Digital Art and Culture 2012

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Artificiality

I’m not sure what’s going on in my brain, but for some reason a Digital Art and Culture lecture reminded me of a film starring Tom Cruise again. I’m not that much of a fan of mr Cruise, but I do love one of the films he’s starring in: Vanilla Sky.

Vanilla Sky is what some people would call a “mindfuck movie”. It fits in the same category as films like Donnie Darko, American Beauty, The Butterfly Effect and Memento: all of the mentioned films have strange storylines and can be difficult to follow. The story is about rich playboy David Aames, who is in a friends-with-benefits relationships with wannabe singer Julianna Gianni. At a party, he is introduced to a girl named Sofia, with whom he falls madly in love. Julianna gets jealous and emotionally instable, and attempts to kill herself and David by crashing her car.

This is where the confusion begins. When David wakes up, his face is more or less ruined by the car accident. It takes a while for him to go back to having a social life, but when he does, he hooks up with Sofia. They’re happy together, but David starts suffering from nightmares, and at some point starts confusing these nightmares with reality. He ends up confusing Sofia with Julianna and accidentally kills her.

Nothing in David’s life seems to make sense anymore. This changes when, during a session with his therapist, David sees a television commercial for the so-called “Life Extension” company. He and his therapist decide to go to the Life Extension office to look for answers. When they arrive there, it turns out that David has signed a contract with Life Extension. The company turns out to be specialized in cryonic suspension: freezing people who have died in order to wake them up at some point in the future, when there’s a proper medical treatment for whatever killed them. In the “real world”, David has died, and he has been able to program his own dreams during his cryonic sleep. He has never had a serious relationship with Sofia, but hasn’t killed her in the real world either.

The saddest moment of the film for me had nothing to do with David’s life story. It were a couple of lines spoken by David’s therapist, Curtis McCabe. He is sure he’s real, and if David decides to go back to the real world, he’ll stop existing.

Though this film has nothing to do with androids and the like, it has everything to do with what’s real and what’s fake.It managed to really touch me.

- Marleen

Artificiality

It’s funny to see how people are intrigued by the idea of artificial life and existence. We would all like the idea of having technique that looks so much like us that we cannot even see the difference between what is real and what not. But on the other hand, we are scared to death by the very same idea. What happens when we cannot control creatures like that, when they take over planet earth and kill all people etc. Science-fiction and futuristic action movies play nice games with this fact. Robots and cyborgs are what makes us very nervous and very curious at the same time. 

Creatures like that are what we call ‘abjects’. They aren’t actual objects anymore, because human want to control objects and those creatures aren’t controlable anymore. They seem to create a whole new kind of life, in which they exist themselves. On the other hand, they also aren’t actual subjects yet. They (mostly) haven’t got the ability to think for themselves or make choices that can ruin the earth for sure. (they can do that in the movies of course, but in real life, nothing like that has ever occured if you ask me). So we are dealing with abjects, creatures by which we are intrigued, but at the same time, they are making us very uncomfortable. 

I myself like the idea of abjects very much. They are somewhere inbetween, not knowing who they really are, in fact, nobody knows what they actually are, because we often cannot make the proper distinctions anymore. It can even refer to the notion of identity at this point. Even though the poor creature cannot think for himself, we want to put a label on it (and we do; cyborg or robot), without taking notice of actual conventional identities which are known in real life. We could’ve called them ‘Toby’ or ‘Henk’ for example, it’s interesting to see we don’t think of them as a subject and don’t name them like we do with subjects, but we’d very much like to see them become subjects. It’s a bit confusing…

- Anne
(on the lecture ‘artificiality’ - May 22nd). 

Us Dutchmen think we’ve finally come up with a talent show concept that’s different from all the others. The Voice of Holland treats it auditioners like no other talent show, and the show has attracted attention worldwide. People seem to love the “fair chance” the candidates are getting.

The idea is this: talent scouts cross the land in search for promising musicians, who are then invited to the audition rounds of the show. In the audition round, a four-man jury consisting of musical professionals has to decide whether or not they want a certain participant on their team. Each member of the jury will coach a team of singers, and one of those singers – and therefore one coach – will eventually win. During the auditions, the jury doesn’t get to see the participants; when they’re choosing for a certain candidate, they’ll have no idea what their possible future pupil will look like. If they’re impressed by a certain voice, they get the chance to turn their chair around. When more than one coach decides to turn around, participants get to choose which one of them he or she would like most as a coach.

This seems like a fair way of doing auditions, since the appearance of the aditioner doesn’t play as big as a role. In shows like Idols and The X-Factor, attractive people often get the benefit of the doubt, even when their singing isn’t perfect. This show concept should rule that out.

I’ve watched the show a couple of times, and there’s one thing that keeps bugging me about it. It often happens that when a coach turns their chair and comes to face an attractive participant, the coach will at the end of the performance make a positive remark about their appearance. The coaches keep saying things like “your voice is wonderful, but now that I’ve turned around I can see you’re absolutely stunning, so I’d love to have you on my team.” For some reason, that sounds like a peculiar thing to say when you’re a coach and jury member in a show that claims to be purely about talent, and not just about looks. If we want to keep these talent shows completely fair, maybe we should have the candidates performing behind a fancy folding screen until after they’ve won.

- Marleen 
(on the lecture ‘Celebrity Culture’ - May 08)

An open letter to Washington from Artists and Creators

neil-gaiman:

We, the undersigned, are musicians, actors, directors, authors, and producers. We make our livelihoods with the artistic works we create. We are also Internet users.

We are writing to express our serious concerns regarding the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

As creative professionals, we experience copyright infringement on a very personal level. Commercial piracy is deeply unfair and pervasive leaks of unreleased films and music regularly interfere with the integrity of our creations. We are grateful for the measures policymakers have enacted to protect our works.

We, along with the rest of society, have benefited immensely from a free and open Internet. It allows us to connect with our fans and reach new audiences. Using social media services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, we can communicate directly with millions of fans and interact with them in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

We fear that the broad new enforcement powers provided under SOPA and PIPA could be easily abused against legitimate services like those upon which we depend. These bills would allow entire websites to be blocked without due process, causing collateral damage to the legitimate users of the same services - artists and creators like us who would be censored as a result.

We are deeply concerned that PIPA and SOPA’s impact on piracy will be negligible compared to the potential damage that would be caused to legitimate Internet services. Online piracy is harmful and it needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of censoring creativity, stifling innovation or preventing the creation of new, lawful digital distribution methods.

We urge Congress to exercise extreme caution and ensure that the free and open Internet, upon which so many artists rely to promote and distribute their work, does not become collateral damage in the process.

Respectfully,

  • Aziz Ansari
  • Kevin Devine, Musician
  • Barry Eisler, Author
  • Neil Gaiman, Author
  • Lloyd Kaufman, Filmmaker
  • Zoë Keating, Musician
  • The Lonely Island
  • Daniel Lorca, Musician (Nada Surf)
  • Erin McKeown, Musician
  • MGMT
  • Samantha Murphy, Musician
  • OK Go
  • Amanda Palmer, Musician (The Dresden Dolls)
  • Quiet Company
  • Trent Reznor
  • Adam Savage, Special Effects Artist (MythBusters)
  • Hank Shocklee, Music Producer (Public Enemy, The Bomb Squad)
  • Johnny Stimson, Musician

(Source: stopthewall.us)

Lately, filesharing over the internet has been the subject of many discussions. Worldwide, bills like SOPA, ACTA and PIPA have been proposed, that were supposed to knock down illegal online filesharing and internet piracy. The site Megaupload and all associated sites, like the video streaming site Megavideo, have been taken down a couple of months ago. At this moment, a lot of Dutch internet providers are being forced to block one of the world’s biggest torrent sites, The Pirate Bay.

It might seem like a noble move to protect the music and film industry, but many people within this industry do not actually agree with it. A while ago, writer Neil Gaiman posted an open letter to Washington on his tumblr blog, explaining the common opinion of himself and a group of other artists like the bands MGMT and OK Go, Gaiman’s wife and musician Amanda Palmer, musician Trent Reznor, and mythbuster Adam Savage. The letter stated that this group of artists was concerned about the SOPA and PIPA acts. They state that they are thankful for any help they can get to fight piracy, but they also state that acts like these can do great damage to the internet. It is explained that the internet is an enormously important means for a creative professional to keep in touch with fans and gaining new ones. They fear that SOPA and PIPA will censor creativity, and that the acts are too extreme.

I’ve seen Gaiman and other artists state things like this before on their blogs or sites. While the internet makes it very easy for an artist’s work to be stolen, it’s also the ideal place to spread the word about what you’re doing or making. To be honest, I found out about a lot of films, shows and musicians through the internet. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve illegally downloaded works, but whenever I liked it, I ended up buying an original CD or DVD. Without people making music, film and television shows available for downloading, I wouldn’t have legally bought nearly as many as I have now.

– Marleen
(on the lecture ‘The politics and poetics of sharing’ - May 31st) 

Rhizome surveillance

Social network is taking over the digital space. New networking sites come up every day, you can think about dating-sites, but more obvious are sites as facebook, hyves (in the Netherlands) and twitter that are all about networking. For the more elite networkers among us, I would like to refer to something as Linkedin. But not only these sites provide one a network to work or even exist in. Sites as deviantart, tumblr and weheartit also make networks out of your provided data and links to work or persons you might like. The very same goes for online shopping stores and warehouses. They bother you with commercials and newsletters which contain stuff that they think you might be interested in. This constant surveillance from above, tracking every single thing you do (or don’t do) on the internet, sure is something that provides us lots of stuff to think about. 

Surveillance is an important aspect of our everyday-life, even if we aren’t always very aware of that. We are constantly watched by the authorities through surveillance cameras and other devices like that. The question remains, however, who is watching our authorities? Who is watching the watchers, basically. That is where one (very) positive aspect of social networking sites comes into perspective; everyone can watch and track down everyone. People can look after other people, keeping their eyes open for things that look weird, suspicious or abnormal. That’s only one part of it though, at the same time people are aware of the fact that it is possible that they are being tracked and watched by everybody. They automatically are going to behave better. (Do I sense or smell a bit of the panopticon theory by Michel Foucault here?)

Social media also makes it easier for us to watch people with a lot of power. News can be provided throughout the world within seconds and everybody has a cellphone with a camera nowadays, so it becomes harder and harder for institutions such as the government or army to keep things quiet for the ‘regular citizen’. That makes the social media such a great example of the interaction between surveillance (top-down) and sousveillance (down-top). It is very important to have that last one in society, because we want to avoid corrupt governments or military supression in the world. The transparancy of the social media helps us seeing things. So social networking isn’t necessarily something bad or threatening our society, it can even make a better society, if we just keep using it very carefully and wisely. 

- Anne
(on the lecture ‘Privacy and surveillance’ - May 29) 

Do virtual sculptures exist?

A sculpture in my (conventional) eyes, is something you can walk around, something you can touch and something very three-dimensional. Let’s take an example of a sculpture; David by Michelangelo is definitely a sculpture, you can walk around it, you could touch it, people would get mad at you for doing that, but still, it sure is a possibility. I myself, can even agree with people who think that Die by Tony Smith is a rightful sculpture, because I have to agree with them that you actually can walk around it and it sure is a touchable thing. I believe there are such things as small and big, ugly and beautiful or even realistic and unrealistic sculptures. One thing I cannot buy however, is the idea of a virtual sculpture. I don’t think so.

People say that virtual sculptures still are objects in space, but they can use stuff or make forms that wouldn’t be possible in real-life, such a plan on a computer screen is not a sculpture to me, it is not touchable. Of course you can use the digital as a tool to design your sculpture or even furniture if you’d like to, but only to design, eventually you’ll have to actually make something out of it in order for it to be an actual sculpture or chair. I could live with the idea that 3D-printing is a form of sculpture, sure why not, it is digital of course, but at the same time very real and probably well made. So when you take something out of the digital to make it real, very well, you could say you have made yourself a nice sculpture.

Many designs made in the digital aren’t realizable in real life though and they remain on the computer. So all you see of the ‘sculpture’ there, is the plan of it on the screen. For me that’s like a wonderful architectonical idea that isn’t realizable, that means it will never get build and only the plan remains, but nobody would claim the actual building does exist. Why would it be different with sculpture? If you have a nice plan, you have a nice plan, if it isn’t realizable or executable, it isn’t, so all you have left is a plan, not a sculpture. You could claim it is a drawing or a intellectual code or something, but that still doesn’t make something a sculpture. It just doesn’t seem right to place the wrong label on something that doesn’t even exist in real life. 

- Anne
(on the lecture ‘Materiality and the senses’ - May 15) 

In my opinion, digital art is a medium that’s very difficult to describe. It’s possibly even more difficult to decide what forms of art can be considered as digital, and what forms of art are typically traditional.

The easiest way to define digital art would, in my opinion, be to say that any artwork that used a computer as its main medium is a digital artwork. However, now that I’m typing this up, it already feels really shallow to say this – because where should we draw the line? If an artist scans a drawing and colours it using painting software, it can hardly be seen as digital art, but it’s not traditional art either. The same goes for photography: when a photograph is taken with a digital camera, does that make the picture digital art? I could continue this list, nut it’d get very long and probably very boring.
(Fun fact, though: some people tend to get very protective over their favourite art form. Very, very protective.)

I think “internet art” or “art in cyberspace” is a term that’s equally hard to define. Apart from at uni and in books, the place where I’m confronted with art most often is the internet. I’ve first found out about artists like Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth and Damien Hirst while googling things and randomly clicking Wikipedia articles back in high school. A big part of the artworks I’ve seen online were not initially intended as “internet art”, yet the internet is where we find out about them, can google more background information about them, and can find other works by the same artist in a matter of seconds. It’s like one big massive gallery or art archive, where you can see any artwork you want. Art that specifically uses internet as a medium has started to surface, but apart from that, more traditional art forms are being spread on the internet as well, through initiatives like the Google Art Project.

I think the internet and digital media offer many possibilities for pure digital and internet art as well as for traditional art forms. However, it’ll probably keep being hard to tell where traditional art ends and where digital art begins.

- Marleen
(on the lecture ‘Art in cyberspace’ - April 24) 

That strange thing called identity

Identity, is a term that everyone uses, but nobody can explain it very well. Even the English dictionary seems to be unable to define the word. It just gives a lot of possibilities, but not one correct answer.

I-den-ti-ty    n. pl. i-den-ti-ties:
1. The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.
2. The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
3. The quality or condition of being the same as something else
4. The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality
5. Information, such as an identification number, used to establish or prove a person’s individuality, as in providing access to a credit account.

The definitions given above are a bit paradoxal. Let’s take a look at the third one, ‘the same as something else’, while the fourth emphasizes the notion of individuality. The notion of identity in real life is a difficult one, that’s for sure, but how about the notion of identity online. How do we define someone’s identity on the web?

I think that the fifth definition can be ignored in the virtual space, just to make things clear, I’m speaking here of chatting environments online only, because when you use your banking account online for instance, you will sure need your identification number and stuff. But when looking at the identity of an online avatar, this isn’t relevant.

Your avatar can build an identity by his appearance, behavior and personal characteristics, such as the way you talk online. This, however, is not necessarily to be as part of a group of other people, as stated in definition one to three. People can like or dislike you for being yourself (or your character) as an individual. The moment your avatar belongs to a certain group of other characters then, your identity will change, because you are being connected to the other members of that group. If all the people in that group are very nice, you will easier be considered very nice too, even if you aren’t very nice towards other people in the chatting area.

Identity still is a strange thing and always tied in with notions of where you come from or who you are in real life. If you are Dutch, the chance for you is bigger to become a member of a Dutch online community than of a Swedish one. So even when a lot of people claim that their character online stands apart from their own real identity, it never is. You still talk the same and often your character actually looks like yourself. So even though nobody really can tell you exactly what makes your identity, people often are very attached to their own and value it very much. 

- Anne
(on the lecture ‘identity & embodiment’ - May 10)