it IS art

A couple of weeks ago in But Is It Art  I wrote about a group of people who “scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.”    The artists/perpetrators did not identify themselves or provide any information beyond the act itself.

Two German artists recently took credit for the act, and provided credible evidence substantiating the claim.  The NY Times reported that:

Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke, say the flags — with hand-stitched stars and stripes, all white — had nothing to do with terrorism. In a series of phone interviews, they explained that they only wanted to celebrate “the beauty of public space” and the great American bridge whose German-born engineer, John Roebling, died in 1869 on July 22, the day the white flags appeared….Mr. Wermke then cited a remark by Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist, whom the two Germans admire. Mr. Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center almost exactly 40 years ago.

Why did you do it? he was asked.

“There is no why,” he responded.
German Artists Say They Put White Flags on Brooklyn Bridge NY Times 8-12-14

Apparently they underestimated the fear many New Yorker’s would likely have to all this.  The Times reports, they had conducted similar projects in other places around the world  “and they claimed to be somewhat taken aback by the reception here.”

ap7408070220_custom-172d42bddf850e1d90ed5c7011546e0cb3321d91-s4-c85[1]While this seems to me some combination of disingenuousness and sloppy post-conceptual art making, the crux, for my purposes, is Matthias Wermke’s recounting of  Petit’s remark “There is no why”.

However difficult to define art may be, the impossible ideas of “art for art’s sake” and a non-utilitarian utilitarianism, are likely to be part of any discussion about art and its embodiments.

Recently, in an interview promoting his newest book Creativity: the perfect crime Philippe Petit revised his earlier remark somewhat:

To be able to create fully, it’s maybe fine that you learn the rules, but you have to forget and to rebel against those rules. … In a bank heist, you steal, you rob, you take away. In an illegal high-wire walk, you bring forth, you inspire, you give a gift — the gift of beauty and inspiration. … The big difference is, you don’t take, you give.

I’m guessing something like this was the “why” behind Leinkauf and Wermke’s’ bridge installation.  Given their admiration for Philippe Petit and his close connection with New York and the World Trade Center, it’s ironic they missed the inevitable associations their audience would make.

 

 

Post #74

What changes and  almost  same in the of and as  travels digital- space?  mediated, space deforms,  conforms, confounds, the of human and individuation and collectivity moment to moment, each arising wholes on their parts.   most recent post raises a about  interplay  Politics, Ruin Digital Space, the of digital spaces.

When we  at  places,  we’re looking politics, and  of depend  a  variables.  place that  ruined but abandoned   very things. A  that completely abandoned but somehow not  the unexpected. Time the only  that back on itself.

Coded spaces create kind of invisibility to revealing their creation    in speech rather than create  kind of political aphasia.

Aphasia  difficulty a vocabulary  associates appropriate   concepts with appropriate things. Aphasia  its many describes difficulty retrieving both conceptual  most important, a comprehending spoken. Aphasia: Race and Disabled Histories in  Ann Laura Stoler

I agree with Sarah, is significant content  the decay and  of in  generate the “conceptual and lexical vocabularies” to investigate these I  the seizing up present when aphasia is strongest and I see of my in reflect

what to

Let me this to perhaps way, abandonment, way:

The website Random.org allows users  generate variety random sequences. use the   is a contested term.  website states its comes which many purposes pseudo-random number algorithms typically used in  programs.”  This is appealing because as “radio  caused atmospheric is a of  an important agent in  decay ruin of analog

I  this to list from 1  to numbers in the body this post.  Starting in a  for  following 7  day I words and numbers from this and them below in the order that list.   for example, if 56 is the the random the 56th of this post will the word cut and pasted below.  So this process will rearrange all the words and numbers here, into collapsed Punctuation will  by the word. will not or  hyperlinks or formatting

do this over weeks because is of time  tradition says one can in the bardos, the  existence between  life next one.

After might continue again, it up  a daily spiritual until I able.  Or  become  it and it it  iteration,

At to see if this sheds it any harmonious sound, to ,feel that helps to better underst and the ruin of digital

Note:  I named this “Post   an  or  that stays as structure

Continue reading

But Is It Art?

6bd67e94[1]Last week, a group of people scaled the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced the American flags with bleached out white ones.  Many people have many theories about who did this and why.  Certainly, some kind of terrorist explanation comes to mind – a dry run to expose security protocols perhaps.  But also among the many speculative explanations was that this was in some way art.

Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller said the incident had “no particular nexus” to terrorism or politics.

“This may be somebody’s art project or an attempt to make some sort of statement, but at this time it’s not clear what that statement is,” Miller told a packed news briefing at police headquarters.  NYPD Sees Art, Not Terror, in Brooklyn Bridge Flag Swap Bloomberg 7-25-14

Of course this would be of the Conceptual or Post-Conceptual variety that I discussed in my previous post.

Even so, how can art be indistinguishable from terrorism?  Even in the throes of Dada, the avant-garde, the Theater of Cruelty starting almost 100 years ago, the audience knew it was an audience and the artist knew she was an artist.  Certainly the creators of these productions meant to break down the barriers between audience and artist, but the barriers were there to be broken down.

By the time we get to 1966, John Cage says to Stanely Kauffmann,

What is happening in this century, whether you accept it or not, is that more and more there is no gap between art and life.

Art is famously impossible to define.  It is the institutions of art that clue viewers, listeners, smellers, tasters, touchers that the experience before them should be understood as art.  Heidegger describes the function of both art and technology  as the revealing of Being. But just as technology is “nothing technological”, art is nothing artistic.  Both are a function of the revealing Heidegger discussed, each dependent on a different understanding of Being.

This increasing invisibility of art recalls for me, in this context, the projects Stranger Vision and Invisible by Heather Dewey-Hagborg I discussed in my last post.  In the first she constructs “family resemblance” sculptures from DNA she acquired in random places.  In the second, she developed a pair of aerosol sprays to eliminate and mask any remaining DNA from a surface.

Indeed, news reports indicate that DNA Evidence Found At Scene Of Brooklyn Bridge White Flag Stunt Gothamist 7-25.

Perhaps the NYPD could find Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Vision technology useful.  Perhaps the artists/perpetrators could have benefited from her Invisible technology.

There is no Luminol spray to show trace evidence of art.  Perhaps that could be Dewey-Hagborg’s next project.

The Findable Cyborg Part 5

The end product is of no importance. It is the creative process  and the fact of sharing this process with everyone else, destroying its mysteriousness, destroying its capitalist value that is vital. Heather Dewey-Hagborg Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity – Art and Freedom

Post-Conceptual¹ (my term) artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg has executed two related projects that speak to the issues of surveillance I have been discussing.  The first of these, Stranger Visions started when she was in a therapy session staring at a framed print with a crack in its glass and a hair lodged in the crack.  As her day progressed, the idea that genetic data surrounds us developed into the (post) concept of Stranger Visions.

She began collecting material likely to have DNA on them such as hair, cigarette butts and gum.  She then extracted and analyzed the DNA from these samples.  Using a computer program she developed, which codes genetic facial traits and generates a model to represent them.  After tweaking the result she used a 3D full color printer to produce facial sculptures that have a “family resemblance” to the DNA donor.

[I]t is important to remember that this is art, not the development of a new product or company. This work is a provocation, designed to spur a cultural diaogue about genetic surveillance and forensic DNA phenotyping. What does it mean for an artist, an amateur, to do this? What are the implications for privacy issues as well as law enforcement? I think these are the major questions. We hear everyday about “digital natives” who don’t know how not to share their private data with the world, but here we all are, shedding hairs, nails, skin, and leaving saliva behind us all the time, without thinking about it as information. Stranger Visions Press Release

 

The second project of Dewey-Hagborg’s I’d like to discuss is Invisible.

Acing that interview? Don’t let your genes undermine your confidence. Be invisible.
Are you too big to fail? Don’t let DNA spill your secrets. Protect your prestige and be invisible
Spend the night somewhere you shouldn’t have? Erase your indiscretion and be invisible
Dinner with the prospective inlaws going smoothly? Don’t let them judge you based on your DNA, be invisible.
Exercising your freedom of speech? Be invisible and never get tracked.  Invisible

For this project, Dewey-Hagborg has developed two sprays.  The first deletes 99.5% of DNA it comes in contact with, and the other renders the rest unreadable by overwhelming any sample with extraneous DNA.

Dewey-Hagborg sold a limited edition of 100 pairs of sprays for $230.  Certainly there are techniques to clean DNA from objects.  This project is about invisibility embedded in convenience, not developing a product.

As Dewey-Hagborg points out DNA provides a way of identifying, gaining medical information and monitoring people.

You wouldn’t leave your medical records on the subway for just anyone to read. It should be a choice. You should be in control of how you share your information and with whom: be it your email, your phone calls, your SMS messages, and certainly your genes. Invisible is protection against new forms of biological surveillance. Invisible

At least conceptually.

Note:

¹ I use post-conceptual in recognition of Dewey-Hagborg’s critique of Conceptual Art as having sold out and then died. She also critiques the concept of art. She identifies herself however as an artist and her art is conceptual in nature. So post-conceptual is my attempt to recognize her position.

 

 

The Legal Cyborg

The recent unanimous US Supreme Court decision, Riley v California, ruled that police need a  warrant to search the cell phones of those they arrest.  At issue was whether or not searches of the cell phone of an arrested person was a search incident to the arrest.  Such searches are allowable because they can find objects harmful to the safety of the arresting officer, and prevent the destruction of evidence.  The Court found that neither concern applied to information accessible by cell phones and that police should obtain warrants to authorize such searches.

This is of course an important finding, but my purpose here is to look at some of the ideas about communication technology embedded in the decision.  The most obvious example and widely quoted is the following.

mmw_newspaper[1]These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.

While undoubtedly an attempt at humor, the “visitor from Mars” mistaking a cell phone for a body part also introduces the concept of the cyborg, the hybrid of human and machine.  Is it too much to speculate that our Supreme Court Justices are Anxious Cyborgs too?

Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; … One of the most notable distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute only a narrow intrusion on privacy.

I read “physical realities” here as shorthand as “non-digitally coded” realities.  The decision goes onto to discuss the file cabinets etc that one would have to cart around to have at immediate disposal the information accessible with a cell phone.

Finally, there is an element of pervasiveness that characterizes cell phones but not physical records. Prior to the digital age, people did not typically carry a cache of sensitive personal information with them as they went about their day. Now it is the person who is not carrying a cellphone, with all that it contains, who is the exception. According to one poll, nearly three-quarters of smart phone users report being within five feet of their phones most of the time, with 12% admitting that they even use their phones in the shower.

I find identifying the pervasiveness and intimacy of cell phone use especially significant.  It may begin to begin to recognize “cyborg” as a legal meaning of “person”.

Alexis Dyschkant writes about the legal importance of establishing the boundary of a person when determining if one has been wrongfully contacted.

 Historically, “one’s person” has been limited to “one’s natural body” and some, but not all, artificial attachments to one’s natural body.  The cyborg, a creature composed of artificial and natural parts, challenges this conception of a “person” because it tests the distinction between the natural body and an artificial part.  Artificial objects, such as prosthetics, are so closely attached to bodies as to be considered a part of one’s person.  However, claiming that personhood extends to things attached to our natural bodies oversimplifies the complicated interrelation between natural objects and artificial objects in the cyborg.  If our person is no longer limited to our natural body, then we must understand personhood in a way that includes the cyborg.  I argue that the composition of a body does not determine the composition of a person.  One’s person consists to the extent of one’s agency.  Cyborgs: Natural Bodies, Unnatural Parts, and the Legal Person

I doubt the Justices intended Riley to redefine the boundaries of a person as the boundaries of one’s agency.  However, their arguments based on pervasiveness and intimacy do, I argue, move in that direction.

In a Buddhist context, I have argued in the past that many people experience their communication devices as a part of the illusion of an inherently existing self.  There  I suggested extending traditional mediations on establishing the boundaries of this illusion to include cell phones for example.

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self. The Negated Cyborg

Dyschkant echoes and extends this meditation, creating a vision of personhood eventually eliminating the idea of mediation and consisting entirely of agency.

What the cyborg shows us is that the body can be composed of any kind of part but the person is necessarily the agent which controls, benefits from, and depends upon these parts.  Human tissue, animal tissue, or mechanical “tissue” all allow a person to exercise their agency and interact with the world.  The type of body which a person controls need not be relevant.  Hence, determining when one has made contact with “the person of another” does not necessarily depend on the naturalness or composition of one’s body, but on the relationship between the object contacted and the person’s agency.  We can imagine a technologically advanced future in which people retain control over parts detached entirely from their body or in which one’s person is dispersed across great spaces.

Perhaps at some point the concept of a legal person begins to break down.  Perhaps then the Buddhist idea of non-self, of the negation of an inherently existing self, becomes codified into law.

The Emptiness of Wang Wei

Karen recently gave me 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei.  This small book is a compilation of 19 translations of Wang Wei’s (7th century Chinese poet) poem, Deer Park,  alongside an essay by Eliot Weinberger, and a concluding essay by Octavio Paz.  This helped deepen my appreciation for Wang, and motivated me to attempt to transduce the poem myself.

Transduce seems a better word than translation for what I’m doing. It is an attempt to transform a distant literary energy to a local one. It follows in the footsteps of Ezra Pound’s Cathay poems.  As Paz points out, referring to a TS Eliot remark, Ezra Pound invented Chinese poetry in English.  He did this without in fact knowing any Chinese, but working from, as I am here, literal translations.

Here are the literal and poetic translations from Chinese Poems.

Deer Enclosure

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

Hills are empty, no man is seen,
Yet the sound of people’s voices is  heard.
Light is cast into the deep forest,
And shines again on green moss.

The literal translation of the title’s second word is fence or enclosure, which Chinese Poems uses. The title is most often rendered in English as Deer Park.  Weinberger says this is probably a reference to the site of Buddha’s enlightenment.   Robert Okaji titles his version of the poem Deer Sanctuary, which I think is the best version if one decides the poem is not primarily a Buddhist one.

However, I think it clearly is.  As I noted in a previous post, Wang closely associated himself with the Vimalakirti Sutra, which discusses Emptiness with the bodhisattva Manjushri .  Wang also studied Buddhism for 10 years with the Chan master Daoguang.

chinese_symbols_for_empty_8521_2_0[1]

Chinese symbol for “empty”

Then we get to the first line.  How are we to understand empty?  It seems an odd word choice on its own.  Do we retain it?  Most trans(lators)(ducers) do keep it or render it as some version of lonely, or uninhabited.  I have to wonder if Wang meant something like either of those why didn’t he just say so?

This suggests to me that Wang’s emptiness might be just what I mean when discussing Buddhist Emptiness.  On the other hand, contemporary use of emptiness for sunyata may just be an artifact of translation choices of early translators of Buddhist texts to English.

Without too much effort I found these passages.

The word kong is among Wang Wei’s favorite descriptive word and frequently occurs in his nature poems.  It is also the standard Chinese translation for one of the key concepts of Mahayana Buddhism -” emptiness” (Skt. sunyata).

The Chan Interpretation of Wang Wei’s Poetry: A Critical Review by Jingqing Yang

And

What is an empty mountain?  Clearly it is not barren as we are informed there  is a “deep forest” there. Kong is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term sunyata.  Primarily the term is a negation – a denial that phenomenon have self existence – that is permanence independent of causes and conditions.

How To Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology edited by Zong-qi Cai  (C10.6 Recent Style Shi Poetry. The Deer Fence Wang Wei) by Charles Egan

So in my transduction, I sought to covey a sense of this Buddhist Emptiness in the first line.  To do so in the economical style of the poem is quite a challenge.  I don’t think I quite succeeded but it’s a start.

The other part of the poem that trans(lators)(ducers) have difficultly with is the last line.  Weinberger’s literal translation provides more nuance than the Chinese Poetry’s bare bones approach.

To return/Again  to shine/to reflect  green/blue/black  moss/lichen above/on (top of)/top

As I see the scene, sunlight re-illuminates the forest floor generally, and the moss specifically, which reflects in a figurative sense the brightly lit forest canopy above.  I have not encountered quite this interpretation of the last line in my reading so far.

I plan to keep at this.  I’m take the following as my first version, the start of a path, a variation on my ongoing practice of Emptiness Yoga.

Deer Park

Contingent mountain, unseen people,
Voices like an echo.
Again sun lights the forest floor,
The green moss, the canopy above.

The Anxious Cyborg

Cyborg action is increasingly instrumental to machinic ends.  Machine to machine (M2M) technology creates discourses and practices that both affect cyborgs and are apart from them.

From a machinic perspective, NSA data surveillance for example, becomes a compelling project.  The data practically cries out for organization and relational analysis.  It’s like European farmers encountering N American prairies for the first time.

ardrey017b[1]The first would-be European settlers encountering this immense, treeless expanse, hesitated.  Then, the early-adopters realized just how rich the soil was.  As word spread, the European farmers flooded in.  Then in 1833  John Deere’s self-scouring steel bladed plow enabled a less back breaking way to bust the deep sod. The pace of settlement cascaded.

Even as Big Data consumes every bit of cyborg communication it can, it needs more.  It needs a pervasively sensorized/coded environment.  Sparse Data (state information from non-IT devices)  is the data from these proliferating sensors. They produce data only when necessary for the specific function of their host machine.

From a machinic perspective, the development of M2M technology introduces a reverse instrumentality.  Technology continues to serve cyborg ends, but cyborgs also become data factories for machines.   Technology has begun to have as its end its own growth and evolution as much as whatever human function it may nominally have.

It is not though the mere existence of the technology that makes this so.  When cyborgs organize their experience using a technological horizon, the human and machinic seem to converge at that ever receding line where cloud and earth appear to meet.  This apparent convergence has begun to become real.  The world becomes the operational environment of technology.

This state of affairs entails anxiety in many cyborgs which they frequently conceptualize as a discomfort with ever-increasing surveillance.  This condition, from a cyborg perspective, is described in The New Inquiry essay The Anxieties of Big Data by Kate Crawford.

Surveillant anxiety is always a conjoined twin: The anxiety of those surveilled is deeply connected to the anxiety of the surveillers. But the anxiety of the surveillers is generally hard to see; it’s hidden in classified documents and delivered in highly coded languages in front of Senate committees. This is part of why Snowden’s revelations are so startling: They make it possible for us to see the often-obscured concerns of the intelligence agencies. And while there is an enormous structural power asymmetry between the surveillers and surveilled, neither are those with the greatest power free from being haunted by a very particular kind of data anxiety: that no matter how much data they have, it is always incomplete, and the sheer volume can overwhelm the critical signals in a fog of possible correlations.

From a machinic perspective, we can easily imagine there is no anxiety, there is no surveillance as such.  The steel bladed plow has broken the sod.  There is only the vast prairie of information cyborgs represent.