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<nettime> Josephine Bosma, Mediated Remains (Piet Zwart catalogue essay)
Florian Cramer on Wed, 4 Jul 2007 09:06:12 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Josephine Bosma, Mediated Remains (Piet Zwart catalogue essay)


[This essay was written by Josephine Bosma for the graduation show
catalogue of the Media Design M.A. programme of the Piet Zwart
Institute, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam. The show will open on
Saturday, July 7th, 15:00 + 21:00, at WORM, Achterhaven 148, 
3024 RC Rotterdam <http://www.wormweb.nl/agenda.php?id=1002> -F]


Mediated Remains: hidden bits of ourselves


The Human System

Technology is part of the body. Humans have been able to sustain
themselves in the world by incorporating bits and pieces of that
same world into their own expanding physical system (the monkey and
his stick are one). A celebration of technology is a celebration of
ourselves. A critique of technology is a critique of ourselves. An
investigation of technological systems and errors is an investigation
of the way we recreate and handle ourselves. The 'body' can be
perceived as a collection of systems and fragments of systems. It is
at the same time dispersed and whole. We are experiencing a continuous
but fruitful fragmentation and recombination.

The 2007 graduation show of the media design students of the Piet
Zwart Institute seems to revolve around one theme, even if it was not
consciously chosen. All works show a fascination for obscurity, for
the hidden, for the disappearing, for the superfluous. The graduates
explore drifting fragments of ourselves in our media environment.
These fragments are sometimes part of hidden processes and at other
times they are (remnants of) unwanted objects: trashed bits. A few of
the projects are not based on the obviously hidden. These projects
reveal the delicate obscurity inherent to old and new taboos: from the
acceptance of physical death to the 'death' of the author. All works
deconstruct or question the wholeness of the image. Our expectations
of technology, and our exchanges with it, reflect not only simple
needs and desires, but they also reflect value systems. It should
be quite safe to say that one of the most dominant drives behind
technological developments is a quest for perfection. Perfection is
always a highly subjective experience, yet throughout history it has
mostly been connected to the divine, to the whole, to the absolute.
Like we have projected perfection outside of our messy, mortal bodies
onto a divine power, we have projected a similar higher power onto our
willful material attempts to a state of perfection through technology.
The promise of perfection has even become one of the most persistent
slogans in present day advertising. We can have the perfect hair, the
perfect smile, the perfect car, the perfect phone and the perfect
software solution for your company. Our relationship with technology
has almost become a matter of faith.



In Praise of Noise

In the beginning of the 20th century the Futurists exclaimed a loud,
naïve yet energetic praise of technology. This art movement seemed
to believe in the technological triumph of man over nature. Filippo
Marinetti writes an ecstatic piece about the car in his famous
Futurist Manifesto: "We are already living in the absolute, since
we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed". The Futurists
glorified technology through practically all art disciplines: from
architecture and theatre to painting and music. Marinetti's Futurist
colleague Russolo invented a new kind of musical instrument, an
instrument to create noise, the 'intonarumori', which was to be
more in tune with modern life then violins or pianos could ever be.
It even had to create an appreciation of the sounds of war. Was it
their glorification of war and violence, which made John Cage write
his 4'3'', 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, in 1952? It does not
matter, for both Russolo's manifesto The Art of Noises and Cage's
4'33'' opened the musical ear to the previously non-musical, to
machinic noise and environmental sound as music.

Noise is always transgressive and as such it is part of the obscure.
Even in contemporary music, in which it is largely accepted and
perceived as an inextricable part of a track or song, loud or
dissonant sounds are still recognizable as noise. Noise cannot be
safe. Noise is accepted as music, but it is still an outsider,
a polluter, a sign of dissidence and discordance. Much like the
ultimate state of perfection, the divine, the ultimate noise
equals the experience of near death. The ultimate in noise is that
of white static: the death of the televised image. Whereas the
Futurists created music that more or less celebrates technological
productivity, Piet Zwart graduate Nancy Mauro-Flude seems to pay
homage to its neglected, inescapable imperfection. She has built
her own noise instruments from trash, to be used in her performance
art. Performance art is noise by many standards (as art is often
perceived as superfluous in itself and performance is the most
fleeting form of it), yet in the environment of media art it tends
to represent the source of all technological imperfection: the body.
Nancy Mauro-Flude's "breakcorenoise- performance" 'Paraphernalia' is
a temporary (re-) combination of dance and noisy, trashy and poetic
fragments.

The transgressive and dissonant qualities of noise make it attractive
for so-called alternative music cultures. Noise in that case
represents criticism and rejection of commercial and mainstream music
cultures. Andreea Carnu's project 'Incoreporated' is a pr company
for the punk and hardcore music community. She combines contemporary
research (in this case statistics retrieved from myspace) with
personal consultations with musicians in order to make 'hardcore'
tailored business plans for punk bands, for whom a dedication to noise
apparently can make them loose touch with reality altogether. Carnu
seems to want to create not just a commercial enterprise, but also a
monument and ode to the hardcore punk, counter-cultural lifestyle.

Noise represents the fallable physical source of technologies. It
reminds us of our most basic self, of our imperfect body, of illness
and death. The imperfect, mortal body is but a faint echo in our
mediated environment. We have become nearly numb to images and news
of death and disaster in far away countries. Yet as mediation starts
invading every aspect of our own lives we loose a sense of intimacy
with our loved ones too. This is what Audrey Samson's 'Spectres?' is
about. She recorded several personal stories about death for us. We
have to listen to them standing at a crowded bar, with headphones on.
This experience is moving and embarrassing at the same time. Death
is carefully edited out of our lives. The dead and stories of death
have turned into electronic ghosts that we can turn off and switch
on again, like in for example John Jesurun's 1986 award winning play
about a boy that gets trapped in a cinematic projection: Deep Sleep.
In western culture only two things equal death in their transgressive
qualities: sex and violence. Strangely enough depictions of sex are
often censored more strictly then those of violence. The orgasm is
sometimes called 'the small death'. Sex and orgasm in particular are a
threat to the quest for the perfect, whole body. In the digital domain
several tools have been released that are supposed to automatically
cleanse our sexual experience. Dominik Bartkowski's project with
the provocative title 'Bareback' takes these tools and turns their
purpose around. Instead of filtering the most sensitive, 'bare' sexual
imagery, the filter becomes an aesthetic tool, creating special visual
effects. Instead of accepting the morality of the filter, it reveals
the dubious logic behind it. Bartkowski is critical of the trend
towards automated filtering. The definition of noise is often too
subjective and temporal to be left to a machine.



Defragging Culture

There are also other trails through the static. The digital terrain
is layered, logical, but 'flexible'. We create distinctions and
rules in this environment that are by no means demanded by its
structure. We tend to disregard the importance of what we choose to
leave out (and what we can only hide from sight). As we develop our
physical selves in this further mediated environment (as in Katherine
Hayles' posthuman) we accumulate a huge amount of technological and
cultural debris in our trail, which is just as telling about us as our
'official', neatly raked path is. In the digital age the amount of
hastily discarded trash and obscured technological traces has grown
exponentially.

This explosion of technical, cultural and social traces might be a
nightmare for authorities, but they offer a radically fertile ground
for all kinds of explorations. The fecundity of our current media
environment is almost poisonous in its strength. It is because of
this that we witness an explosion of all kinds of play with existing
digital structures (like SecondLife, Google or social software such as
MySpace). Artists and designers are tapping into the boiling sources
of our information flows and they find a huge amount of superfluous,
hidden, 'cached', filtered, forgotten or trashed material to toy with.
This is the new wealth: a simultaneous, indistinguishable production
of culture and cultural sources.

In 1998 the american artist Perry Hoberman presented an installation
called 'Systems Maintenance' at the Rotterdam based institution for
unstable media V2. In this installation the audience was invited to
allign a set of furniture in physical space with its copy in digital
space, the result of which could be followed realtime via a projection
on the wall. This deceivingly simple work revealed its magic when
interacting with it. It turned out to be very, very difficult to
allign the apparently identical objects in the two different worlds.
Frustration and despair grew by the second. 'Systems Maintenance'
was a brilliant combination of poetic and conceptual gestures. I
was reminded of it when seeing Walter Langelaar's project 'TODO
(Tangled_Object_Description_Overview)'. Langelaar uses 3D object
material from Second Life which is 'mixed' with a representation
of the WORM building (in which the Media Design graduation show
takes place) taken from Google Earth. The new virtual structure
that is created this way is then 'collided' with the original
building. Differences are emphasized by adding them to the original
building physically, by "perforating" the real space with virtual
architecture. Whereas Hoberman lets the audience actively experience
the awkward split between physicality and activity in real and virtual
environments, Langelaar chooses a more subtle approach. Much like Jan
Robert Leegte, just like Langelaar originally a sculptor, he creates a
sense of estrangement by literally placing virtual objects outside of
the digital grids into the real world. If Hoberman is skeptical of our
new environments, Leegte and Langelaar experience it much more as a
room for play and surprise.

The mathematical structure of the internet, despite the human
landscape created in it, simply begs for systematic and generative
art practices to explore it. Like traditional sculptors will see a
lump of clay or wood and feel the possible structures inside of it,
artists working with the net see connections and metastructures most
of us are blind to. Already 8 years ago the first net art generators
started to appear. The most (in)famous one is the one created by
german artist Cornelia Sollfrank, whose 'net.art generator' was part
of a larger project called 'Female Extensions'. Sollfrank is still
exploring the legal consequences of her 'net.art generator' today,
since she stumbled upon possible lawsuits when creating exhibitions
of it. Piet Zwart graduate Marc de Bruijn has now built a web site
generator, a work entitled 'This website is under construction'. De
Bruijn is very critical of web design and created his generator as an
ironic statement on hypes and fashions, such as the 'web 2.0' buzz.
His software includes the option to create four different aesthetics:
the aesthetic of the amateur, the aesthetic of web 2.0, the corporate
design aesthetic and that of graphic design. By turning these design
clichés into caricatures he forces an escape from failing web design,
and 'teases out' a new approach.

Sometimes caricatures can be hard to recognize. The most subtle form
of satire is the one in which the subject in question does not really
notice he or she is being ridiculed, or responding to the joke would
be more damaging then the joke itself. One such work is a relatively
unknown work from 1997 by the artist Vuk Cosic: 'Mira'. 'Mira' shows
a picture of the wife of Slobodan Milosovic, the late president of
Serbia. Cosic calls Mira Milosovic "the cannibal" in one of his
texts on the mailing list nettime. The audience can choose different
flowers to put into Mira's hair. Mira Milosovic was known to wear
flower corsages, a habit that rather contradicted her bad reputation.
Shahee Ilyas has created a similar ironic tool, which generates frames
for portraits of presidents and other rulers of countries. 'Framing
Leaders' uses statistics of various sites to track the freedom of
press in a country and the length of reign of its leader. The data
then are used to generate more or less ornamental frames around the
picture of a particular leader. The heavier and more pompous the frame
is, the less democratic is the depicted leader.

Reading into data, interpreting information, has become the new
challenge, and not just for marketeers and authorities. Most of this
reading and interpreting, like Ilyas' work, is done automatically.
It is virtually impossible nowadays to surf around the web without
enabling your browser to accept cookies for instance. Cookies gather
information about Internet users. They are relatively invisible, only
showing themselves in almost hidden directories on your harddrive.
Andrea Fiore developed a plug in for the Firefox browser that allows
the user to do a bit of countersurveillance: cookies are tracked
and the information about them gathered in an online database. The
'info-cloud' that is constructed this way maps the use and spread of
cookies, enabling a view of the extent of for instance ad campaigns. A
different view of the Internet then unfolds.



Delicious Pre-Decompositions

We are witnessing a new form of recombination of materials that bears
resemblance to earlier forms like collage, quotation, citation,
assemblage, but which is more evident, more inescapable, due to
changed technological parameters. Writer and DJ Kodwo Eshun described
this situation in relation to music and sampling in an interview
published in his book 'More Brilliant Than The Sun', already in 1998:
"The idea of quotation and citation, the idea of ironic distance, that
doesn't work, that's far too literary. That assumes a distance which
by definition volume overcomes." The sheer volume of technological
bits, scraps and products that surrounds us and the simple means to
re-interpret, re-arrange and re-use them almost within the blink of an
eye is turning cultural production into a form of cultural scavenging.

The fragmentation of culture, due to new technologies and also due to
sheer volume of information, is seldom represented through 'old' media
such as books. Experiments are scarce and often unsuccessful. New
publishing techniques, especially publishing on demand, slightly erode
the illusion of completeness of the book. Publishing on demand often
refers to single or few prints of a specific book. Like unprinted
publications however, the book now becomes personalized, and is
created from unique, individual choices by the reader.

In 2003 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo hosted an exhibition
about net.art called 'Written in Stone'. This exhibition had a unique
catalogue, which visitors could assemble on the spot by choosing texts
on a computer, printing them and having them bound. The catalogues
even had an ISBN number. This years graduation show of the Piet Zwart
has a similar catalogue. It is the graduation project of one of its
students: Jorrit Sybesma. 'Design Paradigm Shifts' allows for the
audience to choose an individualized catalogue. There are two options:
a simple, basic, informative catalogue or an elaborate, individually
adjusted catalogue. The latter contains unique, specially generated
pages of the work of each artist. The pages are not bound into a
traditional book, but presented as loose leaves in an envelope that
accentuates each individual gift. What better way then to present this
exhibition of fragments, scraps, traces, bits and noises?


Josephine Bosma, Amsterdam, June 2007




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