of our digital correspondence – broken down into a stream of on and off switches that are entirely useless as a means of communication without reassembly.

The way in which it broke down becomes a kind of meta-commentary on human --> computer --> human ineraction. The fact that we moved from something human readable (text) to computer readable (binary) and then intervened (flipped zeros/ones) to make the text readable to neither humans nor computers. Something so simple as the number swap would be enough to destroy any digital communication - these abstractions that we have come to rely on, and largely ignore, are all a bit precarious.

Do you have any further plans for the binary code you ended up with? You mentioned that the site would soon be afire, do we still have that to look forward to? Was anyone's communication destroyed entirely through some error in the text --> binary or find/replace number flipping operation (and did you expect / intend for that sort of mistake to happen)?

On Take One / Leave One

I really enjoyed YiRan Liu's penny-tray inspired Take One / Leave One - It’s kind of a more tasteful, less gratuitous PostSecret, tapping into a more humanistic interest and general concern for others than the kind of rubber-necking that so many communal-narrative-contribution sites rely on to hold a visitor’s attention. Though there are a range of ways to interact with the site, but by far the most effective are the postcards – the aesthetics of the handwriting really works, and it’s also worth considering that unlike all of the usual typed-text on the internet, the handwritten postcard responses are invisible to Google’s perpetual web-indexing circus, which gives them another level of intimacy and dignity. The fact that the responses are “blind” in this regard reminded me of some of the conversation we had in class about the significant of creating and moving between networks. How does the “invisibile” nature of these responses on the web shift their content? Was this aspect of the project a conscious decision – or did it just kind of happen that way? In some ways, Take One / Leave One takes the web offline without destroying it in the process: Each postcard has a short story from a previous contributor on the front, to prompt the handwritten response on the other side. In that sense, a network of response and interaction continues to exist – though it is displaced from the immediacy and universal access we take for granted online.

On Project Deets

Brother Electron posted his notes from assorted Northwestern classes around one of the poorer neighborhoods in Evanston to “emphasizing intellectual disparities” and possibly “inspiring some sort of fantastical or intellectual discourse.”

I like the way the work explores the presumption associated with identifying anything as “everyday” – as everydayness is an incredibly relative thing. Your exploration of the fallacies embedded in everydayness are interesting – and I like that your project at once works in a relational aesthetics context, while criticizing and subverting some of its basic tenets.

In some ways, your projects seems only half finished – you pose many questions about the reception of the notes, but there’s no real way to answer any of these without some kind of direct follow-up or other means of finding out what people in your target demographic think of the postings. Have you gone back? Have the notes been torn down, vandalized, ignored? Also, the project could be interpreted as having a certain level of condescension: However useless these notes might seem to us, and to those in southwest Evanston, the truth is that your decision to study these things – whether or not you will ever use them – will put a large distance between you and the neighborhoods in which you’re posting them. Thus there’s a tension between you posting these notes because they might have been useless, while having the knowledge that despite their uselessness – these notes are, in a way, a pass to a better life that Southwesternevanstonites might not have – and in that sense, the notes are more of a taunt than a criticism of academia or your education.

You pose the question, “I am not completely sure of where this project will end up inserting itself into community interaction.” Why be unsure when you can go and find out? I would have been interested to see some kind of documentation of the act of posting the notes, photos, video, interviews – something to put the above ambiguities into perspective and otherwise provide some more documentation of the project.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

On Noise

Random views of stack contributions.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Interaction, Cooperation, and Subversion

My project is online.

I built a participatory infrastructure for quick, communal, mouse-drawn sketches. All contributions are aggregated into a stack of images - flattened together in a kind of exquisite corpse run amok.

You can manipulate your view of the stack to occlude older contributions with newer ones, find accidental or hidden compositions, and to position your own sketch - so as to build upon or destroy an existing one. The stack of sketches is stored online and shared by everyone who visits the site, so all participants are working with the same stuff.

There's further explanation on the site, but the short story is click "draw" to contribute. You'll need the latest version of Flash Player.

More to come on the blog.

The website:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Coincidence

Pad Thai production at a New York street fair. (I happened to walk by.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

On Twitter

Photo: Kris Krug

An interview with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone:

VM: How did the team settle on "What are you doing?" as the default Twitter question – was there any debate, were any alternatives proposed, or did the final core question just seem obvious?

BS: We built the prototype for Twitter in two weeks and as it is now, the UI was very simple. At some point Jack and I were reviewing the interface and felt that just an empty update box was not as inviting as it could be so we tried putting "What are you doing?" above the box and we kept it.

VM: Twitter seems obsessed with everyday existence – lots of users seem to post updates on the mundane waypoints of daily life. Has the nature of the content surprised you? Is it evolving in a particular direction?

BS: We're not surprised by the everyday nature of Twitter updates because this is very much how we envisioned the use. People use Twitter to stay in touch in a casual, ambient manner. Part of the allure of Twitter is that it's simple and low-pressure so it lends itself well to easy, lifestyle type updates.

VM: Twitter users collectively post a massive volume of updates to a publicly accessible and archived system (compared to instant messaging, where communications are on a one-one basis and generally dissolve when the chat window is closed.) The posts must be growing into a huge volume of data, all focused on the same core question (setting twitter apart from the unfocused noise of blogs). Are there plans for analyzing all that data – finding some way of looking back, and putting things in context? Was this perpetual public archive aspect of the service something that was discussed or considered as twitter was created – or is it just a side effect?

BS: We are planning on digging in to the data a bit more and finding ways of allowing users to visualize their own data in interesting new ways. To the extent that a collection of updates is useful to an individual user, we thought early on that there was value there.

VM: Twitter lowers the threshold of what kind of event warrants world-wide notification. How does the act of updating itself begin to change or influence the events that inspired the update?

BS: Twitter is not about world-wide notification for most users. Folks who use Twitter on a regular basis do so to stay in touch with a handful of friends and relatives. However, they also tend to leave their updates public (rather than 'protected' which means out of the public eye) so there is the potential that they could reach a wider audience. Anecdotally, we haven't noticed Twitter influence the event that inspires an update except to say that it can add another dimension to the moment -- the fact that you're twittering it means you recognize it as unique moment in time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Luis Maldonado's "It's All About Things"

Louis Maldonado turned the Three Walls gallery into a ramshackle “traveling shanty-bazaar” designed to incubate social interaction hinging on the objects – things – Maldonado has created and identified as art – though the installation has little to do with the objects themselves. The space is designed around the procedures associated with acquisition. The context and limited functionality of the cramped plywood-partitioned space emphasizes conceptual rather than practical applications. There’s a warmly-lit viewing room (a closet, really) to facilitate the contemplation of potential art acquisitions, a lounge space lined with folding chairs, and a department dedicated to packaging and inventory. Though the space is crafted to support the consideration, discussion, and acquisition of the artwork, Moldonado’s collection of nondescript paintings and drawings are so unremarkable that any meaning or significance in the material object is removed, leaving a kind of negative space in which thing-centric social frameworks and interactions continue to exist – and come into the foreground. The aesthetics and presentation of the environment is at once earnest and self-consciously downscale, evoking a garage sale rather than an art gallery or auction house. The emphasis on barter rather than currency-based trade, an abandonment of the capitalist infrastructure traditionally surrounding the exchange of art, further reduced the significance of Moldonado’s objects – the works’ value and meaning was not instated at the time of production – instead, the act of bartering, and the establishment or understanding of some human attachment or history surrounding a particular work is intended to create value.

Instead of offering money for a piece of work, viewers/participants/barterers are supposed to propose an exchange of an equality uninteresting material object with some ostensibly interesting human story behind it. The process of exchanging stories is the focal point of the installation – and all who visit are encouraged to participate. Moldonado offers a microphone to the barterer, and feigns skepticism regarding the value of his end of the deal in the proposed trade – the inevitable agreement on relative value is documented with a digital photograph showing the objects exchanged in the hands of the barterer. The objects he receives in exchange are treated with equal reverence – care is given to how and where they will be displayed, measures that turn the “thing” into a vessel for human memory, thought, and commentary – a similar role, it seems, to the traditional functions of art. This content is imbued not in the aesthetics of the objects involved, but instead resides in the memory of the exchange – an archival task that falls on social rather than aesthetic structures, and, in doing so, questions the necessity of the latter.

On the whole, this didn’t quite work for me. I visited the gallery on the last night it was open, and the actual practice of the concepts the environment emphasizes doesn’t quite translate into anything particularly remarkable or meaningful. Perhaps the visitors had lost energy during the final throes of Moldonado’s residency, or maybe the wine was running out, but the gallery-goers did not seem quite sure as to how they fit in to Moldonado’s space – how their presence and participation positioned them on the spectator-spectacle continuum. Those who directly participated did so with a certain theatrical tone – and Moldonado seemed somewhat disappointed when a bartering visitor passed up the microphone. The structure of It’s all about things encourages attempts to give voice to that which goes unsaid – that which is normally spoken for in dollars instead of words. Again, it’s an earnest and endearing notion, but I’m not convinced that the activity designed to recast the value of objects. Moldonado acknowledges and critiques the idea that in order for something to be accessible, meaningful, and ultimately worthwhile, it has to be acquired in some capacity – even if the material acquisition is meaningless, there’s still an undertone of possession and accumulation that isn’t present in a batch of Rirkrit’s Pad Thai. Beyond this divergence of content, the theatricality of the entire arrangement seemed insincere. Were we not attempting to abandon monetary structures of ownership and acquisition in favor of some kind of utopian social sincerity? Why didn’t Moldonado, or the participants, seem to take bartering particularly seriously? The installation functions as satire to a certain extent, but in a way the satire never really gave way to revelation or sincere reconsideration of the structure and exchange of “things” in art and life. Moldonado references Heidegger’s semantic exchange of the term “work of art” for the word “things” as a means of defusing the problems of the former. However, in a way, Moldonado is asking us to traverse Heidegger’s semantic shift in reverse, and ascribe the vacuum left in the absence of conventionally valued things – and the material substitutes and social interactions proposed in It’s All About Things – back to the domain of art. Moldonado’s traverse from “art” to “things” is executed with such irony and exertion, that I’m left thinking that perhaps it’s not all about art or things, but about theatrics.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Perpetual Everydayness

A Rirkrit inspired evening?

From FlickrVision, a web application that takes the most recent Flickr photo uploads and places them in geographic context, ad infinitum.

On Signifying Practice

Andrea Zittel's Raugh Furniture

“The object of consumption quite precisely is that in which the project is re-signed.” - Baudrillard

Zittel deconstructs the signs that compose everyday existence, manipulates precedents for designed social contexts, etc.

Beyond their functional endpoint or manifestation as installation pieces, Zittel is also deconstructing the entire chain of commercial production. She doesn’t hesitate to refer to her work as a “product” and functions as a kind of vertically integrated one-woman cottage industry, handling the entire production process from design to advertising to assembly.

Despite the fact that her independence turns the notion of a “market” on its ear by embodying a system that would normally rely on a network of independently self-interested individuals, her work is still aware that it exists as a micro-market nested in the larger context of the art market. Between these markets, she constructs objects that explain the world and make it livable – in a way that’s simultaneously sincere and absurd.

Zittels’s socially oriented work could be thought of as documenting the shift from old materialism (and civil society) to new materialism (social humanity) – bringing historically unprecedented practicality to daily life by re-engineering social contexts and the material of living and social interaction in a way that sheds the impracticalities accumulated by social systems of the traditional infrastructure of material existence.