Simon Whybray @ Credit Card Curation

2 October 2013


“Liking on Tumblr isn’t meeting.”

London-based artist, hacker and all round funny guy Simon Whybray is next up on the online display of Anthony Antonellis Credit Card curation. After we were so tickled by Faith Holland‘s Zeros + Ones -inspired number porn card, building on Sadie Plant’s book on the gendered tech world, Whybray represents for the other end of the stereotyped sexual divide with his iPhone-inspired credit card. Because there are two things that are essential when it comes to the dating game: a phone and some cash.

See Anthony Antonellis’ website for more curated credit cards. **

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Algorithms: the space between art and technology

30 September 2013

Algorithm. It’s a word that seems to get thrown about in a variety of contexts, yet remains misunderstood by a large number of those who, often unknowingly, benefit from its application. With increasingly advanced interfaces between what we do and the information that our online behaviours create, the digital context of our day-to-day lives demands an appropriate language and, whether we understand it or not, that language is data.

Discovering and creating codes allows for the visualisation of the information that natural and cultural processes create. From the patterns of flying flocks of birds to the navigation of a person using a city’s free Wi-Fi, the movement and processing of data in contemporary culture has offered not only a major theme of investigation for artists, but also a chance to personally develop technology and software tailored to that data.

Lines and lines of inanimate, black and white coding on a computer screen hardly appears friendly to those of us who have never interacted with this kind of digital syntax. And the idea of being creative with such a seemingly restrictive toolkit of letters, numbers and symbols might seem strange, particularly when it comes to creating original visual output in two dimensions, or even three. Yet, the ability to translate ideas into code continues to progress the work of visual artists, pushing their practices further into the interdisciplinary space between art and technology. Writing and running an algorithm to process the vast amounts of data produced by a society in a digital context doesn’t simply offer informational results, but introduces a technological aspect to artistic investigations – like a digital sketchbook.

The work of Matthew Plummer-Fernandez explores the automated systems in operation within digital culture by coding tailor-made algorithms to produce a visual, translated output from an ‘original’. ‘Venus of Google’ takes an image from an online search engine, and processes that image (as information) through an algorithm. This algorithmic software, coded by Plummer-Fernandez, then ‘sculpts’ the image, giving it a new and unpredictable aesthetic that resembles the original.

Here, the artist sets up an algorithmic process, which (as you can see from the video above) is a specific system that runs continuously as a loop of repeated instructions. Through the repetition of these instructions (the algorithm), patterns within the data being analysed are expressed visually by an outcome that adheres to a particular aesthetic. Plummer-Fernandez’s ‘Venus’ is dismantled and then reconstructed; the picture is reduced to information (as code) and put through the algorithm – like a filter – to produce the final piece. The altered data-file is presented as the artwork: it’s distant, computational appearance taking on a suitably uniform structure, removing aspects of aesthetic decision from the artist and instead allowing the automation of algorithm to reign.

These kinds of computational processes can be written and directed in some incredibly specific ways. The use of API’s (application programming interface) allow for very particular datasets to be created and explored through algorithm by enabling the aggregation of chosen, online content. Online systems – any of the data available online – can be accessed via an API, which stands as a coded command. This command could request any kind of data (a particular colour or adjective, for example) like a search result – and when written into an autonomously running algorithm, can produce a mass of information from which patterns can be drawn. It is the visualisation of these unpredictable patterns that can produce such interesting, algorithmic artworks.

This ease of access to (online) data is facilitated through code, as a ‘universal language’, for computational data. Since the internet is full of masses of repeated command (as algorithm), copying the basic structure of a generic algorithm makes sense. Especially since the additional adjustments and embellishments made by artists like Plummer-Fernandez can create the most interesting and unexpected aesthetic results. An observation like this illustrates the inherent creative opportunities within coding and algorithmic design; the repetitive processing power of a computer’s software not only saves time, but creates a whole host of autonomous, unpredictable aesthetic results. A coding platform tool like Processing, which is a free to download, open source ‘software sketchbook’, is very popular with artists that use computational methods as a part of their practice. The emphasis on a visual output, as a way of expressing ideas digitally through code, also means that an incredibly rich and generous online community surrounds the use of Processing, further encouraging original ideas through computational data.

It is clear that designing algorithm and designing the product of that algorithm are two very separate parts of digital arts practice. But the technology involved remains critical to the themes being investigated, and understanding the processes of this technology is only becoming more interesting (and in some cases, essential) towards understanding the systems and context of contemporary culture. **

Header image: Processing merchandise t-shirts.

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A rundown of ‘LEAKED: The Internet Must Go’

20 September 2013

In an e-book by Metahaven the design and research collective asks, “can jokes bring down governments?” Perhaps, a better way of putting it would be to replace “governments” with “major corporations”; those capitalist puppet masters behind impotent governmental bodies who’d sold us out to the private sector or what Mark Fisher calls the “nebulous, unaccountable interests exercising corporate irresponsibility” in his Capitalist Realism. Of course, political satire as a subversive act, ridicule as a weapon against equally absurd oppressions, is nothing new. Except that all that is “political” becomes “corporate” and that is nowhere more apparent than in the debate surrounding the Tim Wu-coined concept of “net neutrality”.

That’s the subject of the half-hour mockumentary LEAKED: The Internet Must Go, featuring “market researcher” John Wooley, who spends 45 days pursuing and interviewing some of the most notable US proponents of an “open internet”, including the likes of US Democrat Al Franken, former tech advisor to Obama Susan Crawford, Public Knowledge digital advocacy group and, of course, Wu himself, who are all subjected to the clueless questioning of the Wooley persona. He’s investigating on behalf of his corporate employers, namely Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast –all major service providers pushing to monetise broadband speeds, by implementing a tiered program where content producers and consumers alike will be required to pay for ease of access to their information.

Dubbing it a “vision for a ‘faster’, ‘cleaner’ internet” Wooley explores and slowly becomes disillusioned by his corporate employers’ ends to data discrimination in an effort to maximise profits, eventually leading him to append the note “Also, I’m looking for a job — any leads would be appreciated, thank you” on his LEAKED: The Internet Must Go YouTube post. That’s because this idea of charging for speed of access is an issue, not just because it means denying access to basic infrastructures (Wu likening curbed connectivity to a public bridge, where Pizza Hut pays a sum to cross and make deliveries, while a smaller company who can’t afford the toll will be put out of business) but basic freedom of speech: “you shouldn’t think about ‘free’ in the sense of free beer, you should think about ‘free’ in the sense of free speech”, says Harvard academic and activist Larry Lessig,  illustrating the consequences of start up enterprises being forced to join bigger ones and toe the party line, in exchange for exposure. Appearances by Zip Car founder Robin Chase and Ricken Patel of global civic activist organization iterate that they might never have existed if not for a neutral internet.

Whether the internet is ever truly democratic is arguable, with a complex interaction of browser speeds, operating systems, issues of planned obsolescence –as illustrated by Nick Briz’ Prosumer Manifesto released earlier this year -and basic access to hardware coming into play. But, here, basic access to broadband and the impact it can have on the development of an entire region is illustrated by a trip to Southern US, where school children are forced to do their homework on a busy major highway dubbed “Death Hill” because it is a high spot for 3G connection speeds. That’s also not to say everyone should have a right to the pipes, built by companies providing the internet, but when a ban on any community-built broadband infrastructure is successfully implemented in several US states because “it was unfair to the ISPs”, without providing their own in its stead, for lack of a population to sell to, that’s when someone should be held accountable for the monopoly lobbied for by, what’s Eli Pariser calls, the “old media”.

It’s true that broadcast networks are also highly regulated (much to the chagrin of countless pirate radio stations) but as internet culture and our dependence on it becomes ubiquitous, particularly in ‘developed’ economies, a monetised program for rationing broadband speeds becomes an issue of limiting the rights of the individual to level of access: freedom of speech and movement becomes a privilege you have to pay for.

The idea of a liberal democracy is founded on the assumption that each and every one of us is born with the same rights and opportunities; that age-old (and rather optimistic) adage of a “level playing field”. As that “field” is transferred to the online domain and access to it costs money, there are a lot of people who will be competing at a huge disadvantage. And that’s a joke with some pretty serious consequences. **

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Faith Holland @ Credit Card Curation

22 August 2013

These days it would appear that anything can be curated and anything is a gallery. It might just be that as the art world expands, so does the cultural lexicon. In the same way that ‘like’ and ‘friend’ can mean one of several things, so too can a credit card become an art space.

Hence, the ever prolific and ingenious Anthony Antonellis and his Credit Card Curation, which this month features artist Faith Holland and her Sadie Plant-inspired “feminine zero”. Its suggestive hues and hypnotic movement is an image of those Western gender stereotypes and binaries that evidently won’t die with 1 and 0s of the internet. And if you have any doubt as what this images is suggestive of just check out the abstract porn site from whence it came.

See Anthony Antonellis’ website for more details. **

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A look into ‘To Be’ and networking innovation

2 August 2013

The intricate and complex network systems that make up the web do not operate on a purely linear basis; points of interest not just connecting to the next one. Despite the development of methods to organise our online activity, the information available to us through our browser is both constantly available and moving, while the tiniest glimpse of this information is made visible to us through the window that is our device browser. With these problems in mind, the development (and imminent public launch) of an interesting new social media platform, To Be, looks set to make significant progress in the way we categorize our online activity, both structurally and visually.

To Be defines itself as “an internet studio space”. Users, who are encouraged to collaborate, are given a set of expressive and flexible creative tools with which to manipulate almost everything the internet has to offer: a public library of images, gifs, videos, music and whatever else can be accessed and incorporated into a composition, which can also be embellished by your own personal files. These visually rich (and highly personable) online collages are referred to as ‘fields’, and suggests an exciting concept of actually occupying a creative space online. In comparison, being offered a page or a profile with which to express and present your self suddenly doesn’t feel adequate, the restrictive parameters of contemporary social media suddenly becoming all too apparent.

To Be
In particular, these fields manage to visually dominate the web browser, allowing for compositions to be fully appreciated and experienced. In terms of information, To Be incorporates a simple link system comprising only of ‘Authors’, ‘Share’ and ‘About’, as well as a one back to the To Be home page, which brings us back to a critical, if not dream-shattering point.

Let’s not forget that these spaces cannot be walked through. Despite a sophisticated zoom and pan system, these ‘fields’ have individual domain names, thus remaining as separate tabs on a web browser, even if the creative area feels expansive. So while To Be succeeds in pushing the limits of the web, its context as confinement within the browser only serves to highlight the restrictions that remain, especially when loaded content buffers or slows down the operating system. The interface between online information and physical, lived experience simply doesn’t allow for the totally immersive experience that To Be is worthy of, but perhaps hardware development can only follow innovations in original online activity systems.

Despite a distributive approach to online interaction and content, choosing a path through the web’s expansive networks still remains necessary, and even To Be have a Twitter and a Tumblr blog, offering information in an easy-to-navigate, horizontal, linear-listed format. The feed/stream as organisational method is incredibly useful; in addition, as Attilia Franchini points out in a recent interview with aqnb, such narrative presentation still stands as a creative (curatorial) act in itself, requiring connected decision-making regarding content. But, by juxtaposing social media systems with that of distributive online networks through a creative platform, To Be allows users to synchronize the separate presences that contemporary culture has inhabited, both physically and virtually. There will always be a place for the linear, but hopefully more natural social media experiences will develop through tech like To Be.

To Be is an online creative network that launches to the public soon.

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