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The Steganographic Image

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s the Conspiracy week at the Photographers’ Gallery in London and I was asked to write a short text on what lies inside the image (code). In other words, I wrote a short text on the Steganographic Image, and hiding messages in plain sight, although in this case, encoded “inside” a digital image. The image that tricks, the image that operates behind your back, or more likely, triggers processes front of your eyes, in plain sight, invisible. As I was reminded, this is also an idea that Akira Lippit has in a different context developed through Derrida. To quote Lippit (quoting at first Derrida): ‘”Visibility,” he says “is not visible.” Invisibility is folded into the condition of visibility from the beginning. There is no visibility that is not also invisible, no visibility that is not in some way always spectral.’One would be tempted to argue that this is where this consideration of the visual meets up with the history of cryptography, or ciphering and deciphering. Or as Francis Bacon put it in 1605 in ways part of the longer media archaeology of the steganographic image too: “The virtues of ciphers are three: that they be not laborious to write and read; that they be impossible to decipher; and, in some cases, that they be without suspicion.” It is especially this third virtue that remains of interest when looking at images without such suspicion: the most banal, tedius of pictures; a spectrality that conjurs up hidden passages, triggers and operations.

My short text can be found here online. It’s only scratching the steganographic surface.

A short preview of the text.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Steganographic Image

Who knows what went into an image, what it includes and what it hides? This is not merely a question of the fine art historical importance of materials, nor even a media historical intrigue of chemistry, but one of steganography – hiding another meaningful pattern, perhaps a message, in data; inside text or an image. This image that is always more than. More than what? Isn’t it obvious from the amount of work gone into art-theoretical considerations of the inexhaustible meanings of the photographic image that it has always been a multiplicity: contexts, fluctuating meanings, readings and the insatiable desire to look at things in order to discover its depths.

As such, a steganographic inscription is neither a depth nor the plain surface but somewhere in between. In contemporary images made of data it refers to how the image can be coded as more than is seen, but also more than the image should do. The steganographic digital image can be executed; it includes instructions for the computer to perform. Photographs as part of a longer history of communication media are one particular way of saying more than meets the eye, but this image also connects to histories of secret communication from the early modern period, to more recent discussions in security culture, as well as fiction such as William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003). Were J.G. Ballard’s 1950s billboard mysteries one sort of cryptographic puzzle that hid a message in plain visual sight?

Continue reading – link to full text

After Arikan: Data Asymmetry

December 20, 2016 Leave a comment

After our succesful exhibition of Burak Arikan’s work, Data Asymmetry, I am posting some of the interviews and material that came out of the exhibition.

Here’s a video interview we did with Arikan setting up the exhibition in the Winchester gallery in November 2016:


And then there’s the interview(s) in Furtherfield: Carleigh Morgan interviewed Burak in the part 1 of the interview about Data Asymmetry and myself in part 2 of the interview. The interview(s) address mapping as a collective experiment,  networks as events, (art) methodologies of working with data and a lot of other topics related to internet culture.

 

 

Digital Contagions,v.2

October 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Last year I was contacted by the publisher of Digital Contagions, which was my first book in English: the commissioning editor proposed to edit a new, upgraded version of the book. Yesterday, the final product arrived and I am happy to tell that with a new cover, with some new text and in general edited, pruned and much more smoothly flowing, it is out – again! And I very excited that it has Sean Cubitt’s new preface too.

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The new cover is from Eva and Franco Mattes’ installation Perpetual Self Dis/Infecting Machine (2001-04): a Custom made computer infected with the virus Biennale.py.

Here’s the back cover with a summary and some nice endorsements from Tiziana Terranova, Charlie Gere, Alex Galloway and Sean Cubitt!

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You can find the book on Peter Lang website and on Amazon and hopefully other online bookshops. Please contact me if you require a review copy.

And as a blast from the past, here’s an interview Matthew Fuller did with me around the publication of the first edition.

Data Asymmetry – a Burak Arikan exhibition in Winchester

October 5, 2016 Leave a comment

monovacation-teaser-3x2_en-jpg_sia_jpg_fit_to_width_inlineI am happy to announce that the Turkish artist, technologist Burak Arikan’s exhibition Data Asymmetry opens in November at the Winchester Gallery (at the Winchester School of Art).

The exhibition addresses critical mapping as a way to understand data culture. The pieces raise questions about the predictability of ordinary human behavior with MyPocket (2008); revealing insights into the infrastructure of megacities like Istanbul as a network of mosques, republican monuments and shopping malls (Islam, Republic, Neoliberalism, 2012) ; remapping and organising recurring patterns in the official tourism commercials of governments with Monovacation (2012); exploring the growth of networks via visual and kinetic abstraction with Tense Series (2007-2012); and showcasing collective production of network maps from the Graph Commons platform. As the works emphasise, the aim of the Graph Commons is to empower people and projects through using network mapping, and collectively experiment with mapping as an ongoing practice.

Previously Arikan has had his work shown at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art New York, Venice Architecture Biennale, São Paulo Biennial, Istanbul Biennial, Berlin Biennial, Ars Electronica and many others.

The exhibition opens November 10.

In addition to the exhibition in the Winchester gallery, Arikan is organising a workshop on critical mapping and network graphs at the Winchester School of Art.

Arikan’s visit also includes another workshop in London at the British Library and as part of the Internet of Cultural Things-project. The visit to Winchester is also supported by the AMT research group at WSA.

For more context on Arikan’s art practice, please find here an audio interview I did with Arikan on stage at transmediale 2016 in Berlin.

For information and queries, please contact me: Contact details.

The Last Pokestop

One does not need an episode of Black Mirror to imagine this quiet future-now landscape: the smaller and smaller rural towns and villages in Finland, emptied of jobs, paper factories, community halls and services.

First came the replacement of the abandoned paper mills with international corporate data server facilities. Gradually the towns turned only into pokestops for the random visitors passing by.

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The 21st century Finnish version of the lyrics “This town, is coming like a ghost town” is the ghostly presence of a pokestop that is too far away. The last pokestop.

An interview on pattern, materiality and data: Rossella Biscotti’s artistic practice

March 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I was briefly interviewed by Anne Zeuthen and Maja Bak Herrie about Rossella Biscotti‘s artistic work, and the themes that emerge as part of her practice. Below this short chat that was done in December 2015. (Note: the interview has not been copy edited for language). All the image below are from the from the exhibition 10×10 (at Wilfried Lenz, Rotterdam, 2014).

 

Q1: How do you define the materiality of the digital, and in what ways does

this emphasis of the material constitute a critical potential?

JP: To think of the materiality of the computation especially in the context of Rossella Biscotti’s practice leads us into a complex entanglement of patterns and data. I’ve been fascinated by the question that seems paradoxical in the context of the legacy of informational culture. Information was supposed to be something different from the thermodynamically entropic materiality of the world and to be the organizational glue for an alternative reality of bits; information was to function in different ways, and it became a whole self-justifying mantra for a new socio-economic phase since the 1990s at least. Bits not atoms. And yet, all of the digital and all of the informational is underpinned by a range of processes that are energetic and material. But computation cannot be reduced to the digital informatics. And the patterns of informational processes, the abstractions, are entangled with the materials, which are infrastructurally necessary for the illusion of immateriality to exist.

The weaved pattern is famously a leading thread (indeed) in Sadie Plant’s fabulously poetic take on digital culture. To quote her: “Just as individuated texts have become filaments of infinitely tangled webs, so the digital machines of the late twentieth century weave new networks from what were once isolated words, numbers, music, shapes, smells, tactile textures, architectures, and countless channels as yet unnamed.” She continues about the yarn as “neither metaphorical nor literal, but quite simply material” suggesting that materiality is of a different order than what we have been accustomed to. I feel drawn to speak of materiality, instead of the “real” which still seems to hint of too much of epistemological evaluation between real and unreal. Instead, the notions of materiality that Plant and a lot of feminist materialism of past decades has inaugurated is something that speaks to this subtle sense of matter in movement, a dynamic matter that matters. This is a sort of a understanding of materiality that is at the same time sensitive to the patterns, the material threads they are made of as a tactile reality that escorts multiple meanings and yet also escapes into alternative sorts of sensorial experiences than merely just what meets the eye.

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Think of it  in terms of pattern, data, that is tactile; the sort of structurations Biscotti is after are data that is touchable and yet much of its layers of information escape touch too. It is not that you can reduce the work to the touch, and yet it is there. It has those multiple layers. I think Biscotti’s work is a great way of approaching materiality that always comes in multiple layers, dimensions; the organization and the materiality are entangled, weaved together. It speaks of data materiality as one of abstractions that are useful and necessary part of how information functions – abstractions are an effective way of managing information infrastructures, as Jean-François Blanchette, but there is in addition this sort of touchable materiality that comes out uniquely in Biscotti’s installations.

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Q2: Previously you have identified your approach as ‘non-McLuhan’ since it

refrains from perceiving media as an expansion of the human body. Instead

you emphasise how media emerge from raw materials such as optical fibres

or copper. What status does that inscribe to the agency of media?

The legacy of Ada Lovelace, weaving and what Biscotti summons is rich in implications. One might easily object; what’s non-human about this? And yet, one can see how this sort of an understanding of the agential realism (Barad’s term) of the weaved pattern suggests a rich understanding of more than what emanates from the human body. As Barad suggests with her term, this sort of agency is not merely about the thing or a person that might have agency but the unfolding event of doing, in-action, that makes it into an agential form of becoming that weaves into its unfolding various sorts of humans and non-humans.

Instead of objects and subjects, we start to speak of entanglements. It becomes like a guiding line for a lot of material analysis and aesthetics. Recently, it featured as part of for example Patricia Pisters’ film theoretical development in an article of her’s; from interaction to the intraction of embodied brains with screen culture. Where human bodies end and start becomes a question of the wider assemblages in which multiple heterogeneous parts form the agential event. Pisters’ essay is part of a new really inspiring special issue of Cultural Studies Review on New Materialism, edited by Ilona Hongisto, Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen. It’s the whole body of new materialist thought that becomes here an exciting driving force for new ontological and aesthetic practices.

So for me, especially my work Insect Media was a sort of a non-McLuhan way of understanding media history. I meant it as a playful provocation, not a dismissal of McLuhan’s work at all. Instead of the Mcluhan mantra that media are extensions of man, one is tempted to ask the question: how about animals, and women? Sadie Plant’s feminist history of media and computing was a step in way of a new vocabulary of media and I wanted to complement some of the work in Insect Media by way of an alternative cultural history, or media archaeology, of media as extensions of the animal. I wanted to look at how insects and other forms of non-human animals were talked about but also taken as models, or even parts of the media assemblage in scientific and technological developments over the 20th century. This ranged from some artistic ideas in Surrealism; design thinking with animals in architecture; software swarms thought of in terms of natural formations; a whole plethora of distributed, alternative and sometimes multilegged, eyed agencies that are irreducible to the human. Insects feature in history of philosophy – from Heidegger’s notes to the famous tick of Deleuze and Guattari – and in addition, there is a media and technological side to such genealogies as well. More recently, I become interested in other sorts of threads: copper, fibre (optics) and other infrastructural dimensions of media culture. This extends again the idea of media as extensions of much more than just the man/human, and as part of even environmental questions: electronic waste for example.

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Q3: Presuming that mediality of art cannot be thought independently of the

materiality in which it takes place, which roles do technologies play in your

conceptualisation of art and its creation of meaning?

This is indeed my approach; art is always modulation of perception, and this modulation is material in that way described above (through Barad, Pisters, and new materialism) briefly; art entangles with our bodies and brains, the percepts and affects tie us into these art works. This sort of agency is not restricted to an object or a thing but becomes the materiality of the relation, a sort of a fabric in motion.

And the entanglement goes deeper; what are the material conditions of art works and processes? These can be investigated by way of their media technological conditions and also infrastructural conditions. Some of recent art has actually turned to investigate their own conditions of existence, or let’s say, the infrastructural again. For example Jamie Allen has been rather inspiring for my work, similarly as the artist duo Cohen van Balen as well as Liam Young and Kate Davies’ design-oriented speculation but of course many many others too.

The name of my chair at Winchester School of Art is  “Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics” and I like to think of it exactly in this extended way; not only about theories of art and beauty in the classical sense always, but the ways in which technologies are artistic already; ways of modulating senses, perceptions, relations. Art and technology go hand in hand. Questions of engineering become themselves turned into art methods, like the Critical Engineer-group suggested. We start to look at art in technological terms too, as Friedrich Kittler in his own way inspired. We are soon starting a new research group called AMT (Archaeologies of Media and Technology) at the WSA, and this sort of a cross-breeding of experimental practice and media theory is one of our core focuses.

Perhaps the connection between art and technology does also suggest new aesthetic vocabularies. I am thinking the way in which Matthew Fuller, in the book on Software Studies, suggests to think of the art of elegance in programming culture. Based on Donald Knuth’s Literate Programming, Fuller elaborates on elegance as a way to reach out from usual considerations; as a trajectory to new fields also even outsider software. One could say this implies an ecological realization underpinning elegance and software. In Fuller’s words: “A fine example of such elegance would be achieved if a way was found to conjoin the criteria of elegance in programming with constraints on hardware design consonant with ecological principles of nonpollution, minimal energy usage, recyclability or reusability, and the health requirements of hardware fabrication and disposal workers. Good design increasingly demands that elegance follows or at least makes itself open to such a trajectory. The criteria of minimal use of processor cycles already has ecological implications”.

It’s this reaching out, a trajectory of new connections as part of urgent social and political questions that makes any question of materiality of art and technology meaningful; both as bodies of theory and as artistic work.

 

Bibliography

Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blanchette, Jean-François (2011) “A Material History of Bits” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62(6), pp.1042–1057,

Fuller, Matthew (2010) “Elegance” in Software Studies. A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp.87-92

Parikka, Jussi (2010) Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Pisters, Patricia (2015) “Temporal Explorations in Cosmic Consciousness: Intra-Agential Entanglements and the Neuro-Image” Cultural Studies Review Vol 21, No 2 (2015), special issue on New Materialisms, edited by Ilona Hongisto, Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen, online at http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/issue/view/334, pp.120-144.

Plant, Sadie (1997) Zeroes + Ones : Digital Women and the New Technoculture. London: Fourth Estate.

Denials of Service

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

I wrote a short text on “Denials of Service” for the just released new book There is no software, there are just services. (Meson Press and downloadable as an open access PDF).

The book, edited by Irina Kaldrack and Martina Leeker, asks if software is dead. This is not merely a rehashed Nietzschean proclamation so much as an observation about the current digital industry landscape where “the (re)emergence of the service paradigm […] challenges traditional business and license models as well as modes of media creation and use.” Indeed, perhaps software is replaced by services.  “The short essays in this edited collection discuss how services shift the notion of software, the cultural technique of programming, conditions of labor as well as the ecology and politics of data and how they influence dispositifs of knowledge.”

Meson Press is a recent publishing initiative at Leuphana University, Luneburg. Here’s a short interview with Mercedes Bunz explaining the idea of the Press.