Tag Archives: control

Virile-Reality: From Armageddon to Viagra

As you will no doubt see when my grand project is revealed, Armageddon and Viagra go hand in hand with viral video collage.  This article, however, turned out to be more about gendered digitality than apocalyptic fear. 

Quinby is quick to cut in the meme of internet Utopianism, anonymity of users and the optimistic empowerment supposedly inherent in the digital age.  In this sense, Quinby reminded me of Nakamura, especially with respects to Neoliberal notions of race and gender as related to the network (ie technology erases these problems.  Like Nakamura, Quinby argues that these problems are maintained by technology – and furthered by the surface assumption that these problems are erased.  Or:  “it is not the Internet per se that [Quinby is] criticizing but rather the ideological feature that currently pervades it” in 1999 (1082).  

Quinby outlines three power formations of technoculture: a patriarchal structure that utilizes seizure and punishment to control; one predicated on disciplinary control and surveillance compliance; “one that functions through virile-reality’s production of information, which, in keeping with millennialist impulse, tends to be legitimated through appeals to bio-perfection” (1083).  I’m interested in the latter two.  In my project I seek to create an multi-level environment of control (with a built-in disciplinary mechanism), as well as address these concepts through narrative.  As for the latter, I’m remixing the millennialism into a more abstract take on armageddon – fear – and attempting to dialogue with the viewer and participants/collaborators about the production of fact.

Sculpting in Time and Space: Interactive Work

Sculpting Time and Space is a self-review of the interactive video installations of artist Nina Sobell and her collaborations with Emily Hartzell.  The particularly intriguing elements of this article were the elements of video, interactivity, performance and collaboration – all aspects I consider constitutive of my project. Questions of access, surveillance and participation are present here, too, and those interest me, as well.  

Sobell’s work began in 1971 and, while this article was published in 2001, much of the work takes place in the 1970s and the 1990s.  Thus, some of the specific methods Sobell (and Hartzell, but I’ll only mention Hartzell when the work is one of their collaborations) uses to achieve her desired (and what I read as potential) outcomes are outmoded in contemporary context.  Her work from the 1970’s is more about interactivity than interactive.  The Disintegration of Objects within a Sequential Time Period, for instance, was a video recording of people playing on Sobell’s physical sculptures.  These videos, documenting the break down of the objects as they were used and explored by people in a “public” space (a campus), were played sequentially in a gallery, to which she invited those who she anonymously taped to visit the installation.  A “couch” made of pieces of the disintegrated sculptures was placed in the middle to be sat upon.  This work complicates my notion of “interactivity” in the sense that the totality of the installation is more of a representation of interactivity than interactive.  That is not to say that I don’t appreciate the work; rather, I think that the interface limits the degree of interactivity. (I want to be clear that I am unsure to what extent “full” interactivity is possible, given that I do not have a settled definition of the term.)  In this case, the limitation is found in the use of video technology to record people interacting with physical objects (more interactive than video-viewing) – this video becomes a record of the moment of interaction, rather than being itself interactive.  The video projection is of interactivity, not interactive.  The viewers in the gallery is more flâneur than participant, thought their relationship to themselves in the video is slightly more complex than a binary of active/passive, as they are both viewer and object.  This is not to dismiss this work as simple or a failure in any way.  Sobell, at the very least, accomplishes something similar to Duchamp, in that she recontextualizes the video in a “fine-art” setting of the gallery and thus raises questions about interactivity, as well as the degree to which public spaces and fine-art spaces are opened/closed.  [More about Duchamp later, whether I want there to be or not…]

Sobell’s other work from this period begins to explore a more interactive arrangement, through the layering of the product of two brain wave patterns as Lissajous figures over live video of the two subjects hooked up to electrodes (Interactive Brainwave Drawing: EEG Telemetry Environment, 1975) and by placing herself behind a transparent partition with a phone, obstructing her gaze, and forcing the use of CC TV for the participant on the other end of the phone to use a split screen monitor to make eye contact with her, while viewers could privately watch from another, hidden spot inside the gallery (Videophone Voyeur, 1977).  The former addresses a collaborative feedback loop of expressive visual imagery that is both eminently controllable (the face) and mostly uncontrollable (brainwaves), in that viewing themselves on the monitor changes a portion of their output.  The latter force-mediates interpersonal interaction through video and audio interfaces; while this shows the boundaries of these technologies, it also allows for participation in the creation of an “artwork”.  Videophone Voyeur, though, maintains the control of the author, in the sense that Sobell creates the environment and means of communication.  The audience can participate within this framework, but does not create this framework.  During the installation (or perhaps performance art is a better term for this as its more active than an installation, to me) in Manchester, one participant asked to take Sobell’s seat, which moved her to the rear of the studio – a more interactive and more “digital” (the latter according to Critical Art Ensemble) form of performance.  

The other project I found particularly germane was Sobell/Hartzell’s work, VirtuAlice, a motorized cart with a telerobotic webcam attached.  Internet participants could view Alice’s field of vision and click the direction they wished the cart to explore.  The drive saw the directions on a monitor.  Each made eye contact through a rear view mirror.  Visitors to the gallery could also remotely control the camera to suggest the next direction.  This is the most collaborative effort mentioned in the article: remote viewers on the internet, remote viewers in a different part of the gallery and a driver all contribute to Alice’s motion (and memory; it’s recorded).  The limits here are that of the physical network (how fast data can be transmitted and decoded, viewed and retransmitted) and the willingness of the driver to obey the wishes of the remote directors. 

Next, I will transit from video installation/performance art to theatre, which is allowable, since it’s collaborative theatre and Nina Sobell says ArTisTheatre.

Video volat?

My first reaction to Growing Up Digital was a bit harsh, something like: “yeah, that sucks, but duh.” Heverly is wily in his rhetorical setup, though; he uses “children” as his theoretical case studies. Although, Jack isn’t a child by legal standards (which *are* of concern here, according to Heverly). And, I’m pretty sure the other two instances aren’t based on an *actual* event. While their not being “real” doesn’t lessen their potential consequences in real world analogies, the resultant read, for me, is more cheap pathos, rather than genuine concern or alarm.

Rather than dedicating time to laying out the persistence of digital media (which seems to be some amalgamation of accessibility, reproducibility, and 3d order miscellany – themes addressed more in-depth through other, more focused texts), I would have enjoyed an exploration of the central paradox: in what ways can law protect those it considers to have the least agency (minors) in the digital domain, an arena wherein minors potentially possess a higher degree of literacy of usage, if not understanding of consequence.

It is hard to disagree with a call for protecting children from the ugly spectre of pornography; thus, the legal discussion of IP and copyright protection encoding was easily digestible when being used to protect children. In comparison with recent discussions on copyleft and the GNU GPL, I couldn’t ignore the consequences stringent digital copyrights have in that arena.

Ideally, there is a control that allows children who are as old as 17 yrs 364 days to be able to hit reset on the stupid acts they’ve documented up until that point. Clearly, the easily reproducible nature of the content prohibits that wish. The ground for discussion, for me, is circumscribed by Heverly’s concern with unknowingly distributed content, the border between privacy rights of the individual citizen and ownership of digital commodities for private profit. Ultimately, I wonder if this problem (specifically the three test “cases” he presents) is really new and a result of persistence of digital media, or if this is a new turn on the local rumor. And the case of Jack provides an interesting entrance to this question for me. I heard the story of Jack while a student in Madison over the same time period. I didn’t find (or seek) visual verification of the rumor; the narrative found its way to me through the more traditional social network of a physical university campus. One question: does the makeup and spatial distribution of the artifact change significantly wrt to the rumor? Another: are the consequences raised by visual medium of a digital artifact?

What Heverly writes makes sense, wrt the latter of these two questions, but I think it deserves reassessing, due to the comparison with alternate forms of “viral” narrative transmission being neglected.

Whether We'll Weather the Weather Well

I think the best way to go about this is to explain what my project is and then bend it explain how it fits into the framework of the course.  

For my project, I’m “writing” a short story in video.  Another way of writing this would be making a short film/voice collage, but I think the first makes more sense.  The narrative is set in a newsroom on a day when a mysterious fan letter to one of the co-anchors is found and the President is visiting the studio.  The story will be told from a single perspective, but will concern each member of the news team.  The video will be approximately 30 minutes long and use a mix of footage from an “actual” newscast and “actual” commercials.  The text that I write (the story) will be told via voice over and, ideally, by a variety of narrators.  I would also like to “direct” the readers of my text, correcting them and asking them to reread whenever I feel my intervention is warranted.  And, the story will only be told during commercial breaks.  The newscast portion of the video will retain its original audio content.  

Based on this synopsis, my primary interests, as relating to course topics are collaboration, ownership, interactivity and control.  

The collaborative aspects of my project can be found in a few places.  The characters in the story are more-or-less equal in importance, in the eyes of the action of the story; though there is a single narrator, each character seeks to “solve” the mystery of the letter that destabilizes their environment.  The newscast, in general, is also a collaborative effort: team members present individual stories or segments of the “news” and present stories with their team members.  An unseen team of writers, contributing reporters, camera and microphone and TelePrompTer operators, directors and producers work together to create a final product.  Television is a type of collaboration between content producers and advertisers.  The video project composition is a collage, which implies an artist/creator/organizer-driven collaboration of media and artifacts into a single body.   By using multiple readers to tell the story, I’m also seeking to establish a feeling of collaboration in the production and delivery of the narrative.

What of collaboration then?  I’m interesting in exposing the collaborative process, hence the obvious merging of newscast footage with original voiceover during commercial breaks.  The correcting of readers is another attempt at revelation.  I want to reveal (and portray) the newscast as collaborative, as I see the breaking of the artifice of objectivity and of a single, unified message as an act of resistance.  Seeing the news as a collaboration of individuals will hopefully encourage a wide range of non-writing/producing/telling, which I see as a manifestation of the activist spirit and healthy for democracy, discourse and empathic connections between a constantly shifting community.  This utopia is in the mode of Benkler. If the seams of the quilt become visible, the thought goes, the world is recognized as artificial – and therefore able to be constantly recreated in a manner dictated by the desires and needs of individuals.  

Bordando el Manto Terrestre, Remedios Varo [source for images]

In an a/v collage, the question of ownership of the material is inherent.  I am appropriating a newscast and assembling commercials I find interesting or to have a particular relevance to my message and place them into my own context.  With the production of the news by a group of individuals for a network with shareholders and paid advertisers, the question of ownership is likely surprisingly simple – the network owns the product, per contractual language: CopyRight.  Yet, this collaborative work and its process seems to be akin to much of the GNU GPL, LGPL, or OSL programming work.  Is the key difference the profitability of the news, as dictated by advertising revenue?  If so, how does this principle effect the understanding, viewing and bias of the for-profit media?  Does the co-option of an “actual” newscast into a work of fiction destabilize any claims to objectivity through a similar path? 

The myth of true interactivity in games, applications and websites [and the seeming frequent mention of the failures of virtual spaces and networks to allow absolute freedom] is something that has continuously intrigued me throughout many conversations and texts this semester. Whether in relation to interfaces or aesthetic, it seems that digital culture often reinforces the limits of the analog world: physical barriers, aesthetic choices and, for new users especially, the utility of programs and tools intended and sold to make life more efficient.  And these barriers (accessibility) and aesthetic homogenizations (Facebook and similar social networking sites) can be seen as methods of control – they are limits to what is capable, so long as a user does not have a mastery over code, as almost all users do not.  This homogenization is especially apparent to me in the converging relationship between commercial and informative content.  Commercials are often creations of entertainment, mini-narratives that are more product placement than product pitch – cool by association.  Some examples that come to mind are BMW commercials name The Hire [2] directed by Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, David Fincher, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Tony Scott, Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez, Joe Carnahan and John Frankenheimer or the current series of Diet Mountain Dew Fact commercials [3] [4].

On the other side of the equation, programming is become more video-bite-sized with the rise and fall and sustained presence of reality television and entertainment news programming, such as E!’s The Daily Ten or, the ultimate example, VH1’s Best Week Ever.  The snippet-sized content flows into commercials almost seamlessly; in the latter example, the repetitive looping nature of the original piece of entertainment culture/celebutant “news” is surrounded, prefaced and followed by an endless loop of commentary from people defined by their occupation as comedians, actors and “television personalities” [isn’t everyone on television a television personality? another loop].  The show advertises what is coming up next several times in a segment, presenting a constant state of anticipation to the next “big” story feature – a rhetorical strategy typically employed as a segue to commercials.  Instead of commercials, however, VH1 gives the viewer more commercial-sized commentary on entertainment news.  I am left unsure of what I am watching is commercial or show.  It seems that everything is a preview for something that never arrives.  [Waiting for Heidi Montag?]  Vertiginous, schizophrenic and surreal are three adjectives that come to mind. 

[Can’t embed video from vh1.com and it appears that Viacom doesn’t like to allow users to post the video they own onto sites not owned by Viacom – and subject to their profitability.  This will get you to the available library of the show, if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, the episodes from 2004 aren’t available, which are the original experiments in editing-on-amphetamines while wearing sound-killing earmuffs.]

In my video project, I am choosing to use video to exhibit the limiting, passive nature of this visual and auditory digital medium.  The viewer clicks play and watches.  In particular, the limited use of voiceover during the commercial breaks forces the viewer to wait through the filler to get to the content – if they choose to continue watching, of course.  Ideally, I’d like to frame the video through a web page to further challenge notions of interactivity via applications and networks.  [This may depend on file size and resolution.]  The telling of the narrative during the commercial breaks is a furthering of m perception of the ambiguity between content and commercial – the content of this fiction takes place exclusively during the commercial.  The interference of the writer with the multiple narrators is another form of control, as well as a representation of interaction between writer and reader – a representation that is an artificial interaction.  


Control, Freedom and Netroots

Found this over at The Field a favorite stomping ground of mine for the election season:

The Field » Comparing Dean and Obama

Comparing Dean and Obama

By Tracy Russo

This is interesting:

Obama hasn’t turned his campaign over to the grassroots so much as channeled grassroots energy into a more traditional campaign structure. Obama’s Internet supporters have become precinct captains and canvassers; they help plan local campaign events. But strategic decisions always flow down from Obama’s Chicago brain trust. The campaign made this clear last spring, when it took over a popular Obama MySpace page from the activist who’d created it. Such bigfooting would have been inconceivable for Dean and Trippi. For the Obama campaign, the move was necessary to ensure a coherence that the Deaniacs often lacked.

Especially with regard to the way in which the Obama campaign has utilized technology to engage and empower its grassroots base, it often seems as if the lessons learned from the Dean campaign have enabled the Obama operation to avoid a lot of pitfalls they might have otherwise fallen victim to. Instead of the pure chaos of a first-time political experiment, there was a maturing of methodology, enabling the campaign to harness the energy and excitement of the Obama base and translate it into action.

That being said, as I am what often seems like the only online progressive who was not part of the Dean phenomena, I’d be interested in hearing from The Field folks on this one. If you were a Deaniac in 2004 and are an Obamaite in 2008 how do you compare the two campaigns?

This reminded me about Chun’s discussion at the end of Chapter 1 and how control, freedom and participation converge and diverge, in the various forms. Political activism is one of the big litmus tests for the consequences of technology and networks. I thought this WaPo and The Field discussion was a good entrance point for this primary election cycle.

Disclaimer: Tracy Russo was the “official” blogger for the Edwards ’08 campaign; The Field leans heavily Obama, as its main concern are rural issues and, to a lesser extent grassroots organizing, labor and lobbyist influence.