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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology is the European streak of the GOLD exhibition that opened at Eyebeam in New York last Spring. F.A.T. Lab was born in 2007 but 5 years sounds better in a title than 'almost 7 years' (the show was originally scheduled for November 2012 but got postponed because of Hurricane Sandy, hence the "5 years".) In any case, I'm grateful to MU for having brought the show so much closer from home.

I'm sure most of you know F.A.T. Lab, the international group of 25 artists, hackers, engineers, lawyers, musicians, and graffiti writers who collaborate on projects that look at technologies and media in a critical but also entertaining way. F.A.T. Lab is committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies and patents.

The exhibition allowed me to catch up with works from F.A.T.'s early days and discover new pieces they launched on the opening night. I'm sure curator Lindsay Howard had a ridiculous amount of fun looking into the dozens of projects that F.A.T. has been churning out over its (so far) brief existence. I wish i could mention them all and even add a couple more but i'll keep it short and fast by highlighting only a couple of exhibited works that are particularly representative of the ethics and ethos of the group.

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit

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Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, Free Universal Construction Kit

The gloriously acronymed Free Universal Construction Kit is a set of adapters that enable children to connect and lock together blocks from ten construction toys made by different companies. Lego®, Duplo®, Fischertechnik®, Gears! Gears! Gears!®, K'Nex®, etc. The complete interoperability between otherwise closed systems allows for designs that had so far been restricted to children's imagination.

Adapters can be downloaded from Thingiverse and other sharing sites as a set of 3D models and then fabricated using personal 3D printers.

The Free Universal Construction Kit isn't just about playing and building though, the project is also an invitation to look at the complex issues of copyright-protected artefacts that accompany the future of 3D printing. "This isn't a product. It's a provocation," explained Levin. "We should be free to invent without having to worry about infringement, royalties, going to jail or being sued and bullied by large industries. We don't want to see what happened in music and film play out in the area of shapes."

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Greg Leuch, Shaved Bieber. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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Greg Leuch, Shaved Bieber

But some F.A.T.'s works are just what they seem to be. Absurd and provoking. Only that quite often they lead to surprising repercussions. Greg Leuch spent a few hours making an extension that would hide all mentions of Justin Bieber on the webpages you visit. He posted it on the F.A.T.'s blog and got on with his life but the extension garnered far more attention than expected. The press loved it. Bieber's fans not so much and the artist was soon inundated with messages from indignant teenagers and grateful parents.

@gleuch i freaking hate u... go somewhere and never come out. u old molester creep fag. BIEBER fans are about to pee in ur face for this.

Mum just showed me that she did block justin bieber on the computer. So ive locked myself in the bathroom and im crying.

In fact, Leuch received so many emails and tweets about the project that he's now sharing the most amusing of them on tumblr.

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Evan Roth, Ideas Worth Spreading (TED Talks). Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

I'm obviously a big fan of Ideas Worth Spreading, as i am of any project, article or thought that challenges the TED cult. Just go to the MU gallery with your own Power Point presentation and deliver a talk that will stun/delight/horrify the audience using the fake TED stage complete with headset, camera, gigantic red letters, screen, spotlight, etc. After that go home and edit and upload your own pirate TED talk.

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Theo Watson and F.A.T. Lab, 40,000 GML Tags. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

GML, or Graffiti Markup Language, is an open file format designed to store graffiti motion data.

Currently, there are over 40,000 tags in the #000000book database. The projection screens tags in chronological order, from the very first ones drawn by Tempt1, to the most recent captured by a variety of GML-powered apps.

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Geraldine Juarez, F.A.T Nika Award. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

Each year, Ars Electronica's Golden Nica awards give rise to intense debates, frustrations, satisfactions, anger and congratulations in the art and tech world so I love the super simple idea behind the F.A.T NIKA award. The 3D modelled replica of Ars Electronica's statuette is copied from a wikipedia photograph. Geraldine Juarez prints one each time she wants to award a prize to an artist whose work she admires. You're very welcome to head to the project page and do the same.

A few more photos from the show:

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Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

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F.A.T. GOLD Europe by F.A.T. Lab. Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013


F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology, a video by stichting MU

If you can't make it to Eindhoven to see the show this month, then do check out The F.A.T. Manual, edited by Geraldine Juarez in collaboration with Domenico Quaranta and Published by Link Editions.

You can either get it print on demand (this way, please) or download it for free as a PDF. Alternatively, you're very welcome to ruin yourself on amazon UK.

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Photo by Boudewijn Bollmann for MU Eindhoven, 2013

F.A.T. Lab members are Mike Baca, Aram Bartholl, Magnus Eriksson, Michael Frumin, Geraldine Juárez, KATSU, Tobias Leingruber, Greg Leuch, Golan Levin, Zach Lieberman, LM4K, Kyle McDonald, Jonah Peretti, Christopher "moot" Poole, James Powderly, Evan Roth, Borna Sammak, Randy Sarafan, Becky Stern, Chris Sugrue, Addie Wagenknecht, Theo Watson, Jamie Wilkinson, Bennett Williamson, and Hennessy Youngman.

F.A.T. GOLD Europe - Five Years of Free Art & Technology is open until January 26 at MU in Eindhoven.

Sponsored by:





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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Photo Patrick Galais

Another focus on one of the artworks i discovered at the GAMERZ festival in Aix-en-Provence in October...

The Trophies from the 6th Continent are lifeless, plastic 'skins' of computer generated models found in 3D environments. Deflated of any volume nor life, they were hanging in the gallery of the Ecole d'Art of Aix-en-Provence like bloodless carcasses. Cimolaï tracked down these hunting preys on the 'sixth continent', the land of our 3D digital entertainment made of video games, special effects, post-production works, etc.

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Installation view at the GAMERZ festival. Photo Luce Moreau

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Installation view at the GAMERZ festival. Photo Luce Moreau

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Photo Luce Moreau

The concept and result are quite simple. Yet, they are brilliant. The empty plastic parts of vehicles are pitiful and you can't help feeling sorry for these former glories of the screen.

Scroll down if you want to read the original french version of Thomas Cimolaï's answers.

Hi Thomas! I read that the objects you brought into the gallery were originally protected by copyrights. Where did you find these objects? And why do you call them trophies?

The Trophies from the Sixth Continent constitute a fiction collection. The whole process is based on "an adventure story" developed from gestures made with a computer - vision, research, tracking, targeting, intrusion into forbidden territories and capture. The Sixth Continent is the land accessible through screens and through data transmission technology (in this case, internet). The collection includes the debris of computer generated objects found on the web and originally intended for video games and special effects.

Why was it important for you to engage with shapes protected by copy rights?

The attack on copyright is part of the game.


And once you've extracted these objects from their original universe, what remains of their copyright?

I think there's nothing left, just like their shape and their initial state. They are out of order :).

What was the creation process that led from 3D virtual forms to these deflated, miserable bits of flying engines? How did you make them?

I was surfing on the net looking for a hat for a project inspired by the novel The Invisible Man when some objects attracted my attention. Engines belonging to memories of television such as the Iraq war, games or mythical fictions (Airwolf , Platoon, etc.) and that were all destined to simulation in video games and movie post- production. There began a fiction where the challenge was to be the main mode of relationship to my subject. Once the objects had been acquired, I looked for the technical way to understand their construction so that, gradually, I could disassemble their mechanism, as if it were a dissection, an anatomy. Once they had been re-appropriated, I decided to push the craziness further. The objects were pulled out of the screens, their original environment, and I brought them back to the "real" sometimes on a one-to-one scale. By doing so, I could appreciate the availability of their heads, of their wheels and other means of traveling or of their antennas and other detection tools. They were stripped of their power.

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Photo Patrick Galais

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Photo Patrick Galais

I fell really sorry for these objects. Am i slightly deranged or were you expecting these trophies to trigger some emotions in people?



There was absolutely no premeditation to cause emotions. I work with what I have in me, which is a certain way to look at issues related to freedom, to the industrial cultural object and to our relations with digital interfaces. This project embraces the concepts of play and power and also the desire to own. Everything is voluntarily orchestrated with symbolism and a mock-heroic tone.

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Thomas Cimolaï, Trophies from the Sixth Continent, 2010. Photo Patrick Galais

How do people used to see these objects 'alive' in video games react to the work?

They come not only from video games but also from special effects. The most recognized one is the big black head of the stealth aircraft called F-117 Nighthawk which first appeared in conflicts broadcast on TV and soon after in games Night Storm, Empire Earth or Zero Hour which I have not played. Then, because the collection is partitioned into categories relating to motor, sensory devices.... few people can remember which wheel, radar or reactor belongs to which vehicle. The younger generations tell me that "it's cool" or "that's interesting" and will see the logic of simulation and of video games pushed to their limits.

Merci Thomas!

------------------------------

Version française de l'entretien:

I read that the objects you brought into the gallery were originally protected by copyrights. Where did you find these objects? And why do you call them trophies?

Les trophées du sixième continent constituent une collection fiction. Toute la démarche est basée sur « un récit d'aventure » élaboré à partir des gestes effectués avec un ordinateur - vision, recherche, traque, ciblage, intrusion en territoires défendus et capture. Le sixième continent est le territoire accessible par les écrans et par les technologies de transmissions de données (ici, internet). La collection regroupe des dépouilles d'objets de synthèses trouvés sur la toile et destinés à l'origine aux jeux vidéos et aux effets spéciaux. 



Why was it important for you to engage with shapes protected by copyrights?

L'attaque du copyright fait partie du jeu.



And once you've extracted these objects from their original universe, what remains of their copyright?


Je crois qu'il n'en reste rien, comme de leur forme et de leur état initial. Ils sont hors service :).



What was the creation process that led from 3D virtual forms to these deflated, pitiful bits of flying engines? How did you make them?



J'étais sur le net à la recherche d'un chapeau pour un projet inspiré du roman de l'homme invisible quand certains objets ont attirés mon attention. Des engins appartenant à des souvenirs de télévision comme la guerre d'Irak, de jeux ou encore à des fictions mythiques (Supercopter, Platoon...) et qui avaient tous comme destinés la simulation dans des jeux vidéo ou la post-production cinématographique.
Une fiction où le défi serait le principal mode de relation à mon sujet commençait. Une fois les objets acquis, j'ai cherché le moyen technique d'en comprendre la construction pour petit à petit en démonter la mécanique, comme une dissection, une anatomie. Une fois réappropriés, je décidais d'aller plus loin dans le délire.
Les objets ont été extirpés de leur milieu initial, c'est-à-dire les écrans, et je les ai ramené dans le « réel » parfois à l'échelle un. Ainsi je pouvais apprécier la mise à disposition de leurs têtes, de leurs roues et autres moyens de déplacements ou encore de leurs antennes et autres outils de détection. Ils étaient défaits de leur pouvoir.

I fell really sorry for these objects. Am i slightly deranged or were you expecting these trophies to trigger some emotions in people?



Absolument pas d'émotions à provoquer de manière préméditée. J'ai fonctionné avec ce qui me constitue, c'est à dire un certain regard sur les questions liées à la liberté, à l'objet culturel industriel et à nos relations avec les interfaces numériques. Ce projet embrasse des notions de jeu et de puissance et aussi de désir de possession. Le tout mis volontairement en scène avec du symbolisme et sur un ton heroï-comique.



How do people used to see these objects 'alive' in video games react to the work?

Ils n'appartiennent pas seulement aux jeux vidéos mais aussi aux effets spéciaux. Celui qui est le plus reconnu est la grande tête noire de l'avion furtif dénommé Faucon de nuit - Nightfalcon f117 qui est d'abord apparu dans les conflits retransmis à la télévision puis a rapidement été le sujet des jeux Night Storm, Empire Earth ou encore Heure H auxquels je n'ai pas joué. Ensuite, comme la collection est compartimentée en catégories relatives à la motricité, aux appareils sensitifs..., peu de personnes peuvent se rappeler à quel véhicule appartient telle roue, telle réacteur ou encore tel radar. Les générations plus jeunes me disent que « c'est cool » ou encore « c'est intéressant » et y voient la logique de la simulation et des jeux vidéos poussés à leurs paroxysmes.

Merci Thomas!

Previously:
Constance, an installation in weightlessness.

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The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

Today's guests are Evan Roth, Becky Stern, Geraldine Juárez and Magnus Eriksson from the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T. Lab), a network of artists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and musicians who are committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship, and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies, and patents.

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F.A.T. Lab (Kyle McDonald), The Englishman from the series Liberator Variations, 2013

Some of the members were at the MU gallery in Eindhoven last week for a F.A.T. Lab retrospective as well as for the launch of THE F.A.T. MANUAL. In this episode, we will be talking about 3D printed guns, Ideas Worth Spreading which allows you to deliver your own pirate TED talk, open culture and how to remove Justin Bieber from your web browsing.

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 20 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

F.A.T. GOLD Europe. Five Years of Free Art & Technology is at MU in EIndhoven until January 26, 2014. THE F.A.T. MANUAL is on print on demand but you can also download it for free.

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Most of us don't really know (nor probably care to know) how "the network" functions, what its structure of communication cables and servers looks like or how, more concretely, our private data travel. Roel Roscam Abbing spent a month at Laboral in Gijón to work on Border Check, a software that lays out the physical and political realities behind the internet.

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Taryn Simon, Transatlantic Submarine Cables Reaching Land. VSNL International, Avon, N.J.

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Fibre-optic submarine cable system

And i'm sorry to quote him but in this age of reckless online surveillance even Dick Cheney thinks that you never know how much knowledge you're going to need. So maybe a good place to start would be to visualize how our data are moving from place to place (and thus which government can potentially have a look through it) and Border Check enables just that:

As one surfs the net, data packets are sent from the user's computer to the target server. The data packets go on a journey hopping from server to server potentially crossing multiple countries until the packets reach the desired website. In each of the countries that are passed different laws and practices can apply to the data, influencing whether or not authorities can inspect, store or modify that data.

Hi Roel! Border Check (BC) is a browser extension that illustrates the physical and political realities of the internet's infrastructure using free software tools. Why did you think it would be interesting to investigate the travels of data packets?

I stumbled upon this topic when pursuing a personal interest I developed last year as I started with the Networked Media programme at the PZI. I joined this course because my practice has always been engaged with new technologies and the internet. At the same time however, I felt I lacked a lot of knowledge (technical, theoretical) to make statements with and about these media. For one, if someone would have asked me what the internet was, I would not really have had an answer. So one of the first things I started researching while at the PZI was exactly this. What is the internet? It was during the programming courses that I started working with software such as traceroute, which shows you how you connect to servers. Traceroute really fascinated me because suddenly it linked websites to specific machines that could be linked to a company and to a location on the world. This suddenly made the internet very tangible for me.

At the same time while reading up on the history of the internet I realised the difference between how I had previously perceived the internet as a 'cloud', 'wireless', non-physical (which is probably a more common understanding) and the internet as a bunch of physical cables that run through countries and the bottoms of oceans. Tracerouting then became a way to experience this normally invisible infrastructure.

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Dilma screenshot

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Ebay screenshot

Some of the demo you sent me show the data taking a straight line. In other cases, such as for dilma.com.br, the path is more tortuous. How do you explain this? And is every non-straight path accountable for?

The complexity of the paths has a lot to do with the degree of interconnectivity of the networks. Generally, the better the connection between you and the destination server, the smaller the amount of hops on your travel. So if you see a lot of hops and twisting paths, it is probably because there is no direct connection between you and the destination.

The complexity of the paths can also be the result of certain assumptions embedded in the databases used for the visualisation. One of these assumptions has to do with determining where a machine is located in the world. Sometimes the geographical data tied to a machine's IP address reflects where it's owning company is registered, rather than the actual physical location of the machine. So you might get visualisations where you'd see a line travel back and forth between Europe and the US. Rather than actually travelling back and forth the Atlantic, what happens, is that your travel stays in Europe, yet you get on and off networks owned by US and EU companies. Because of this when using BC it's important to click the hops to reveal the machine names, often they contain more hints of where the machines may be actually located.

In this sense BC's visualisations are sometimes a bit more abstract, showing ownership and jurisdiction rather than the physical location.

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Installation at Laboral

How does a particular country's laws and practices regarding data affect the path adopted? Do you have examples?

It is not necessarily the case that a state's laws and practices affect the route, rather that the route determines which states's laws and practices one is exposed to.

The internet is routed passively, that is to say, there is no way you can tell your data how it should reach its destination. The internet is designed in such a way that data will always try to find the fastest route available, and that may happen to take your data through countries like the UK that monitor all passing data.

In this sense the route is often more influenced by geography and money. Geography, because some places such as the the UK's West Coast act as a 'funnel' for submarine cables, since they are the first stop for many of those cables when they cross the Atlantic. Money, because richer countries will also have the faster infrastructures and those get a preference when it comes to routing.

Laws and policies can influence where companies set up their offices and data centres though. Facebook for example serves non-US users from Ireland, because of the low taxes it pays there. However, the fact that Facebook is registered in Ireland also means it has to comply with EU privacy laws. A funny example of what that means concretely is a 2011 'meme' that spawned on reddit where European users flooded Facebook with data requests, something that was not possible for American users of Facebook.

What were the most surprising discoveries you made while testing the data travels?

One of the more interesting things I've realised and which is something that I would like to follow up on is how 'historical' the networks actually are. If you compare maps of the submarine cables that make up contemporary intercontinental fibre optic networks with maps of telegraphy networks of the 19th century you will see a lot of similarities.

However, this historical element also became apparent to me using Border Check when for example I found out that much of Latin America is predominantly connected through the Telefonica network. Telefonica is a very large telecommunications company that resulted from the privatisation of Spain's state telecom company.

In this sense one could argue that a lot of Latin American countries are dependent on the telecommunications infrastructure of their former coloniser. This could lead to clashes of interest. In the case of Brazil this has recently become apparent when, in response to NSA spying, Brazillian president Dilma Rousseff announced plans to build a national Brazilian telecommunications infrastructure. There Rousseff wants to ensure that Brazil no longer needs to route via the United States (that is the Telefonica network) and as a consequence be subjected to American monitoring when it connects with the rest of the world.

How do you retrieve the information necessary to map these travels?

While you run Border Check it uses your browser history in order to detect whether you are loading a new website. It then relies on Layer Four Traceroute, which is a tracerouting software, to map the ip addresses of the machines that route your data on it's way to that destination website. Border Check then uses Maxmind's free GeoIP databases to link these adresses to cities, countries and companies. Maxmind to some extent gets this information from repositories of internet registries (organisations that keep track of who registers what website, who owns a certain ip-adress etc). For visualisation Border Check uses Openstreetmap with the leaflet visualisation library.

What's next for BC?

I am really interested in adding more information layers to Border Check that provide some more context on what it could mean when one surfs through a specific country. One of the initiatives I find exciting is www.diriwa.org. It tries to collaboratively map communications and informations rights in the world. I think adding this sort of information will make Border Check much richer. Other than that, releasing updates that would make the software more easy to install and run on different platforms.

Thanks Roel!

Border Check was sponsored by V2_ and developed during a residency at LABoral, within the context of Summer Sessions 2013.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Erica Scourti. Erica is an artist/film-maker who's studying MRes: Moving Image Art at Central St Martins, run in conjunction with LUX. Her work uses autobiographical source material, as well as texts found on the internet to explore the mediation of personal and collective experience through language and technology in the net-worked regime of contemporary culture. Which means that tomorrow the episode will focus on online language and communication, algorithms, forms of mediated intimacy, and distributed art works. Amongst others!


Erica Scourti, Life in AdWords, March 2012

A few years ago, every day, for over 10 months, Erica wrote and emailed her own diary to her Gmail account and copied the list of suggested keywords linking to clusters of relevant ads. After that, she spoke the text to webcam, creating daily portraits of her life as understood and translated by Google's algorithms. WIth another project, Woman Nature Alone, she hijacked the process by which Google's algorithms organize the hierarchy of online visibility. Erica used titles taken from stock video sites corresponding to the key words 'woman', 'nature' and 'alone' as the starting point for a series of films that show her performing each action described in the title. The video and title were then uploaded to YouTube, forming a collection of 'rushes'. After that the online works started a life of their own...

The show will be aired this Wednesday 25th of September at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Anti-Media. Ephemera on Speculative Arts, by researcher and theorist Florian Cramer.

Soon available on amazon USA and UK.

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Publisher NAI Booksellers writes: Literature written in the style of computer code, electro-acoustic compositions with newly created sounds, but also subcultures with clearly identifiable manifestations, from Internet porn to neo-Nazis and anti-copyright activists: high-, low- and subculture have long been impossible to distinguish, including in the degree of their self-reference. Art and media criticism focuses mainly on the concepts, not on the objects themselves. In Anti-Media Florian Cramer shows, through a close reading of cultural expressions and analysis of media and art criticism, how these constantly refer to their tradition, language and medium while trying to subvert them.

I've never reviewed nor even read anything that looked remotely like this book before. It is bold, thought-provoking, and extremely fast-paced.

Cramer makes fearless statements about interactivity, pop music, social hacking (that one was a fun chapter), 'openness' and many concepts and ideas that we brandish without much thoughts as if they were magical formulas. While reading his book, however, i realized once again that our writings, works and discussions rely on cultural terms which precise meaning, extent, impacts, and limits we often take for granted.

Anti-Media. Ephemera on Speculative Arts makes us sit down and ponder the transformation of archive by the hands of p2p services, the way modern aesthetics theories apply (or rather does no apply) to computing and interactive interfaces, the internet as a literary medium, the Creative Commons licenses and its lack of ethical code, political constitutions and philosophical manifesto and what that means for artists who are relying on it.

Nothing and no one (not even Rocco Siffredi) is safe from Cramer's sharp questioning and ruminating. You will either embrace his reflections or disagree with them entirely, but a heated debate with this kind of book would, i think, constitute a valuable exercise for the critical minds.

Image on the homepage: 01.org (Eva and Franco Mattes), Nikeground, one of the work discussed in the book.

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