Rhizome - Seven on Seven
28 November 2013
We sent a small Lighthouse team to Rhizome’s Seven on Seven, to find out the new, and innovative ways that creative technologists and artists are thinking about digital culture. Storyteller and Technologist Natalie Kane, details the day's events.
Pairing seven creative technologists, with seven contemporary visual artists, Rhizome’s Seven on Seven presented the results of a day-long collaboration. We were treated to anonymous chat rooms, conversations concerning privacy and urban identity, and how to relinquish control over the representations of our digital selves.
The day was introduced by Jamie King, who, among other discussions of content distribution, asked us to become a bad filter. Faulty, human, methodology is more interesting as a content suggestion than algorithmically generated ones, because it’s exactly that, human.
The way we see our cities can change depending on the data that is thrown at us. Artist Graham Harwood, and technologist Albert Nardelli discussed data as narrative, suggesting database management systems as truth machines, which create a kind of governance over us. Presenting us with a table of recorded violence in a number of UK cities, Nardelli & Harwood showed how the city is shaped by making numbers visible, and how we interpret our city after analysing them. Looking at international voting turnout, Harwood and Nardelli highlighted an important problem; we have entire systems put in place, such as policy and legislation, which are not built around reality, but perceptions of reality.
It’s almost inevitable, when talking about digital practise, that the infrastructure that surround it will become a channel for scrutiny. Talking on flip-flopping, the idea of making digital things physical, and then making them digital again, creative technologist Dan Williams and artist Mark Leckey encountered the problem of the gallery. When digital objects are physically imagined in a gallery, they cease to be ‘alive’, active or able to be manipulated. The Gallery, as a platform from which to represent the network, becomes a dead medium.
’We both work with the Internet of things, but we interpret them differently’ – Mark Leckey
Although they technically made ‘nothing’, the conversations that occurred were just as important as presenting something. Both are tangible results, which highlight the importance of finding problems, rather than solutions. You can read Dan’s thoughts on the collaboration here.
The sounds of the city are a geographical and psychic signature, so what happens if we transplant the sounds of one city, onto another? This proposal from sound artist Susan Phillipsz and Foursquare’s Naveen Selvadurai asked us to imagine the noise of New York transplanted onto footage of Beijing, and what that told us about our relationship to memory, place and time. Referencing Phillipsz earlier work, where sound was manipulated by the landscape or urban environments, the pairing quoted inventor Guglielmo Marconi, recalling the suggestion that ‘sound, when it is generated, never dies. It carries on to reverberate throughout the universe.’
The visual language that we use to tell us things, are as important as the words that they translate into. So what happens if what they point to doesn’t mean the same thing anymore? For example, locks aren’t the greatest visual example of privacy, as it is more about restricting access than keeping things private. Exploring the algorithmic and institutional iconography of privacy, information activist Smari McCarthy and artist Aleksandra Domanovic sought to redefine them by creating their own. Working against stock imagery (search: privacy), and the images used by PRISM, McCarthy and Domanovic found better, more relevant imagery.
With a strange echo to Farida Vis’ talk at Improving Reality this year, technologist Alice Bartlett and artist Cecile B. Evans discussed the problems with social media algorithms, that tell us who we are, and what we should like. Google’s algorithm assumes your identity, genders your interests and markets accordingly – Alice Bartlett’s search choices told Google that she must, of course, be a 15-19 year old boy. So how do we corrupt that algorithm? Evans and Bartlett explained how randomness, and acting unexpectedly, is the best way to beat the algorithm. Therefore they proposed an irritant, a tool by which to increase the entropy of one particular channel, Twitter, by making random changes. In this case, their app adds ten users, at random, to your following list. This acts as a dilutant to the bots, doing something highly unexpected, and highly human.
The next presentation, by technologist Ryder Ripps and Haroon MIrza, will be very hard to explain to anyone that wasn’t there. Firstly, Haroon Mirza wasn’t there, so Ripps took over, explaining (and broadcasting) the conversation they had that led them to create a real-time, anonymous chatroom backchannel – aboutwhateveritis.com. This was about communication, which allowed a very time-specific, geo-located conversation to happen about a piece of work, event, or exhibition. Aboutwhateveritis was demonstrated in the auditorium, with all of us simultaneously contributing, commenting, on a network specially made for us. It was purely performance, specific to a location, to a tone, to a room of specific people all talking amongst each other, in public. As Ripps explained, this short-burst, ephemeral conversation suggests a more egalitarian approach to criticism – ‘cultural critique doesn’t need to be an essay, it can be a tweet.’
What if we aren’t able to decide how we’re presented online? Through various social media channels, we are able to curate a version of our digital selves that we feel is representative. The tantrums, grumpy rants, rash thoughts that we keep for private messages and emails are safely hidden away behind passwords, so what would happen if we relinquished that control? Artist Jonas Lund and Michelle You presented eeeeemail, an anonymous email exchange programme that ‘randomly selects one email from your Gmail sent folder, and sends it to another eeeeemailer. In exchange, you will receive a randomly selected email from that person.’ As You and Lund explained, it’s less about the content you send – a terrifying thought when you do consider what you have sent – but more about the psychological, and physiological feeling you have when you click ‘send’, when you hand over that permission to represent you, digital warts and all.
The day was great, and gave us all a lot of food for thought, particularly now that Lighthouse’s work and studio output centres largely around the relationship we have to data, our own, or that which represents us.
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