Mercedes Bunz

“Follow Me": On Audiences

Winter 2015

Conceptually confusing the art world

Scanning the last nine years of Western visual art production reveals a cultural stand-off between various art regimes caused by the digital: post-conceptual, pop, and post-internet art, plus art displayed on Instagram and other social media channels. This link-essay curiously slides along those surfaces, following the hypothesis that the internet caused a shift that is not only disturbing the set-up visually, but also conceptually. To show this, the links discussed will visit sites that track down contemporary dislocations of the art audience. Scrolling down into recent history and up into the future (i.e. Berlin Biennale 2016 curated by DISmagazine), the aim of this essay is to get a glimpse of the fascinating mess we find our presence in.

Understanding the digital as a tool assisting artists to become visible and famous by displaying and distributing: a) yourself, b) your art, or c) your view of the world, is just the tip of the iceberg. Even so, being irritated by #museumselfies is a start – something has changed within the contemporary art regime. But what is it? Chapter 1 and 2 look into the moments that would have made Walter Benjamin’s spectacles sparkle: finally, art has been appropriated by the crowd! Or are #museumselfies just simulating participation?

In any case, the effect of this appropriation has by now reached its nucleus: the art world. Since a few years, Instagram pictures opened a window into the world of once elite art circles, and soon the crowd started to follow curiously. What could not be foreseen however, is that the audience also entered the frame conceptually, thereby upsetting the set-up of art consumption. So what is the effect of this conceptual transformation? Trying to pin down this in some more detail, it helps to look at an art form which always had a much more direct relationship with the crowd/the market: pop (chapter 3, 4, and 5 explore).

Unsurprisingly, the historically manifold relationship between the artist and the pop star has recently intensified, thereby revealing a new seamlessness across the borders of their disciplines. This essay provides links to three different examples, starting with Jay Z’s (chapter 3) many entanglements with art: collecting, posing in front of art pieces and performing in galleries inspired by another mega-star, the Abramović.

Not just positioning oneself close to the creative energy of fine art, but by actually doing art, Shia LaBoeuf’s (chapter 4) collaboration with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö goes one step further trespassing between Hollywood stardom and art production. Both pop-chapters reveal an interesting shift: as the public has become a market, art and pop potentially share the same audience. Early on, LuckyPDF’s (chapter 5) projects started to reflect the extent of this shift with projects like School of Global Art. Thus, it is only logical that their (current) website lists companies like Samsung or Migros, publication platforms like YouTube or the BBC and art venues like Tate or the ICA all on the same level; all of them locations in and on which they realized their art projects.

Embrace the market

Visually claiming the already written-off position of the avant-garde, projects like DIS Magazine (chapter 6), or Shanzhai Biennale (chapter 7) embrace digital slick surfaces even more than Lucky PDF’s gender-fluid, multiracial utopia, based on the clear selection criteria of looking good clean. Their visuals respond to stereotypical market requirements often invoked by big consumer brands – this is the moment that gives the art world a hiccup. While art fairs and art markets have always been part of the art world, the secret rule was that the market should not pervade the artwork itself. An artwork might explore brand mechanisms, but should not cater to them. Balancing along the thin line between parody and affirmation when surfing, a word-wide-web-chic stirs up enough irritation and gets one recognized; at least for one remarkable moment.

Of course, to understand the market as a means of production is a timely answer to an era described as high capitalism, although when scrolling down into recent history, one quickly recognizes that it productively iterates older prototypes far beyond Andy Warhol’s concept of branding. Some more fitting examples: in 1974 the collective General Idea founded Art Metropole (chapter 8), the book shop exhibiting and distributing artists’ publications still running in Toronto. Like some young artists today, General Idea embraced slick pop-surfaces and the market, although their basic gesture was one of subversion. A gesture shared by Art Club 2000 (chapter 9), a collective that staged GAP fashion shoots in a constructed reality, thereby also performing a critique of an institutional critique that only had eyes for itself: the art world.

“For every generation there’s a GAP.” Today, the Berlin Biennale 2016 might become the new generation’s first retrospective. But after the show has ended, the role of the art audience and its art perception will remain changed.

Museum of Selfies

Chapter 1


A common theme runs from the first art portraits all the way through the centuries up to our time and into our mobile devices that are taking selfies: looking at people looking out of pictures. The past, Walter Benjamin once wrote, can be seized as an image that flashes up at the moment of its recognisability – and this is exactly what is happening here in this great project with the far too benign name “Museum of Selfies”, started by Danish designer Olivia Muus. An intelligent version of the playful mass phenomenon the next entry talks about.


Chapter 2


Right from its start, cultural pessimism has embraced the #museumselfie, although the #museumselfie is not the fault of the internet (or Instagram; or omnipresent phones). Instead, it is a logical continuance of what has been coined “the art-architecture complex” (Hal Foster), a transformation that changed the field of art in the 90’s. In other words: not selfies, but the spectacle of beautifull titanium bent side museum constructs by Frank Gehry reduced the artwork to wallpaper; and art fairs becoming the spectacle they are today did the same for contemporary art. Corresponding to this change, the first #museumselfie day was launched 2014 by UK’s Cultural Themes campaign. Quickly, Jay-Z got involved.

Jay Z

Chapter 3


Appropriating the art space, Jay Z performed his song “Picasso Baby” for six hours to a selected art audience in New York’s Pace Gallery on 10 July 2013; the gallery usually represents other male artists like Robert Rauschenberg or Robert Matta, some of them being mentioned in his song. Pop called and art came: critic Jerry Saltz, artists Laurie Simmons, George Condo, and director Judd Apatow took part, as did Jay Z’s cause of inspiration Marina Abramović, who later (shortly) felt betrayed (and then let her staff take the blame). Meanwhile, the selected audience shared the event on Instagram and to the internet. In the official video on vimeo, the artist explains the situation: “We are artists. We are alike. We are cousins.”

Shia LaBeouf

Chapter 4


Googling Shia LaBeouf turns every browser into a Daily Mail homepage listing mini-scandals and newest Hollywood gossip. This can easily be appeased. Add the words “Rönkkö” or “Turner”, and a very different LaBeouf will appear. They started collaborating when LaBeouf contacted Turner after reading his manifesto Metamodernism. In their collaborations, they sometimes use LaBeouf’s fame as a canvas to work with. Being simultaneously sincere and ironic, their works are exploring the audience and its echo chamber in a hyper mediated age. A serious interest in what this is: hyper mediation is what they share with LuckyPDF, who have developed their own take on it.

Lucky PDF

Chapter 5


The well known London artist collective (though a little bit silent at the moment) has been intelligent fun to watch, ever since its four collaborators started to work together 2008. The most interesting aspect is the skilful of conventions not only surfing art, mass media, youth culture, digital media and electronic music, but also mediating today’s global work realities, thereby being both avant-garde and modern (critical). Here, their US friends from DIS magazine slightly differ.

Dis Magazine

Chapter 6


DIS Magazine do not just pretend to talk about contemporary culture by mentioning Edward Snowden, Google cars, or Apple Watches. Much like the more conceptual K-Hole, they have instead created a visual concept for a high capitalism in which brands have become the channel to an audience. Reflecting the economics of today’s creative production, DIS Magazine is a platform that also sells digital images. These images often show inexplicable but universal settings with posed-natural moments to display user subjectification – DIS Magazine’s images are problematizing the user as an ocular subject, as Bratton once put it. Since their launch in 2010, they have tried out various forms between fashion, image distribution, art performance, and others; one of the next will be to curate the Berlin Biennale in 2016.

100 Hamilton Terrace

Chapter 7


Shanzhai Biennial is a trio that describes itself as a brand posing as an art project in the gesture of “Shanzhai” – fake imitation goods that have become globally popular and are often produced in Asia. Their current (and third) production is also the most exciting – at Frieze Art Fair, they produced a promotional video using a luxury real estate offered by the agent Aston Chase. The video features ghostly views of the villa (cost: 32 million pounds) accentuated by an atmospheric version of Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung in Mandarin (the song is a leftover from an earlier Biennale-project, No.2). Asian models have been placed into various rooms and settings of 100 Hamilton Terrace, NW8, whose spacious interior has been designed by Bill Bennette (“timeless design to make a lasting impression”). This interior offers the art project a glamorous, contemporary space, ideal for “entertaining and stylish family living” (Aston Chase). A perfect environment for an art project that aims to be authentically commercial thereby implicating itself in a real economy. Although at the moment of writing, the house is still on the market.

Art Metropole

Chapter 8


For art works exploring the mechanism of capital, Art Metropole is an interesting prototype from a different time. As a service, the (quite lovely) shop in Toronto displays and distributes the work of artists via its book store as well as in its online shop. It was founded 1974 by the art group General Idea, whose approach is not so far off from today’s post-internet projects: “We wanted to be artists, and we knew that if we were famous and glamorous, we could say we were artists, and we would be.” To do it, they took to the media of their time: the magazine. Their own, FILE Megazine, played off the name and visual emphasis of LIFE magazine and did this with glossy graphic competence spread over 26 issues. Today, General Idea is known for creating its own unique mythology, which glamorously embraced ideological struggles in slick art productions that were critical propositions. While General Idea has stopped after two of its members died from AIDS in 1994, Art Metropole is still embracing the infiltration, selling artist books, multiples, zines, clothes, DVDs, cassettes, downloads, and a country cane, which “comes with a Sisyphean AM-PM Decor fall 2012 catalog”.

Art Club 2000

Chapter 9


While General Idea shared an economic moment with some of today’s digital productions discussed here, Art Club shared the desire to become famous and an interest in fashion. With their staged photographs shot around New York City often wearing clothing purchased at the Gap (and returned thereafter), the seven art students of Art Club 2000 made work based on the dual notions of institutional critique and of getting famous. Founded in 1992 with art dealer and alternative art-world pin-up Colin de Land, Wolfgang Tillman’s art space Between Bridges (now in Berlin, then in London) re-exhibited their photography in the same year LuckyPDF was founded.

Ben Vickers

Dead links

Autumn 2015

Palmyra, destroyed

How it might play out

Each of us, it is likely, at one time or another, has had to deal with loss, the deafening silence of a friend passing, the destruction of the irreplaceable, memories softened and rearticulated by the reflective archive; shoebox under the bed, celluloid – the flicking of a switch, the press of a button.

You should probably relax though – efforts are underway to stem the tide and soften the blow of memory’s entropic nature, harvesting everything, remembering nothing.

Handwritten note, an ancient manuscript, paintings on a crumbling rock face, in some cases centuries have passed with only a few fragments having been allowed to be lost – but then these are things stored differently.

Comforted by convergence; some say the world is accelerating exponentially, some say that the intersect of technological innovation will take us to a better place.

But, somewhere between the singularity and On Exactitude in Science there is a building worthy of our attention and perhaps symbolically in future hindsight of great historical importance. Constructed during 30 BC The Royal Library of Alexandria, or the Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts and charged with collecting all the world’s knowledge into a single place. It serves now in the present looking back as an emblem of loss.

They say, if you wish to destroy a culture, you should burn the library.

Without such artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures.

Coping with Loss

This is just an FYI that because we did not receive a request to renew it, and because “████████” has expired, the domain name has just been deleted from the registry.

Sometime around the summer of 2012 I let the domain lapse, I never made a backup and the robot.txt had ensured it was safe from preservation. I imagine the life it hosted was purged from the server within a 12-18 month period, at least that’s what the automated email told me.

It’s commonly accepted that grief is a natural response to any form of loss.

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

Babel’s Librarians

Babel’s Librarians

Backed up and mirrored between a former place of prayer and upon the grave of an ancient fire – exists the internet’s history, 1996 to now. Stewarded by a caring millionaire.

Internet Archive / Internet Memory Foundation / Library of Congress Digital Library project / LibriVox / National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program / Project Gutenberg / UK Government Web Archive at The National Archives / UK Web Archiving Consortium / WebCite

Harvesting everything, remembering nothing.

David Bohnett, John Rezner



Once a thriving and highly distributed metropolis of citizens and users from all ages and backgrounds, Geocities found itself in the space of less than a decade outdated, accused of nostalgia and of an infantile history better forgotten. The aesthetics and customs that had evolved in parallel were no longer capable of tolerating its presence.

In April 2009 an announcement was posted online. Yahoo! a once benevolent landowner of this kingdom had chosen to purge every settlement without exception – eradicating without a moment of thought for preservation an entire culture. Leaving in its wake but a few caring and diligent librarians with the task of urgent preservation.

Efforts still continue to this day to restore and maintain the fragments of this once thriving civilisation most notably ArchiveTeam, Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied and

Spirit Surfers

Spirit Surfers Manifesto


Sometimes individuals can take actions that have ramifications for others, and perhaps more acutely impact the direction of future thought, if only in relation to their absence.

I remember the first time I chanced across the spirit surfers manifesto, its tacit references to an almost forgotten place free from e-commerce and capable of sketching a now alien process of deep searches without roads or  highways. Even then though it reeked of an acceptable nostalgia for that short period in which some of us as teens were locked in our bedrooms staring into the screen, lost in the desert.

Invoking Hieronymus Bosch and Joseph Cornell with a richness and deeper set of thoughts, there’s a sense that what has followed years after could have perhaps been averted, were it not for Bewersdorf’s decisive erasure of his own material history.

Ross William Ulbricht




Trashed in deep time the Silk Road or Silk Route played host to an eclectic composition of travellers, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, libertarians, nomads, crypto-anarchists and urban dwellers. It’s path ground the earth below it’s feet for centuries before its inevitable decay in the face of collapsing empires; accelerated by the integration of territorial states, the onset of mercantilism and trade’s recession into the high seas.

Whilst it’s spirit lay dormant for centuries, the emergence of new and grotesque faultlines in the empires and civilisations that had arisen in its wake signalled the possibility of a revival. As the regulatory frameworks of the Nation States began to crumble and buckle in the opening decade of the 21st century under the pressure of new routing possibilities and the ideology of frontier networks.

The Silk Road resurfaced from it’s slumber in 2011 as a borderless territory, operating  from within and between empires. Acting in ode to the moment in which the speed of light had not only transformed the world but had become the world.

Stewarded at the discretion of the Dread Pirate Roberts the Silk Road’s first attempts at reincarnation suffered a premature death after 2 years, due in part to a centralised engineering error made on the part of DRP’s living avatar Ross William Ulbricht, who was arrested and jailed for life in 2015.

Seemingly smashed and displaced by the cathedral the Silk Road resolved this initial conflict and the prospect of continual persecution through the embodiment of a hydralike form that submerged itself in the deep web.

Lehman Brothers


In New York City on September 15th 2008 the sun rose at 6:36 AM EDT. The morning was met with clear skies, which were only interrupted in the late afternoon by a few scattered clouds. Average temperatures were around 23 °C.

“With a long-established reputation for excellence, we are one of the pre-eminent franchises in the global equity markets. Our expert team of traders, salespeople and origination specialists has built success by forming strong client partnerships based on our ability to provide the highest quality execution and distribution. Our traditional strengths in fundamental, quantitative and strategic research continue to provide the competitive advantage our clients seek.

Throughout 2007, we made significant progress in executing our growth and diversification strategy — balanced investments across regions, segments and products. For the fifth consecutive year, Lehman Brothers ranked #1 in Institutional Investor’s U.S. equity research poll in 2007. We are developing a tradition of firsts: no other firm has achieved a #1 ranking in both Equity and Fixed Income research in the same year, and we have now done it five years running.

We continue to invest in our infrastructure, enhancing our trading platforms and ensuring the highest risk management standards.”

An Invitation:

  1. Pause and focus for a moment, recall a time and place - attempt to visit that place.
  2. If lost reflect on your time there.
  3. Take a moment to leave an inscription and file away the memory so that it can be shared with others using the form below.

Over time I will do the same.

Victoria Camblin

Melancholy Broken Body

Winter 2014

The links, short essays and even shorter fragments presented here as “Melancholy Broken Body” constitute neither comprehensive resource nor critical argument, but a mood board. Each element prods a narrative that is as incommunicable as it is hard to avoid in our experience of making, thinking and interacting online: that of the body’s relationship to our wares – hard and soft – and of that connectivity’s impact on the spirit. There is a sadness out here on the web, a kind of immanent loss that breaks our bodies in the way that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome does, pinching a nerve to cause paralysis and somehow agonizing numbness.

What follows is a spoiler alert, perhaps, for those who choose to read through Julia Kristeva’s “On the Melancholic Imaginary”, reproduced to our right: the article concludes with the thought that works of art “enable us to establish less destructive, more pleasurable relations with ourselves and with others” and allow the ego “to assume an existence on the basis of its vulnerability to the other”. Let this be the function of our work online.

Special thanks to: Alessandra Hoshor and Paige Johnston.

Kevin Bewersdorf

Maximum Sorrow


“Maximum Sorrow” was the name of a website created by Kevin Bewersdorf in the mid-late-2000s. Now, the site is “forbidden,” but Bewersdorf talks about it in his book Spirit Surfing (2012), and channels its message and function through the archival ephemera posted on “Share your Sorrow,” a tumblr that attempts to cope with progressive loss.

Bewersdorf was substantially active as an artist online in the second half of the 2000s, during which time he both presaged and transcended much of the net-based art that would follow the turn of the decade. “Maximum Sorrow” seized a kind of corporeal depth, a spirituality, a generosity, and indeed a sadness through the aesthetics and vocabularies of corporate communication. Inherent to the project was an alternative mode of thinking immune to the hyphenates and portmanteaux that have come to tyrannize both the practices and critical discourses concerned with art-making and the internet: “Maximum Sorrow” might have spared us “normcore” and given us corporis nostri instead. Bewersdorf followed its screen-lit path right out of the realm of accessibility. In 2009, he effaced the entirety of his web presence and replaced “Maximum Sorrow” with, where only its earliest visitors would have encountered a white flame burning against a blue background – Bewersdorf’s “light on the web” – designed to slowly shrink into disappearance. is just a blank page now, but Bewersdorf recently launched The site is among other things home to Poem of the Five Performers, “a conceptual, illustrated poem using animal totems to express the five-fold directional, aural, seasonal, anatomical, emotional and elemental qualities of one whole person.”

Julia Kristeva

On the Melancholic Imaginary


In “On the Melancholic Imaginary,” Julia Kristeva cites Fyodor Dostoevsky’s notes for his 1872 The Devils (which has also appeared in English as Demons, or more interestingly, The Possessed):

“[…] My head ached, my body was broken. In general, the fit’s aftermath – that is, nervousness, a hazy and, in a certain way, contemplative state of mind – lasts longer now than in preceding years. Previously, this passed in three days and now not before six. In the evenings especially, when the candles have been lit, a hypochondriac sadness, without object, like a blood-red tone (not tint) over everything.”

This passage fragments the body of the author seized by his work. The “hypochondriac sadness” that takes hold as the candles are lit occurs today before the glow of a screen, without object, like a white-blue tone (not tint) over everything.

Spooky Black

Without You


Spooky Black is a high school student from Minnesota. His sexy music and visuals are straight out of the “mirror stage.”

This period occurs early in life and results in the creation of the ego through a mechanism of internal conflict: the infant confronts his image in the mirror, and is fooled by what he perceives to be his capacity for purposeful action. Lacan insists in Seminar I (1953-54) that “the sight alone of the whole form of the human body gives the subject an imaginary mastery over his body, one which is premature in relation to real mastery.”

Writes Kristeva in “On the Melancholic Imaginary,” reproduced above: “Depression is the hidden face of Narcissus: that countenance which – although it will carry him off into death – remains unperceived by him as, marvelling, he contemplates himself in a mirage.” This is the landscape of adolescence and the condition for Without You, in which Spooky Black smiles as he sings, “I’ll die without you.”

Shana Moulton



In Restless Leg Saga (2012), Shana Moulton‘s female protagonist grapples with the oppressive symptoms of RLS, a nervous disorder defined by an irrational and intolerable urge to move one’s legs that no amount of subsequent movement can suppress. In Whispering Pines 9 (2009), a woman is so devastated by an estimate given by an Antiques Roadshow expert that her body breaks into pieces.

In Galactic Pot Healer (2010), a seer in a pink Snuggie tells a woman that her broken ceramic vessel is beyond repair. Instead, the entity offers her a “healing massage,” over the course of which the woman’s back is kneaded into a replacement pot. In the works excerpted here, Moulton confronts the melancholic corps morcélé, and looks to the mundane objects and practices at her fingertips if not to make it whole, then at least to make it new.




discoandrea is a UK-based Digital Art / Hobbyist member of

In the comment thread below Sadness (2012), she describes her subject as a “pretty girl struggling with the rubbish set of cards she’s been dealt.” Many of the 421 deviations discoandrea has posted to the site portray women who are missing limbs, provocatively posed; some of these belong to the “Andrea Can’t” series, “highlighting all the things that [discoandrea] can’t do or are of no use to me in my physical state.”

Fernando Pessoa

35 Sonnets (1918)


Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was a prolific Portuguese poet, author and philosopher who wrote not only under his own name, but under roughly seventy-five heteronyms, each corresponding to a different persona of his own creation.

He wrote his 35 Sonnets (1918), exceptionally, in English; a review that appeared in the Scotsman soon after their publication called these works “often too Southern in expression and feeling,” by which the author most certainly meant too sensual, and too queer. Pessoa was also an occultist, and his spiritualism and interest in mediumship permeates the sonnets, which often narrate a kind of paralysis, an agonizing suspension “between” action and inaction, flesh and spirit, language and the incommunicable, or truth and the material world. In Sonnet IX, Pessoa’s paralysis, and the elusiveness of the intangible activity he craves, causes him to decay.

Cécile B. Evans

The Brightness


Most pop cultural dream analysis resources online will reiterate the folkloric association of losing one’s teeth in a dream with anxieties relating to loss, attachment, and death. Freudian psychoanalysis is consistent with this, suggesting that men who dream of losing their teeth are fearful of castration – a significant loss, tied to identity – specifically as a punishment for onanism.

Cecile B. Evans’ The Brightness (2013) stems from the artist’s investigation of Phantom Limb Pain, part of a body of research to which I contributed a Skype interview with a Dr. Cecile B. Evans – a research nurse who specializes in working with patients experiencing this pain, and whose name mirrors the artist’s down to its middle initial, “B.” The Brightness’ 3D animated choreography adds to Evans’ interrogation of how emotions inhabit and navigate the immaterial and material realities of our networked: detached from our mouths, our teeth do not disappear, but come together to assert a singular, circular, and uncanny “presence of loss.”

The Eternal Internet Brotherhood

It’s time we start a healing process


The Eternal Internet Brotherhood’s “About” page and introductory video explains the project succinctly: it is a gathering of artists – friends, perhaps – convened to rehabilitate creative and communicative practices through a restorative use of “data, dreams, feelings, knowledge, light and sounds.”

Kari Altmann + Ayshay


Video Essay

For this selection, I have adapted my introductory notes from existing texts written in 2012, corresponding to a series of PowerPoint (TM) presentations I commissioned in conjunction with the Global Art Forum’s “The Medium of Media” program, which took place at Art Dubai that year.

PowerPoint (TM) is a medium that connects some very basic means of communication: language, image, and action. These are fundamental, even archaic communicative modes that are not confined to any one medium in particular, but are deployed in various combinations and to varied degrees in all media. When seen in this way, a productive reciprocity emerges between the many ways in which we communicate – between ritual, print, the Internet, and so on. PowerPoint (TM) can be included in that broad spectrum. In fact, in its combination of text, image, and performance, it can be seen as a uniquely comprehensive medium, however oppressive, corporate, tedious or even absurd that may seem.

For “PowerPointing Your Creative Medium Potential (CMP),” we asked artists, collectives, writers and creative entities to produce original presentations that engaged that medium’s cross-disciplinary potential – to revindicate and revitalize a rejected, ostensibly “idiotic” medium. While we were strict with constraints – it had to be PowerPoint (TM), not Keynote or Prezi – the result was not so much about any one application per se as it is about medium-specificity as such. What we had attempted was a case study of how any medium might be emancipated, disinhibited, and pushed to its outer-most limits. Interestingly, what began as an exercise in the reclamation of PowerPoint’s corporate, at times corrupt, communicative infrastructure became a meditative, even spiritual matter. We found each commissioned work to articulate a ritual in its own way; its slides forming mantra-like, techno-devotional hymns that productively irritated and subverted what we have come to expect from mundane modes of communication.

Kari Altmann’s contribution was particularly notable in its mediumistic regard. Made as a response to and named for “Jemsheed,” a devotional love song by Ayshay (Fatima Al Qadiri), the work made use of the nonsensical glyphs created by human response to touchscreen interfaces, presenting them as sigils exhumed from the devices we animate with our fingers.

The repetition of the name “Jemsheed” in the song, like the repetition of hand movements portrayed onscreen, became an expression of devotional desire; these elements combined to narrate a relationship between our tactile selves and our reflective but impenetrable black screens that is distant and intimate, productive of a psychic yearning to somehow close the gap.

Dominic Faraway

Pointless Cloth Test


Search for the terms “3D tears” in Vimeo and you will find “Pointless Cloth Test,” produced when user Dominic Faraway began “playing around with c4d cloth and tearing.” The video inadvertently melds the liquid tears that one sheds, and the cutting tears that one inflicts, or shreds. Its title is defeatist if one chooses to read it as such, and its chosen model – the disembodied head of Walt Disney – a dark reflection on the genesis and decay of the “happiest” and “most magical” kingdoms on Earth.


YouTube Walt Disney Fantasia Mickey The Sorcerer’s Apprentice


The magic of YouTube makes sharable the Disney adaptation of Goethe’s 1797 ballad, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in which the eponymous character enchants a broom to fetch water for him, only to discover the limits of his magical abilities. The apprentice confronts his image, and his world fills with water: this is amniotic fluid, which suspends him between the whole of the world and the sharp shards of wood that litter the floor with each swing of the axe, only to reanimate again. This is Pessoa’s “dead life” of repurposing. This is the loss that tingles and aches between our fractured bodies and our fragile screens.

Rory Rowan

Like Real Life, But Better

Autumn 2014

I‘ve been compiling fantasy ‘top ten’ lists for years in the hope that someone might ask me to provide one, but now that the opportunity presents itself I feel I should shape my selection according to some more worthy criteria than whatever happens to be my favourite thing ever right now.

Given that others have greater expertise with which to discuss digital art, I decided it was best to work from the perspective of my interests and examine how these might bear upon ‘digital cultures’ more broadly (although a few artists relevant to this do appear).

A key question that emerged in thinking about this was the importance of mediation, something that the rise of digital culture is making an increasingly inescapable aspect of almost every domain of life (and indeed of ‘life’ itself). More specifically, I’m interested in thinking about how different forms of mediation are bound up with modes of subjectification and forms of power; forms of power that facilitate and structure domination whilst at the same time producing new platforms and new capacities for potential emancipation, both individual and collective, whether following vectors of differentiation or universalisation.

For many it is likely a truism that mediation shapes not just what we know but how we know it, yet the manner in which different forms of mediation structure our differing sense of who ‘we’ are – of what we can and should be, of what we can and should do – is much more contested ground. I’m particularly interested in how the relationship between conceptions of space, conceptions of history and conceptions of self are shaped by different forms of mediation, in both spectacularly blunt and insidiously subtle ways, and how changes in one domain might impact upon the others.

‘Digital cultures’, like other forms of cultural production, not only reflect – and reflect upon – wider social changes, but also play a part in driving them, whether those changes are trivial and fleeting, or consequential and wide. I’ve tried to assemble items that might be considered to do both, straddling the spectrum between the profound and the frivolous and capturing something of the ‘contemporary moment’ but locating it in wider contextual trajectories.

I did really want to talk about cryptocurrencies, Second Life and Oculus Rift but I realised I didn’t know enough about them and the NSA are bored reading about themselves.


Google Maps


Google Maps are at the forefront of radically reworking the nature of cartography in light of digital communication technologies, and in so doing are rapidly changing our conception of, and relation to, space and hence profoundly, if often subtly, shaping socio-spatial practices. Whilst it is obvious that Google Maps provide an incredibly useful tool (one I use daily) and has made innovative use of citizen/consumer ‘participation’ in adding detail (if largely retail) to cartography, its dominance of course raises a host of troubling questions about who (or what) controls what we know and how we know it. Hence the relationship between knowledge and power that has always been at the core of map-making (and map-reading) is taking on a new significance with Google Maps’ pervasive presence, especially as web access and smart phone use increase and ever more apps employ it as a platform for their own operations. These are concerns whose consequences are sure to be foregrounded in the coming years, especially as Google’s plans to enhance their maps with 3D capacities and develop more accurate, more frequently updated and higher resolution ‘street view’ functions for ever wider areas, come to fruition. Google’s previous complicity with widespread N.S.A spying perhaps takes on a wider significance when viewed in relation to the increasing capacity of Google Maps to guide and monitor the movements of its users, not only as consumers, drivers, tourists and so on, but as the objects of surveillance, both government and corporate.

It is also important to note that the influence of Google Maps is not limited to ‘the West’ as was dramatically illustrated in 2010 when Nicaraguan troops accidentally invaded Costa Rica, taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising a Nicaraguan flag, due to an error of Google Maps (which the Nicaraguan commander was using) that wrongly included the area as part of Nicaragua. Indeed, Google has not only become entangled within geopolitical disputes by default (notably of course in relation to China’s insistence on protecting its own ‘internet sovereignty’) but is actively taking a role within them. For example, Google Maps recognized Palestine as a state to great fanfare in 2013, and the company hired Jared Cohen, former U.S. State Department adviser to Condoloeezza Rice and Hilary Clinton, as Director of Google Ideas, an internal think-tank that “explores how technology can enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict, instability and repression” (with the use of Google products of course). Google are invested unprecedented amongst of research capital into developing their next generation maps and their release is sure to vastly expand their use, by many different types of users. The tensions involved in a corporate platform having this much control over how we conceive, navigate and use space are likewise unprecedented, and they are sure to become heightened the more deeply Google maps become embedded in our daily practices. Maybe more effective ways to inhabit these contradictions can be imagined than simply using Google Maps to find the next insurrectionary pot-luck.

Michael Jackson

Slave to the Rhythm, performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards


This posthumous ‘live’ performance of a track Jackson had started working on before he died employed new technologies of video projection to create the illusion of ‘presence’, with Jackson even managing complex interactions with an ensemble of dancers in the sort of song and dance and pyrotechnics spectacle which we might rightly have expected to be HIStory. Of course this sort of posthumous video performance finds a precursor of sorts in Brandon Lee’s performance in The Crow (1994), and Hatsune Miku, a popular anime hologram popstar (produced by Sega and the comically sinister sounding Crypton Future Media), has being drawing enthusiastic crowds to ‘live’ performances in Japan for years. Perhaps due to the fame (and later infamy) that Jackson enjoyed during his lifetime his performance seems to go furthest in playing with expectations of ‘authenticity’, even hollowing out the necessity of ‘life’ from the spectacle of live entertainment. Yet, curiously these new video projection technologies are employed in other contexts precisely to provide a sense of ‘authentic presence’, where none would otherwise be available. For example, when on the election campaign trail, the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian People’s party (BJP) used hologramic ‘live’ performances to travel the country, speaking directly to the billion-strong electorate. The disputes that emerged around Jackson’s estate in the wake of his death seems to suggest that some interesting issues around intellectual property and the ‘image’ rights of dead artists might emerge in the not so distant future. I am going long on Marina Abramović installing a permanent digital ‘presence’ in her private museumoleum.

New York Times

Interactive Map of Fukushima disaster


With the affectively deadening pornification of almost everything that can be captured in image and fixated upon has emerged the category of ‘disaster porn’: the transformation of images of devastation (whether human or natural, real or CGI) into objects of voyeuristic pleasure – the serotonin hit afforded by armchair sublimity. In the aftermath of the massive tsunami that battered the east coast of Japan in 2011 and the subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima the New York Times published this seductive/grotesque interactive map (March 15th, 2011). In the critical literature on cartography and satellite imaging one hears a lot about map-makers adopting a ‘God’s eye view’, but the sliding before/after bar here allows readers to ‘literally’ play god with the disaster – winding back time to undo the destruction before rushing forward once more as if flattening the landscape with a vengeful swipe. I enjoyed doing this several times, feeling mildly disgusted with the paper and myself, before growing bored. This map seems to highlight some of the downsides of what passes for the much heralded development of ‘interactivity’, which in the guise of ‘engaging’ audiences reduces them to tapping screens – simply replicating gestures and relations already deeply embedded in many aspects of daily life and giving the satisfying impression of a vague agency whilst doing little to stimulate thought. This particular interactive map seems specifically designed to cater for an audience that is aware of the threat of climate change but feels it can do nothing about it – the sliding bar allowing panic to be temporarily placated with the illusion of control. The concept of the Anthropocene has recently served to underline the awesome power of social collectives to act unintentionally as a natural force on the one hand, and on the other, their grave inability to act intentionally as a political force capable of facing the consequences (at least thus far). This map provides a neat symptomatic representation of the pathologies of this so-called ‘age of man’, in which even the radically altered state of human-planet relations can’t puncture anthropocentric myopia.

Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler Reads Vogue


In this classic piece of feminist video art from 1982 Rosler comically pulls apart the semiotics of Vogue by slowly reading aloud from a single issue. Focusing on a single magazine like this might seem almost quaint today given the constant stream of media images that confront us on multiple simultaneous platforms, and her attempts to expose the class and gender relations it promotes are undoubtedly unfashionably blunt. Yet, Rosler’s performance draws out the magazine’s relentlessly hectoring insistence on aspiration – particularly of course the female consumer’s – with a leisurely hostility that maintains its force and humour over thirty (critical theory-soaked) years later. Her counter-mantra employs strategies of repetition and juxtaposition to render explicit the forms of power running through the fashion press, even as its content is reduced to a numbing babble – a pure carrier for discursive power. I’m particularly fond of the recurrent evocation of Cy Twombly and his “remarkable” studio in Rome; the work of an artist reduced to the trappings of a lifestyle, something to aspire to, perhaps for female artists most of all Vogue seems to suggest. Rosler not only underlines the sly operations of gendered power in seemingly innocuous copy but the important role that mediation plays in the ‘image of the artist’, something that seems to have grown even more important with the increasing web presence of contemporary art and the blockbuster biennale/art fair circuit blending in to the pages of ‘Scene and Herd’, all the while career competition inflating along with the market.

Nick Srnicek and Alex William

#Accelerate Manifesto


Srnicek’s and William’s #Accelerate manifesto came ready hashtaggable and is perhaps the first manifesto to exist as a meme (with all the tensions this might entail). A polemical attempt to reclaim the future for the radical Left in the face of the profound economic, ecological and political crises ranged against it – and its own internal subjective crisis – the manifesto has been widely read and sparked vigorous debate (much of it online). Whilst it has been translated into numerous languages the manifesto has also been subject to controversy, having been accused of being inherently macho (because of its strident tone, its celebration of self ‘mastery’ and the fact that related discussions are dominated by young men) and implicitly colonialist (because of its call to revive the project of Enlightenment and promoting the importance of modernity and universalism). Whilst these critiques must be born in mind, #Accelerate deserves consideration as a serious attempt to think beyond the deadlocks of a radical Left too often mired in identity politics, fixated on local and temporary response to global conditions and focused on laudable but limited attempts to resist the conservative onslaught against the welfare state rather than constructing counter-hegemonic forces capable of restructuring it in light of radically transformed conditions. One of the key claims made in the manifesto is that emerging technologies, including computation, can play a key part in constructing a post-capitalist future, and should neither be ignored as politically irrelevant or simply opposed as the products and tools of a capitalist system. The degree to which this has been controversial has made clear the need for a broader and more nuanced discussion of technology on the part of contemporary Left thought.

‘Accelerationism’, the wider movement of thought associated with the manifesto, is one product of the remarkable proliferation of philosophical discussion that has emerged online in recent years with the growing popularity of social media, blogs and other forms of online publishing. Indeed, ‘Speculative Realism’ – a somewhat related phenomenon – is frequently cited as the first online philosophical movement. The degree to which digital technologies enable and frustrate philosophical discussion remains an open question but the internet has certainly allowed discussion to flourish beyond the slow pace and gate-keeping strategies of academic publishing and created a platform for a vast number of conversations across continents and disciplines that were previously impossible. The emergence of a philosophical ‘blogosphere’ has been one of the most exciting developments in the field for many years, serving as a useful corrective to often calcified discourses and creating an outlet for serious philosophical discussion involving those outside the bounds of academic philosophy departments (even if the nature and merits of so-called ‘para-academic’ activity are matters of heated debate). Nonetheless, it is questionable as to whether or not the incessant, 24/7 chatter of social media is conducive to philosophical thought in the longer term and existing discussions are certainly not without problems. Sadly, they remain dominated by male voices and are frequently marred by macho posturing, personal attacks and fits of ‘web rage’. I’ve had my fingers singed a few times but, for the moment at least, I’m willing to keep putting my hand back in the fire as there are great things being melted and remodeled there.

Ryan Trecartin

Videos on UbuWeb


Ryan Trecartin’s work might strike many as passé – so 2009! – given that a new ‘generation’ of artists has emerged in the last few years, expanded the space for ‘digital’ work within the main channels of contemporary art, where Trecatin was a more lonely figure a half-decade ago. Indeed, he is now something of an establishment figure in the field, as far as such a thing exists, acting as co-curator of The New Museum’s 2015 Triennial. Indeed, some are already likely to see his work as being principally of ‘historical’ significance rather than as an active creative concern. Yet, this might in itself be symptomatic of the accelerated tempo of social media trends, where the rise and fall of critical currency mirrors the lifecycle of memes; something from which the art world is hardly insulated in an era of Contemporary Art Daily, e-flux newsfeeds, Facebook pages for exhibition openings and YouTube trailers for museum shows. Indeed, Trecartin’s work arguably has relevance beyond the half-life of fashion precisely because it directly engages – or rather over-performs – the manic, non-stop, media-stacked, multi-channeled, attention-deficient-inducing temporalities of the contemporary social-media landscape, and the patterns of subjective breakdown, proliferation and vicarious ‘rebirths’ which it demands/allows. Trecartin seems to approach the contemporary psycho-media complex by way of a sort of immanent overload – an over-identification with media-saturated modes of online subjectification, one marked by an exponential intensification of the strategies of ‘mimetic exacerbation’ familiar from Dada. His films cast the cacophonous simultaneity of images and voices familiar from early twentieth century avant-garde strategies of collage and montage in to the screen-space of pop-up windows, chat boxes, messages alerts and break-ups via Skype, in order to more intensely inhabit the emo world of online self-realization narratives, wish-fulfillment avatars and webcam cosplay. Whilst his films seem to push certain tendencies within online self-presentation and social-media relations in the direction of a claustrophobic web dystopia – a Hieronymus Bosch-like digital clusterfuck – Trecartin also importantly presents these media platforms as sites for the intensification of subjective experimentation, his films dissolving and remodeling gender and sexual identities in a way that hollows out any remnants of essentialism without evacuating power from (often traumatic) processes of subjectification.

I can still remember my first, visceral encounters with his films in 2009, fittingly experienced hunched over a laptop in bed, rather than in the more spacious confines of a gallery or museum. Even then UbuWeb (perhaps problematically) granted Trecartin a place within its archival canon as a sort of ‘instant classic’, but his work remains prescient in its hyperbolic embodiment of the relationship between contemporary digital technologies and subjectivity.

Frank Gehry

New York (Advertisement)


This advertisement for a recent skyscraper designed by Frank Gehry in downtown Manhattan seems to offer a perfect distillation of the way in which the contemporary global city is marketed as a plaything/investment opportunity for a mobile international elite, and highlights the role of starchitects in adding the spectacular icing to the crude real-estate cake at the core of this project. The title of course already implies that this is New York with a Gehry twist – the city itself remade, Gehry-style. Sure enough, the advert starts with the hands of the ‘genius’ drawing – his gestures evoking the rush of New York’s streets, the waves of the bay, the Statue of Liberty’s torch (Immigration! New York still wants you – for the right price), and so on, all of which find their way into the twisted surface of an otherwise bland condo/office tower whose ‘cutting edge’ cladding already looks cheap and out-of-date in its very of-the-minuteness (like so many recent ‘iconic’ towers Gehry’s seems sheathed in the imminent aesthetic obsolescence of the latest design software). Yet by the close New York has been reduced to an image on a tablet screen that can be reassuringly swiped away – an infinitely seductive distraction that can sometimes be a bit much. Hence, the building not only promises stunning ipad-like views over the city but complete god-like control over urban life, and a neat leveraged solution to the perennial real estate dilemma of the wealthy New Yorker: ‘I love the energy of the city but I need a calm place to escape from it all, a place just to be”.


Center for Land Use Interpretation


The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a research and educational institution established in the 1990s to explore the “nature and extent of human interaction with the earth’s surface”, although its activities focus only on the United States. In addition to a superb online archive of images and other research detailing the abandoned manmade edgelands of the U.S. and the great social and material changes that are traced within them, the CLUI publishes books and field guides, leads public tours to and is the central institution in the American Land Museum, a network of landscape exhibition sites across the United States. They run a small museum with a bookstore and library based in Los Angeles and public research centres in the Mojave Desert, Kansas and Utah. Although it evokes something of the ‘land art’ of the 1960s and 1970s, and the hallowed position it holds in the narrative of postwar American art, and has resonances with aspects of the environmental movement the CLUI operates with a much broader and experimental conception of land use. Much of their work engages with the hybrid socio-natural landscapes produced by industry, energy production, agriculture, military activity, waste disposal and infrastructure projects. Although their lens is perhaps overly saturated with a sort of depopulated post-industrial aesthetic that fetishizes the remains of social processes at the expense of those processes themselves, they provide an invaluable resource for those interested in the relationship between social and environmental processes and the material manifestation of industrial and state planning in the twentieth century. Echoes of their work can be found in Smudge Studios and Trevor Paglen, artists whose research-based projects have likewise explored the relationship between landscape, technology and power, from both political and ecological perspectives.

Hito Steyerl

Interview on Picture This


Hito Steyerl is one of those artists whose practice not only involves the production of art works – largely films in Steyerl’s case – but also the written theorization of their production, and the position of artistic production in relation to social and political power more broadly. Hence, for Steyerl, the discursive systems that surround art works – governing their dissemination, display, evaluation and sale – do not simply supplement their production but form a constitutive part of it.

This is one good reason for choosing an interview where Steyerl discusses her film In Free Fall (2010), rather than the film itself. The other reason is that the film, like most of Steyerl’s other work, is not available online. This may seem to make her an odd choice for this platform which celebrates all that is accessible online, but the very inaccessibility of her work raises a number of important questions about the nature and evaluation of artistic labour on the one hand and the legal status and digital proliferation of images on the other, concerns that have long been key to Steyerl’s practice.

In Free Fall attempts to track the material and financial processes that make the production and dissemination of film possible, both her own and those of major Hollywood studios. She follows the entangled flow of images, materials and commodities involved in the production of her film, from an ‘airplane graveyard’ in the U.S., where Hollywood action shots are produced, to the commercial DVD used to store and sell images made from scrap metal salvaged from retired Israeli jets. It has of course been common in recent years for artists, media theorists and others to seek various ways to materialize the supposedly immaterial, puncturing the metaphysical hot air that frequently fills discussions of the Internet with so much cheap transcendence, by tracking the physical and legal infrastructures upon which the web rests. Likewise, there has been an abundance of Latourian ‘object biographies’, tracing the material processes and social network involved in the production of ready-to-hand everyday ‘things’. Nevertheless, Steyerl remains focused on the critical project of demystifying cultural production, albeit expanding its remit in to the realm of material processes, whilst avoiding the vitalist enchantment of ‘lively matter’ or the depoliticizing wonder at the sheer multiplicity of the object world that has so often seen related discussions dissolve questions of social power into ontological mystifications and the fantasy of Lion King-like get-alongs.

Mohammad Salemy

Incredible Machines Conference, 2014


With Incredible Machines, the Iranian-born, Canadian curator Mohammad Salemy produced what I believe was the first international conference conducted almost entirely through social media platforms. Although the conference took place in Vancouver most of the participants (including myself) took part via Google+, and much of the audience streamed the event live via YouTube. Salemy organized the conference to reflect upon the impact of digital technologies and ‘machine intelligence’ in the realms of art and politics, topics engaged by an interdisciplinary ‘gathering’ of artists, curators, media- and political-theorists, philosophers and others. Hence, the conference sought to engage digital technologies not simply as an object of discussion but the medium through which such discussions would be staged, in a perverse materialization of a McLuhanian soundbite replete with the expected communication breakdowns and technical failures. The contradictions involved in using a single corporate social media platform to host serious reflections on the current aesthetic and political impacts of digital technologies, and speculation on their future development, were of course not lost on Salemy or other participants who discussed this during the conference (although little attention was given to the host institution, the University of British Columbia as a state platform – the university being a politically important ‘technology’ in its own right). The conference was not only host to a number of interesting speakers but experimented with the format and medium of the conference in ways that others can be expected to follow in future, although perhaps in more streamlined fashion as technologies develop and affective resistance to online communication declines (although I’d bet Google will still be in the room).

Norm McDonald

‘Moth’ joke


This is one of a number of comedy clips that I watch regularly to keep myself sane and, as the cliché goes, I always find something new in it. The now famous moth joke that McDonald told as a guest during Conan O’Brien’s brief stint on The Tonight Show is a sort of meta-joke, playing with the idea that real comedy lies in ‘the way you tell it’ rather in the neat resolution of a punchline. McDonald makes this point clear by claiming he is simply retelling a joke told to him by his cab driver on the way to the interview (“ah that guy … wait to hear me tell it”) and in the long ponderous deferral of the punchline, which appears as an abrupt left turn at the very end of the McDonald’s allotted interview time – the joke, typical of his talk show appearances, slyly undermining the platform’s conventions. Anyway, jokes are never funny when you explain them so it’s better to just watch it. It’s a pity that in recent years McDonald has slumped into a sad cultural conservatism and seems to think that schoolyard homophobia satisfies the demands of comedy.

Werner Herzog

Ten Thousand Years Older


This short 2002 documentary sees Herzog return to the Amazon basin, where he had shot some of his defining feature films Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, although this time to Brazil rather than Peru. As in those earlier films Herzog reflects upon people facing extreme natural environments, one of his enduring themes (indeed Herzog’s monolog on the jungle in The Burden of Dreams, Les Blank’s documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, is perhaps his greatest work), and returns once again to the more subterranean question of colonization and the conflicted processes of modernization that ran through them. Although Herzog might be accused of harboring something of the same Amazonian orientalism that typifies some of his characters, the dark currents of romanticism that ran through those earlier ‘Amazon’ films is absent here. Instead Herzog presents a more sober, indeed melancholic, reflection on the effects of colonization – or more recently ‘contact’ – on one tribal people living in the Brazilian jungle, the Amondauas. The increasing contact between the Amondauas and the ‘modern world’ of the state and expanded patterns of trade not only establishes new channels of communications and networks of relations but sees older ones, those that have been integral to the community and culture of the Amondauas for centuries if not millennia, rapidly unravel in a matter of years. Herzog quietly probes the ways in which communication with the ‘outside world’ comes at the expense of communication across generations, as a gulf – perhaps even a ‘civilizational’ gulf – opens between the younger members of the Amondauas, born into and embracing of the changes that ‘contact’ brings, and older members who are seeing long-stable relations dissolve with the intrusion of the ‘outside world’. One of the most powerful aspects of the film is the attention given to language as both a medium for and barrier to communication, especially in the poignant scene where one of the elder members of the tribe enacts a ritual which has largely lost its cultural power, seeming instead to take the form of a desperate attempt to hold on to a language and an entire way of life in the face of a seemingly irresistible tide of change. This reflection on the death of a language and the eclipse of a culture by the forces of modernization perhaps has its counter-point in Herzog’s ambiguous reflection upon the ‘new language’ of capitalism that he saw emerging in the impressive high-speed cattle trading at Pennsylvania livestock auctions, the subject of an earlier documentary short, 1976’s How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck.


Tinder App


“Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better.”

Its everywhere evident that digital communication technologies are shaping how individuals see and present themselves and the forms of relationships they establish with each other. Of course sexual relations have hardly been exempt and social media platforms are playing a leading role in shaping new conceptions of romantic and sexual relationships. The degree to which these changes might be considered to have facilitated new freedoms – for example, the emergence of new sexual identities and new sexual practices – should not be exaggerated, especially in light of the ways that the mainstreaming of porn has increasingly normalised certain images, body types and behaviours, in many instances tightening the grip that gendered conceptions of power relations have on the minds of many. However, the manner in which sexual relations are being reworked by social media is perhaps most evident in the mundane world of online dating and hook-up apps like Grindr and Tinder. These apps have thrived with the spread of smart phones and the gradual withering of the stigma against relationships formed online. For the moment at least it seems like Tinder is dominant in the UK, although its not quite clear if it has struck on the winning formula that Grindr had established before it. Tinder – its name evoking a hetero, and supposedly more tender (?), version of Grinder – seems unsure if its for fielding dates or just getting laid (although, of course the dirty secret of Grindr is that its not all about the latter, as many imagine, but has in fact been instrumental in establishing many long-term relationships). In the short term this ambiguity is likely an asset even if it might mean a lot of people getting dick pics instead of dinner invitations, but in the long run it might go the way of Friendster, replaced with a more effective competitor or a more diverse market catering to more discerning users. Its unclear what effects, if any, might result from the fact that many people now spend every spare minute swiping through potential suitors like the pages of the Argos catalogue, a process that seems as likely to dull the senses as excite desire. It would of course be all too easy to see Tinder, Grindr and similar apps as pushing the tentacles of neoliberal subjectification into more intimate frontiers (others as commodities; the breakdown of older social and affective relationships, etc), and this is doubtless one element at play. However, they also have the potential to liberate many from the constraints of established social networks, localized mores and having to awkwardly clear the usual, initial hurdles of ‘being normal’, as limited as this freedom may be and as unsuited to the temperament or situation of all. Conservative voices have been quick to see in these platforms the death of romance, the death of seduction, the death of sex, the death of good old, well rounded social relations – but one size does not fit all and not everyone finds their sense of self confirmed (nevermind partners) through principled alienation, or the traditional paths of water cooler courtship or drunkenly snogging some friend’s ex on the dancefloor. It’s probably even better than real life for some.

Karen Archey


Summer 2014

The research below humbly represents many, many hours spent on the internet over the course of many, many years. I’ve paused over the last few months, on this “online research editorship” as it were, to jot down my most prized surf flotsam, often harkening back to moments when I was first discovering internet art and new media. While some of these are new finds, such as Lean In’s stock photography database or the web-based Museum of Post Digital Cultures, others entries, such as the 1993 piece or Harm van den Dorpel’s Ethereal Self and Ethereal Others, are well-known to those familiar with new media art history, but perhaps not to the more mainstream audience that Opening Times seeks to address.

Museum of Modern Art Warsaw

Archive of Polish film and video


This online archive of Polish film and video art should be a watermark for all museum website best practices. It makes available a litany of important full works mostly unseen by Western artists and curators. Be sure to check out the archive of KwieKulik, about whom I wrote a feature for the Winter 2014 issue of Spike Art Quarterly. (

Getty Images and

Lean In Collection


I never thought this day would come: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg responds to the cringeworthy representations of women in stock photography (also see Women Laughing Alone with Salad and commissions her own series of stock photos depicting women via her philanthropic organization Lean In. While the Lean In stock photos improve characterizations of women to some extent, Michael Connor of Rhizome has written a balanced critique of the project, noting how class privilege has replaced sexism in the Lean In series.

October Magazine

1995 questionnaire on feminist practices


This questionnaire was published by MIT Press journal October in 1995, so it doesn’t have the most direct relationship to new media art, however, given the recent renewed interest in feminist practices, I think it’s important to look back twenty years to see how far we’ve come. Unfortunately, many of the concerns women in the art world had in ’95—being essentialized as “bad” outsiders or “good girls,” being elided in group exhibitions, etc.—persist today. (Evidencing such, another fantastic resource I recently discovered, Gallery Tally, tracks the number of men and women represented by contemporary art galleries.) Be sure to check out Liz Kotz’s response.


Artwork (1993) is one of the most archetypal works of, and one that helped me understand the importance and scope of the genre many years later when I first encountered it in the mid-naughts. I won’t get into a heady analysis of the piece (check out Mark Tribe’s analysis here if you’re curious), but only tell newcomers to view the source code (Option-Command-U) to understand the method behind the madness of the garbled green-and-black text.

Harm van den Dorpel

Ethereal Self and Ethereal Others



Whenever I introduce a colleague, friend, or relative to the conceptual merits of internet art, I show them these two pieces by Harm van den Dorpel. While “Ethereal Self” was launched in 2009, and quickly became viral within internet art and surf club communities and even in non-art contexts, it’s “Ethereal Others” that completes this most mind-blowingly creepy aesthetic experience. The first site offers a glimpse of one’s splintered visage via enacting their webcam functionality, and the second archives all visitors to “Ethereal Self,” with or without their knowledge. The two sites working together provide an understated take on vanity and internet privacy.

Museum of Post Digital Cultures

Online Museum


This online “museum” was borne out of a symposium on post-digital cultures taking place in Lausanne, Switzerland in December 2013. It contains a collection of links, texts, and artworks, videos, etc., that are “donated” by friends of the museum. The collection is then expanded and rearranged by visiting curators, and is a great resource for discovering—or rediscovering—everything new media.

Dragan Espenschied, Olia Lialina

One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age

Archive, Artwork

One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age is Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied’s archive of Geocities websites that had been taken offline by Yahoo! in 2009. The title “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age” refers to the size (one terabyte) of their Geocities archive (representative of the “Kilobyte age,” when bandwidth was measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes). With this project, Lialina and Espenschied have saved the variably banal, dark, or awkward years of Web 1.0.