“While guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might” – Hans Arp
When I first learnt about Dada when I was thirteen and just starting my study of visual art, I didn’t really know what was going on, and found the works perplexing in their blatant disregard for what I’d always thought Art should be – beautiful. I suppose that that’s what people in that time thought too. Seven years on, Dada has become my favorite movement. As Dada is particularly hard to define (its members themselves wanted to “evade the definition of a unified art movement”), and so with it, common visual characteristics are hard to pinpoint, my love for Dada comes from its ideology, not aesthetic qualities. I find it really inspiring that the artists devoted themselves to Dadaist art with such passion without losing hope after the atrocities of war, even with imminent threats.
Here, Hoch uses photomontage to juxtapose newspaper photographs of primary German politicians (President Friedrich Ebert and Minister of Defense, Gustav Noske) against a floral background. Photomontage as a technique holds great meaning in this piece. “Intensely ideological”, it gave her power to cut, deform and place anywhere she wanted, these two powerful politicians who had ruthlessly put down the Spartacist Rebellion. They are juxtaposed into a kiddish, whimsical dreamscape where they stand unawares of the common German people’s hardships in their swimsuits.
Upon closer introspection, the floral background alludes to embroidery, which was the main source of income and primary occupation for the German women of that time. Brought together with substantial masculine figures (whom we are reminded aren’t altogether powerful in their more vulnerable, pot-bellied half-nakedness), the backdrop contrasts the position of women in society and questions the difference in value put upon traditionally feminine and masculine endeavours.
The first essay starts off with the idea that Modernism doesn’t propagate a single “truth”, but rather a set of conventions that the audience can engage with. I agree with his idea that taking action is easier with a set of conventions to agree or disagree with, akin to a debating, which I do as a co-curricular activity – motions such as “This house would only display feminist art in galleries” could be taken to be the convention, and debaters could then take action for or against the motion. In this sense, modernist artists, to me, are like cogs that set gears into motion.
Milton Glaser then writes about how he does not believe that one principle, such as “simplicity or reductiveness”, can be universally applied to every problem – that people are too complicated. I somewhat agree with this view – I think there are fashions of every time period – maybe in the 21st century, it could be minimalism and elegance, and designers could make more profit if they subscribed to these norms. But then again, breaking these norms can also work to artists’ benefit, for uniqueness can gain you notoriety and fame (like Damien Hirst and his preserved animal sculptures). I think everyday artists today subscribe to some base ideals that could gain them profit, but also try to inject their own personal flair so that they can capitalise on their “signature look”.
Glaser is also evidently against the Modernist idea of not representing forms from real life, citing reasons such as that he feels that they take away from the eroticism and passion of life. He then goes on to tie this apparent lack of passion to why corporations favour Modernist ideas in mass production, noting that its ubiquity signals that Modernist ideas will not die anytime soon. In my opinion, it makes sense that brands such as Apple subscribe to such ideals in order to appeal to the largest consumer base, unhindered by personal touches that could potentially alienate some markets – after all, every human is vastly different in their wealth of experiences.
The second essay takes on a more positive view of Modernism, noting the backlash against it in the Postmodern movement, then the author’s own tendencies towards Modernist paintings in his youth and later, and the changing face of Modern design. I was especially struck by his example of Grapus, a collective that “goes to great lengths to make their work appear immediate”. Researching more about them, even though it looks rushed, takes great effort to portray a “Hot-off-the-press” vibe, which is another Modern thought. In his analysis, I came to understand Modernism more as a set of changing philosophies rather than a set of rules that dictate how minimalist things should be, which seems to be the main criticism hurled at the movement.
In the last essay, Rudolph deHarak suggests another essence of Modernism – to create and evolve forms that communicate content richly. He notes that the Swiss Style and Bauhaus, which was critiqued rather harshly in the first essay, were “essential developments and strong reflections of their time”
He also talks about how his understanding of Modernism has changed throughout the years, most noticeably, how he is more interested in the idea of problem-solving now. He champions Modernism for suggesting a movement ahead of its time, for organic change, and for creativity and problem-solving. I feel that this is a much more balanced view than the first essay, for I do agree with him that design is very much problem-solving oriented now (in the graphic design industries – for example branding, for it is definitely difficult to form a cohesive, lasting brand for a company), and that concept has come about through the gradual, organic evolving of Modernism itself.
Mustafa Visits: In the search for the Unique Selling Point
Before visiting the site, I conducted some secondary research on Mustafa:
24 hour shopping mall
22 years old; opened in April 1995
Located in Syed Alwi Road, Little India
37,000 m2 retail floor area
Over 300,000 items sold
On the 2nd of March, I walked to Mustafa from Farrer Park MRT, entering via Entrance 3. One thing I immediately noticed was how crowded the streets and mall were. This was probably because it was Friday evening, one of the peak timings, as I would later come to find out.
The mall is surrounded by Indian restaurants, which makes sense because the mall is located in Little India.
At the entrance, there was a small monitor showing the occupancy to warn shoppers when it’s unsafe to enter. At that time, the occupancy (probably an average, for a certain amount of space) was 259, with the maximum load being 431.
Upon entering, I saw the pharmacy section. Upon seeing all the overwhelmingly numerous different types of medicines sold, I decided to note down the broader categories of products sold instead of being more specific, like noting down pharmacy instead of cough medicine, ointments etc.
Unusual products? In my quest to note down the different products sold, I noticed some rather unusual products being sold, most of them being of the food variety.
Interviews I conducted interviews with two employees. First, I interviewed Jasbee Kaur from the sunglasses section.
As I did not have a unique selling point yet, I just asked some general questions.
Q: How long have you been working here? A: From 2000 till now.
Q: How familiar are you with the place? A: I know all the places, so I’d say pretty familiar.
Q: How’s it like working at Mustafa? A: I like it! The boss is nice. There is no target I need to fulfill, no nothing. For every 100 customers, 95% are okay. Most of them are tourists from India and Bangladesh.
Q: What are some pros and cons, or pet peeves? A: A pro is that all items can be found. But there are no seating places and baby fitting places. Some new staff might point customers the wrong way.
Q: When are the busiest times? A: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from about 11.30 am to 7 or 8 pm. On public holidays it goes up to about 10 pm.
Here’s my second interview!
Continuing on, I realized that I started to get more and more overwhelmed. Mustafa is very visually tiring on the eyes after a while, with really tall shelves and bright, saturated colors. My eyes started getting really fatigued from the repeated patterns in the shelving. Even though it was organized in a way, there was a lot of cramming into spaces that didn’t really seem big enough.
I also started getting very, very lost. Thankfully, the signs pointed me to different sections.
Inside the mall, there was also a bakery. Here, I sampled the spinach pizza. It was pretty salty and I didn’t particularly enjoy it (probably because it was cold and slightly hard), but it was definitely not terrible. I could see someone really craving pizza coming here for pizza at 2 or 3 am.
Visuals Architecture Very geometric shapes, with both strong straight lines (for example, rows of items) and curved lines (from circular “hole” in the middle surrounding which floors are arranged – see below).
Really bright and saturated! They are also repeated in recurring patterns.
Leaving the mall, I tracked the number of people passing through different entrances per minute, as well as the racial profile, as I noticed that there seemed to be more Indians in the mall than other races.
Walking along the other side of Mustafa, I also noticed how there was in-house restaurant. Here, I sampled the tater tots. Again, it was pretty salty. However, it was still an improvement over the pizza from earlier because it was hot.
After the visit, I found some unique qualities about Mustafa.
1) It sells some really weird and unique items, that you wouldn’t think would be sold under one roof, or could even be found in Singapore. Most of them are of the food variety. I considered analyzing the weirdest food items I’ve seen there and maybe do a review of them as well.
2) How it is a one-stop place for literally anything you could need at any random time of the day. I thought that this could be translated into an infographic with a clock, and showing what you might need at different times of the day can be found where specifically at Mustafa.
3) It sells a huge variety (brand-wise) of certain items, like rice and spices (see below for rice varieties).
4) It’s method of organization seems to make sense, but also can be really bizarre. The items are arranged in a sort of nonsensical way, like for example there’ll be cereals over fresh fruit.
After the discussion with Joy, I narrowed down my Unique Selling Point to Mustafa being an organized mess. My task would then be to find out how people react to this mess, shoppers and staff alike.
Visit Two: Unique Selling Point identified. On to further research! How do people react to the organized mess?
Going into Mustafa this time, I had a much clearer idea of what I was looking for. I came up with a set of questions beforehand.
Questions for staff: 1. How did you make sense of the place? 2. How long did it take you to make sense of the place? 3. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10? 4. What are the most busy times? When are the least busy times?
Questions for seasoned shoppers: 1. Profile: Age, gender, how long have you been shopping at Mustafa? 2. What do you come to Mustafa to buy? 3. How do you navigate? (Stairs, escalators, lifts?) (Start from bottom floors upward? Which sections do you visit first?) 4. How long does it take you to navigate? Do you spend more time navigating or shopping? 5. How did you make sense of the place? How long did it take you? 6. How long do you spend here? How much do you spend usually? 7. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10? 8. What would be the best strategy for a new shopper?
Questions for newbie shoppers: 1. Profile: Age, gender, how long have you been shopping at Mustafa? 2. What do you come to Mustafa to buy? 3. How do you navigate? (Stairs, escalators, lifts?) (Start from bottom floors upward? Which sections do you visit first?) 4. How long does it take you to navigate? Do you spend more time navigating or shopping? 5. How long have you been here? 6. How organized/messy do you find Mustafa on a scale of 1-10?
Below is an interview I managed to record with the help of a friend.
I also did field ethnography in that I shadowed my mom as she shopped. I wanted to play this video during my presentation but technical difficulties arose, sadly! I initially tried shadowing a random shopper on one of my earlier trips, but they noticed me and told me to stop following them so I decided to just accompany my mom on one of her shopping trips. She is a seasoned shopper. I’d previously accompanied her for short trips, but never had really analyzed how she navigated through Mustafa. This below video does that.
Staff behavior to mess
I also walked around trying to observe the staff’s behavior towards mess and captured this video of a staff conscientiously picking misplaced items out of a pile during the peak hours.
The above videos illustrate some research I didn’t manage to cover during my presentation. My presentation can be found below (it also covers some other research methods I did not talk about in this post, cause it’s already on the slides)! I organized my slides according to the unique selling point, the organized mess, hence splitting the presentation into two parts: the “organized” and the “messy” aspects. I also summarized the results of my interviews with 10 employees, 10 newbie shoppers and 10 seasoned shoppers, and explored other sensory and physical impacts.
Have two groups of an interviewer and a model each: Yueling (model) and Bala (interviewer), and Farzana (model) and Felicia (interviewer)
The interviewers would go out on the streets and have members of the public curate outfits from the five categories: tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes, and accessories for the model, whom the member of the public gets to see via Facebook Live so that they can pick the outfits out for them specifically.
They curate these outfits based off vague keywords, like black, cat, and PJs, that the interviewer shows them on a piece of paper. The model notes down this combination.
As an interviewer, we agreed on interviewing at least two people from two different districts. I ended up interviewing 6 people – three from Sim Lim Square, and three from Bugis street. The locations were deliberately chosen for their different demographics. Somehow, they all ended up being in the central location, making it a battle of the locations in Central Singapore. To extend on this project, we could have gone to locations in the east, west, north and south of Singapore – that could have been a fun battle as well. Apart from mirroring the unpredictable nature of online shopping, our project also reveals differences in culture and identity. We interviewed people from different locations, as well as age, ethnicity, and gender. There were older, ‘geekier’ people at Sim Lim Square where I interviewed, and Felicia interviewed younger, more ‘trendy’ people at LASALLE and SMU. All of this variety made our end results totally unexpected.
Initially, we wanted to have the model put on the outfit at the other end so that the stranger would be able to see the mystery outfit they had created and rate it (like how an online shopper might leave a review). However, Yueling and I decided this wasn’t going to work out, because there was really long awkward silence with the first man I interviewed when she was changing at the back, and decided to scrap this idea. This was an example of an unexpected element that arose during the on-site performance.
Another unexpected element that arose was that people were really taking it seriously to put together a stylish outfit. We thought that with the vague keywords that we gave them (akin to online shopping, where clothes are often described with vague keywords and end up not really looking like how we expect them to be in the photos), that they would just take it as a fun experiment and put together very wacky combinations, but they actually kept asking for so many more details! I explained to them that the descriptors were supposed to be vague, but they still tried to curate a more put-together outfit instead of the whackier outcome we expected.
Apart from paralleling online shopping, this project was also influenced by Blast Theory’s principles of integrating the virtual and the real world together, through specifically using Facebook Live and Instagram. Perhaps Felicia and I were the interviewers as we had done precisely this, interviewing people on the street, for our previous Tele-Stroll project. On top of engaging a physical audience, we engaged the virtual audience through our Instagram polls on our instagram page where they voted for their favorite outfits, ultimately resulting in Farz being the winner. In doing so, we empowered the people on the street to be designers, and gave power to the virtual audience in deciding the ultimate, most fashionable outfit as well. Both audiences were a sizeable number, perhaps the virtual audience more so (at over a hundred followers!) because they could vote at their convenience, as opposed to the people on the street who could have been in a rush and might not have been as willing to participate.
We also drew inspiration from collaborative works such as Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, where the audience is given full control of the outcome. Therefore, our project was innately social in that we could not have gotten the outcome without the participation of the people on the street. In fact, we were more of the bystanders in this project – every aspect was decided by the audience, except for small details such as the locations the models shot their outfits in (to be posted on Instagram) in, and the aesthetic of the Instagram curated by Felicia.
To conclude, our outcome revealed interesting differences between demographics (the older demographic preferred brighter colors, whilst our younger demographic preferred monochrome, more “chic” colors). We designed an interactive experience through the use of Facebook Live where our audience and model could see each other, along with a mediator in the interviewer. Lastly, we involved our audience both in real life (interviewing them on the street) as well as online, with the voting.
“Social Broadcasting: An Unfinished Communications Revolution” – this is what the symposium is themed around. Having attended all three days of the symposium, I have come to understand that although it is a relatively short sentence, it is one that is chock full of meaning. Immediately, three key phrases stand out to us: 1) Social Broadcasting 2) Unfinished and 3) Revolution. My essay will address key aspects of these three phrases in two overarching sections.
Section 1: Analysis of Symposium itself as a third space environment in relation to being an “alternative social world”
The Symposium was conducted via Adobe Connect, a platform which we are no strangers to – we have created beautiful mosaics with the “Telematic Embrace” project, listened to lectures on the platform, and just last week, the class and I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop with Annie Abrahams on it, too.
In Day One of the Symposium, we were given the opportunity to witness “Entanglement Training – Ensemble”, a live online performance by Annie Abrahams with Antye Greie (DE/FI), Helen Varley Jamieson (NZ/DE), Soyung Lee (KR), Huong Ngô (HK/USA), Daniel Pinheiro (VE/PT), Igor Štromajer (SI/DE). I felt that the workshop with Annie Abrahams gave us a level of insight that other viewers may not have had the opportunity to get, as we had hands-on experience with the understanding of Annie Abraham’s protocols.
From this analysis by Daniel Pinheiro, a greater insight can be sought into the thought processes behind the work. Preparation for the piece began a good two months before its debut during the Symposium, back in late January, whilst training was conducted on March 22nd. Prior to the performance, participants were to “start collecting interesting phrases and think of simple objects (they) could use during a part of the final performance where they will “converse” using these objects, the collected phrases and our voices”.
Screenshotted live from Day 1 of the Symposium
This individual contributing to a collective process “sees it’s result through the combination of the inputs from the different participants”. Understanding two different moments then becomes crucial to resolving the tension in the process of mediation between all the individuals and remote locations involved.
“The disruptive conversational environment that is created creates a combinatory visual and soundscape that deals with electronic disruptions – analogously to the disruptions on any kind of conversation; interaction (equates to the) mediation process between individuals.”
Together, the whole space – or rather, the Third Space – becomes one through the sum of the relationships between objects, sounds and phrases.
The above relationship was not cultivated easily. Before the performance and the keynote preceding it, we carried out a soundcheck and had to troubleshoot for Maria Chatzichristodolou as well – there were multiple times during her keynote when she had to pause and ask us if we could hear her. Even during the Entanglement Training – Ensemble performance itself, there was a moment in which a screen went totally black, during which I was wondering if it was a glitch or part of the performance. It turned out that it was both, for Annie Abrahams and her collaborators took the technical difficulties one of them were experienced it and weaved it into their narrative with more screens turning black – Annie Abrahams is of course, famous for her embracing of the glitch.
Screenshot: when one screen glitches black. Here, the use of objects in place of actual faces or bodies may build the anticipation for the actual reveal.
Screenshot: the participants take this in stride, with more screens turning black
Of course, I say this not as a criticism, but as an observation – technology can only get better with time and experience. This was exemplified during the Symposium itself – technical difficulties were much fewer with Day Two and Three, save for the videos that Matt Adams wanted to show lagging during the second day and some minor audio issues during the Global Roundtable Discussion for Day Three. It’s incredible to think that we’ve come such a long way since the days of Hole in Space (1980) by Kit Adams and Sherrie Rabinowitz. Maria Chatzichristodolou mentioned in her keynote that the project was funded by NASA, using technologies few people could access (and afford). Moreover, they had to apply to gain access to them. Similarly, Satellite Arts Project (1977), took an entire year to develop with NASA. Just comparing how far we’ve come from in terms of affordability and accessibility in the roughly forty years since then is far too awe-inducing for me to harp on any lags experienced during the Symposium.
Furthermore, there is value in experiencing these glitches live, as opposed to viewing a recording of the symposium. When viewing a recording, we may be tempted to skip forward when glitches occur – I probably would have, had I not attended all three days of the symposium live. However, when I was experiencing the glitches live, I felt all the more tied and connected to work, for the experience the works in their entirety would be to experience their faults as well. In doing so, I felt like I was really an active participant in the symposium, especially when I typed in the chat box whenever Maria Chatzichristodolou asked if she could be heard. It was altogether more immersive and I felt like I could contribute to the symposium. This agency I held felt like a privilege and only made me appreciate the performances and keynotes all the more.
In fact, these lags and glitches taken to be a quality of communicating in the Third Space – closer to our everyday lives, how often do we experience technical difficulties with Skype or Facebook Live? Personally, I experience them pretty often, but I’ve come to accept them – they even make finally overcoming them all the more sweeter. Taking this further, we could even come to embrace this quality, which would require more effort from the everyday person. We can’t all be Annie Abrahams – we can strive to be, yes, but we can definitely appreciate how she uses this quality to her advantage in her work, in fact, she makes this the whole subject of her work.
In Entanglement Training – Ensemble, the performers read out the latency in their connections, highlighting how all of them were never really in the exact same moment in the Third Space. Possibly, in the future, technology could lead us to this ideal, but Annie Abrahams in the present explores the beauty in this flaw with an almost hypnotic, rhythmic, choreographed performance piece.
Screenshot: Entanglement Training – Ensemble’s hypnotizes with rhythmic hand movements
More recently, following technological and practical advances, researchers tend to no longer consider digital space as disconnected from an ostensibly “non-digital” space. More specifically, digital space is the space of our society in the digital age, it is the space we inhabit and in which we live. Based on this definition, we propose the following: Digital space, as the sum of the relationships between objects, is the organization of our entire reality through writing. – Marcello Vitali Rosati
A parallel can be drawn between these glitches and our everyday lives, even. Humans are flawed in real life – we get nervous, we stutter, we say the wrong things. And to accept the snags that come with Third Space technology can be related to how we ourselves are not perfect, for to expect it to be perfect would then, in turn, demand perfection of ourselves in real life, for our interactions in Third Space can be seen as an extension of our daily lives. This statement I’m making might seem a bit far-fetched, but I make it after reading the above quote. It characterizes the third space as one that is a hybrid of the digital and non-digital that “computerized infrastructures participate in constructing and organizing”, from which I draw my point in this paragraph. This can also be linked to similarities between the offline and the “alternative social world” of the Symposium – these glitches are not inherently exclusively designated to the Third Space, for we glitch in real life too. It was heartening to see that all the participants in the Symposium seemed unfazed by these technical difficulties.
Trade-off due to Multiplicity
Randall Packer notes during the global roundtable discussion during Day Three that the local audience have a more visceral relationship with the performers. For example, with the igaies performance, the audience is able – in fact encouraged – to walk up closer to Roberto Sifuentes and be in closer physical proximity to the leeches placed on him ‘cleansing his body’. The remote audience is distanced, looking at the performance through the webcam instead.
Being an online participant, however, has its own set of benefits. For one, we were able to look at multiple viewpoints of the performance due to multiple webcams being set up, for example during the performance by XXtraPrincess.
Here, we got to see an additional view of another camera broadcasting them together, showing both performers with their backs to each other. In real life, the audience would be limited to one viewpoint (the front), but with the Third Space, we are able to curate various views and gain a more varied viewpoint of the performance.
Moreover, this multiplicity could also be observed across platforms, with the performance by XxtraPrincess, again. The duo heavily employed Snapchat, using Snapchat filters to depict themselves as a range of animals, from rabbits to deer and Snapchat Avatars (Bitmoji) as a way to create an embodiment of who they wanted to represent (or as we’ve come to learn, digital identity). During the global roundtable discussion, one of the participants questioned the need for broadcasting against multiple platforms – it may seem unnecessary to do so when the concept and visuals are the same. XxtraPrincess defended this by saying how this could draw more people to watch it live instead of having to watch a recording should not they have access to that platform.
Furthermore, the online audience had a very active relationship with one another – more than I expected, especially because most of them were strangers to one another. Perhaps especially because they had this barrier and were physically separate and/or not involved in the performances, rapid discussion took place throughout all the keynotes and performances. The question of whether this was acceptable behavior arose near the end of Day 1, when a participant felt that it was rude that the online participants were conversing as the performance went on.
Screenshotted from chat space from Adobe Connect
Some thought it wasn’t, as the online chat is silent, as opposed to speaking out loud in real life – this could be a benefit to being an online participant, for you are more able to discuss your thoughts with others without disrupting the actual performance. The local audience would not be able to participate as actively (or at all) in the discussion going on online. The online audience, hence, could be seen as more conversational than the offline audience. Moreover, I felt that this constant chattering away kept the energy level of the symposium up.
An online participant compares the online chat to “whispering amongst ourselves during a performance”
The result of this could vary in significance to different participants. Relating this back to my own experience, I had the opportunity to attend the Symposium in real life during Day Two, at LASALLE. I did not bring a laptop to the event, like most of the other attendees, because I really wanted to be there in that space and focus on the speech and answers given by Matt Adams. As a result, I could not participate in the online discussion – but even then, I did not really feel like I was missing out, because the keynote was so fulfilling and satisfying to me. Below is a video I took from my view!
Ultimately, as Randall Packer puts it, this symposium was trying to achieve a “totalized interconnected space” that attempts to “blend real and virtual connections”. The very act of “trying to break down barriers and see whether we can all be connected” signals that this social revolution – this utopia we are trying to achieve, with everyone achieving a similar experience – is one that is unfinished, which is the theme of the symposium.
Section 2: Social Broadcasting – the Revolution
To address the ‘revolution’ part of the theme of the symposium, “Social Broadcasting: An Unfinished Communications Revolution”, we need to understand the journey broadcasting has taken from live broadcasting to social broadcasting.
This can be best understood with Maria Chatzichristodolou’s definition of “liveness”. She considers liveness ‘to be infinitely open to interaction, transformation and connection’. She considers interactivity and liveness to be interlinked when “interactivity is corporeal, when it takes place in real time, or both of the conditions apply”. As she puts it, live performance in itself carries a promise of interactivity as potentiality, even when this potentiality is not materialized. This pivotal concept has reshaped the broadcast into one that is much more interactive and communal. In other words, communication then becomes between, than to, people – therein lies the shift from traditional broadcasting to social broadcasting.
This work, “using live performance and digital invention” through the technique of ‘dissolving’ to impose two images together. A mutual performance space is created in which performers could occupy each others’ real-life spaces such as homes and streets. Focusing on the situation of people in Gaza, it highlights their political situation – Maria X mentions how Gaza is isolated and “shut away from the world”. Herein lies the power of internationalism – its ability to bring together people separated by great political, economic and physical divides gives voice and respite to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be heard.
However, Annie Abrahams had this question directed to her during the global roundtable discussion: How can we use it (social broadcasting) specifically? How can we use telematic art to question geopolitical barriers?
The answer given by her was that we simply can’t. In the words of Annie Abrahams, “We hardly meet anyone we don’t know. What we can do, is train with people you don’t know yet”. She did this with Entanglement Training – Ensemble. She trained with the co-performers to “get with unknown connection latencies, unknown technology, unknown people”.
“Disembodied online existence arose as an attendant potential aspiration or threat of the network in its relation to user identity. Feminist scholars in particular saw the networked digital culture as a respite or a release from the gendered (and racialized) social conditions of physical reality. “If I have no body [online], what is my gender?” Mindy McAdams asked in 1996. “Is there a need for, or even an explanation for, gender in a place where our bodies are not?”” – Stephen Monteiro – MIT The Fabric of Interface
This is a unique quality of the Third Space – that is, by having no body online, as mentioned in the quote above, this may liberate the oppressed or marginalized, for they are no longer attached to the characteristics and stereotypes attached with their own bodies – they are free to reveal as much as they deem preferable online. Matt Adams echoed this during Day 2 – he mentioned that it’s almost unfashionable to reflect a version of yourself resembling reality online – to quote, “not hip if you go under the same name” – when talking about the Blast Theory work, Uncle Roy All Around You, during the symposium. This expectation – to not be totally and completely yourself – that comes with cultivating a digital identity could be incredibly beneficial to some, for it could provide an escape from reality.
There’s something transformative happening between the individual and the collective, and it seems a mistake to interpret this as an act of individual erasure. In such movements, the mask becomes a collective catalyst that provides the consistency to make a particular political demand about transforming the world. – Zach Blas (interviewed by Pedro Marum) – We hide our faces so that we can be seen
When control is given to the collective, a possible criticism that could arise is that the collective could erase the voice of an individual. In my opinion, this criticism is one that is very surface-level, for there is no innate characteristic of the collective that demands that the individual becomes any less important. In fact, the individual in the audience becomes as important as ever, as exemplified in the Blast Theory work I’d Hide You.
“In I’d Hide You, see the world through the runners eyes as they stream video: ducking and diving, chatting to passersby, taking you down the back alleys to their secret hiding places. And play against your friends online at the same time. Use your wits to choose which runner to ride with. Get a snap of another runner onscreen without getting snapped and you score a point. Get snapped by someone else and you lose a life.”
Here, not only is the audience playing for themselves, they are playing as part of a collective team, with three teams having three players each, so that the audience can choose one of nine players to run with. Each player runs for an hour. Matt Adams mentions in the keynote that there is no thematic focus – the focus here is on “having the audience we trigger that uncanny thrill that you feel when you see a webcam for the first time and experience a portal into another part of the world that seems – at that moment – to be yours and yours alone”. Each population is playing against their own cohort, whilst there are also various dependencies between the two populations.
Therefore, even though you are part of a collective, your individual experience becomes important as well, for you gain and lose points through your own actions and stay in the game with them. The audience’s agency becomes all the more important as they now have the ability to sabotage players as well. Matt Adams also mentioned that the game was made with “young people in mind” – youth that knew their city and their streets well, such that the audience can have a more intimate relationship with a runner they can relate to and habits and popular hangouts they may be familiar with, such as popular clubs.
The possibility for live interaction that affects others also raises questions surrounding ethics. In the words of Maria Chatzichristodolou, ethics informs openness to face of others and responsibility for others. She quotes Levinas in saying that since the other looks at me, his responsibility is incumbent on me. To paraphrase, as we are viewing and interacting with performers, a degree of responsibility for their well-being and actions also falls on us; this cannot be ignored.
Maria Chatzichristodolou discusses ethics with the example of Paul Sermon’s Telematic Dreaming. Even though I have previously done a research critique on this, I hadn’t come across the instance where a woman was telematically abused, and was awakened to this. She talked about the ethics of being able to touch someone who can’t touch you back – even though it is not physical abuse, it is still very real and still harmful, for our virtual bodies are still our own.
We can also discuss this aspect of ethics with the Blast Theory work, Kidnap (1998).
During his keynote, Matt Adams mentions that the Spanner Case served as inspiration for the piece, in which masochists were arrested and prosecuted for their VHS tapes. He notes the rampant homophobia during that era, and how the gay sex ring automatically equated to pedophilia in society’s minds. Four of them were sent to prison – one of them for four years. This raised further questions of the legality of willing body modifications, such as tattoos and piercings. Then, the power in the very personal act goes to the state – this case exemplified how it could interfere.
Kidnap also transfers a level of agency to the audience. A candid experience is created for viewers, with the same level of authenticity experienced as the kidnapped.
“We were fascinated to try and foreground the ways in which we experience power and play with power. Sadomasochism being a prime example in and of itself, since it is fascinating in performative terms.” – Matt Adams
This leads to the a discussion on power relationships – how power flows between the audience and performer. With the masochists’ take on power relationships, as Matt Adams puts it during his keynote, “the line between pretense and reality (becomes) hard to untangle”.
Matt Adams exemplifies this with a commentary on presidency, in which to some extent, candidates perform roles in one way or another. We’ve seen this before, with Media Burn, where a performer pretended to be the president. When these lines are so blurred and complex, the focus then shifts to making people consciously aware of the level of control that is taken away from them or given to them.
Closer to home, an interesting spin on this would be how we ourselves, unknowingly, could give up control of our own information when we use social media. When we use Facebook, for example, we give away information on our relations with a simple click through your friend list. When we use Instagram, we give away information on our whereabouts with the scenic photos from the holidays we go on. And we do this on the daily, easily. It was hence really refreshing during the symposium to consciously note the level of control we’re being given – more on that below.
Tying this back to the symposium, it is interesting to note the contrast between Kidnap and the chat space. it was clear to see that the audience was incredibly active in the chat space at all times. It can even be said that the chat could be a separate, parallel work alongside the works performed, created and performed by the online audience! This is what the symposium aimed to do, I believe – to transfer power from the one-to-many, hierarchical nature of traditional broadcasting into more social forms that bring the power to the viewer as well. How do I say this? In this “chat space performance” that takes place in the Third Space theater, the audience is released from the control that is imposed upon them – to remain silent, for example – in a traditional theater.
However, this is also a point that can be contended with. The extent of participation of the audience is still limited to the chat box and did not affect the outcome of Annie Abraham’s work, nor the works performed during Day 3. This would be the singular criticism I had, for while power is awarded to the audience, this power seems merely placeholder-like. More consequential power could have been given to the audience, and then the work could be have become more participatory if the audience could have somehow decided where and when the leeches could have been placed on Roberto Sifuentes’s #exsanguination performance, for example.
In My One Demand, for example, the film’s trajectory changes and adjusts according to what the audience send in. But first, an overview of the interactive film. In Toronto, seven actors meet and interact with one another in a singular, continuous film shot. It starts with a baby leaving a hospital and ends with an elderly woman, with the actors getting successively older. A narrator voices over, telling us about them. The seven actors explore the city, and the audience was able to witness it live via the Internet. Viewers can respond to the narration about unrequited love, and these responses are then inserted into the narrative itself, giving the audience a very direct connection to and agency in the piece as their own input directly changes the story of the film.
Another work in which we observe a power transfer is My Neck of the Woods (2013). In this work, the audience is able to choose who, out of three teenagers, they “follow” through a walk around their neighbourhoods in Manchester. The youth film themselves as they walk and have a conversation with you. The conversation is two-way – they can ask you questions, as you can likewise. As a result, every conversation is unique. What they say depends on what you ask, what you ask depends on what they might propose. Or you can enjoy listening to their conversations with other members of the public online and watching their film. Here, as Matt Adams put it, there is “the intimacy of one and the breathe of multiplayer”. Even though there seems to be three authority figures here, the authorial voice is “relaxed enough that they can inhabit on the same terms”. I feel that this can be linked back to Annie Abrahams work in the sense that although there are authority figures in the performers, we still do not feel too daunted or overwhelmed to pose questions during the global roundtable discussion (although again, we do not actually hold agency when they are performing the work).
Matt Adams mentions in the keynote that the audience participation in this work gave rise to unexpectedly beautiful, raw interactions, such as when a teenaged boy was questioned about his second kiss after talking about his first during a game of Spin the Bottle, and was hesitant and unsure – for many, adorably so. These authentic encounters would not have been possible with a script beforehand, and the agency the audience had lent an unexpectedly beautiful edge to the piece. This work then proves that these authentic moments are able to survive electronic mediation.
In order to understand this work better, I posed a question to Matt Adams during the symposium, asking to what extent the work comments or relies on the voyeuristic tendencies of us as humans, especially with the rise of Instagram, Snapchat stories or just social media in general, where we take an intimate peek into others’ lives. Matt Adams in turn answered saying that My Neck of the Woods was definitely tied to voyeurism, as was a number of other Blast Theory works. In the words of Matt Adams, we’re all subject to voyeuristic tendencies. He notes how it even goes all the way back to just wanting to read another’s diary – he gives the example of Anne Frank. Voyeurism, here, then becomes a good thing, for our curiosity about these strangers is what spurs us as the audience to even want to watch them, and then contribute our own voices and opinions, which in turn, affect the work so beautifully.
Another work discussed that gave the audience a lot of power was Uncle Roy All Around You (2009). In this work, “players explore a mixed reality city and collaborate to find Uncle Roy’s office before being invited to make a year long commitment to a total stranger.”
The city is an arena where the unfamiliar flourishes, where the disjointed and the disrupted are constantly threatening to overwhelm us. It is also a zone of possibility; new encounters.
The city gives rise to the possibility of new encounters and relationships to be formed, much like the Third Space environment during the symposium. During the symposium, for example, there were very positive relationships being formed between Karina, a viewer from Brazil, and other viewers.
Screenshotted from chat space of Adobe Connect
To elaborate more on Uncle Roy All Around You, Matt Adams mentioned in his keynote that it was “very indeterminate as to what (the work) actually was. (They) did not declare whether it was art, a Happening, or for profit.” So while it is hard to categorize the work, the work can be understood as a game, the aim of which is to meet Uncle Roy.
When the Street Player first declares their position (by clicking “I’m here” on the handheld computer) their avatar appears in the virtual world at that location. Their card becomes visible to Online Players: it shows their name, their photo and a brief description of their clothes.
Selecting a Street Player’s card allows the Online Player to send private messages to the Street Player. Online Players can assist Street Players by matching photos and Uncle Roy’s comments and then passing relevant information to the Street Player.
“Somewhere in the game there is a stranger who is also answering these questions. Are you willing to make a commitment to that person that you will be available for them if they have a crisis? The commitment will last for 12 months and, in return, they will commit to you for the same period.”
After entering an office, the Street Player is asked the above series of questions. Online players are invited to view this via live webcam. After choosing whether or not to make a commitment, they are dropped off in a car at the ICA building. For Steve Dixon, he mentions in his paper on Cybernetic-Existentialism that his experience of the work was highly existential, “including getting lost and fearing being mugged, and nearly (really) being hit by a car when hurrying across a street in the race against time.”
Matt Adams mentioned in his keynote that the work was concerned with the popular notion of “community” in the 1990s. In a community, you are bound by social contracts, and are “not just a bunch of people in the same place”. For Steve Dixon, this is “an unusually forceful commitment to being-for-others to emerge from an artwork“. In relation to this, according to Matt Adams, the game was an experiment about whether people would embrace that contract without any monitoring as they are given the opportunity to play with relationships in the mixed-reality space.
A parallel can be drawn with the symposium itself, for the audience and the performers are in a contract of sorts – there is an implicit understanding that no intentional disruptions would occur on the part of the audience, whilst the performers are expected to hold up their end of the stick. It was really great to see the commitment the audience and the performers and speakers had to the cause and to one another with the smoothness that the Symposium ran with. All in all, it was a delightful experience that opened my eyes to cutting edge telematic art.
Angry Women, the brainchild of Dutch artist Annie Abrahams, is a series consisting of five videos. The different videos are called ‘takes’.
In Takes 1 and 2, 12 women (24 in total) express their anger from home, in front of their webcams. Their feeds are combined into a single video projection. With no fixed duration for the performance, it went on until all the women had expressed their anger and there was a minute of silence. Not all of the women expressed their anger vocally – in Take 1, a woman in pink, in the middle, opted to stay silent, almost impassive, throughout the whole 5 and a half minutes.
In Takes 3 and 4, the sessions were timed to be exactly 12 minutes. Another way these takes differed from the previous was that the women used a single tongue in each performance (Take 3 in French and Take 4 in English). 8 women participated in Take 3, whilst 7 women participated in Take 4.
An aspect that was also noticeable was that there was a woman who was completely silent in Take 3 as well. Compared to the woman in Take 1 who didn’t make any outward expressions of emotion, she chose to express her anger in gestures such as biting her hands. This was in stark contrast to the rest of the women in the take who were outwardly vocal, their tone rising and falling in waves to the currents of their anger. Furthermore, in Take 4, there was a singular woman who was moaning and screaming whilst everyone else was talking in English. This created some auditory variety that was interesting as well.
Take 5 is also 12 minutes long, but has 9 women expressing their anger more outwardly on the interface. The section on the upper-left is totally black, so it may be slightly unclear as to whether there is a presence in that screen or not. Nevertheless, as 9 women are credited in the title screen, it can be taken that 9 women participated in the performance.
The piece was exhibited in two video projections on two perpendicular walls as part of Annie Abrahams’s show Training for a Better World at the CRAC in Sète, Southern France. It’s impact is undeniable, not just in scale, but all the more magnified by the repetition we observe in the the women’s faces.
“Abrahams’s networked performance pieces are commonplace, messy and malleable. They are about the ‘banal’ reality of everyday life, time passing by, two people temporarily crossing paths in fractured, desperate or indifferent, successful or futile attempts to communicate, to (be) together, to love – in shared presence, but also shared absence.” Source: http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1793
This work, at first glance, seemed to comment on gender, simply because all the participants were women. I researched further about whether it actually could be by looking at some of the interviews Annie Abrahams has given. Maria Chatzichristodoulou asks if Annie Abrahams considered her work gendered in any way, to which she replied she didn’t know – she was more comfortable concentrating on issues of class as she’d come from a working class family.
Angry Women undeniably works with, and in a sense, relies on, digital technology. For Annie Abrahams, the mediated intimacy – that is, intimacy that occurs through the use of machines – that occurs as a result, is “not the same as the intimacy that we experience in our flesh lives.” To her, it is neither better or worse than real life intimacy; it is just different. With her biologist background, Annie Abrahams then investigates this mediated intimacy because she is curious about the world around her, and conducts her works like experiments, setting hypotheses.
Now, a bit more on Annie Abraham’s background as a biologist, because I feel that it’s central to the way she plans and performs her work. As a farmer’s daughter, she was not allowed to study art as her parents thought that it couldn’t give her a career. Feeling that biology was most suited for her, as it was “a subject that allowed (her) to ask what was one’s position in society, and how did (she) want the world to be”, she went on to obtain a PhD in the subject. Then, having become interested in reading political literature (such as Dostoyevsky and Marx) and having her colleagues disapprove, she decided she wanted to break free of this context and pursue art. However, she did not at first, adopt the scientific methodologies we observe in her work today. Initially, she wanted to break free from everything scientific and logical, making Expressionistic paintings.
“Around 1993, I discovered complexity theory, and this was the first time that I considered certain scientific theories as relevant to my practice. I felt that complexity theory aimed to explore infinitely complex relations, rather than give finite, ‘closed’ answers to questions. But it was not until I became involved in performance practice that I realised that a lot of my work had already been using scientific methodologies in some ways.” – Annie Abrahams
So how does she employ these scientific methodologies exactly in her work?
“In fact, all of my work emanates from one big question: ‘How can we live in a world that we don’t understand?’”
Moving on, I feel that the work can be discussed better when we understand what social broadcasting is, such that we can see how this work relates to the concept. According to Randall Packer, social broadcasting is when multiple people are broadcasting simultaneously. That is, when you have these people from remote locations come together in the same space – the Third Space. Facebook Live, for example, can be considered social broadcasting as there is a little bit of that social aspect.
Angry Women can be considered a good example of social broadcasting as it takes place in a networked, shared broadcast environment (The Third Space). The participants use this to their advantage, capitalizing on and collectivizing their anger in shared screams sometimes. This is vastly different compared to how we use social media in terms of the nature of the collective activity – screaming is not what we observe everyday on Facebook – but also similar to how we use social media in the sense the women sometimes vibe off one another, much like how comment threads and reply threads are formed.
To elaborate on how the shared networked emotion in Angry Women differ from ordinary group dynamics, we refer to the Networked Conversations between Randall Packer and Annie Abrahams. Annie Abrahams elaborates on this, saying how the women in Angry Women know that they are performing, as opposed to just being angry in real life. It’s also different as Annie Abrahams explained to them beforehand that she wanted the piece to be like an ‘Angry Choir’, rising up and down, leading to collaborative behavior. She describes this dynamic as being unique to Angry Women, as she has done other pieces such as Angry Men and a mixed gender piece as well. In Angry Men, for example, she describes how three men took up the entire soundspace and the others could not contribute. It’s a curious observation, and it becomes food for thought as to why women are more accommodating in the performance of this piece.
“So instead of dwelling on the frustrations of the network connection, she finds inspiration, and perhaps more importantly, she sets up compelling situations that allow her and others to make critical observations about connection and disconnection.” – Randall Packer
In reference to the above quote, Annie Abrahams also questions the quality of the networked connections they share. Due to the limits of streaming technology at that time, it was “necessary to conduct two distinct performances, separated, in fact, by an interval of two months”. As a result of this, the pieces had varying lengths, which had the synchronisation become imperfect. I felt that this aspect made the piece very self-aware of its limitations, which is something unique to it – usually, imperfections are smoothed over, but Annie Abrahams embraces them in her enquiry.
“In times when our technological environment uses all kinds of behavioural techniques to make us uncritical users of their interfaces, it’s important to become aware of our behaviour, to test and experiment with it.” – Interview with Marc Garrett and Ruth Cathlow
It certainly allowed me to see social media interactions in a new light – they’re usually so carefully controlled and curated. In this sense, Annie Abraham’s work points to a method where we could interact on social media in a more genuine manner. However, this world where interactions are so raw and unfiltered may not be one that I would necessarily like to inhabit. Interactions we see on the videos, such as women talking over one another, already manifest in less obvious ways in social media today where commenters could choose not to respond to certain ideas a previous commenter has said, instead choosing to emphasize their own viewpoints with capital letters, for example. While they are certainly engaging with their base desires of anger, I feel like the level of self-control we exhibit on social media today is needed for civil interaction, without which the online world could descend into anarchy, possibly, especially with the lack of gatekeeping. So while I maintain that genuine, less-glamorous feelings and interactions should be expressed on social media, maybe the Annie Abraham’s way of having a lot of people do it in one go may not be practical for the everyday user. Moreover, classifying status quo as being not genuine enough could also be a disservice to it, for people share as much as they are comfortable with, and imposing a standard of genuinity could not be viable for some users to reach.
It was strange considering this work from the context of Singapore. The women in this video seem to have a lot of pent-up anger, as if they’d been holding in this depth of emotion for an extended period of time. In Singapore, I feel that women are pretty vocal with their anger, although it may be expressed in more passive aggressive ways, or online, with websites such as http://stomp.straitstimes.com/. As a Singaporean who’s lived in Singapore for my whole life, drawing from my experiences, I feel that gender equality is at a good level here, and women aren’t labelled as b**ches when they are ticked off. As a result, women here aren’t really afraid to be angry.
Therefore, if I myself had to participate in this work, I would probably be like the woman in Take 1 who didn’t show any anger, because I don’t really feel angry at anything. I let my anger out as and when I feel it, so having to conjure up feelings of anger for the express purpose of conducting a performance piece would feel forced and weird to me.
However, this is not to say that I don’t feel that the work has value as a way for the women involved to vent their frustrations. It is evident that they found it therapeutic to air all of their anger out, at least for Takes 1 and 2 where there was no fixed duration. For Takes 3 and 4, where there was a fixed 12 minute duration, some of the women could still have had some venting to do left – while this certainly changed the group dynamic and altered the experiment, I found myself questioning whether this was beneficial to the women involved.
Nevertheless, I believe all five takes hold their innate value in the fact that they’re so unfiltered and raw. We’ve talked about Digital Identity and how we tend to cultivate distinct personas when we’re online, through selectively publishing the content we post or through editing our photos with applications. Here, the women are held in a situation of No Exit where they absolutely have to express their feelings in a primal, basic manner of communication. This, I feel, is what makes the work so expressive and atypical of how we interact with others and express ourselves online. Personally, I would be uncomfortable with having my relatives and friends see me in this manner because I’ve so carefully constructed my digital identity as one that does not care too strongly about things, as one that is free and easy-going. However, maybe partaking in an experiment such as this one may be precisely what myself, and others like me, may need, as sometimes we place a lot of importance on how others see us, to the extent that we might gloss over some of our own feelings as well.
“As an artist-led group, Furtherfield has become progressively more interested in the cultural value of collaboratively developed visions as opposed to the supremacy of the vision of the individual artistic genius.”
During the lecture, Garrett makes an indirect reference to this quote when he brings up how maker culture pushes creatives out of their comfort zone. Painters need not just work with painters, or media artists with media artists. He supported this with the example of how Picasso and Braque founded Cubism by looking at each other’s work. Another example that I could think of would be how Matisse and Derain, together, formed the basis of Fauvism. He is very for the narrative that an artist cannot just be an isolated genius. As with these gigantuan founding artists of indisputably important art movements who have worked together, it is intriguing to think that DIWO does have historical roots in these movements. Today, DIWO has taken on a new life and meaning with the advancement of technology.
This technology, here, would refer to a unique creation by Furtherfield: “artware”, which are software platforms for developing art that “rely on the creative and collaborative engagement of its users”. Unique “artware” created by Furtherfield include FurtherStudio and VisitorsStudio. This essay goes on to discuss projects that have come to fruition with the agency this artware brings, and how they relate to the concept of DIWO.
Of course, artware need not be specifically limited to that which Furtherfield has created – another example that would fit the criteria of “artware” would be the website built specifically for Jenny Holzer’s Please Change Beliefs.
Please Change Beliefs had a specific software platform built especially for users to modify truisms creatively and vote on truisms they agree with; in doing so collaboratively, DIWO is also brought to mind.
Its structure was inspired to some extent by the scale-free networks of the Internet, which, the science of networks tells us, maintain high levels of connectivity regardless of size.
Image courtesy of Randall Packer
Link to post: https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/bala0043/ei-tele-stroll-a-tale-of-two-cities/
Here, the importance of the Internet and all the connectivity it has brought to us cannot be overlooked in the benefits – specifically, convenience – it has brought to DIWO. For example, the use of the internet in the Tele-Stroll micro-project, as well as Telematic Embrace project, enabled us to Do It With Others – a partner for the former, and a much larger number of 18 people for the latter – and create beautiful and innovative outputs we could not have done alone.
DIWO and Ownership
“BritArt’s dominance of the 90s UK art world-its galleries, markets and press-with a small number of high profile artists, delighted nouveau toffs but disempowered the majority of artists.”
DIWO supports the theory that there are no “supreme” artists, ala BritArt. This ties in directly to Open Source Thinking, where peer production leads to a multitude of talents working on a project, such as Linux. (See here for technological manifestations of peer production in an earlier essay).
Marc Garrett mentioned a piece that was particularly relevant to this section. Plantoid is a renewable, blockchain-based lifeform.
After scanning QR codes with mobile phones, the plant is fed with digital currency. Upon massing enough, it “enters into the reproductive stage”, in which artists physically make a plant (with instructions given). What is interesting here is that the artist does not have full control over the work – he or she follows a “contract … that stipulates the rules”. Another aspect of DIWO that we wean from this work is the concept of giving up ownership of the work.
In the same vein as its namesake, Exquisite Corpse, we continued glitching over an initial image consecutively in our groups. Here, no single person claims sole authorship over the final product; as a collaborative DIWO effort, all the group members claimed equal stake.
DIWO and the Collective Narrative
The collaboration we observe in Doing It With Others enables us to not only give up individual ownership. This collective ownership enables the co-curation of the artwork, breaking down the power relationships between artist and curators (to be discussed further in section below). What becomes a direct product of this is a collective narrative that could not have occurred with a singular person curating the work – the diversity that could not have come from one person’s thought process alone is what makes the collective narrative such a visual pleasure to look at.
The shift from material to immaterial culture, and the explosion in the rate of copying, duplicating and redistributing of cultural artefacts, means that this culture is now open to the influence of not just ‘professional’ cultural producers.
Another point that this quote brings up about the collective narrative is this narrative is now open to the vernacular as well. The Furtherfield work, Seeds from Elsewhere, is a prime illustration.
In his lecture, Marc Garrett mentioned that the project arose out of the interest in understanding the cultures of refugees living in the park. What conversations could arise? The project formed a collective narrative in the various different plants and produce grown, “contributing to a horticultural portrait of the group”. As an organization interested in grassroot culture, this project was socially conscious in being decisively inclusive – which Garrett mentions being an important quality – and not just art for the market.
DIWO and the Power Relationships
Between Artist and Viewer
VisitorsStudio, created in parallel to FurtherStudio, “gave visitors an insight into some of the artistic processes and concerns of resident artists by creating a social space online where they could experiment and learn together using some very simple audio-visual media mixing tools.”
This breaks down the hierarchical relationship between the artist and the viewer, instead, placing the role of the artist as mediator so that both artist and viewer could DIWO. By providing a creative space that connected more experienced practitioners with novices, Furtherfield supports learning on both ends. Another example of this would be Cut Piece (see here for notes on Cut Piece and DIWO).
These Warlpiri artists could not get curators and galleries to show their work in the UK, but Furtherfield worked together with them to put on a media art exhibition, a first in the UK. Here, they took over a space that showed their own artwork on their own terms, and have come to exhibit in other countries like Germany and Spain.
We, as students, get a taste of this co-curation with the Collective Body project as well. Source: https://www.flickr.com/groups/2128661@N24
DIWO and the Open Source Thinking
The fact that Furtherfield’s core activities (“of review, criticism and discussion”) have been sustained by its team, and its international group of users, on a mainly voluntary basis, truly encompasses the spirit of the open source model that I have written about previously. Indeed, the strength of peer production lies in its matching of human capital to existing information such that new information can be produced – “(exploiting) human capital as opposed to monetary capital”.
Open source encourages the opposite of this, as discussed by Randall Packer. He has written that the open source way may be viewed as a quasi-utopian form of peer production – it is amazing to realize that this utopia has actually manifested in such a tangible way in Furtherfield. It then becomes not such an unrecognizable ideal, but a reality that we are able to access.
It is even more impressive is that Furtherfield has grown from a humble network to even receiving regular core public funding for some of its work. Furtherfield holds agency, here, which is what creators (myself included, as an art student), aspire towards one day. Open source culture need not be one that is viewed as against status-quo (as it has been historically) and that status quo can even come to support it.
DIWO and the Future
It was fascinating to hear about how DIWO has been taken even further, and interpreted incredibly differently, in the Blockchain community. Marc Garrett mentions that after the major bank crash in 2008, people explored other means that were less dependent on specific economies.
A brief overview of Blockchain: Blockchain is a decentralized database secured by different servers. Now, it is used to make art as well. As a very young piece of technology (around 10 years old), Blockchain is still a mystery to many people. For comparison, Marc Garrett specifies that the Internet has been around since the 60s, whilst the World Wide Web has been around since the mid 80s. Evidently, there is much potential in Blockchain, and artists have much to explore.
Back to Blockchain and DIWO, it is incredible to see how people have come together to create entire communities. Marc Garrett mentions that in Barcelona (and other countries), 600 people have created their own country, and alternative economy with their own currency, Faircoin. This very strongly reminds us of Linux and Open Source Thinking, where undoubtedly, a number of people would have collaborated to create an entire community on their own.
He also mentions that China is setting up workshops around blockchain because of what it can do for communities – in the future, this could definitely create real alternative physical communities. In this sense, blockchain is not just seen as new economies, but as an entire Renaissance occurring, even more so because these technological tools carry with them the possibility to make art, not just money.
Marc Garrett also mentions that Furtherfield is going to work with Fair Co-op, and is thinking about making a currency for Furtherfield called the Culture-coin, purely for interaction with one another as part of Furtherfield. This is a very DIWO concept – this is about pulling everybody up with one another and creating a fairer society, and art.
During our first lesson, we added our own version of Truisms to the website by clicking on the word “Change”. My task now lay in exploring the other sections of the website. Upon entering the site, we are greeted with a truism, and a phrase: “Please Change Beliefs”.
Clicking on the truism brings us through five series of work, presented one after another, as we keep clicking on the phrase/essay at hand. We are able to identify what series the work is from from the name of the tab: truisms, living, survival, inflammatory essays, and laments. Each series also has its own unique features, from the position and color of the text to the background color. Inflammatory essays, for example, have a colored background, whilst laments are centered.
Clicking on the word “Please” brings us back to the homepage.
Clicking on the word “Beliefs” enables you to choose Truisms you agree with, which in turn are updated on a real time poll. Curiously, this is reminiscent of Twitter’s poll function, or even Instagram’s two-optioned poll function as well. Recently, users have used these functions to great popularity, with even choose-your-own-storyline type narratives being invented. This narrative invited a whopping 366,000 votes. The virality of it spurred countless fan art, reaction videos and even translations.
Clicking on the word “Change” enables us to add our own “Truisms” to a separate database, as mentioned previously.
The page turns to a list of truisms within a small, scrollable box. You, as a participant, are encouraged to modify the truism selected.
You can choose to change parts, or even all of the truism. By documenting each and every truism within an archive, Jenny Holzer has turned her site into a collaborative artwork.
“The collective narrative … leads to a synthesis of voices: forming a common thread among peers.”
Randall Packer writes that “the collective narrative … leads to a synthesis of voices: forming a common thread among peers”. Indeed, this was most striking when we view all the ways a Truism can be modified to bring out the participant’s own voice.
“While this may not be thought of as traditional narrative, … asynchronous dialogue constitutes a form of narrative that is … often playful, and multithreaded.”
I share this sentiment with Randall Packer. Even though there is an aspect of anonymity, this makes the work all the more engaging as you, as a participant, imagine who could have written what. Many of the Truisms are provocative (A BITCH NEEDS TO LEARN HER PLACE, for example). Some don’t even make sense (A A A AAAA). This huge variety in modifications is what makes this work so human, even in a virtual space. Having no rules, no bounds as to how the Truisms can be modified makes this work incredibly authentic by imparting a great deal of freedom to the participant.
“The possibilities of peer-to-peer authoring … such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and WordPress … dramatically alters the act of writing and narrative … (as it becomes a) collective activity that is highly collaborative.”
Randall Packer also writes that “The possibilities of peer-to-peer authoring … such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and WordPress … dramatically alters the act of writing and narrative … (as it becomes a) collective activity that is highly collaborative.” Comparing these softwares with “Please Change Beliefs”, similarities are that all are collaborative in nature, and use the World Wide Web. Google Docs, being more collaborative with the ability to edit, actually made me question the inability of us as participants to interact more directly with others’ truisms in this work.
It would be the only criticism I have for “Please Change Beliefs” – I personally feel that it would complement returning participants’ experiences to somehow have their modified truisms be incorporated into the initial cycles with the five series instead of being a separate archive. This could heighten the collaborative experience, but then again, Jenny Holzer was probably limited by the funding it would take to incorporate this into the code.
Randall Packer ends off with the insight that with the emergence of social media, the idea of collective narrative has become common. Platforms as Twitter, an entirely public telematic writing space (like Please Change Beliefs), has encouraged collective forms of narrative on a mass scale.
Curiously, in relation to Jenny Holzer herself’s twitter page, it’s a fascinating parallel, with the thousands of users retweeting her Truisms being akin to the “Beliefs” section of “Please Change Beliefs”, both of which involve ‘participants’ voicing their agreement with her Truisms. Retweeting and Liking a tweet then become the newer versions of the “Beliefs” section.
The ability to reply, and question, on her twitter page, echoes the “Change” section of “Please Change Beliefs” – indeed, this narrative is playful and multithreaded as well.
Jenny Holzer’s art has always been public in nature, with the examples mentioned at the start of this essay. And what is more public than the Internet? With the infinite possibilities the Internet presents, her ruthless critiquing is made all the more ruthless with the thousands of voices that have joined her. I thought that I would end off this post with the more hilarious twitter pages inspired by her.