This was today’s success. It works really well, until after a while it crashes the computer.
I’m behind on my note-taking and record keeping because of the holidays, but here is a short list of things that have happened recently.
Today, I watched the panel sessions from the Digital Utopias conference that I missed earlier in the year. The most interesting presentation was from Morgan Quaintance on internet and post-internet art. In summary, his view is that interaction with devices is usually a solitary activity and should be leveraged as an encounter with the numinous; he sees affect as a way of creating profound experiences in the browser. There’s lots to argue with here, but the intention seems sincere. I feel that the context of that interaction is not being taken into account in the argument – solo interaction is often, if not usually, in the service of work, or at least in the service of immaterial or emotional labour, the labour of constructing a self through these media and devices. The idea that this interactive space can somehow be freed of its association with work in order to provide transcendent experiences seems to disregard the role that partial attention plays in screen-based interaction. Contemplation requires solitude (Storr) but it also requires focus, and computers are basically distraction engines.
I also read this great interview with Wendy Brown by Timothy Shenk, in which the main ideas in her book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution are discussed. The short version is that the expansion of managerial approaches, including measures and so on, into all areas of life has created a situation where democracy can’t function any more. If everything is seen as a consumerist transaction, the idea of the self as a civic subject is replaced by a self defined by an sense of personal liberty.
The grains of truth in this analysis don’t get at the fundamental transformation of social, cultural, and individual life brought about by neoliberal reason. They don’t get at the ways that public institutions and services have not merely been outsourced but thoroughly recast as private goods for individual investment or consumption. And they don’t get at the wholesale remaking of workplaces, schools, social life, and individuals. For that story, one has to track the dissemination of neoliberal economization through neoliberalism as a governing form of reason, not just a power grab by capital.
I’m on a family visit this week, so am squeezing work in around other commitments.
I spent a bit of time today watching The Moon Goose Colony by Agnes Meyer-Brandis on Carroll/Fletcher Onscreen. It seems to be a hugely ambitious project, and is charming in its daftness. I couldn’t get past the thought that the project was constructed to create some fantastic images – there are some lovely romantic images in the piece that seem to outshine the enquiry in the project.
I’ve also been working toward figuring out what’s going on with my practical enquiry at the moment. It seems that there are a number of different practical approaches taking place:
Using computer usage data to say something about the material interface with the computer, the physical interaction in the margins of perception. This is the Method conference topic;
Developing locative approaches that look at device use, or use devices as the delivery method for the work;
Developing proposals for collaborations that involve other skillsets and have as-yet undefined outcomes.
Opened the day with a studio visit to a possible new studio. Smaller than the current one, but significantly cheaper and hopefully it’ll be worth staying on the waiting list in case any larger ones come up.
Today’s lecture was by Brian Griffiths, and although the ideas seemed interesting, his comedic delivery made them difficult to access. Even so, it was a refreshingly sincere presentation. The things wirth remembering are the importance of fragments, and the need for escapism – even to the extent that he considers being ‘out of the moment’ as a part of the human condition. No evidence offered.
Spent the morning doing admin before heading over to Exchange Place to meet Sue & Gill and collect the books after the Hepworth show. They seem like very nice studios and I am very tempted to have a look at any vacant ones they have.
The afternoon in the studio was spent looking at options for works to be made. I referred back to Jim Campbell’s formula for computer art, and spotted the ‘scent generator’ part on the output list. I found an interactive scent generator project, and realised that it might be doable practically. The idea of scent working in the margins of attention seemed persuasive. The images above come from the fabulous Scent Generator website. The cinnamony smell of success.
The evening was spent watching the Sign Painters film screening at Site. It was a good film, not particularly critical, but entertaining and a good watch. One thing it reminded me of was the ‘desktop publishing revolution’ in the late 80s/early 90s, where everybody thought that they could suddenly dispense with designers and do it themselves. Gradually, graphic design became professionalised again as people realised that their own graphics were rubbish. I wonder if there’s a model here for something else, something post-social media.
The day opened with a brainwave about ‘ambient devices’ that came from the always-amazing Skrekkøggle. This work recorder prototype is precisely the sort of area I want to be working in. It sits there, allowing brief and shallow attention, and operates in the margins the rest of the time. Some of their other devices operate this way, such as the fantastic Durr.
The idea of ‘glanceable’ media seems incredibly pertinent and has opened up a new way of thinking about the problem of making work in this area. What would ‘glanceable’ art be like? How does complex information get simplified to increase its glanceability? It seems to me that the questions that glanceable media answer are qualitative rather than quantitative: how long, how busy, how warm, etc. Quantitative data needs to be gathered to measure this, but the key to making it ambient and glanceably understood is to reduce this quantitative data to qualitative measures: very busy, very warm, etc. The data is made more imprecise, but also made more emotionally resonant this way.
The ADRC seminar was quite a daunting session on two questions: Does quality matter? and How do we know what to read, and when we’ve read enough? The students presenting did an excellent job of approaching these questions, but I found myself feeling very out of my depth in the ensuing discussions. I have my own views on quality, or rather the qualities of a work, but it seems I am not thinking like a researcher about this: I’m not thinking forensically about these issues and how they might be understood institutionally, personally, in terms of peer review, exhibition etc etc. Ouch.
The second question was discussed more comprehensively in terms of the quantitative – the presenter showing books recommended vs books actually read etc. We delighted in the measurable success of the quantitative! Round of applause – this probably wouldn’t have arisen if the number of books read had been described as “LOTS” rather than measuring the number more accurately. Dauntingly, the question of literature reviewing loomed large, and while I’m concentrating on my practice I’m alert to the fact that my literature seems unreviewed. This put me on a bit of a downer.
I spent the evening doing more website work. A new theme, a new layout, and some new archive work added to the site. It seems like this task is taking forever, and it is, but that’s mainly because I’m only spending an hour here and there on it. I suspect I would benefit from a concerted push on it to clear the task once and for all.
I spent the morning doing some admin, organising a few deadlines into my calendar, contacting an accountant, and doing some tidying up. Then the rest of the day was spent pursuing an idea I had about foregrounding the screen of a phone by putting droplets of water on it.
The idea came from an accidental sneeze on my phone a while ago: I was seduced and repulsed by the magnification of the pixels. I took some footage which didn’t really work that well, and then I had to modify the stills a little to make the colour seem as bright as it is to the eye. I am not entirely convinced by any of this, but it might be a start. If I can get the macro lens on it, something interesting might emerge.
I spent the evening into the night working on the website. I converted and prepared a lot of archive video for upload, but will need to get them all lined up before buying a month’s worth of Vimeo Plus. I’m getting pretty sick of theme wrangling though. The Hatch theme that I have spent so long hacking to get the type sorted looks dreadful at page level: everything is misaligned, videos are 100% width, because of some messy embed code. It’s a dog’s dinner and I am pretty disheartened by it. I’m seriously thinking of just buying a theme to get the job done. It feels like such an important part of how I present my practice that I want to get it right.
Spent the early part of the day working on a proposal for a screening at Chisenhale. The work that fitted the theme of the show needed a little reediting and retitling so I spent the morning getting that done.
The afternoon was spent working on the visualisations shown above. These are all based on mouse pointer location data, and represent the same period of time and the same usage. They all look a bit unsurprising. I’m keen to get into a position where the visualisations don’t look like Casey Reas work from 13 years ago. They also abstract a bit too much from the actual thing I am inquiring into in these works: friction, the friction between hand and the surface of the device that is only sensed at the margins of attention.
The Gravity talk today was by Stephen Wilson, and he spoke about a number of themes that are relevant to my practice. It was a slightly condensed talk, that covered a lot of different points without connecting them up too well, but he did mention that Marc Augé has a new book out (now ordered) and that the curatorial statement for the Taipei Biennial seems like it might be useful for me to look at. Nick Bourriaud seems now to be talking about accelerationism more than altermodernism or relational aesthetics, and it seems like a good idea for me to stay up to speed with what he’s saying.
Recovering from a minor op today so not much work got done, but I did still make it to the c3ri seminar and managed to do a bit of online research. I mused over a lovely piece by of circumstance, and started learning how to develop using their chosen app architecture. I’m still avoiding the real work of proposing prototypes, because I still feel a bit blank about how best to make something that addresses my aims.