Zoe Williams

Snail Tracks

Commission

2017

http://snailtracks.otdac.org

For her commission Williams has produced a collation of nine short video clips arranged in a grid which allude to the language and structure of adult-content websites. These clips magnify and examine the often heavily fetishised surfaces of materials which include fur, leather, cream cakes, ceramics and bodily fluids.  Each clip features a sound composition by London-based musician Patchfinder, simultaneously responding whilst heightening and creating ruptures with the overt sensuality of the imagery. All of the videos can be downloaded and watched for free. The changing images behind the clips also hyperlink to a seemingly tangential selection of website pages.

For an interview with the artist about her residency, please click here.

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2017

Nick Srnicek and Alex William

#Accelerate Manifesto

Manifesto

2014

http://syntheticedifice.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

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.

CLUI

Center for Land Use Interpretation

Organization

2014

http://www.clui.org

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

Interview

2014

http://www.picture-this.org.uk/worksprojects/works/by-date/2010/in-free-fall

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

Conference

2014

http://incrediblemachines.info

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).

Oliver Sutherland

Arabidopsis Thaliana Flammeus

Commission

2014

http://atf14.otdac.org

For his artwork commission, Sutherland, in collaboration with a synthetic biologist, has created an altered genome file for the common weed Arabidopsis Thaliana. The new genome has an altered pigment in daylight and a fluorescing pigment under certain light conditions. The file has a limit to the number of downloads on Opening Times’ website before it will be dependent on peer sharing and seeding through the BitTorrent sharing community. The artwork exists as an ‘ApE’ file, a format produced using a freeware genetic editor often used by biological engineers and genetic hackers. However, the consumer tools to actualise and produce genetic code as living matter does not yet exist and therefore the file sits in anticipation of a future technology to activate it.

(Note: BitTorrent is a protocol supporting the practice of peer-to-peer file sharing that is used to distribute large amounts of data over the Internet. To download the files a BitTorrent client such as uTorrent is required).

For an interview with the artist about his commission, please click here.