This week I’m off to NYC for Theorizing the Web 2015. I’ll be talking about ScareMail in a presentation titled “Privacy Through Visibility: Disrupting NSA Surveillance With Algorithmically Generated ‘Scary’ Stories.” Theorizing the Web is an interdisciplinary annual conference that “brings together scholars, journalists, activists, and commentators to ask big questions about the interrelationships between the Web and society.” It’s a great group of people, and I’m looking forward to attending for the second year in a row. The panel I’m on is titled “Watched Out” and is being held at 2pm in Studio A on 17 April.
Computers Watching Movies will be part of this year’s Media Art Futures Festival in Murcia, Spain. The invitation comes from curator Pau Waelder, who has placed the work within the Data Cinema program. This program will be on view five different nights during the two week festival running from 15-30 April (see the Program for precise dates). The viewings will take place at the Filmoteca Regional.
Next week I’ll head north to give a couple invited artist talks and workshops. First is Beloit College, where I’m speaking as part of the Liability Labs Incorporated (LLI) experimental residency program run by Nicki Werner. The second is a talk and workshop at Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This invitation comes from Marc Tasman and is sponsored by the Digital Arts and Culture Program. Here’s the abstract for my talk/workshop at UWM:
Hide the Metrics and Scare the NSA! Net Art as Artistic Research
When using Facebook, why do we want more “likes” and not less, and how does this “desire for more” change what we post for our friends? How does ubiquitous NSA surveillance affect what we write in an email and to whom we send it? Artist Ben Grosser will present two recent net art works that investigate these questions. The first, Facebook Demetricator, is a web browser extension that removes all quantifications from the Facebook interface, inviting the site’s users to try the system without the numbers and to see how that removal changes their experience. The second is ScareMail, a modification of Gmail that makes all email “scary” in order to disrupt NSA surveillance. Grosser will discuss how these works function as artistic research in order to investigate the social, cultural, and political effects of software. This talk will be followed by a workshop focused on the ways net art practices can reveal new information about the user/site relationship, and how a website’s design constructs user (inter)action. Participants will be guided to brainstorm specific website manipulations, and Grosser will prototype participant ideas in order to visualize and theorize their effects.
I have a couple exhibitions/screenings opening this week.
First up is Terms of Service at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Terms of Service “explores identity, individualism and conditions people face as a result of our increasingly indexed and surveilled lives. We are interested in the psychological pressures that commercial and non-commercial monitoring create, as well as potential solutions or responses.” ScareMail is the work I’ll have in the exhibition, and the event is produced by Curatorial Studio taught by Paul Wittenbraker at GVSU. The exhibition runs from 30 March to 17 April, with openings/events on 3 April and 10 April.
Next is a one-night screening at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum in St. Augustine, FL as part of Jacket. The event is at 7pm on 2 April, and is curated/juried by Kevin Mahoney, Patrick Moser, and Julie Dickover.
There’s much more on tap for the spring (most of it in Europe); I’ll be posting about those shortly.
Last week Carnegie Mellon University design professor Aisling Kelliher talked about artificial intelligence and art on Ireland National Radio’s show Culture File. During the episode, titled “What if computers decided the Oscars?”, Kelliher engaged in some smart conversation about my work Computers Watching Movies. Amongst the questions Kelliher asks are what might movies made to please computer vision algorithms look like?
The discussion of my work starts at 2:50 in the clip, but I recommend you listen to the entire segment (about 8 minutes).
I’m happy to share that my work Computers Watching Movies has been named a top five finalist for the Arte Laguna Prize in Virtual and Digital Art. The winner of the prize will be announced during the opening ceremony on 21 March in Venice, Italy. Since it’s a finalist, Computers Watching Movies will be part of the finalist exhibition at the Telecom Italia Future Centre. Jurist and curator Domenico Quaranta will give a guided tour of the Virtual and Digital Art exhibition on 22 March at 11 am.
I am quite pleased to be the guest artist and composer at this year’s Contemporary Arts Festival at New Mexico State University. There I will join collaborators and saxophonists Rhonda Taylor and Kelland Thomas to produce the second performance of More Like This, my work for saxophones, artificial intelligence, live electronics, and participatory audience.
The performance of More Like This is just one piece in a concert of my works, both music and art. The program is:
Not Pitch (1995)
for baritone saxophone and computer-generated tape
Rhonda Taylor, baritone saxophone
mix whit (1997)
for computer-generated tape
Uninduced Approximation (1991)
for Bb trumpet and computer-generated tape
Pancho Romero, Bb trumpet
lotted ebb (1998)
for computer-generated tape
Computers Watching Movies (2013)
computationally-produced HD video and stereo audio
Touch Me Now (2014)
assembled Vine video loops with audio
More Like This (2014)
two saxophonists, artificial intelligence, live electronics, and participatory audience
Rhonda Taylor, saxophones Kelland Thomas, saxophones
The concert is Friday, 27 February, at 7:30pm (MST). Before the concert, at 6:30pm, I will give a pre-concert talk in the hall as well. In case you aren’t in New Mexico that night you can still catch the event on live stream. Watch the Facebook event page for more details as the night approaches.
I’m happy to share that ScareMail was given the Expanded Media Award for Network Culture at the 2015 Stuttgarter Filmwinter in Stuttgart, Germany. ScareMail was selected at the conclusion of the Expanded Media Festival that ran from 15-18 January at several venues in Stuttgart. An excerpt from the jury statement:
It can be used by everybody as a social tool with a real effect on the networks of surveillance, because it is successfully disabling the control systems with the exuberance of false information. ScareMail is an excellent representative of the media art practice, where software knowledge, activism and aesthetic production are tightly intertwined. It is an easy accessible poetic tool with a real political effect.
I am happy to share that ScareMail is part of the Network Culture section of the Expanded Media Festival at the 2015 Stuttgarter Filmwinter in Stuttgart, Germany. Being held from 15-18 Jan at Kunstbezirk, the festival is curated by Marcus Kohlbach. For more information, see the Stuttgarter Filmwinter online guide.
My article “What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction on Facebook”—published in the journal Computational Culture—has received a significant amount of discussion in the press. The articles include:
- The Washington Post: The (one) simple thing fueling your social media addiction
- The Atlantic: How Numbers on Facebook Change Behavior
- Huffington Post: What Happens When You Remove Facebook’s Most Popular Feature
- France Info: Comment Facebook nous transforme en comptables de notre popularité (interview with French Public Radio)
- Slate: Those Red Facebook Notifications Are What’s Driving Your Addiction
- Wired Italy: Fb, il social che crea dipendenza dai numeri: The Facebook Demetricator li nasconde
- la Repubblica: Facebook, contro la ‘febbre da like’ l’esperimento che ha nascosto notifiche e ‘Mi piace’
- Daily Mail [UK]: Could this tool cure you of Facebook addiction? Demetricator stops you analysing how popular you are on the social network
- Slate [France]: Comment les chiffres changent notre comportement sur Facebook
- Metroxpress [Denmark]: Er du blevet en slave af likes på Facebook? Sådan slipper du for dem
- Panorama [Italy]: Facebook dà dipendenza? Colpa dei numeri. Ecco come eliminarli
- Bustle: The Facebook Demetricator Extension is the Easiest Way to Enjoy Social Media Again
I am extremely pleased to share that my project Computers Watching Movies has been awarded First Prize by the VIDA Awards. The VIDA Awards “rank among the most important distinctions in the field of new media art,” and recognize projects dedicated to art and artificial life. “Over the past 15 years, has consolidated its firm commitment to defining and developing new contemporary artistic practices in the context of technological, scientific, and cultural innovation.”
VIDA said of my project:
This work invites us to rethink the reality inherited from the digital revolution and its social, cultural, and political implications. The author designed a computer vision system whose originality lies in the fact that it is applied to computer themselves rather than humans. In other words, while the system’s artificial intelligence watches selected clips from classic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Taxi Driver, a motley assortment of lines appear on the screen that map the places toward which the computer directs its gaze, synchronized with the original soundtrack. This slightly ironic project recalls the classic theories of machine consciousness in line with some of the earliest works to explore the convergence of art and artificial life.
The prize includes a cash award of 12,000 Euros. VIDA was founded by artists Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Nell Tenhaaf, and Susie Ramsay, and is supported by Fundación Telefónica out of Barcelona. This year’s jury members were Honor Harger, Jose Carlos Mariátegui, Marina MacDougall, Mónica Bello, Nell Tenhaaf, Roger Malina, and Laura Fernández Orgaz. Mónica is also VIDA’s artistic director.
I am tremendously grateful to VIDA, the jury, and Fundación Telefónica; I will use the prize money to develop my next large-scale AI-related artwork. I also want to acknowledge the work of the other finalists, including second prize winner Cecilia Jonsson.
My article “What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction on Facebook,” has just been published in the journal Computational Culture. In this text I explore how Facebook metrics prescribe sociality from both a theoretical perspective as well as through my work Facebook Demetricator. Computational Culture: a journal of software studies is “an online open-access peer-reviewed journal of inter-disciplinary enquiry into the nature of the culture of computational objects, practices, processes and structures.” The journal is edited by Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey, Olga Goriunova, Graham Harwood, and Adrian Mackenzie.
I have a number of European exhibitions and screenings in November and December of this year.
ScareMail will be part of PIKSEL 14 in Bergen, Norway. Piksel “involves participants from more than a dozen countries exchanging ideas, coding, presenting art and software projects, doing workshops, performances and discussions on the aesthetics and politics of free and open source software.” PIKSEL runs from 10-16 November, and is directed/curated by Gisle Frøysland and Maite Cajaraville.
Computers Watching Movies will be part of the New Aesthetic program of Kurzfilmfestival UNLIMITED. Curated by Johannes Duncker, the festival will run from 19-23 Nov at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany.
Finally, Computers Watching Movies will be part of Espacioenter, held at Tenerife Espascio de las Artes on the Canary Islands, Spain, from 5-7 Dec. The exhibit is curated by Montse Arbelo and Joseba Franco.
This coming Thursday, I’ll be part of a presentation and workshop at the University of Southern California. Titled Archives, Algorithms, and Art, my colleague and former advisor Kevin Hamilton and I will break the audience into small teams to brainstorm new, hypothetical and even impossible configurations of “sending” and “receiving” in the context of software-based social media streams. Borrowing techniques from research in human-computer interaction, we’ll look to produce propositional configurations of authorship, processing, and consumption that highlight how specific visions of self and society end up encoded in everyday media platforms.
The talk is part of USC’s Visions and Voices series, and is being hosted by Tara McPherson of the interdivisional Media Arts + Practice PhD program (iMAP) within the School of Cinematic Arts.
My fall is busy with exhibitions in Europe. I detail the October exhibitions below and will post about November/December in a separate post.
ScareMail is being exhibited as part of Reality Check at eFlux in Udine, Italy. Reality Check—curated by Filippo Lorenzin—is a project based on “the urgency of a reconnaissance towards the phenomenon of convergence between artistic and sociological reflections compared to some of the most controversial issues related to the unfolding of the web, understood as a cultural phenomenon and daily practice, individual and mass.” Reality Check runs from 4 October to 15 November. See the eFlux website for more information, as well as the project’s Tumblr and Facebook page.
ScareMail will also be part of the #nfcdab digital.art.biennale in Wroclaw, Poland, curated by Dominik Podsiadly. See the project homepage and an article about it on Hiro. The event runs from 3-5 October.
And finally, as I posted a few days ago, Computers Watching Movies is in 11 different screenings across several locations in Cardiff, Wales, UK as part of Outcasting: Fourth Wall.