Grounding

10 11 2013

I have been back home just over a week and trying to adjust to being back in Australia, back at work and trying to refocus my energies.

The garden is not too much of a job catching up, the mulching and weeding we did before we went away was effective, though as any garden, needs attention.

Our little cat Sooks (Genji) has not come home, which has changed the energy of the house somewhat, he is truly a member of our little family and his presence is sorely missed. When we travel and I get homesick, it was always for our little unit of four, thinking of sitting together, out the back on a beautiful Spring day.

Trying to refocus includes a desire to be more routine about writing, starting small, hoping that by regular attention to the practice of writing, that the writing will flow.

In all the blogs I follow is there a consistency about the writing, a discipline that I need to adopt. Writing regularly engages readers, which is the purpose of writing a blog after all.

The thing I love about writing for mediakult is that I can play across many professional and personal areas of interest: media, technology, environmental sustainability, arts, culture and ideas of place (which are also published on geokult.com).

I am also hoping that writing in this public context will help me with writing in a personal context, like as Virginia Woolf describes writing a diary as “a method of practicing or trying out the art of writing.”

Although the practice of writing sometimes frustrates me, it is also driving me in a way, there is a need to get better, to explore more, to learn as a writer. One thing is to learn balance, between the passive activity of writing and to be actively discovering new experiences and places.  Also, how to write while travelling, is a skill I would like to improve on. I have not yet perfected the art of regularly writing every day and I blogged very little on our last trip overseas, which was unusual compared to earlier journeys.

Being grounded I find is both a positive and negative thing – it gives you a chance to breathe, to take stock and clear one’s mind for fresh ideas and energy. On the other hand it can grind you, bringing you down by slipping into the repetitive routines and behaviours lived at home.

My little writing effort is to avoid that monotony one experiences about the every day grind, it is a chance to explore possibilities and think outside of the routine of working life.

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All about X, 0 and 1 – Mez Breeze

7 08 2012

Mediakult is very pleased to be presenting the work of Mez Breeze this month on All about X, 0 and 1. I first came across Mez in 1995 when I joined the Nettime list, when at the time Mez was publishing a lot of her poetic code work known as Mezangelle. Here is some information from Wikipedia:

Mezangelle  is a type of poetry Breeze developed in the 1990s using Internet text language found in ASCII codes, online games, and other forms of Internet communication. “Mezangelle” refers both to the works themselves and the hybrid language in which they are composed—codeworks of this sort “playfully utilize programming terminology and syntax” (Sondheim, Alan. Introduction: Codeworks) alongside “human-only” or so-called natural language, creating a creolized language that combines human language and code. In these works, the primary message is semantically overcoded in such a way that multiple different readings are made possible.

Our paths ‘virtually’ crossed again when we were both included in the 2000 publication of the Net Art Guide, (Fraunhofer IRB Verlag, 2000), compiled by the Electronic Business Innovation Center (EBIC) based in Stuttgart, Germany.

Since her early days of  creating code poetry, Mez has gone on to create and collaborate on many interesting projects.  For example, she also explores and exploits environments that involve online socializations or encounters. Such encounters involve the modification of online gaming environments, such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Second Life, and social networking and alternate gaming software such as Facebook, Passively Multimedia Online Game (PMOG) and Twitter. As a member of the online group Third Faction, Mez has been involved in a number of in-game projects within World of Warcraft, with the aim of disrupting and challenging the combative structure of the game. In this way, Breeze challenges the assumed binary division between the online environment and the real world, and acts to subvert the factionalized “confrontational player-vs-player interaction” ( Evans, Sally. ‘The Anti-Logos Weapon’: Excesses of Meaning and Subjectivity in Mezangelle Poetry) that the game world tries to enforce. Breeze’s use of multiple avatars for her digital works further emphasizes the breakdown of the division between digital and real selves.

Other recent projects include The Dead Tower, a collaboration with Andy Campbell, (see a review by Leonardo Flores) and a book titled Human Readable Messages.

For her submission to the ‘All about x, 0 and 1’ program, Mez provided us with a great video of what it means to be a networked artist.  Hope you enjoy it!





Low and High Fidelity in Electronic Arts

23 09 2011

One of the things I find eternally interesting in discussions around art and technology is the question of what drives the production of the work. For some artists it is about the slick use of new technologies and the concept is either invisible or of secondary importance. For other artists, it is the process of discovery and using the technology to work through conceptual issues within their work. There is value in both approaches undoubtedly, but this value often does not translate to an equal representation in art exhibitions and art funding. There is also the additional issue of gender representation, which has recently been a hot topic on the faces list.

When I was at the recent ISEA2011 in Istanbul, I had a great time meeting up with old friends, making some new friends and sharing ideas about where electronic arts is and where it is going.

In a forthcoming post I will review some of my highlights of ISEA and show some  of the projects that I personally found inspiring.

In this post I would like to unravel a notion of high and low fidelity in the space of media arts and online communications. Low and high fidelity is often a phrase used in UX design to describe ways of prototyping design. Low fidelity ranges from post-it notes and sketches to other basic forms of media to work through design and Information Architecture challenges, whereas high fidelity can mean anything from a fully marked up website in HTML and CSS to the use of Photoshop and Fireworks and other software to mockup designs (see my post on User Experience Fundamentals for more info).

High fidelity, low fidelity and Electronic Arts

So where is the value proposition in electronic arts (digital arts, art/sci, new media, and so on)? Is slicker, more tech reliant work *better* than work that explores the process not necessarily the outcome? Also, what constitutes as ‘art’ in this space. For example, I had a great conversation with Di Ball about Van Gogh’s chair and the relationship between blogging as a form of art and the notion of invention in electronic art (see her blog at http://thebeautyandthegeeks.blogspot.com/). Interestingly when I first met Di, we were both experimenting with web and back in the mid nineties it was a tres cool to even have a website, let alone one with animated gifs:-)

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Anyway, I digress. I have seen some amazing work – some of which could be described as high fidelity and some equally great work which is comparatively low fidelity. I guess it comes back to what you are into – for me concept wins every time and I especially enjoy work that considers the implications of the technology being used. ( For example, I get quite annoyed with work that has the environment or climate change as its theme and is a power hungry, consuming beast that undermines the concept).

Also artists work in different ways – much of the high fidelity work relies on teams of image and sound renderers, programmers, etc, etc. What disappoints me is when those people are not recognised. Yes – the concept is important, but the work could not be realised without the support of many others.

High fidelity artwork is also more vulnerable to technical failure – I saw many potentially  interesting works, that did not *work*.

Also, wrapped in this dynamic of high and low fidelity is the question of funding – many works do not have the benefit of large buckets of research money. To be honest, I prefer to see work that is inventive and manages to exist despite a lack of institutional support.

To conclude, I hope that curators take the time to consider more than just the slick end result and consider the value of work made via experimentation, innovation which may not have all the bells and whistles. It is worth remembering that when he was alive Vincent van Gogh had very little support for his work and the arts establishment were very dismissive of his experimental, investigative approach. Let us not go down the same path with electronic arts.

Perhaps we need more of this sentiment:

QR Code - Old Age Anarchy





From Geokult – Istanbul and ISEA2011 – physical and virtual access

18 09 2011
Lost at the Spice Bazzar or 'Leeches at the Pet Market'

Lost at the Spice Bazzar or 'Leeches at the Pet Market'

One of the biggest challenges we have experienced in Istanbul is actually working out where we are on the map. It is relatively easy to identity significant sites like the Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque and Taksim Square, but to try and find small galleries, restaurants and hotels off the main streets is somewhat difficult. We have four different tourist maps of the Sultanahmet and Taksim areas of the city and none of them are the same. That said, we have now been here nearly a week and have worked out how to get to most places that we want to go to.

We have also experienced other issues with access, primarily around accessing the Internet. At our hotel the WiFi connection changes with the wind, despite a wireless transmitter being on every floor. At the moment we are sitting on the rooftop terrace and the wind seems to be holding thankfully. Besides, there could be a lot worse places to sit and wait to the WiFi to blow in.

Navigating the ISEA2011 festival is also somewhat challenging, both physically and virtually as there is so much happening at many locations around the city.

Nicholas Knouf made these incisive comments about accessing the main ISEA2011 venue on the -empyre- list:

This requires being checked off of a list and then traveling through a metal detector with your belongings x-rayed. You find yourself in front of two gleaming towers of uncountable numbers of floors that reflect the blue sky. You realize that this is not the university, but rather the headquarters for Sabanci Holding (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sabanci_Group), which appears to be the largest industrial and financial conglomerate in Turkey, while also the organization behind the founding of Sabanci University. Once you make your way through men and women in perfectly tailored business suits and executives being escorted into Mercedes to be driven to power lunches, you find yourself in front of another metal detector and x-ray machine which may or may not be used (I didn’t have to go through it when I entered). Inside is bland corporate decor not unlike anything else in the globalized world. Hacker or DIY space this certainly is not, and the internet seems to block anything that doesn’t travel on ports 80 or 443 (meaning any local e-mail clients on computers or smartphones won’t work; Blackberries won’t work; and seemingly only web traffic will go through).

Language is also proving a challenge at times. Many people do not understand English and when we have attempted to speak Turkish quite often we just get shrugged shoulders. What we have found effective however, especially in cafes and on the tram is to use French. This is quite hilarious as our French is very rudimentary, though expressions like ‘Pardon?’ and ‘Bon chance’ seem to be working well.

As we finish writing this blog, we now are at the Karakoy campus of the Sabanci University, because there is no WiFi access at our hotel. Apparently (according to the hotel manager), the entire area of Sultanahmet is without Wifi. Hmmm, I don’t think so.

Despite the challenges in access and language, we are still enjoying Istanbul and ISEA2011. We have seen some wonderful exhibitions as part of ISEA2011 and the Istanbul Biennial, which we will report on later.

This post has also been published in Geokult.





Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

18 07 2011

Have you ever stopped to think about what is beyond the current suite of proprietary driven social media tools? Would you pay to use Facebook or would you move your social networks somewhere else online? What else is out there? Unlike us is a project conceived by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol), which is designed to “analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.”

The agenda of Unlike us states that:

Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers.

As a Gov2.0 and open source supporter, I keep a keen eye on discussions in this space. The development of Web 2.0 tools that are open source and proprietary free are necessary elements in making the Internet the egalitarian space Berners-Lee envisaged. There are many risks in relying on software tools bartered for in the marketplace as they compete and potentially fail, losing millions of $$$, for example Myspace. I am also very interested in the critical engagement of artists and activists in this space, particularly in terms of tools development and cultural change. In my opinion, open source software also gets better and better (just think about Blender) – because many people who like to use the tool also customise the software.

That said, open source software is only one thread of discussion planned for Unlike us. Other topics of Investigation include:

  • Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
  • The Private in the Public
  • Visiting the Belly of the Beast
  • Artistic Responses to Social Media
  • Designing culture: representation and software
  • Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
  • Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
  • Is Research Doomed?
  • Researching Unstable Ontologies
  • Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
  • Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
  • Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
  • Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology
  • Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
  • Data storage: social media and legal cultures

Unlike us aims to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’.

If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages, subscribe to the email list::http://listcultures.org/mailman/listinfo/unlike-us_listcultures.org

Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus University of Technology in Lemasol. This post was retrieved via Nettime mailing list 16 July 2011 and is also available in full on Furtherfield and a number of other online publications.





Discussion on -empyre- Biennials Plus and Minus

21 06 2011

The recent series of essays from long time collaborator and dear friend Linda Carroli on the -empyre- discussion list offers some very interesting perspectives on the social and cultural implications of the ‘Biennial’, or more broadly, arts and cultural festivals. For the full versions of the essays, see Linda’s blog placeblog.

Here is a copy of my response to her postings:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your insightful views considering the role of the biennial.

Your three key themes of ‘Recovery and Regeneration’, ‘From Emergency to Emergence’, and ‘The Commons’ all have serious implications for artistic and cultural development in a world that needs a sustainable integration of issues related to arts, environment and humanity.  Cultural tourism may have economic benefits on a local level and on an organisational level but at what cost? I have certainly not felt all that comfortable attending festivals interstate and overseas because of my carbon footprint and I think this is a crucial issue to consider as part of designing the biennial/festival model.

The example of  the Prospect Biennial in New Orleans, is inspiring example for cultural regeneration and I think the dialogue between artists and community needs to flow not just through the spectacle of the ‘biennial’ but in a way that can inspire and invigorate culture on a day-to-day level.

Also agree about how the typical hieracrchical strucutre of the curated structure of festivals does not allow for much innovation and ‘risk’, which is why I prefer the ‘unconference’ model used by fo.am and THATcamp as it is more inclusive and representative as well as a great way of brainstorming ideas.
 

I look forward to following this discussion on -empyre- and seeing more of Linda’s writing.





Review “In the balance: Art for a changing world” MCA, Sydney

1 11 2010

The recent exhibition, In the Balance: Art for a Changing World at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney focuses on artists and artworks that respond to ecological concerns. This exhibition features works that address a spectrum of issues including sustainability and recycling. There is also a focus on future solutions as well as addressing past events and changes over time.

Natalie King’s essay Accumulation: the aesthetics of waste and recycling opens with a quote from Douglas Huebler “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting: I do not wish to add any more.” As an artist I think this is an enormous challenge as still in many areas of fine art training, the emphasis is squarely on the production of objects, destined for a market based art economy. My concern about the consumption of art and the object economy was one of the reasons I moved towards the use online media as well as installations where I could reuse objects in different arrangements.

Aside from the above mentioned focus on reuse and recycling, issues of sustainability, preservation and social action are explored in this exhibition. There are so many works worth discussing, but I will focus on the works that had the most impact for me on a personal level.

It is an eerie experience to walk through Lauren Berkowitz’s installation Bags, which is composed of over 600 plastic shopping bags. As you walk through the two parallel walls of air filled bags, they gently move and rustle. In the catalogue essay by Rachel Kent, the walls are compared to a large set of lungs that “heave and sigh gently as people wander between them”. This recreation of a 1994 work is timely given the attention that plastic bags have been given as a waste issue in recent times.

Andrea Bowers work focuses on the activism that has taken place in Alaska, focusing on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill at Prince William sound in Alaska. Banners, photos, drawings and posters appear in this installation that reflects the community sentiment of people whose lives have been affected by this catastrophe. I was impressed that such a work was included as part of the exhibition as there has often been distaste in contemporary art towards work that could be defined as didactic. In her artist statement Bowers comments that

In my project I investigate the complicated politics of dealing with the landscape genre in our contemporary moment. It reflects my struggle to make sense of the uncomfortable relationship of predominately Eurocentric environmentalists traveling the globe in attempts to collaborate with locals to fight against climate change. Almost without exception, the most endangered places are filled with poor people and people of colour. Human rights, corporate sponsorship and the green movement struggle with compatibility.

This quote is a succinct analysis of the complex issues at stake when addressing environmental concerns affecting local and global ecologies. But in simplistic terms, there needs to be an alignment and an equal representation of perspectives as the people impacted most are the same people who have the least economic power.

Truchanas children at Lake Pedder, Tasmania. Photo by Olegas Truchanas. © Melva Truchanas

Truchanas children at Lake Pedder, Tasmania. Photo by Olegas Truchanas.
© Melva Truchanas

The Tasmanian wilderness is a common theme in the work of Bob Connolly, Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas. A large slide and sound installation titled Lake Pedder by bushwalker, photograppher and conservationist Olegas Truchanas was used to educate people and community groups about the natural beauty of Lake Pedder before it was flooded in 1972 by the Hydro Electric Commission. Peter Dombrovskis was mentored by Olegas Truchanas and his photographs of the Franklin River were used by Bob Brown and the Wilderness Society in the campaign to save the river in the early 1980s. Bob Connolly’s Franklin River Journey photographs are well known as works used a propaganda to conserve the wilderness area. Glenn Barkley considers how this work sits uncomfortably in the context of a contemporary art museum and comments that “They do however remind us of the redemptive power of images, and the cameras very singular potential as a device with which to change the world.”

Bonita Ely’s work has focused on the Murray river as a theme since the late 1970s. The documentation of a performance work titled Murray River Punch from 1980 highlighted the dire condition of the river. Ely acts as a cooking show host where she mixed a deadly concoction of sulphur, nitrates and faeces  – all of which are evident in the river. Her work is an indictment of the catastrophic impact that human settlement has had on the Murray River.

GhostNet Gear Project is a wonderful series of woven dilly bags, baskets and turtles made from found fishing line. By utilising traditional weaving techniques with found materials, as a viewer I am confronted with the changing ecology of this region. Rising sea levels, overfishing and plastic waste have all impacted on the people inhabiting the Torres Strait and their way of life. Whilst the work is colourful, and fun, there is a another message that tells a story about a way of life that has been greatly affected by ecological changes.

Janet Laurence’s works Cellular Gardens and Vanishing are both beautiful and evocative. In Cellular Gardens,  a series of glass vessels are housed on plinths made from steel and mirrors. From each of the containers is a medical tube, referencing life support systems and our own bodies vascular and respiratory systems. Inside the vessels is a juvenile rainforest plant in soil and water crystals, sprouting under the artificial light. The mirrors on the plinths create a myriad of reflected light patterns on the wall which are quite lovely. The message of this work is a warning, that we have created a world that can not sustain it’s own species without urther intervention. For some reason, I am reminded of Against Nature, of a novel I read whilst at university by Joris-Karl Huysmans, which challenged my ideas of society and the disconnention between nature and culture. The video work Vanishing creates a feeling of melancholy. The images are close ups of endangered animals, sometimes all you can see is the fur and the movement of breating. The colours are monochromatic, some sepia toned, which emphasised a feeling of loss and nostalgia. I feel sad, maybe it is too late.

Janet Laurence Cellular Gardens (where breathing begins)
© All rights reserved Janet Laurence. Image courtesy and © the artist 2005 Australia
stainless steel, mild steel, acrylic, blown glass, rainforest plants dimensions variable Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2005

David MacKenzie’s and Susan Norrie’s video work Korban Lumpur Project (2010) was heart rendering and a terse reminder of how broadcast media so often fails to present issues outside of the mainstream. In short, the work documented the continuing impact that the 2006 Lapindo Brantas oils and gas leak has had on the Sidoajo community in East Java, where boiling mud and poisonous gas still leak from the mine. What disturbed me most about this work was my ignorance of this terrible event and the aftermath. I vaguely remember the news report in 2006, but there has been nowhere near the amount of media attention that the Mexico Gulf oil spill has received. Why is one disaster more newsworthy? Is it because of the relative economic or global power? After all, Java is so much closer to us in geographic terms. For me, this work also underlined why it is so important that there are other communications channels – art, alternative media, viral media and social activism to raise awareness.

Writer and Curator Joni Taylor’s guided tour of the city, titled Wildlife of the City: Urban Wildlife Safari invites participants to re-imagine the the city from the perspective of the flora and fauna that inhabit the inner city of Sydney. A range of local experts including Professor-Emeritus Helen Armstrong, Diego Bonetto, Chris Lloyd, Dr. Peggy Eby and John Lennis shared their knowledge of the area.

Taylor’s blog states that:

The idea came about as a way to find the uncontrolled and untamed elements of urban nature, not the cultivated or the park variety. While these man-made spaces do all add to the greening of a city, it was more interesting to look for new urban ecologies that develop regardless and in spite of human intentions.

flying foxes

Taylor’s tour demonstrates that there is no neat line between the urban and wilderness as spaces or ecologies aside from what we create as a result of cultural understandings.

In conclusion, I walked out of the MCA feeling inspired, frustrated and challenged. As an artist, researcher, sometime activist and someone who works on a project focused on positive  and sustainable behaviour change (www.livinggreener.gov.au), I can see how necessary it is to join the dots. Nature and culture do not exist as separate entities – our culture and quality of life is totally dependant on the ecologies we are immersed in, every day. At LivingGreener our tagline is “It’s what I can do”, which is a sentiment we could act on.

Participating artists: Badger Bates, Lauren Berkowitz, Diego Bonetto, Andrea Bowers, Dadang Christanto, Bob Connolly, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Nici Cumpston, Peter Dombrovskis, Bonita Ely, Emily Floyd, Euraba Artists and Papermakers, Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers, Jeanne Van Heeswijjk and Paul Sixta, Lucas Ihlein, Lyndal Jones, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Janet Laurence, Makeshift (Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe), James Newitt, Mavis Ngallametta, Susan Norrie and David Mackenzie, Raquel Ormella, Cecilia Peter, Frank Petero, Catherine Rogers, David Stephenson, Joni Taylor, The Artist as Family (Patrick Jones, Meg Ulman and Zephyr Ogden Jones), theweathergroup_U, Angela Torenbeek and Olegas Truchanas.

Check out these blogs by artists in the exhibition about their works:
Environmental Audit by Lucas Ihlein
Food Forest by the Artist as Family
Weedbook and weedy connection by Diego Bonetto
Urban Wildlife Safari by Joni Taylor