The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired this afternoon at 4pm (London time.)
Today i'm talking with artists, curators, writers Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett who, 16 years ago, founded Furtherfield, an organization with a very strong online and offline presence. Furtherfield.org is an online community where artists, theorists and activists meet and talk about art, technology and society but Furtherfield is also an art organization with a gallery located in Finsbury Park that invites the public to discover and reflect upon digital/networked media art and social changes.
The conversation has been fascinating: Ruth and Marc talked about the early days of the internet in London, about the legendary Backspace (now a Starbucks as Alison and Jon from Thomson and Craighead informed me yesterday), about how they've been curating exhibitions and events with the help and feedback of their large community for years, etc.
Finally, they discussed unmanned aerial vehicles. Their new show, Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones!, opens at the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park this Saturday afternoon. I'll be there and hope to meet some of you.
The show will be aired today Wednesday 8th May at 16:00. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Movable Borders: Here Come the Drones! will open from Saturday 11 until Sunday 26 May 2013. The opening is on Saturday 11 May 2013, 2-5pm.
Finally, Furtherfield has a fund raising campaign going on. I can't think of a better cultural cause to support right now.
Image on the homepage: Spinning Desktop by Antonio Roberts. I nicked it from another of Furtherfield's upcoming show: Glitch Moment/ums.
While visiting the new spaces of Medialab Prado last month, i got to discover several projects which are developed in collaboration with the Madrid-based program. One of these projects is the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a citizen science initiative where citizens and researchers alike are invited to participate in large scale scientific projects with either some time, power from their brain or from their computer.
Volunteers from around the world are welcome to participate to projects that will help the scientific community identify and mark deforested areas using high-resolution Earth imagery, research the elusive Higgs particle using a virtual atom smasher, understand the fundamental laws of the universe, or the secrets of magnetism at the molecular scale.
I met Daniel Lombraña González, a researcher and lead developer of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre (aka CCC, a partnership between CERN, the UN Institute for Training and Research and the University of Geneva), at the MLP and he was kind enough to answers my questions about some of the Citizen Cyber Science projects:
Hi Daniel! How did you get to collaborate with MediaLab Prado? What sort of infrastructure, network and support do they provide the project with?
The CCC contacted Medialab this year because we think that we have a lot in common. Medialab is an heterogenous space where science, engineering and art are mixed in a beautiful way and we thought that it could be really interesting to participate with them. Medialab will offer its connections with other collectives and we will try to provide our knowledge in citizen science events like the one that we are organizing the 17th and 18th of May.
One of the most impressive project of CCS is probably LHC@home, a platform that allows volunteers to help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and to compare theory with experiment in the search for new fundamental particles. So how exactly can people contribute, do they have to be physicists too?
People contribute by creating an account in the project and downloading two pieces of software: BOINC and VirtualBox. BOINC is the software that allows to automatically configure the VirtualBox software, that will be used to create a Virtual Machine that will connect CERN and run the simulations. The CCC developed this aspect of the project contributing the integration of the virtualization VirtualBox software (created by Oracle) within the BOINC framework.
Once you have installed the software, all you have to do is to see how your computer and user account gets credits based on the simulations that your PC are contributing to the project and check if you are in the top 20 of the best volunteers or if you are part of the Billionaires club (users who have simulated more than 1 Billion of events!)
Therefore, as you can see, the project welcomes everyone to participate and you don't have to be a physicist at all :-)
How important is their contribution? Does their help have a big impact on the research of the CERN physicists?
Here I'm going to quote the main researcher of the project about this specific question :-)
The place where T4T contributes is in the validation of the theoretical models that underpin the interpretation of the data. Roughly speaking, if we only had really bad theoretical models, the analysis of the real data would suffer. Given only very crude models, we would be more uncertain about what a real Higgs state should look like in the experiment, and what is merely unrelated "background". That uncertainty would translate into having to run the LHC longer, collecting more statistics, before an announcement such as the one on July 4th could be made with any confidence. The fact that we do have quite sophisticated and thoroughly tested theoretical models for the physics taking place at the LHC "sharpens" our ability to extract conclusions from the data with confidence.
Day by day, T4T volunteers are testing our theory simulations. When new versions of the simulation codes are released, we incorporate them into the T4T queues and send them out to you for testing. When new test data is released, we incorporate that data into the T4T test suite and again send everything we got out to you for testing against this new added piece of information, each piece making up a small part of the full picture of what the "ideal" simulation should look like.
I was particularly intrigued by Forest Watchers which invites people located anywhere in the world to monitor patches of forest that need to be protected. Now a forest like the Amazonian is extended over a very large territory so how many volunteers would its monitoring typically involve?
The current project only has 164 registered users, but almost 1000 people have actually participated in the project since its creation contributing tasks :-) (you can see the stats here). We still are in the early stages of the project, and we are starting to analyze the first results, so I cannot give you that answer for the moment. We hope to have some published paper in the future, but there is no ETA yet.
And we all know about the Amazonian forrest but how about other forests that needs to be protected? Can you give other examples, in Europe in particular?
The platform was created with the idea of allowing other countries to use it in a simple way. If I'm not mistaken Europe is well covered, due to the available human power and resources that EU has for this type of natural parks. The main goal of starting in the Amazon was because INPE, one of the main partners behind the project, are the world lead experts in deforestation assessment and they contacted the Citizen Cyberscience Centre to start the project.
Usually the government. However, ForestWatchers.net has not contacted the government at all, as this is a research project from INPE and CCC analyzing the feasibility of getting non-experts, citizens, analyzing deforested areas. As I said before, ForestWatchers.net is a research project and we are trying to analyze if the volunteers will be able to produce good results in comparison with the experts.
How do you verify that information provided by volunteers? How can you check that it is correct and valuable?
For every task at least 30 different persons will contribute an answer. Then, we will analyze all the reported answers statistically to be sure that there are no outliers, and that the majority of the volunteers agree on the reported results. We are in the process of analyzing the data with INPE experts to quantify the quality of these results.
Most of the projects of Citizen Cyber Science are developed in partnership with prestigious institutions such as CERN, universities in France, Switzerland and England. How open are institutions in general to direct participation of citizens? Because i always thought that science was a domain reserved to an elite of intellectuals...
It depends :-) I think there is a no clear answer here. In general the first time that we approach a research institution with a citizen science proposal, the usual answer is to be afraid of going into the open. However, after showing some of the projects that we are currently running and supporting some of these scientists see the benefits of using these approaches and they jump in. It is important also to mention that even citizens feel like you, so even though there are several citizen science projects, we are not sending the right message to you, as you think this type of science is only for an elite :-)
Thus, in summary, let's say that in general institutions are not so open due to citizen science is "grass roots movement" but it is taking pace and getting more adepts every day.
Why do you think that people contribute? What do they gain from that?
From time to time we interview the volunteers to answer that specific questions. In general, people do it because they like to contribute to the project, because they feel that science is important and this type of projects give them an opportunity to see science closer.
What do they gain? This is a really good question! Actually, we are now in an EU project called Citizen Cyberlab where we are studying actually what do they gain. In general, what the volunteers gain is a non-formal knowledge about the project where they usually learn science "by accident" :-) For example, by participating in the LHC@Home Test4Theory project, some volunteers have become "experts" in the Virtualization technology that the project uses. This has been proven, because new contributers usually get help from this other volunteers with very detailed answers :-)
A few weeks ago i was in Brussels for The Digital Now, the first thematic exhibition of a series produced by Cimatics, that explores relevant artifacts within the current artistic context and media art related discourse.
The first chapter in this series, 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', looks into autonomous technology through the lens of birds as objects reflecting our contemporary relation with technology.
The bird has long been seen as a symbol of freedom, communication, transborder mobility but also as an indicator of environmental change. However, much of the bird physical and spiritual significance has been lost on the way to and from the industrial revolution. But according to Bram Crevits, curator of 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity', digital culture has brought birds back to the fore. Or maybe it's the birds which have forced their way into our techno-mediated world. Think Twitter of course. And birds incorporating ringtones into their repertoire so effortlessly that Richard Schneider of the NABU bird conservation centre in Germany suggested that, in the interests of ecology, mobile phone users convert their tones to pop songs which are too complex to be mimicked by the birds. Woodpeckers attacking CCTV cameras. Or confused birds trapped into the twin columns of light shot into the sky each year on September 11 in New York. The bright memorial short circuits some of the cues that birds use when they are migrating at night. And then there's drone watching as the new bird watching. And drones counting birds.
The relevance of drones -or Unmanned Arial Vehicles- in relation to birds is more than purely formal or anecdotal. Another source of inspiration for the exhibition is indeed the New Aesthetic and the focus on the ways we experience our digital condition: always on, always there. Drones have been related to this New Aesthetic debate ever since it started.
Part of the exhibition was located at the Botanique. Christoph De Boeck & Patricia Portela installed invisible birds inside the greenhouse. Sensors measure the dynamics of wind and light harvested by the plants during their photosynthetic process, and translates it into bird sounds. When there is human movement in the garden a financial algorithm (similar to the ones used in a speculation economic market) interprets the variation of the received data and transforms and remaps the natural garden soundscape to which plants seem most profitable in that split second.
However, most of the works were in a gallery hidden inside a tunnel. It took me ages and a couple of panicked phone calls to find it. The show was pretty exciting though because instead of showing only artworks and building up the usual art&tech discourse around it, the curator chose to insert the works into a broader context that included the political and the downright popular.
For example, two videos demonstrated the impact that unmanned aerial vehicles have on every day life in Pakistan.
On the one hand, a video shot by Noor Behram outside his house in North Waziristan, the footage shows a reaper drone flying over Waziristan. For more than five years, Behram has been documenting drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas, the hub of the CIA's remote assassination program.
Trevor Paglen interviewed Behram a while ago: "[The few places where I have been able to reach right after the attack were a terrible sight" he explains, "One such place was filled with human body parts lying around and a strong smell of burnt human flesh. Poverty and the meagre living standards of inhabitants is another common thing at the attack sites." Behram's photographs are miles away from official American reports that deny civilian casualties from drone attacks: "I have come across some horrendous visions where human body parts would be scattered around without distinction, those of children, women, and elderly."
Pop song Za Kaom Pa Stargo Stargo Drone Hamla" (My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack) shows the other hand of the spectrum, where the increasing appearance of unmanned vehicles over the skies of Pakistan (see data viz Drone war: every attack in Pakistan visualised for more details) inspires little more than the lyrics of a song:
'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity' was thus full of contrasts. One moment, you were reflecting on surveillance technologies, next you were laughing (the suitors of the frantic singer are peerless.)
I'm now going to revert to my usual "throw as many images and projects in their face" mode and leave you with a few works i've (re) discovered in the show:
Subtwitter is a free application that scans subtitle-files (.srt) of a film and replaces them with similar tweets. The application uses the original subtitle-file of a movie or series of your choice, then looks into each separate sentence of the subtitle and crawls the twittyverse for a similar tweets. The result are --sometimes absurd and sometimes witty- subtitles that consist of computationally associated tweets.
A microphone picks up and amplifies the sound of woodworms eating their way through a piece of wood. Temperature, humidity and other environmental qualities determine how the wood worms dig their tunnels and 'play' the piece of wood.
The Pussy Drones gifs trigger a new form of discourse between the webbased experience (lolzcat, memes, gifs) and historically closed systems of the patriarchal structures which control the physical world. That is to suggest drones are merely 'unmaned' cocks controlled by (finding) pussy.
In theory the democratic nature of the internet should allow everyone to create equally, controlling its code at an open root p2p level. Yet the internet net art, the very essence of the web (programming, the code structure itself) is still ruled by men and corporations who control and own it in its entirety. We are not Facebook's customers, we are their product. The web has never been a democratic medium, Mark Zuckerberg said 'There are probably 200 million people who think that Facebook is the internet.' It is easy to include the digital life is not any different than our life away from the keyboard.
David Bowen's now famous Fly Tweet sends Twitter messages based on the activities of houseflies living inside an acrylic sphere along with a computer keyboard. As a particular key is triggered by the flies, the corresponding character is entered into a Twitter text box. A message is tweeted as soon as 140 characters are reached or when a fly triggers the "enter" key.
More fly thrills at https://twitter.com/@flycolony
Marcus Coates uses shamanic rituals and his knowledge of the animal world to try and solve problems faced by local (human) communities. In 2009, he visited the mayor of Holon in Israel who asked him how he should handle the problem of the violent youth in the city. Coates first consulted with the animals that he had encountered, and in particular the plover, a bird known for luring predators away from its young by pretending to be injured so as to appear as an easy target for predators. His reading of the meeting with the plover was then explained to the Mayor. According to Coates, The important thing for [Israel] as a nation is, through education, to emphasize shifting identities and an empathy with a different position. It's a fundamental position of resolution within a conflict, to be able to emphasise with your enemy or oppressor.
His solution to Holon's social ills is to teach empathy and recognise that victim status is often used as justification for violent behaviour.
Hi answer left the Mayor very impressed as you can see at the end of the video i've pasted below:
Erica Scourti's video were among my favourite. Taking her cue from stock video sites corresponding to the key words 'woman', 'nature' and 'alone', the young artist filmed herself performing each action described in the title. The video and title was then uploaded to YouTube, forming a collection of 'rushes' which were used to create the final single channel version. After that, videos started to get a life of their own, with artists and film makers using Scourti's films as another stock library and including then in their own videos.
The Digital Now is produced by Cimatics, a Brussels-based arts organisation which activities includes the production support of audiovisual and digital creations as well as live events, exhibitions, workshops and guest-curations.
All images courtesy Cimatics. Except the ones illustrating the work of Erica Scourti and Marcus Coates,
Today i'm stuck in Turin, it's been snowing all day long. I'm not complaining but i don't feel like venturing outside to see exhibitions so i'm going to point you to an online exhibition over at dARTboard, a digital art space that the Vilcek Foundation created to 'celebrate the accomplishments of foreign-born artists living in the United States and working in the realm of digital art.' This year's featured artist is Marc Böhlen who's showing two works that investigate the relationship between people and automated systems.
The first work is WaterBar, an installation that geoengineers water in response to news on global water crises. The liquid is first filtered to be perfectly clean and then remineralized using a filter bank which releases traces of magnesium, iron, calcium and other elements in proportion to the intensity of related problems found in pertinent realtime online news.
The minerals delivered are connected to a number of locations and symbolic significations. For example, increased readings on water conflicts caused by greedy corporations are countered by adding more of the water mineralized with sandstone from La Verna, Italy, where St. Francis cared for the poor. Similarly, increased readings on topics suggesting over confidence in technology, is counterbalanced by adding more water mineralized with quartz-rich granite from Inada by Fukushima, home of the latest devastating high-tech catastrophe. The result is a unique water mix that acts as an 'antidote' to the news of the day.
The second work, MakeLanguage - SyntheticAccents, attempts to overcome the shortcomings of commercial text-to-speech (or TTS) systems which only offer standardized, idealized speeches devoid of any slur or strong accent.
MakeLanguage - SyntheticAccents creates accented Englisch (Frenglisch, Genglisch and Spanglisch accents in limited vocabularies) to speculate upon the imagined lives of these accents without origins.
To be honest, i wasn't particularly impressed by Volcek's "electronic art space" because i can't see how a couple of webpage that reproduce some of the content of the artist's website can be regarded as an online exhibition. I was expecting more curatorial weight, effort, and inventiveness. That said, i'm not only impressed by the Foundation's general aims and missions but i also welcomed the news of this online show as it allowed me to catch up with Marc Böhlen, an artist-engineer whose work i've been admiring almost ever since i started this blog.
Extracts of our online interview:
Hi Marc! Let's start with WaterBar. The installation is a 'water-well designed for the post-sustainability age when clean water is simply not good enough.' Can you explain what you mean by post-sustainability age? Is this when we realize that achieving sustainability is impossible? Or when we go to extreme lengths in order to obtain what we regard as 'sustainable'?
WaterBar is inspired by two different and related ideas.
The second idea is the current fixation on the 'sustainability' model. No doubt, sustainability is of paramount importance in the near and midterm. But one day, we will have solved the sustainability challenge (provided planet earth still exits). And then what? What kind of relationship can we build with resources beyond risk management and damage control?
I just showed WaterBar for one month in Singapore, where industrial level water management delivers clean (as in not risky) water to the entire island. Even waste water is recycled and returned to the drinking water system. The water cycle is complete. From a sustainability perspective, the problem is 'solved'. Interestingly, the exact proportion and timing of the release of this processed water (coined 'new' water) into the public drinking water system is a state secret; details are withheld from the public. The researchers at the Aquatic Science Center I consulted claimed that people simply do not want to know this because of the unresolved relationship to dirty water in general. Similar responses have been reported in San Diego (USA) where a novel waste water processing plant delivers 'clean' drinking water. In short, the water problem is not just a technical, not just a political problem. It is a problem of a 'failed' relationship between people and technology. It is a civilization challenge. Up to now, good water was equated with fresh water. But there is not enough fresh clean water to serve everyone on the planet. The future will require new approaches to this problem. That is one reason geo-engineering is so important. These are the aspects of sustainability WaterBar responds to.
To me, WaterBar sounds a bit like a satire of the fashion for food that will 'heal' us more than feed us, for the new 'superfoods' that keeps being praised in the health pages of newspapers. But of course i might be completely wrong so what motivated this desire to 'improve' the water we drink?
Well, there is a component of satire, but not in the installation. The WaterBar installation really does produce mineralized water. It adds iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals in minute but detectable levels.
The satire is in the shelves of supermarkets and restaurants that sell mineral water to health-fashion victims. The improvement, as it were, that WaterBar offers is an improved relationship to water, to the water mix of the day as it is influenced by current water problems occurring all over the world.
The remineralized water is offered for public consumption. Are people eager to test them? Do they taste very different from each other?
WaterBar searches the internet for news on water problems that concern everyone. WaterBar makes in response to this collection of information (usually bad news!) by passing water from its reservoir through the filter banks and mixing it to a 'catch of the day'.
The relationship between the filter banks (of collected rocks and minerals from different parts of the planet) and the news feeds is based on an oppositional mapping scheme. For example, the Inada Granite filtered water is added to the mix when the system finds instances of 'overconfidence in technology'. (This Inada Granite was sourced from a quarry south of Fukushima, home of the latest high tech meets natural resources catastrophe). Anyway, depending on the mix, the water tastes different. You can't taste all the variations - at least I cannot - and it usually has a bit of chalky taste due to the choice of limestone and marble in the filter banks. Some people really enjoy it.
In order to 'mineralize' the water one has to expose the water to the filter materials for a certain time. At about 30C it takes only about 5 hours or so for the filters I have chosen to reach close to saturation level. At colder temperatures it can take longer. I usually fill up the filters 24hrs in advance and refill overnight.
Yes, the mixes are always different, as different as the news feeds describing water problems. News feed change all the time, but luckily water catastrophes have a slower update rate! This is an interesting problem - how do you relate temporal flows of information systems to the temporal flows of geological systems. Anyway, some mixes taste very different from others, some seem hardly different. The variations in chemical properties are far greater than the resultant variation in tastes.
Some people were very eager to taste the water. During the first show in Buffalo, NY, one fellow stopped by the WaterBar every day. At the end of the week, he stopped by with a large canister to get WaterBar water for his cats and plants!
Can you also explain us the 'internet-scanning, text-processing control system"? What does the system scan exactly? And how does its search influence the final mixing/mineralizing of the water?
WaterBar's software contains a module that checks a large list of websites on water resources, including, waterworld.com, circleofblue.org, ecology.com, mondediplo.com and many others. Depending on where WaterBar is operating, I add sites with locally pertinent information. The internet-scanning algorithm checks these sites, dissects the content and maps it onto an 'association matrix' that relates the origins of the filter banks to the web search results. This is where information directly becomes material. I use the simple 'bag of words' approach. For example, the Inada filter (see above) bag of words contains the concept attributes: 'hazard', 'hightech', 'disaster', 'nuclear', 'contingency', 'emergency', 'highrisk', 'failure', 'advanced technology' (with spelling variations). The algorithm creates a normalized distribution map based on frequency of occurrences for all the filter banks and concept attributes. This does not produce an exact representation of the information flow relevant to the filter topic. But the error rate is uniform across all the filters. From an engineering perspective this is not really good enough, and certainly needs some more attention. But even if I spend the next five years perfecting this, there will always be a difference between what I can capture, what is flowing in the internet and what actually happens in the world. I see the current approach more like a fishing expedition.
The catch of the day are fish that were actually in the water at the time you went fishing, but the fish you catch do not necessarily represent all the fish in the ocean. Anyway, the result from the internet scanning algorithm might suggest this kind of distribution: 20% filterA, 35% filterB, 15%filterC and 30%filterD. A second algorithm creates a water mix in this proportion by opening and closing the electronic valves that connect the filter banks to the bottom jar. A third algorithm calculates the effective chemical composition of the resultant water (based on the mix ratios and measurements of the water in the filter banks). E mg/L of iron, F mg/L of calcium, and so on. Just like the descriptions on commercial mineral water bottles. This info is scrolled on the large LED screen at the top of WaterBar. Gravity is the only force moving the water from the top to the bottom.
My experience has been that people find these accents mostly humorous. I don't know why! To me they are vehicles of 'Entfremdung'. They sound like humans with a life history but are fake!
To me the weird experience hearing these voices is not unlike the 'uncanny valley' effect coined in robotics that describes the effect of experiencing an almost living/human thing and then all of a sudden realizing that what was thought to be alive is inert (technology). The fall from the initial attraction is augmented by the degree of veracity of the effect. I don't think we have culturally come to terms yet with machines that really sound like we do. Not only because of this direct audible disjoint, but because of the subsequent intuitive step of assuming that what sounds human must be human. Maybe this is as disruptive a step as the introduction of the telephone that undid the notion of presence and voice. Prior to the popularization of the telephone, presence was coincidental with physical proximity. The advent of the telephone changed that, and a 'live' voice could be heard from faraway. It took some time before people could grasp this in daily life.
Now this might be a naive and silly question but how did you record these heavy accented sentences? Did you ask a german-speaking person to speak like a computer? Or did you tweak the TTS system instead?
The accented utterances are 100% synthetic! They have never been uttered by a living person, and can be generated on the fly by the system.
Synthetic speech systems use various approaches, but one popular one is based on the unit selection principle by which elementary units of speech (phonemes and diphones) are combined based on language specific rules to larger units such as word and phrases. One starts with a collection of sound bites (a corpus of utterances) made by a specific human being, recorded in a studio. Synthetic speech engineers refer to people whose voices are used as 'voice talent'. Anyway, these utterances are then dissected, rearranged and 'atomized' to elements that can be recombined ad lib, usually in the language model of the native speaker. Whatever such a synthetic voice says will sound as if the original human being said it. Anyway.
Back in 2005 I approached a startup company (SVOX, no longer operating..) that had, in my view, an excellent synthetic speech engine and asked them if I might experiment with the system, promising 'interesting results'. Luckily I received access to the software. It would have been almost impossible to do this project having to build all the software from scratch.
My very simple but effective approach was to selectively mix units of speech from one language with language models from another. This in itself did not produce good results, so I added some 'accent rules' to address the problem of intonation. Even that did not work well. I had to make lots of special rules, and the system got rather unwieldy. I was not able to create a general purpose accent generator (as I hoped for in wild dreams) but a system that would work with a few languages for limited vocabularies. One rather weird part was the testing. Who do you test on? How do you know when the fake accents sound 'right'? So I concentrated on language mixes I am familiar with through my own history and background and tested the strange voices on myself. Once I was ok with the basic sounds, the question of content moved front and center. What should/could these voices say? Some very weird conversations between the voices and me ensued, as you might imagine. Amway, I ended up mostly in the service industry (hotels, airports) and played with the kind of phrases you hear in those impersonal settings. It felt so right in a very wrong way.
What does an exhibition on the online platform dARTboard, bring to your practice? Do you think that an online exhibition has as much strength as one in a brick and mortar museum? In terms of audience, recognition and also ability to engage with an artwork?
I do prefer brick and mortar for installations like WaterBar. I really do want people to drink the water. The installation has a powerful presence, I think. Video documentation is a compromised replacement. Plus you don't get to see people's reactions.
The synthetic voices from the MakeLanguage trilogy are a different matter. I don't think they lose much by being online. Maybe that is the only place they can really be at home after all.
Post-Digital Print - the Mutation of Publishing Since 1894, by Alessandro Ludovico.
Publisher Onomatopee writes: In this post-digital age, digital technology is no longer a revolutionary phenomenon but a normal part of everyday life. The mutation of music and film into bits and bytes, downloads and streams is now taken for granted. For the world of book and magazine publishing however, this transformation has only just begun.
Still, the vision of this transformation is far from new. For more than century now, avant-garde artists, activists and technologists have been anticipating the development of networked and electronic publishing. Although in hindsight the reports of the death of paper were greatly exaggerated, electronic publishing has now certainly become a reality. How will the analog and the digital coexist in the post-digital age of publishing? How will they transition, mix and cross over?
In this book, Alessandro Ludovico re-reads the history of the avant-garde arts as a prehistory of cutting through the so-called dichotomy between paper and electronics. Ludovico is the editor and publisher of Neural, a magazine for critical digital culture and media arts. For more than twenty years now, he has been working at the cutting edge (and the outer fringes) of both print publishing and politically engaged digital art.
The Mutation of Publishing Since 1894... I won't hold it against you if you tell me that this sound austere. This book is however a joy to read. It is entertaining, impeccably researched and written in a compelling style. Alessandro Ludovico blends together retro-futuristic drawings, theory, anecdotes, art works and personal observations to narrate the paper vs pixel battle and ultimately kick off a discussion about the role of print in digital times. To be honest, i knew Ludovico would write a good book about the issue because i've followed his many activities and researches in the field for a number of years now but i had no idea i'd have so much fun reading it. I can't remember having had in my hands a book that made my brain go from quotes by Clay Shirky, Marissa Mayer, Jorge Luis Borges, Vuk Cosic, or Cory Doctorow to stories about keitai shousetsu, Paulo Coelho's call to 'pirate' books, Amazon erasing from your Kindle the copies of George Orwell's books 'while you were sleeping', Daniel Vydra's New York Times Roulette, artistic imitation of banknotes, Sniffin' Glue punk zines, mail art, etc. Add to that the odd flashback (for example the magazines that used to be sold with a floppy disk containing 'bonus' content) that reminds you how fast the publishing world has to adapt in order to keep on attracting readers.
The first chapter, "The death of paper (which never happened)" analyzes 7 moments in history when a new medium has been heralded as a superior alternative to paper. Chapter 2,"A history of alternative publishing reflecting the evolution of print", looks at how artistic avant-gardes have been using print throughout the 20th century. The third chapter, "The mutation of paper: material paper in immaterial times", explores the reasons why paper still makes sense in our digital age. Chapter 4, "The end of paper: can anything actually replace the printed page?", take a critical look at electronic devices, strategies and platforms. The Fifth Chapter, "Distributed archives: paper content from the past, paper content for the future", explores the long-term implication of choosing a medium rather than the other one. The final chapter, "The network: transforming culture, transforming publishing" explains how much quality cultural entities can gain from working as a network.
I've been particularly fascinated by the Appendix which brings side by side the world of print and the digital world to highlight their similarities and differences: shelf space vs web host storage space, shipping strike vs no connection, smell of ink vs sound of clicks, etc.
Post-Digital Print is a book i'd recommend to bloggers, journalists, writers, publishers, designers (of the physical and the 'immaterial' alike), and to anyone who wants to be able to shine at elegant dinners when the conversation turns to questions such as "what's more eco-friendly? is it the print or the digital?' "Will printed magazines disappear in the coming years?" "Is The Pirate Bay killing the publishing industry?"
And because Alessandro Ludovico is the founder and editor of the magazine Neural, he illustrated many of the observations, facts and ideas about post-digital print with a series of artworks. Here's a couple i discovered along the pages:
The Quick Brown monitored Fox News regularly and highlighted changes made on the headlines over the course of the day.
Pamphlet: people typed a message on a computer. As they pressed the 'send' button, the message was printed and dropped as a pamphlet from the 10th floor of the building.
Tim Schwartz's iPod's contents cataloged on paper cards:
Alessandro Ludovico was interviewed about Post-Digital Print in visualMAG.
Yesterday, i went to the Saatchi Gallery to see Korean Eye and the most charitable comment i'm willing to make about the show is that it has a few good moments. However, the exhibition on the top floor, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, is worth the trip to King's Road.
The nine eyes are the cameras mounted on the pole on top of each vehicle that Google sent around the world 5 years ago. The technology of Google Street View has sparkled moments of deep humiliation, interest from the press photography community, privacy concerns and brilliant artistic reactions.
Jon Rafman was one of the first artists who spent hours looking at the images collected by the cars and searching not just for the amusing, the ridiculous and the fortuitous but also for postcard perfect moments. And does he have an eye for stunning images...
As the artist writes: With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer... capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.
Without indication of their location:
Looks like Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.
Probably my favourite:
Previously: Community Performance in Google Street View, Aaron Hobson's Cinemascapes: Google Street View Edition which i discovered at the London Festival of Photography, and Michael Wolf, We are watching you...