This begins my journey on the Computational Arts-Based Research and Theory module as part of my Masters Degree at Goldsmiths. I'm much more apprehensive of this module than any others since I am fairly confident in my abilities at writing software, however, I'm neither confident nor well practised in writing for humans despite having worked in journalism for nearly ten years. However, it also means that I expect to perhaps learn and develop more in this area.
Our class begins with introductions, an amazing mix of students with different backgrounds, experience and interests, and so the introductions take much longer than scheduled, practically the entire lesson!
As preparation for this lecture we were asked to bring a book that we thought interesting and related to the course. I chose the catalogue for the Decode: Digital Design Sensations at the V&A. I visited the exhibition in 2009 and it completely changed me, I had been interested in art and technology as separate interests all my life, but in this exhibition, it really brought the two together. Looking back, perhaps should have act on my interest immediately, but that isn't the path my life took. I moved to New York City fairly soon after visiting that exhibition and continued to be interested in computational art, and got involved with some things like the ITP summer school and many amazing conferences and festivals such as EYEO. Ultimately I think that exhibition kicked started a lot of that for me and lead to me taking this MA.
Reflections of the reading
For the lesson we read Femke Snelting's post "A fish can’t judge the water", published 2006, on the Constant blog. Snelting outlines some of the capacities in which software would routinely be used and activities which would be performed. She then poses the key question "do we use software to think?". The question's answer is, like others in the essay, only hinted at by way of the title; that in many ways we are submerged and can only answer from within the aquarium of our software-driven mind.
Snelting provides an analogy of sensing when a sauce has started to burn when stirring it with a wooden spoon. Implying that software has become an extension of our self, a "seamless experience" but then talks of the invisible boundaries that are created, and the politics that these bring along too.
She lists a maddening array of cryptic error messages and legal issues which to many users perhaps typifies usage of software. It can be both a blessing and a curse, freedom and a prison. Many issues around software are equally important as the actual code itself.
Snelting then shifts focus to talk about the use of Open Source at Constant. Starting by quoting Katherine Hayles on "How We Became Posthuman", regarding the tension between a "reader" and "writer", in which Hayles discusses extensively the essence of being human and what post-humanism means. A key point being when discussing the Turing test she writes:
the important intervention comes much earlier, when the test puts you into a cybernetic circuit that splices your will, desire, and perception
Saying that even human-to-human communication has a paradigm shift when it travels through cyberspace. Looking at this framing is very important, where a question is asked from (as a fish inside a tank?) differs from the answer from another location.
Snelting states that "Constant is not a community of programmers" and so I feel the usage of Open Source is mainly political rather than practical. It feels that she has somewhat muddled the use of the term Open Source versus Free Software, a distinction which is often confused, the first where source code can merely be inspected, and the second which gives rights around use and redistribution. It's a common problem within the Open Source community and one which Richard Stallman frequently rails against.
She then lists various aspects of software, such as the diversity of the groups that produce it, the boundaries and usability. I feel like these are orthogonal from any aspects regarding Open Source but perhaps were seen as typical qualities when the essay was written.
We were asked think and reflect on how software coordinates life in our blogs. I initially thought about being a user of the Santander bike scheme, so I use the Citymapper App on my smartphone to locate a nearby docking station with an available bike. Often I will then follow the suggested route, but not always since I've lived in London for a long time so have built up my own preferred routes. In the last decade, a great deal of the administrative aspects of life have been captured in a more direct way with software, such as where I can now use my phone for banking, booking tickets and dealing with utility companies. However most for most of these actions, I choose how and when to interact with them (though often at the behest of a prompt from the App). I struggled to think of clear aspects where my thinking and behaviour is directly driven by software, the best example perhaps would be when playing Ingress (a precursor of Pokémon Go) which had a big influence both of the direction and distances I would walk compared to my usual routes.
I really enjoy visiting galleries and museums and so will occasionally blog about that here, hopefully with an increasingly reflective and widened tone.
This week I visited a 24-hour screening of The Clock by Christian Marclay at Tate Modern. I arrived slightly after 1 am and there was a substantial queue so I started seeing the piece at 2:22am and watched until 4:34 am by which point I was rather tired and decided to go home.
The work is a series of clips taken from many films where a clock is showing the time or the time is mentioned or implied in some way and the time of the performance means each clip is synchronised such that the time in the film is the current time. Therefore during my visit, the general theme of the clips was around very late night activity, with people finally going to sleep, stay up late staking out a crime scene, and then eventually morphing in to scenes of early awakenings. It was hard to think of underlying theory behind the work, and I think the success of it lies with the concept and fascination in the creation of such an unusual yet functional timepiece and also the sheer joy of watching so many clips and recognising little bits here and there.
Prior to starting my course, I made a trip to NYC and Washington D.C. I saw lots of amazing art there, and particularly interested in the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibition at the Renwick Gallery. I've been on the edges of some of the burner scene art for a while, but haven't really got involved, but seeing some of the amazing computer art on display there I realise it's a key part of the scene and something I need to explore and pay more attention to.