From ‘Suture’ to ‘Scan’ in Paranormal Activity 3

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My video essay “VHS Found Footage and the Material Horrors of Post-Cinematic Images” is now online over at In Media Res, where it kicks off a week of discussions on the topic of found-footage aesthetics. Take a look and join the conversation!

“Found Footage Video Aesthetics” Theme Week at In Media Res

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Next week, August 17-21, 2015, I will be participating in the “Found Footage Video Aesthetics” theme week at the mediaCommons site In Media Res. I’ll be up first, on Monday, Aug. 17, with a video essay on the topic of “VHS Found Footage and the Material Horrors of Post-Cinematic Images” — a project I started this summer at the NEH-funded Middlebury College Workshop on Videographic Criticism. Stay tuned!

Making Mining Networking: Video Documentation

Above, some video documentation of the pieces included in Making Mining Networking, the exhibition that Karin and I have going on until September at Duke University. As I posted recently, the augmented reality platform we used to make the interactive components (Metaio) has been sold to Apple and will be going offline at the end of the year. All the more reason to document everything now — but until December 15 you can still try out the pieces yourself, either in person at the exhibition or on your own computer screen with a smart device (see the images here)!

The (generative, network-driven) music is from the project “Listen to Wikipedia,” by Hatnote — which seemed a perfect match for the theme of Making Mining Networking!

Making Mining Networking: Exhibition Extended, But Not For Long…

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Making Mining Networking went on display on April 20, 2015 at Duke University’s The Edge digital workspace. The show was originally scheduled to run until mid May, but it was extended several times until September 2015. After that, a few of the pieces are slated to be shown in Spring 2016 in an exhibit organized by the online journal Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures and the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University Camden.

In the meantime, however, it was reported in late May that the augmented reality platform we used to build the interactive components of our pieces had been sold – effectively putting an expiration date on our artworks. Metaio GmbH, makers of the popular Junaio AR browser and the underlying engine that allowed us to augment our QR-based paintings with videos, 3D objects, and HTML hyperlinks, were acquired by one of the biggest corporations in the business: Apple.

Even before the buyout was confirmed, rumors had started circulating after Metaio abruptly closed their community forums, cancelled their annual developers’ convention, and stopped selling their software and services. An ominous message went up on the Metaio website (metaio.com):

Metaio products and subscriptions are no longer available for purchase.

Downloads of your previous purchases will be available until December 15th, 2015, and active cloud subscriptions will be continued until expiration. Email support will continue until June 30th, 2015.

Thank you.

(No, thank you!) Lacking any explanation, users of the Metaio/Junaio AR platform were left to speculate about the future of their advertising campaigns, educational applications, and (as in our case) artworks.

Shortly thereafter, after the acquisition by Apple came to light, our worst fears were confirmed in the FAQs section on junaio.com. There we read:

Channel publishing to Junaio is no longer available. All existing channels will continue to be available until December 15th, 2015.

In other words, the pieces included in Making Mining Networking will no longer be functional at the end of the year. The QR codes painted on these canvases will no longer work; the pieces will then be flattened from the interactive physical/virtual assemblages they were designed to be and rendered into … paintings. Or worse, they will retain an executable dimension, albeit a non-operational one, and it will be supplemented by a weirdly representational dimension: effectively, these will then be paintings of 404 error codes.

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Like all of the pieces, “The Magical Marx-Markov Manifesto Maker” is therefore destined to lose its magic; the QR code, when scanned with a smartphone, will lead the user’s browser into virtual nothingness. On the other hand, though, pieces like “The Gold Standard” and “Gnomecrafting” might still have something to tell us – precisely because their non-operationality will render visible the inevitable entanglement of proprietary platforms and obsolescent objects that is the material heart and soul of digital capital.

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Making Mining Networking is (or was?) about probing the borders between the virtual and the physical – boundaries that are inscribed in stone (e.g. rare earths) as much as they are written in code. With our works, we have sought to invite users to experiment with this interface, opting for a playful approach to a space that we know is about deadly serious transactions (in the realms of capital and of the environment, to begin with). We installed our data gnomes at the physical/virtual border where they stood as talismans to ward off the bad spirits of digital capital – but we were never so naïve as to believe that they could really protect us for long. We still believe that we regained something of personal value by reclaiming our data from corporate mining and making something weird and inscrutable with it, but now a corporate transaction is about to render our productions invisible.

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Again, however, it is the seeming totality of such corporate power to make things invisible – to make all that’s solid melt into zeroes and ones – that is paradoxically made visible at this juncture, where links are inoperative, QR codes are non-functional, and paintings are not just paintings but paintings of such failure.

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Data-Portrait2 Data_Portrait1

Following our initial disappointment, then, we now now eagerly await the appointed date, our “doomsday” of December 15, 2015 – when the truth of Making Mining Networking will be revealed. Will it be a simple 404 message, or can we hope for something else to make manifest the physical/virtual interface as it exists in our era of climate change, high-speed finance, and the biopolitical mining of all that breathes and lives? Only time will tell…

In the meantime, these works exist as reminders of the expiration date that is implicitly inscribed in all of our devices – and, potentially, our very planet – at the hands of global digital capital. Play with them, think with them, experience with them – and await with us their obsolescence…

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Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes — SLSA 2015

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I am excited to be a part of the panel “Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes,” which will be chaired by my colleague David Rambo at the upcoming conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) — hosted in Houston this year by Rice University, November 12-15, 2015. Below you will find the panel description and links to the individual abstracts.

Video Games’ Extra-Ludic Echoes

Chair: David Rambo

Each of the three presentations in this panel perform their own media-theoretical approach to comprehend how video games extend and consolidate the sociotechnical logics surrounding their conception, production, and reception. We intend to kindle a discussion about the ways certain video games order significant ideologies and activities of human life: from multimedial culture industries to the blurred division between life and labor to the concealment of racism in the techniques of 20th-century entertainment. All three share a motivation to delineate various cultural and economic inheritances of video games and the transformative ways in which video games echo those inheritances.

Shane Denson’s contribution attends to the serial manifestations of Batman across genres and media. He hones in on the subsumption of life-time under work-time that is common to the computational networks of daily life and to the crossed borders of serial figures such as Batman. In Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux’s “White Hand, Black Box,” we learn to recognize in the maniculed pointer of various softwares’ interfaces and especially in the Master Hand of Super Smash Brothers the now concealed tradition of black minstrelsy as it was imbued by Disney in the gloved hands of Mickey Mouse and other characters. David Rambo deploys a Spinozist theoretical framework to categorize the video game, Diablo III in particular, as a neoliberal enterprise that extrinsically determines the player’s desire and even will to live. Spinoza’s Ethics thereby offers a way to conceptualize the video game both as an autonomous entity marked with finite, and thus fulfillable, completeness, and as a node in a much broader regime of affections that orders capital’s socioeconomic system.

These three presentations depict the video game as an artifactual conduit eminently bound up with the cultural forces that ineluctably structure our civilization, from its marginal groups to its most powerful systemic imperatives.

Abstracts for the individual papers:

Shane Denson, “Gaming and the ‘Parergodic’ Work of Seriality in Interactive Digital Environments”

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, “White Hand, Black Box: The Manicule from Mickey to Mario to Mac OS”

David Rambo, “Spinoza on Completion and Authorial Forces in Video Games”