Do you remember Adam Bartholl’s Dead Drops art project? The one were he installed USB drives into public spaces and invited people to plug into them and share data? It is incredibly prescient that he created it in 2010: the same year that Stuxnet was discovered. Stuxnet is the centrifuge-ruining computer virus that wormed its way into Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges after spreading through USB keys for several years. The virus—purportedly written by Israeli and US American government cyber warriors—was meant to reach targets that were not connected to the Internet. The strategy was to have the virus spread via removable media in the hopes that some scientist will eventually bring their MP3s to work with them from a home computer infected via the Internet. In a post-Stuxnet world, I am a prude about opening my computer’s ports to strangers’ USB keys without formatting them first let alone jacking into a Dead Drop.
Bartholl’s Dead Drops project is described as a rumination on public space and sharing, but behind this optimistic story lies a much darker comment on the dangers of mutual exchange. Stuxnet and its variants threaten to turn any innocent bystander into an enabler of international cyber warfare and the risk of unforeseen consequences loom over people’s personal data. The paranoia widened after the paradigm-shifting NSA related leaks from Edward Snowden. How likely is it that your computer is not currently infected with sophisticated spyware?
Adam Bartholl’s Data Drops are the digital equivalents of the glory holes. There is dangerous excitement around the idea of complete anonymous intercourse and the exchange of information between strangers. A recent new product referred to as a “USB Condom” caught my attention not only for its functional promise, but for its potent symbolism. By short circuiting the USB’s data pins and leaving only the power pins functional, this device promises to sanitize device charging via strange ports and third party cables. It seems that our post-Stuxnet, post-Snowden world needs some USB Condom vending machines in every bathroom of every public playground which houses a USB Dead Drop device. So if you see a Dead Drop and plug into it I hope you find something tasty. Or perhaps you can leave something tasty behind. There is a glory in surviving such an anonymous encounter.
Parametricism (parametric design) encompasses computer aided design approaches that let you endlessly tweak models by changing variables and generate new iterations of structures. A two day conference on the politics of parametricism was sponsored by Autodesk—the company behind 3D modeling programs and Building Information System management tools. There was an ideological divide between the speakers: some designers and architects were on the “right” and spoke of top-down design approaches being the answer to humanity’s problems. Others were on the “left” because they were more concerned with issues of access to these design methodologies and how they may marginalize whole swaths of people.
One of my favorite speakers was Teddy Cruz. He gave examples of kids who started using a crappy lot under a highway overpass as a skate park. They were told to stop by the city and county, but they kept at it and eventually formed a non profit organization, did fund raising, and finally made over the underpass as a really cool skate park. I was energized by this story which was optimistic about dealing with state bureaucracy . I’ve heard this idea in the parametric design circles of reconfigurable buildings which would physically readjust their structure based on human desires. Cruz overwrote this mechanistic vision with video of Tijuana street vendors who retracted their ultra light sales kiosks to make room for a passing train. As the train cleared the railroad the vendors unfolded their awnings in rapid succession, closing behind the train in a wave.
The question and answer period resulted in a heated exchange between and the panelists and Patrik Schumacher with demands being made to disclose political affiliations and rebukes of etiquette flying back and fourth with the audience caught in a sort of awkward rapture in between. It was truly worthwhile to be part of a real confrontational smack down between parametricism apologists led by Schumacher and the opposition led by Cruz. They said the conference was going to be streamed and archived on the site, but I can’t find the racy video anywhere! All I have is this lousy pic.
I recently reconnected with my friend Kevin Kane who was my old collaborator on Biothing: The Invisibles Prague Biennale installation in 2003. He is now an architect & founder of Arktura. The Prague installation was quite an adventure, and its interesting to see where the people behind it ended up. Alisa Andrasek is still teaching and now involved in the European Graduate School. Several of the Columbia Architecture students who we worked with started their own firm called We Are Dag.
This installation used animations produced with the Maya Embedded Language (MEL) and granular synthesis sound displays. The animation and sound would get more or less chaotic based on a digital model of a bacteria colony (using a Cellular Automata algorithm). The bacteria model had an “environmental” variable that could lower or increase environmental impediments to survival. We tied this variable to the count of people in the space using an infrared beam sensor positioned by the entrance. The idea was that people’s presence would help spread the bacteria and boost this invisible ghostly presence in the walls. During the research phase, we tested ultra-directional infrared beam speakers by Holosonics but decided to use conventional speakers so that we could hide them in the walls.
I learned a lot from the project and loved seeing Prague. I hope to make it back there soon.
[PDF] Los Angeles, (October 28th, 2013) — Marymount California University Department of Arts & Media are proud to present Uncanny Valleys: Critical Discourse Through Computer Graphics a contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of Andy Fedak and Angela Washko opening on November 7th with a reception from 6 to 9pm. Andy Fedak, hailing from Los Angeles, uses visual effects, video, and animation to deliver sublime reflections with profound allegories and celebrates the fragile yet vital aspects of utopia. Angela Washko, based in New York City and San Diego, is taking a feminist approach to deconstructing video games by staging interventions inside World of Warcraft and archiving the portrayal of women in the console-based role playing games she grew up playing. These artists work across media to engage with established critical discourse to reach across generations and suggest these ideas be revealed, renewed, and repossessed.
In her works such as The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, Washko appropriates video and sound from her game experiences where she engages other players in discussions of gender while raising sensitivity and awareness to an often hilarious and sometimes disturbing effect. Despite the orcs and elves running around its lush fantasy environment, the social atmosphere inside WoW is incredibly hostile and rooted in discriminatory politics extending from outside the screen.
Washko acts as a facilitator of conversations which question this exclusionary and oppressive language the player-base has adopted. In her ongoing project Heroines with Baggage, Washko additionally looks at the ways in which representations of women in role-playing games formed her understanding of being a woman growing up.
Fedak interweaves evocative historical narratives with video and visual effects to elucidate contemporary implications within Orwell’s writings from the trenches of the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell—the writer of Animal Farm and 1984—traveled to Catalonia to fight against Franco’s fascist Spain. After the fall of Spain to fascism, the decades of totalitarian dictatorship that followed, and finally Franco’s death and return of democracy, it seems almost impossible to comprehend this utopian moment in which Orwell found himself. How could we feel what he felt?
To see this moment in history from his vantage point of believing a socialist utopia was possible? Orwell in Catalonia is an experimental journey tracing Orwell’s path through the Spanish Civil War, documenting his exact locations, then utilizing contemporary animation and visual effects techniques to try to get back to the zeitgeist of that phantom utopia on the Catalan countryside – a moment which will all too soon turn into myth. Fedak brought ice back from Catalonia in order to amplify the affect created by the video’s portrayal of water in all of its many states. We invite the audience to imbibe the slowly melting ice through medical/sacrament cups in order to grok the emotion of collective state change.
I’ve use living plants and animals in my artworks and research. I always worked hard to make sure the fish and plants (and even bacteria) are happy during all these trials. After a year of living in an aquaponics toilet, my tilapia named Beefadou was adopted as a pet into a roomy new fish tank. Today I found out that the pair of Koi I used to bootstrap that system—which I later sold on Craigslist—are alive and well.
So far, I’ve been able to retire all the plants and animals used in all experiments. The fish all went to new homes as pets, and the vegetables got eaten. I would like to continue this in the future. I’m happy to get word that these two Koi, named “Mr. and Mrs” are still together. They always spent every moment with each other, and now are continuing to do the same. Here is an image of them in their new home.
When I was ready to switch to the tilapia, I thought of releasing these Koi into the wild. I’m glad that they became pets because they grew up with humans. Luckily I haven’t done anything weird enough to any of these life forms to preclude safe release into the wild. There is little chance of anything like the terrible frog fungus epidemic spread by laboratory frogs released into the wild happening in my case.
In conclusion am also happy to report that the snail I sold to the same people is reportedly bigger than golf ball now. It is the sole companion of a gruesome looking but congenial fish named Oscar who suffers from hole-in-head disease. I knew the snail would do well. I remember him when he was just a young transplant: a leader and good samaritan even in those days.
The grow light is getting close to exhibition-ready state. Here is a short video update with direct sound followed by sound recorded in-situ. The veggies are pretty happy right now so I hope they like the air quality in the galleries. It would be nice if more people came to see them and brought their CO2 excretions! Veggies love that carbon dioxide, Mmm-hmm.
The exhibition will happen in Syracuse and New York City. The Syracuse exhibition will run from April 4 through May 12, 2013 during normal SUArt Galleries hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 – 4:30, and Thursday evenings until 8:00pm. The opening reception will be held on Thursday, April 4th from 5:00 to 7:00pm.
The New York City exhibition will happen at 25CPW Gallery in Manhattan, May 22nd through May 26th between noon and 8pm. The opening reception is Thursday, May 23rd 6-8pm.
People have cultivated plants and have enjoyed plant spectatorship for centuries. From the hanging gardens of Egypt to the potted plants of today: they all required peopleʼs care and management. People continue to get to know plants better: we want to know how plants work and live. Ethnobotany opens the door for us to wrap our minds around the unparalleled influence plants have had on us humans: everything from food, to building material, to medicine is derived from plants.
New evidence shows that plants have evolved a vast array of systems to coexist with mobile creatures: by looking at their adaptations ranging from secretion of poisons to subtle chemical plant-to-plant communication we catch a glimpse of their awareness. Historically, our consciousness has been heavily influenced by plant cultivation and pharmacology.
At this point in our human development however, our impact on plants is so incredibly great that our pollution is a power that rivals the forces of nature. Humans, it turns out, were never really apart from nature but are instead incredibly linked with it through all our activities. What can our culture do for plants in return for all they’ve helped us do? Can we turn cultural waste into fertilizer?
Iʼve been researching radical ecology design as a strategy for making art. While creating a living ecosystem for my Toiletponics public installation I created a grow light for the vegetables growing in the sculpture.
Other people have created many types of grow lights before. But all the available grow lights are static. Time-lapse photography already showed us that many plants follow the sun across the sky over the course of the day. To make plants happier under ʻunnaturalʼ light, I decided to create dynamic lighting conditions for growing plants. YouTube—with 48 hours of new video uploaded every minute—is a rich source of dynamic visual content organized in a folksonomy held together by cultural links.
I created a software filter that picks YouTube videos with the best color temperatures for plants. I am projecting the algorithmically curated video onto plants to make them grow. The project celebrates the aesthetic nexus of natural and the cultural ecologies. The photo above is of the grow system in action. This work will result in a physical installation and more photos coming soon.
For my public installation Journey, the entry point was Toiletponics. Once inside the container, visitors were greeted with a domestic scene of a traveler. There was a set of Ruby Slippers that Tim Westbrook made for me. Now Tim took the idea and ran with it, and created a whole series of shoes! Amazing work, Tim! And you even made the Smithsonian take notice. Since the Smithsonian has the original shoes from the movie, would they let me borrow them for the next installation? Although, I now like the slippers Tim made for me better!
When Tim and I had our first meeting about this project, it was Spring and we were eating waffles. We were sharing our fascination with the Wizard of Oz. For me, the film has always represented the immigrant story. I read Russian versions of the book as a kid. I was also influenced by Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the little mermaid. She gave up her language to be more like her new human lover. I was thrilled when I finally lay my hands on these slippers: they have that Judy Garland sparkle with a fresh fish scale feel!
In the installation, I displayed the shoes separately and akimbo. The vessel was jostled on the stormy winds and the shoes went flying. But the traveler left the container without taking the shoes. The visitor is here to stay. It was great working with Tim and I look forward to doing so again!
My around-the-block neighbor in Syracuse was Elias Gwinn, but he recently moved away to NYC. When he was here we arranged a barter where I worked on his websites and he recorded some of my songs. I set up his Velidoxi blog, and moved Masters From Their Day project to a new host. He was talking about starting up MFTD again from the city, and going to work with good bands.
I was surprised and psyched when the Deerhoof episode video of Masters from their Day came out. My current neighbor upstairs got the vynil release of this song which was recorded during the episode. I saw on the Velidoxi site that Elias directed the music video for one of the album tracks on the new album, which I missed in September but am now digging on.
I remember seeing Deerhoof live about four years ago. Here is a video of the encore “Basketball” from that show. The recording is not terrible, though that phone was soon stolen from me at gunpoint. Just glad I got that video off of it.