Here in a flash are links either directly or tangentially related to my experience "Turning the Inside Out" last month. It's a selfish way to gather them for myself, masquerading as selflessness. I often think of writing, or making films, as hospitality, anticipating a guest's needs, making places for them, giving them moments to rest, and exposing them to nourishing new flavors. So imagine my delight when I found this, in an interview John Waters just conducted with David Cronenberg:
"I don’t really look for them," Cronenberg said when asked by Waters if he keeps up with the horror genre. "There was a time when I studied them when I was a kid. But since then, unless it’s something really special, I won’t seek it out. It has to be something that I feel will nourish me."
Qui si mangia bene.
How Not to Be Seen:
Not coincidentally, to see and be seen are the most pressing imperatives of our audiovisual economies. To disappear is to subtract oneself from the fluxes of semiotic capitalism—the subject of another Steyerl video work, the fittingly titled How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013). First shown/exhibited/fed to audiences at the Venice Biennale, the video revolves around and hovers over disused photo-calibration targets in the Californian desert— once used to test the resolution of analog aerial photography, they now look like abandoned Mayan temples on Google Earth—while speculating on our contemporary pan-optical besiegement and suggesting possible escape plans. To retreat into gated communities or tax havens, to be over 35 years old (if you’re a female) are some ways to make yourself invisible, but also voiceless; another is to scale yourself down to the size of a pixel, helpfully illustrated in the video by mimes wearing quadrangular, pixel-like boxes on their heads. If clandestinity once required a low profile, these days the cyber outlaw needs a low resolution, though a burqa might just do the trick as well. To use images in order to show how to be invisible is the signifying contradiction at the heart of Steyerl’s video, as it is at the bleeding heart of our virtual condition. Is there really no escape from the tyrannical rule of appearances? Does disappearing inevitably mean also ceasing to exist? Is there life before and beyond images?
After these tactics are outlined, the film crew making this educational video also disappears. In their absence, happy low-resolution pixels take over the production. Digital rendering ghosts dance in the desert landscape as The Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again" plays on the soundtrack. Silliness ensues.
Which I thought of when I read this cartoon, "Out Damned Spot" on Rookie after returning from the seminar.
And this item about MIT folks working on camouflage algorithms:
We think of camouflage as a concern for hunters and soldiers, but in fact our lives are filled with objects we wish blended a little better into their surroundings: a wireless router in your living room, a port-a-potty beside a soccer field, a trash can in a public park. Now, a team of computer scientists at MIT is on the case. Led by graduate student Andrew Owens, they've created an algorithm that analyzes pictures of incongruous objects and creates custom camouflage that makes them fade into their surroundings.
The algorithm analyzes images of an object in situ and pays particular attention to textures and contour lines, which are two of the biggest visual cues we use to distinguish objects from their backgrounds. The researchers' biggest challenge was figuring out how to make the camouflage work from multiple perspectives (if a box sits between a black leather couch and a smooth yellow wall, a pattern that makes it blend in best from one angle would make it striking from another). There's no perfect way to solve this problem, but the MIT researchers found that the best algorithm came up with a camouflage design that worked best from as many angles as possible and also allowed for smooth transitions from one side of the object to another. The camouflaged objects don't disappear completely, but it does take a few extra moments of scrutiny to find them, which, come to think of it, may not actually be what we want in a trailside restroom.
Also related, from The Awl, Why is the Internet blue?
A designer for Tumblr says Tumblr is blue, and "dark," because nobody notices blue. "Everything’s blue," he says. "Posts are bright on that blue background and lifted up with shadows." Blue is for the parts you "don’t need immediately." You can make your Tumblr any color you want; it will appear that way to you, and to people to come directly to your page on their own. Your Tumblr doesn't have to be blue until it shares space with others.
On the dashboard, everyone is trying to be noticed, but everyone is blue.
e-flux Journal: "The Wretched of the Screen" / Hito Steyerl
Hito's work is on display at MIT's List Gallery through July 13 as part of "9 Artists." I am hoping to slip down July 9 for this discussion:
More on surveillance from Maura Johnston, who posted Rockwell's song "Obscene Phone Caller" to This Is My Jam with this note: "what pop songsmith will write the definitive lite-funk jam about being catfished, i wonder"
Smitten also by the work of Duncan Campbell and Jesse McLean, which likewise blew me away. I am still tracking down information about their films. Meanwhile, this WaPo fact-checker piece reminded me about how Duncan's films engage with new, forgotten, and distorted histories:
“Kennedy was certainly bracing for an ‘eyeball to eyeball’ moment, but it never happened,” Dobbs wrote. “There is now plenty of evidence that Kennedy — like Khrushchev — was a lot less steely-eyed than depicted in the initial accounts of the crisis, which were virtually dictated by the White House. Tape-recorded transcripts of White House debates and notes from participants show that Kennedy was prepared to make significant concessions, including a public trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for American missiles in Turkey and possibly the surrender of the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay.”
Then there's this on borders drawn and not drawn on Google Maps, which reminded me of Eric Baudelaire's "Letters to Max."
It’s hard to draw a map without making someone angry. There are 32 countries that Google Maps won’t draw borders around. While the so-called geo-highlighting feature—which Google uses to show a searched area’s borders—is unaffected by the locale of the person looking at them, the borders drawn on Google’s base map will look different depending on where in the world you are.
And here's Eric's lovely "The Makes," about Michelangelo Antonioni’s Japanese films. "Starring French film critic Philippe Azoury in the role of 'The Critic.'”
This piece about the Dokumat 500 seems in keeping with the themes stirred up during the week, especially by how Jesse McLean works with "found footage":
While there is no image recognition involved, the robot also does not recognize any coherence in the sequence it films. But the human viewer links, due to his conditioning, the individual takes in the finished film. A person who watches those videos will discover inspiring sequences and bizarre plots. Recurring motives run like a thread through the video documentary.
By the robot’s random control, it produces unexpected sequences and also predictable ones. Occasionally, it composes its pictures in completely conventional ways, sometimes it deviates from our viewing habits. Often, things in the background seem to interest it much more, than the obvious.
It directs the attention of the spectator on things, where humans usually don’t take the time to view it, or on situations, where we would not have the necessary boldness for an insistent observation....
The robot has a basic artificial intelligence, which allows it to move independently in almost any environment. Infrared sensors avoid collisions and provide the robot with the required basic information about its surroundings. Pans and tilts of the camera depend on the movement of the machine in its particular environment, and not on what the camera sees. The movements are based on an algorithm, which lets the robot behave, as if it would have a personality.
However, both, the design and the behavior of Dokumat 500 suggest a curiosity about the happening in front of its lens, to be inherent in it.
Its presence and the attributes of an offensive observation are regarded first as being exciting, after a while they get annoying, obtrusive and disturbing. The flightcase of the robot accommodates not only the robot during transport, it also offers space for large archive of video cassettes, which is build up gradually.
Man, I haven't even gotten to Johan Grimonprez. But I'll close here by hailing some present but not officially presenting artists from the week. First up are Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs, "The Monks of Cinema."
And last is Maura Jasper, at the Flaherty as a seminarian, whom I knew from a past life but not this past life, where she did the art for Dinosaur, Jr.'s albums and made the transistion to the video art she does now with this clip for one of my favorite covers.
"I had so little experience, but that was a plus. I didn’t have any technical ability; I had ideas. I knew it would be OK if it was falling apart, because it would be funny. It was the same as if you’re in a punk rock band and can’t play the guitar — you just need the attitude and you just go.
The attitude in that work, and the ideas that came out of that, those came with me and went into everything I’ve gone on to make. I take it with me. Some artists burn the work they made before a certain time, to let go of the past, so no one can see it. I can’t do that. All my developmental years are out in public. And I’m OK with that."