Category: Research

Research Critique: Hasan Elahi – Tracking Transience 2.0

In this work, Elahi presents us with a website initially showing us his exact whereabouts through the use of GPS tracking on the bottom half of the page and a photo on the top half.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.43.04 AM

As we can see from this screenshot, the GPS map also includes the day, date, year, time and time zone. The photo is more ambiguous; we can only assume due its relation to the GPS map that it has been taken at the same time and place.

The context of this work is a reaction of the artist to being monitored by the FBI as a suspected terrorist. He was actually stopped at the airport and interrogated.

“To prove his whereabouts, Elahi showed them his Palm PDA, a device that yielded enough information — from calendar notes of appointments and classes he teaches at Rutgers University — to placate his interrogators.

But shaking off the feds would not be easy. In the months after the first round of questioning, the FBI subjected Elahi to more interviews and to a lie-detector test.” – Dawson, J. 2007, May 12. The Washington Post.

Elahi thus began documenting his actions and locations to track himself; in this way he is creating alibis for himself and by publicly posting this information, mocks the FBI’s efforts to trace him. Elahi himself said, “”I’ve decided that if the government wants to monitor me that’s fine. But I could do a much better job monitoring myself than anyone else.”

The website then refreshes and an image now appears on screen. I noticed that there are different variations to these images, as shown in the screenshots below:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.45.34 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.45.54 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.46.19 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.51.25 AM

Most of the time, an image simply appears with no text at all. However, in some cases there is a time/date/location or other information. The images constantly refresh and change, and clicking on an image causes the page to load a whole grid of images:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.45.45 AM

I believe that the images have been tagged in some way, because sometimes the images shown have very similar subject matter, such as this:

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.46.27 AM

However, due to the ambiguous method of navigating the website, I could not find a consistent way to find a set of photo or a single photo of a particular subject, for example food.

As a reactionary piece of work, I think that the artist has conceptually outwitted his perpetrators. The use of GPS location mapping and his meticulous recording of his daily activities serve to negate the intentions of the government in tracking him. The simple and clean presentation of the website also credits the artists’ aesthetics. In fact, every individual photo gives a sense of candidness; they are not staged or presented in a particular manner, they represent the nature of ‘documentary realism’ (Dixon, S. 2007. “Webcams: The subversion of Surveillance”, p 443, Digital Performance, 2007)

However, I also feel that the artist has left some gaps that makes the work a bit too flimsy. For one, there is no way for us to know whether the GPS is tracking him, or whether the photos are taken by him. In essence, what is crucially missing in the work is the presence of the artist himself. He could also, for example, take many photos of the same place and simply upload them on different days. Another issue with his execution of the piece is the lack of information provided. As I mentioned above, not all the photos come with the date/time/location which leave some doubt. The work gives a sense of ‘liveness’, but it is not ‘live’.

I assume that the artist has deliberately left some aspects of the work ambiguous, because after all the work itself is questioning the ambiguous nature of the FBI’s tracking methods and hows and whys they suspected him as a terrorist. This work then invites us to question him; is he telling us the whole story or just what he wants us to see?

Research Critique: Rosa Menkman – “The Collapse of PAL”

“His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the Angel of history.” – Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

Rosa Menkman in her work “The Collapse of PAL” shows us the Angel of History (as described by Walter Benjamin) reflecting on the PAL signal and its termination. This audio-visual performance presents to us a cold, jagged visualization of the silent termination of the PAL signal in favor of the DVB signal.
[vimeo 12199201 w=500 h=375]

The Collapse of PAL from Rosa Menkman on Vimeo.

The above video is the  “Render of part one of the Collapse of PAL (Eulogy, Obsequies and Requiem for the blue plains of phosphor).” The title is rather abstract to me, but I guess that this is just an excerpt and the original video is 30 minutes long. I did, however, find a performance version on Youtube:

The performance (and the video) plays out a narrative, using Walter Benjamin’s description of the Angel of History to verbalize the thoughts of the Angel about the PAL signal. The nature of the Angel is such that it wants to save the PAL signal, to preserve it, but progress in the form of a storm is too strong for the Angel to fight against. Hence the PAL signal is simply rendered obsolete, left behind in the landscape of the past.

Menkman continues describing the narrative on her blog, saying

“However, the Angel of History has to conclude that while the PAL signal might be argued death, it still exists as a trace left upon the new, “better” digital technologies. PAL can, even though the technology is terminated, be found here, as a historical form that newer technologies build upon, inherit or have appropriated from. Besides this, the Angel also realizes that the new DVB signal that has been chosen over PAL, is different but at the same time also inherently flawed.”

I enjoy how the narrative is continuously moving together with the landscapes on the screen. It’s as if we were being taken on some kind of time-travelling journey, moving through the years with the Angel as we contemplate the history of PAL.

I think that the entire performance comes together very cohesively to create a chilling and rather nostalgic piece of work. Something I particularly liked (even though Menkman admitted to making some mistakes) were the typos made during the performance. I’m not sure whether they were deliberate – I initially thought they were – until I read her description below the Youtube video. However, these mistakes just seemed to echo the “inherent flaws” of the PAL and DVB signals. They also served to create more suspense during the piece.

Another aspect is the sounds used during the video; the build-up in the beginning sets the cold tone of the video, and it is pierced with sharp screeches and deep, mysterious booms. Throughout the performance there is also always some buzzy fuzzy background noise which I feel adds more to the suspenseful aspect of the work.

I also liked how Menkman used two screens in her performance to compare PAL and DVB. The glitching was really similar for much of the performance, but eventually the PAL screen was almost unreadable.

Overall, there were many aspects of the work which captivated me. I particularly enjoyed the narrative and the sounds. I think that the work serves to show us the relentless advancement of technologies, each building upon the ruins of the previous ones. It made me think of the number of times I myself have witnessed the destruction of older technology, yet completely disregarded it because I was so focused on the new-ness and novelty of the new technology,

Research Critique: Paul Sermon – Telematic Dreaming

“…our sense of reality is fragmented and juxtaposed: a remix of relationships, images, and memories.” – Packer, R., “The Third Space”

“Telematic Dreaming” by Paul Sermon succinctly presents this notion of the third space. The work consists of 2 beds in different locations, one which is blue-screened and another for the participant to experience the work. The artist lies on the blue-screened bed, where his image is captured live and video projected onto the second bed. It is with this image which the participant interacts with. Sermon invites his audience to lie on the bed and interact with him. Pre-recorded imagery is also projected onto the participant’s bed, creating different textures and shapes. At the same time, another camera captures video of the participants bed and plays it on a screen, reinforcing the idea of people interacting in a different space; the third space.

The artist, Paul Sermon, on his bed

View of the participants bed with projection of the artist

View of the participants bed with projection of the artist

This video documents the work:
[vimeo 44862244 w=500 h=375]

Telematic Dreaming by Paul Sermon (1993) from V2_ on Vimeo.

This video illustrates the work where the artist is not present; viewers are invited to take his place on the blue-screened bed.

This work really foresaw the use of technology for long-distance communication, especially for maintaining relationships. The bed, an intimate piece of furniture, becomes a physical incarnation of the shared space between the people. Furthermore, in allowing the participant to see himself/herself on a screen with the image of the artist, Sermon effectively toyed with their sense of reality.

I found that it was particularly interesting to watch how people would respond to the moving image of the artist. Nowadays, we are used to seeing videos that try to alter our sense of reality – for example 3D movies – but I assume it was rather novel in 1993. When the artist moves his hand toward the participant, there’s always some sort of reaction, even though the participant knows that it’s just an image. I think this demonstrates the visual nature of us humans, in how it can overrule our logical thinking.

Overall, I think that this work still maintains its value after 2 decades – I feel that although the presentation of the work may have remained almost the same, its meaning has evolved over time. Not because of the work, but because of the people. As Randall Packer wrote, “But most startling is the fact that the third space is simply an integral fact of everyday life in the 21st century. (Packer, R)” Instead of introducing people to an intimate third space, “Telematic Dreaming” now also has the power to remind people of the distinction between the spaces we inhabit.

Research Critique: The Pirate Cinema, Nicolas Maigret

“In the context of omnipresent telecommunications surveillance, “The Pirate Cinema” makes the hidden activity and geography of Peer-to-Peer file sharing visible.” – The Pirate Cinema

This quote, taken from the abstract written on the website of the artwork, sums up pretty much exactly what we see in the work. It is truly an amazing piece of art, one which uncovers and presents to viewers the invisible network connections happening every second all around the world. As someone who has used torrents before, this work really fascinated me and got me thinking about two different perspectives of torrenting; one from the perspective of the user, and the other from the perspective of the producer of the original work.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.29.51 PM

There are 3 main segments in the website, each presenting a different form of the work. The first is the installation of the work. The setup consists of 3 projectors, projecting live-streamed, intercepted data of torrents. Also included is the information of the users – their countries and their IP addresses are shown at the top of each screen. After watching the entire video on the website, I was still hungry for more. The torrents are ever-changing, each scene not more than a second long. This makes it feel as if I were watching snippets of a film – just teasers, without the complete picture. It was also fascinating because I could recognize some scenes as being part of a TV series or movie that I had watched. The quality of the scenes also evoke a sense of a poor quality or lagging stream which gave me a minor headache actually, adding to the sense of claustrophobia of data.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.30.40 PMThe next segment of the website is an online version of the work. Anyone is now able to view the work, live, on their computers. My first thought was something like, “Wow, now I’m seeing what other people are sharing REAL TIME”, and I was really amazed. I realized that I could actually be involved in the work if I wanted to, all I had to do was download a torrent. This ability to visualize the data being transferred is more than just showing who is downloaded what; it is showing us how the media itself works.

“With, we intend to engage a full social and artistic agenda that stretches across disciplinary, geographical, and cultural boundaries, exploring real-time interaction and dialogue between artists, performers, viewers and audience-participants.” – The NetArtizens Project

At this point, I already feel that this work parallels the ideas of Using data, the artist has managed to achieve a work which spans the entire globe, creating a dialogue between everyone involved, and anyone who wants to be involved.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.34.49 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.35.20 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.36.08 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 3.37.53 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 10.19.20 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 10.19.35 PM












This series of screenshots are taken from the third segment of the website; this one details the performance version of the work. In it, the artist covers a total of 7 acts. These acts provide a context to the torrent data presented in the work. He talks about the different media (TV shows, movies, music, porn, etc.) being torrented around the world, the different ways in which users label the torrents, and the copyright infringement case between Metallica and Napster, among other things. It revealed alot more about this hidden world of torrents and gave interesting bits of information to think about while viewing the work.

After viewing the installation and the online version, I felt that the video of the performance version was a really neat way to round things off. It provided interesting insights into how the world of torrents work and the way people differentiate between torrents. More than that, it showed me the astounding amount of artistic work available to everyone that without torrents, would probably remain undiscovered and unseen by most of us. To me, this means that the torrent world gives us much more than we can imagine, but at the same time takes away alot from the artists who create the work. I personally would like to see a kind of compromise between the two, but it’s hard to imagine how that would happen.


Research Critique – Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs

This interactive web artwork mainly invites users to modify truisms provided by the artist. When the user clicks on the word change, he is given the main list of truisms from which he can choose any one to modify. His modified version then goes to an alternative list. The topics of these truisms range from love to murder, encapsulating a wide spectrum of comments upon which users are free to change any or all parts of them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.14.40 PM

While there is a slight learning curve on how to navigate the site, I eventually recognized the different parts to it and the links between them. There are essentially 5 main sections to the site: the Truisms, the Inflammatory Essays, the Living, the Survival and the Lament sections. Of these, the truisms, living and survival sections are similar in style, containing just a line or two and the inflammatory essays and lament sections containing passages. The site cycles from truisms to lament sections, switching between sections at seemingly random points. The home page shows a truism, and three words, “Please change beliefs”. Clicking on either of these 3 words will redirect the user to something different. I found that it was not immediately clear that the site will automatically cycles between the sections, and indeed it took me some time to figure out that there were 5 different sections. Each section has its own characteristic, from the layout of the text, the background colour, and sometimes a video is included, such as this: abuse

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.15.20 PM

Changing the truisms is only one part of the work. If the user clicks on the word ‘BELIEFS’, he is also able to ‘vote’ for which truisms he agrees with, and the results are updated accordingly, showing how many people agree with which truism.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.14.55 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.15.10 PM

Looking at the alternative list of truisms generated by the changes made by all the users, I could also see how people used the truisms differently, each edit showing how different people are able to modify the truisms to create their own truisms. In doing so, I realized that they were all communicating anonymously in the ‘virtual space’, providing insights into their own personal beliefs and thoughts. It almost seems like a global, public game of ‘exquisite cadaver’, whereby the truisms are taken apart and put together with new elements, forming a new, unique truism.

In many ways this work serves to illustrate that what is true for someone may not necessarily be as true for someone else. The thought-provoking truisms and passages sometimes seem to form their own narrative, each hyperlink bringing the user into a new direction. I think that if the public’s modified truisms could somehow be incorporated into this cycle, it would enrich the experience for both new and returning members of the virtual public.

How might the open source system of sharing and collective narrative be a creative inspiration and approach for artists?

For artists, the open source system is one which allows a better mode of communication, a freely available and vast source of inspiration, as well as a platform upon which they may easily share their own works. The scale in which artists are enabled to reach people and fellow artists have already resulted in numerous new creative works, for example, Kit Galloway & Sherrie Rabinowitz’ “Hole in Space”, which allowed people in New York to see other people in Los Angeles in real-time, and vice versa.

In contemporary times, artists now have access to millions of people’s thoughts, opinions and comments thanks to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These platforms facilitate a shared and often spontaneous collective narrative, each post organised through tags and hashtags. This form of collective narrative can roughly be seen in Douglas Davis’ 1994 “World’s Longest Collaborative Sentence”, where the artist invited the online public to compose a single sentence collaboratively.

The open source system provides the artist with tools to reach out to the public, to invite them to interact and communicate, as well as a huge repository of individuals’ ideas and thoughts from which the artist may draw inspiration from. In this way the open source system could be a creative inspiration and approach for artists.