Archive for the ‘ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures’ Category

ARIN6903: The Human Printer: You are a gadget

September 29, 2010

I heart Twitter. I was slow to jump on the 140 character bandwagon but as soon as I got into the swing of things, there was no stopping the tweets.  On reflection, what I like about it most is not the time it sucks from my hands, it’s not the inane innermost thoughts of people I don’t know. No, it’s the fact that I can follow almost anyone – that is, those with an unlocked account – and there’s no need for reciprocation. It’s like a modern, digital version of free love. Or something.

Enough rambling and back to my point about being able to follow anyone.  What that actually means is that I’m exposed to all sorts of bizarre and fascinating tidbits of information that I can choose to explore further if the tweeter has managed to convey the larger topic within the 140 character constraint. This morning in my feed was this simple tweet:

“wow. just … wow. http://www.thehumanprinter.org”

So, as you can guess, I was intrigued enough to follow the link to find out what this human printer might be. As you can probably work out, The Human Printer is an artist, Louise Naunton Morgan, who mimics a digital printer to re-create images that are sent in to her by people wanting her to create some art for them.

What I found interesting and a little contradictory is that she is mimicking a style that she is critical of:

“Today technology plays a huge role in everyday life…we have constructed these machines to aid our lives, making simple productions/tasks easier to accomplish. Our environment is now scattered with machine made artefacts, computer developed images and autonomous interactions—We are losing the essence of human production and craft to the machine, resulting in a soulless utilitarianism.”  (Charlesworth, 2010)

However, even though it seems contradictory on the surface, the point of “reclaiming the lost art of production” does seem to be something that the artist can achieve with this project since it makes people aware of both the similarities and differences between a human and a machine performing the same task.

The limitation of the digital printer in that it can only produce colours in CMYK halftone is something that Morgan replicates in her work. It appears that Morgan’s is a rejection of what Jaron Lanier refers to as “lock-in” in his 2010 book You are not a gadget. Lock-in is a point during the development and adoption of a new technology where the features and constraints of the new technology are based on the assumed need for it to be compatible with older technology (Lanier, 2010). I don’t know what the exact reasons are that have led to the particular constraints of digital printers, but I do know that the constraints of digital printers obviously affect what we can do with the technology and to an extent, mandate what is possible.

Morgan’s project seems to be an attempt at reclaiming the human element in technology and highlighting our interaction with it rather than succumbing to what Lanier describes as a “wave gradually washing over the rulebook of life”. (Lanier, 2010: 9). I also think it’s part of a wider movement of artists rejecting digital technology for more analogue methods, which can be seen in the music of bands such as The White Stripes and Air with their expensive vintage Moog keyboards.

The Human Printer

The Human Printer

References:

Charlesworth, J. (2010)  The Human Printer Exhibition at KK Outlet,
Accessed from: http://www.core77.com/blog/events/the_human_printer_exhibition_at_kk_outlet_17481.asp
Last accessed: 29 September 2010

Lanier, J. (2010) You are not a gadget,
New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Naunton Morgan, L.(nd) The Human Printer
http://www.thehumanprinter.org

ARIN6903: Lady Gaga as the embodiment of remediation

September 15, 2010

Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga is big. Very big.  Six million Twitter followers, 17 million Facebook friends, 15 million album and 51 singles sales (The Guardian: 2010), hundreds of millions of YouTube views….and so on.

The music itself is standard catchy modern pop – it’s nothing that unique to write home about. What makes her stand out are all the extra things that come with the music – the outlandish outfits (meat dress anyone?), the constant profession of being an outsider, the spectacle of her live performances and most importantly, her mastery of many different forms of media in which she brings her fans with her into the vortex of fame.

Lady Gaga Meat Dress

Lady Gaga Meat Dress

Her success is due to this mastery of media, without which she would still be plain ol’ Stefani Joanne Germanotta.  The success is not due to the music which is rather bland and formulaic.  She does have a beautiful voice, which you can sense watching her pre-fame performances, but this gets lost in the hype machine.

Gaga is so heavily stylised and has appropriated from so many genres, icons and cultural references that it’s hard to know who the woman behind the mask is. But that’s just the way she likes it in her quest to become a modern icon. Feminist icon Camille Paglia last week weighed in to the debate, calling Gaga a “ruthless recycler of other people’s work”. (Paglia, 2010)

It’s for these reasons that Gaga makes for a fascinating study for media theorists curious about her impact on pop culture, media and society in general.

This brings me to the concept of “remediation” as espoused by Bolter and Grusin which I want to extend here to an individual, rather than simply media forms. Gaga is everywhere, constantly in the press for her latest controversial outfit or performance. She has transcended the archetype of the female pop singer to become almost her own medium and is increasingly hypermediated whilst she remediates pop music. She perfectly fits what Bolter and Grusin identify as a desire to get to the real via hypermediation (1999). She states that Lady Gaga is not a character, but is her real self.

Gaga references fame and media constantly in her own media artefacts – her breakthrough album was called The Fame Monster, its big hits included Paparazzi and Telephone and her latest song is called Living on the Radio, as though she recognises she is nothing without the media she so heavily employs.  She has multiple websites which are all cross-referenced and embedded with different media types showcasing her presence on other websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. She also has a massive merchandising operation.

Lady Gaga's hypermediated website

Lady Gaga's hypermediated website

Elle Bedard writes that “Sometimes she resembles other pop stars, sometimes a character from Japanese animation, or a Roy Lichtenstein print.”(2010:1)

Just some of the influences she has appropriated as she constructs her identity are:

Surrealism in the form of the meat dress she wore this week, her past outfit featuring a lobster headpiece and, come to think of it, pretty much most of her creative output

Madonna, mostly via her fashion choices, prolific output and ubiquituity

Grace Jones via her stage costumes

Queen via her choice of name inspired by their 80s hit Radio Gaga.

Andy Warhol who she has acknowledged as an influence and refers to when discussing aspects of fame

Gaga Pop Art magazine cover

Gaga Pop Art magazine cover

For those of us old and cynical enough to recognise the endless cultural references she makes, the hypermediation is quite obvious and almost jarring – I believe for this group of people the “real” that is attempted is not achieved. For her younger fans, this is all completely new and I think that they experience Gaga as “real”. Awareness of this mediation is just not part of the experience for them, it is invisible.

Adding to the debate by exploring Gaga as a character or an individual, Bedard quotes Baudrillard to assert that Gaga is “pure simulacrum, “a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”  Put differently, Lady Gaga does not exist.” (2010: 1)

Gaga is a one-woman media industry and it’s hard to believe she really only came to prominence in the last two years. I’m beginning to wonder how many clones of herself she has just to manage her overwhelming media presence.

References

Bedard, E. (2010) “Can’t Read My Poker Face”: The Postmodern Aesthetic & Mimesis of Lady Gaga
Accessed from: http://gagajournal.blogspot.com/2010/08/cant-read-my-poker-face-postmodern.html
Last accessed: 15 September 2010

Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R.A. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, Mass;  London: MIT Press

Paglia, C. (2010) Lady Gaga and the death of sex
Accessed from: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/magazine/article389697.ece
Last accessed 15 September 2010

The Guardian (2010) Pass notes, No 2,843: Lady Gaga
Accessed from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/sep/08/pass-notes-lady-gaga-meat-bikini
Last accessed: 15 September 2010

Other reading

Gaga Stigmata – theoretical analysis of all things Gaga
http://gagajournal.blogspot.com/

ARIN6903: Internet activism – Facebook group reclassifies Tony Blair’s memoirs in bookstores

September 5, 2010

Last semester I wrote about Internet protest for the Internet Cultures and Governance class:original post here.

One of the criticisms raised about Facebook being used to organise groups was that it is often used for the most inane types of “support movements” and “protests” – eg. “Can this sausage roll get more fans than Cheryl Cole?”

I was interested to read this morning The Guardian reporting that in the UK, members of a 5000-strong Facebook group are encouraging people to go into their local bookstores and “reclassify” Tony Blair’s new autobiography by moving it from its assigned section to another section, for example to the crime section. The idea is to conduct a legal, subversive protest to get people thinking about Tony Blair’s alleged war crime: the war on Iraq.

Clearly, it’s not enough to simply set up a Facebook group to make an impact, the subject of the protest needs to be something that is genuinely in the interests of society and the tactics used need to be original, rather than simply setting up the group and making a few announcements. In the UK, Tony Blair is an incredibly divisive figure, attracting derision for involving the UK in the Iraq war on what appears to be flimsy reasoning. Moving his autobiography to the crime section keeps this controversy in the headlines, makes people think about how an event (the war) is perceived as legal or illegal and takes some of the gloss from Blair’s book launch.

References:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/05/tony-blair-memoirs-facebook-group

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=150746811621277

ARIN6903: North Korea expands its propaganda machine on social networking sites

August 23, 2010

Propaganda is as old as humankind itself and covers a vast array of subject matter, from religion to race, politics to pollution, advertising to Al-Qaida. What comes to mind when the word propaganda comes up may depend on where you were raised. For me, I think back to high school history lessons about the Nazi Third Reich in 1930s and 40s Germany, when Joseph Goebbels produced thousands of pieces of propaganda aimed at maintaining the stranglehold of the Nazi party. Of course, those nations fighting against Germany in the Second World War produced their own powerful anti-German and anti-Japanese propaganda.

In Australia, we are no strangers to both benign and more damaging propaganda, in recent times being urged to “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” on the one hand, and on the other, during the years of the White Australia policy (which lasted in some form from the 1950s all the way up to 1973), newspaper readers would have seen Phil Ray’s “Asian Octopus” staring back at them from the pages,  with each octopus tentacle representing a supposed “Asian evil”.

Asian_octopus

That brings my post to more modern times, with the news just last week that the state of North Korea (@uriminzok) has joined Twitter in an effort to spread its propaganda across another medium and further around the globe. The diplomatically isolated state has also set up accounts on those other Web 2.0 behemoths – YouTube and Facebook. So, with my studies in mind, I duly signed up to follow North Korea on Twitter, set them up as a “friend” on Facebook and viewed some of their YouTube clips. True to the nature of propaganda being a one-way communication flow, the North Korean Twitter account indicates that they have 10,000 odd followers, yet they are not following anyone.

As could be expected, the press have picked up on North Korea’s entrée to the social networking world with The New York Times reporting that:

In one clip, it called Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a “minister in a skirt” and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates a “war maniac,” while depicting the South Korean defense minister, Kim Tae-young, as a “servile dog” that likes to be patted by “its American master.”

The propaganda war between North and South Korea had been stopped in 2000, but in May of this year it was resurrected after South Korea blamed North Korea for the sinking of a warship which killed it 46 sailors.

In  a quote that surely indicates that propaganda’s impact depends on its audience and the context in which it situated, Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert on North Korea at Korea University in Seoul was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think this propaganda from the North will have any significant impact among South Koreans. “People watch this for fun, not to be influenced.”

North Korea's Facebook account

North Korea's Facebook account

North Korea's Facebook Account

North Korea's Facebook Account

North Korea on You Tube

North Korea on You Tube

Although I believe the Internet to be a major influence in societal and technological terms, I also believe that in many ways it is an extension of what has come before, allowing propaganda to spread in a new medium, rather than reinventing the wheel.

One way in which propaganda may benefit in terms of spread, is the Wikipedia site’s editorial processes which are heavily criticised by many observers including Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur. The New York Times has reported that “Insider Editing”, the practice where companies or organisations that find elements in their Wikipedia entry to their dislike edit the entry. Prominent examples have included a computer originating at ExxonMobil responsible for editing a page dealing with the 1989 Exxon-Valdez Alaskan oil spill and PepsiCo editing information critical about Pepsi’s effect on health. A monitoring programme called WikiWatcher attempts to monitor these edits by matching up the IP address where the edits originate with the name of the network owner.

There are of course, many many other examples of how Wikipedia is being used as a propaganda tool. One very controversial one is the move by two Israeli organisations to establish Zionist Wikipedia editing courses, in the belief that online, Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinians. They have identified hundreds of Wikipedia entries they believe to be either inaccurate or slanted to paint Israel in a poor light. Previously, a group that planned to secretly edit Wikipedia pages was banned from the site, hence a more transparent approach by these newer organisations.

References

http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/08abolition.htm

http://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/1582/

http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/cartoons/

http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/monographs/Kendall/Chapter_one.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/world/asia/17north.html?scp=1&sq=korea%20twitter&st=cse

Keen, A. (2008) The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values.  Doubleday, New York.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/technology/19wikipedia.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/18/wikipedia-editing-zionist-groups

ARIN6903: Exit Through the Gift Shop – an elaborate joke on the art world?

August 22, 2010

The recently released film Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fine example of what Bolter and Grusin termed “remediation” (the process where digital forms borrow and attempt to surpass earlier forms, Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R.A., 1999) – featuring and focussing on a dizzying array of artistic and film styles to form a picture of Thierry Guetta, the surprising LA-based street art success.

The film began life as thousands of hours of footage that Guetta shot of street artists working around the world – he first gained entry to this clandestine world via his cousin Space Invader Eventually, Guetta was able to ingratiate himself into the upper echelons of the street art world, gaining the trust and advice of wunderkinds such as American Shepard Fairey (responsible for the Barack Obama “Hope” portrait) and the mysterious Bristol-born Banksy. Guetta worked for different street artists as a fixer of sorts, assisting them in the dead of night to erect their artworks, many times risking arrest or injury to do so.

Guetta would religiously film every time he went out to assist, the artists (and Guetta himself) under the impression that he was also a director working on a documentary about street art.  What they were unaware of is that Guetta had no filing system for his footage, simply storing the tapes in masses of boxes at his home. The job of reviewing and putting together the footage would be mammoth.

Exit Through the Gift Shop was marketed as “A Banksy film”, however it is actually about Guetta.  Guetta’s deception becomes clear when Banksy asks to see the footage that Guetta has assembled.  The first edit of the “film” called Life Remote Control is a mess, a jumble of visuals smashed together with no clear narrative form.  Banksy then decides to take control, taking the raw footage Guetta shot and creating the film, with Guetta as the main character. Writing in The Vine, critic Chris Cork says:

Exit Through The Gift Shop gradually reveals itself to have all along been not so much a documentary, but instead a boiling, subversive and exacting work of Banksy art in itself; one of equal merit to anything the artist has ever sprayed on the outside wall of a pub. (Cork, C. , 2010)

In the meantime, Guetta decides to have a crack at being an artist, adopting the pseudonym “Mr Brainwash”. In a modern day version of Warhol’s Factory, Guetta recruits a team of LA graphic designers with the aim of putting on his own art show. This is not before he installs some stencil street art in prominent positions around LA. With his designers, Guetta is almost like a song composer and conductor of an orchestra – he himself does not create the artworks – communicating his “vision” to the graphic designers who realise it for him. With a knack for self publicity, Guetta attracts quite a lot of attention from the LA art press and later enjoys a huge crowd to his debut show which also makes huge sales. Behind the scenes, the production of the show had been in tatters due to Guetta’s almost ADHD-like inability to focus. Eventually, some of his staff take charge to make the final placements of different pieces.

Now, to the art itself.  It is manifestly clear that Guetta was heavily influenced by the street artists he was so privileged to have access to. His work is a meld of styles:  stencils, reverse negatives, Warhol-like portraits. Banksy himself is critical of Guetta’s work, believing that it lacked originality and was cheap. Some film critics have suggested that Banksy and Shepard Fairey are simply jealous of Guetta’s success and the film is an elaborate swipe at him.

Regardless, the film does raise many questions about art and some of its recent incarnations: what is art? Is something that is remediated or remixed considered original? It also raises questions about the modern culture of consumption and the use of PR and public image manipulation (indeed part of Banksy’s allure is the fact that he remains unidentifiable).

Critic Peter Bradshaw writing in The Guardian comments

Perhaps the point of Banksy’s art is that it inhales the wild spirit of forgery: his work makes free with brand identities and the symbols of authority, it replicates them, debunks and devalues them, it is a form of benign subversion. (Bradshaw, P. , 2010)

Is Banksy’s work worthless graffiti? Perhaps it is, but it certainly gets people talking about art and debating street art’s merits. It also always has a message behind it, usually controversial.

To my mind, artists such as Fairey and Banksy are inherently more original than Guetta who cheapened the process by creating an assembly-line production system and appeared to be more about getting rich, after seeing the success of Banksy in particular.

The film itself is also considered to be a possible elaborate hoax on the artworld itself, with rumours that the real director is either Spike Jonze or Harmony Korine. As Banksy has discovered himself, there is nothing like mystery and rumour to stir intrigue.

View the Exit Through the Gift Shop trailer:

Guetta’s Warholian Kanye West portrait:

Mr Brainwash's Kanye West portait

Mr Brainwash's Kanye West portait

Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster:

Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster

Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster

References:

Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R.A. (1999) Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge, Mass; London:  MIT Press

Bradshaw, P. (2010) Exit Through the Gift Shop
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/mar/04/exit-through-the-gift-shop-review
Last accessed: 20/8/10

Cork, C. (2010) Exit Through The Gift Shop – movie review
Accessed at: http://www.thevine.com.au/entertainment/movie-reviews/exit-through-the-gift-shop-_-movie-review20100601.aspx
Last accessed: 20/8/10

ARIN6903: Splendour in the Grass: a Tweet too far?

August 11, 2010

Along with 31,999 others, I recently attended the 10th Splendour in the Grass festival, this year held for the first time at Woodfordia in QLD rather than in its usual location of Byron Bay.

I’m a relatively recent convert to Twitter, only beginning to use it regularly at the start of this year for university classes. Rather than being an active tweeter, I was more of a lurker, with a long list of people and companies I was following. I often asked myself “what do I have to say of interest?” and was quite careful not to tweet my every thought as so many do.

The turning point of my Twitter behaviour came about due to Splendour. Rather than being satisfied simply to take part in the festival, I found myself tweeting my observations and experiences as they occurred to me. And I found it hard to stop once I’d started.  By using the #splendour hashtag, I became part of a temporary and active community of attendees.

During the festival, I got thinking about how Twitter affects a person’s experience of an event. For the active user who tweets during an event, I don’t think Twitter is an add-on to the experience, it’s integral to it. What do I mean? Well, tweeting during the event mediates the experience for the individual and builds their sense of communion.  They can report on their observations during the event to other attendees (and even to non-attendees who want to feel a part of it) and can also follow what others are saying.  In this way, Twitter forms a collaborative narrative of an event.

My tweets during the festival

True to my overly analytical thought processes, I was quite hard on myself for regularly tweeting during the festival, when perhaps I should have just been purely experiencing it as others appeared to be. But is tweeting really all that much of a departure from either chatting to your friends who are with you or sending a picture message to a friend who can’t attend? I don’t believe so.

Twitter also proved to be a very practical tool during the festival. On one evening, due to a disappointing lack of adequate balancing of bands between different stages, the main amphitheatre became full during Florence and the Machine since there was no band of a similar calibre playing on another stage to balance the crowd levels. I overhead people talking about a lockout on the amphitheatre, with security guards closing the gates once it became full. I then caught up with a friend who had seen the resulting chaos and near-riot situation as irate festival-goers tried to get through the gates. I then checked Twitter to get an update on the situation and decided it was safe to venture towards the amphitheatre to see The Strokes once Florence and the Machine had finished and the crowd thinned out.

But, without a doubt the most significant part of my Splendour Twitter experience was when I adopted the persona of an amateur music hack. Let me set the scene for you:  a friend mentioned on Facebook (yes I was overdoing the social networking thing at Splendour!) that I should check out Richard Ashcroft’s new band, the United Nations of Sound. Sure enough, I found a gap in my schedule and walked over to that stage where another friend was already watching. Immediately, I noticed how small the crowd watching was and thought “this doesn’t bode well”. Especially, since the lights were focussed on the crowd, emphasising how small it was. I could see Richard Ashcroft was not impressed, but his voice sounded brilliant and so recognisable.  Here’s a blow by blow account of what happened next:

The next day, the Faster Louder website contacted me to ask me more about what went down. Their reporter subsequently used information from my tweets and the set list in an article: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/news/local/24902/Richard-Ashcrofts-Bitter-Symphony.htm

I also gained a whole bunch of new followers from the event. Even the Faster Louder article was a collaboration: my tweets and setlist image were used in conjunction with information and video provided by another Splendour attendee.

For me, Twitter also forms part of a digital time capsule of the event and I’m still contemplating wading through the #splendour archive to see what I’ve missed, though I imagine it will require many many days in front of the computer.