In Her Latest Interactive Performance, Participants Become Lauren Lee McCarthy’s Baby

Lauren Lee McCarthy’s latest interactive performance Womb Walk premieres as part of her Surrogate installation at IDFA DocLab, the Amsterdam documentary film festival’s new media program. As the American artist strolls the city wearing a prosthetic belly (image), participants ‘become’ McCarthy’s baby. “You control my movements by triggering small internal kicks to the sides of my belly directing me when to turn,” she writes on Instagram. “Together, we navigate the city, with imagined baby as interface.”

UK Government Acknowledges Sentience of Lobsters, Octopus, and Crabs

“The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”
– UK Animal Welfare Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith, on the extension of the country’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to include lobsters, octopus, and crabs. The bill, however, will not affect any existing legislation or industry practices.

Digital Art “Code of Arms” Brings Together Seven Pioneers

Assembling a ‘who’s who’ of artists that pioneered the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in their practice, the group exhibition “Code of Arms” opens at London’s Gazelli Art House. The show follows the evolution of the genre through a mix of early plotter drawings by Vera Molnar, Manfred Mohr, Frieder Nake, and Georg Nees, and later, more contemporary computational works by Harold Cohen, Mario Klingemann, and Lynn Hershman Leeson.

“SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE” Asks Players to Protect Black Trans People

“SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE,” an exhibition by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley opens at London’s arebyte. Subverting the language of the first-person shooter, the game asks players—armed with a hot pink firearm—to NOT shoot Black Trans people, and then witness the results of their (in)action. Inverting the standard logic of the shooter genre where violence and mayhem are a means to an end, the installation creates a space to “capture, preserve and archive Black Trans existence” and reflect on personal responsibility.

Telepathy is *Not* the Natural Conclusion of Digital Communication

“Telepathy becomes a puppet concept, intensifying surveillance by allowing private interest to become less conspicuous, while rendering the consumer more accessible.”
– Writer Dolly Church, rejecting Big Tech’s notion that “conceptual telepathy”—or “mindspeak,” a term coined in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness—is the “natural conclusion of digital communication”

In HOLO 3, Nora N. Khan Explores the Hard Limits of Language

HOLO Annual (HOLO 3) editor Nora N. Khan shares insight into searching for meaning beyond words in the forthcoming issue’s third chapter. “I found I needed to rescind the position I’m entrenched in as a critic—that of the capacity for language as the primary medium through which we understand the world,” Khan writes about working with choice contributors Francis Tseng, Nick Larson, and K Allado-McDowell.

The Hallucinatory Interfaces and Future-Seeing Worms of Ian Cheng’s AI Narrative “Life After BOB”

“The characters experience their various BOB plugins through a hallucinatory interface; their neural guides are represented by red worms with up to three heads, each tipped with eye-like shapes, as if they can see the future.”
– Writer Travis Diehl, parsing Life After BOB (2021), Ian Cheng’s AI narrative film currently on view at The Shed, New York

Mapping Outside Language

Prompt 3: On Mapping & Drawing Outside Language

“That we ‘don’t exist outside of language’ seems a pretty core tenet of contemporary thought, and it is a seductive and powerful one to work from.”
Scene from Embrace of the Serpent, a 2015 adventure drama film dedicated to lost Amazonian cultures directed by Ciro Guerra, and written by Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
“I found I needed to rescind the position I’m entrenched in as a critic—that of the capacity for language as the primary medium through which we understand the world.”
Nora N. Khan is a New York-based writer and critic with bylines in Artforum, Flash Art, and Mousse. She steers the 2021 HOLO Annual as Editorial Lead

Over the last two ‘Prompt’ entries (see here and here), we’ve introduced you to eight core contributors to this year’s HOLO Annual. Their precise insights and interpretations of each prompt dominated our summer, shaping the issue into a more layered and wild assemblage than we anticipated. With Research Partner Peli Grietzer, we’ve discussed creating a balance in tone and voice and style, a mix of poetic and didactic, hardline critiques and ekphrastic, joyous accounts. These are, after all, contributors we have met through their work first, whose inquiries shaped our own; they have each evolved many different and competing critical positions.

In commissioning for this Annual, I wanted to avoid having the final collective make any one strident position, or one set of insistent claims for. The essays, artworks, app- prototypes, maps of spaces outside maps, and alien languages you will encounter all take up disparate rhetorical, expressive strategies.

Taken together, the contributions flow from dreamspeak to radical cartography strategies, from straightforward polemics to critical memoir. It’s felt a bit like bringing friends from all your different parts of your life—internet, distant internet, gym, therapy, school, theory and writing, nightlife—to then see how they interact at a big strange party. This Annual is that free-for-all, each jostling up against each other from sometimes overlapping and sometimes competing positions.

In developing the third prompt—Mapping and Drawing Outside Language—I found I most needed to rescind the position I’m entrenched in as a critic—that of the capacity for language as the primary medium through which we understand the world. Writing and editing is where I spend much of my time, thinking on whether things can be described well or not, and how language shapes the world. That we “don’t exist outside of language” seems a pretty core tenet of contemporary thought, and it is a seductive and powerful one to work from.

Of course, this foundational notion—that language forms the substrate of thinking and generates the world alone—is easily complicated, and it needs to be. Many thinkers have argued that the dismissal of silence, or prayer, or any experiences before or beyond written and spoken language as ‘not real’ is a violent and statist form of thinking. Moreover, our lives are already largely determined by languages that activate beyond a common spoken language. Algorithmic language is largely unreadable for most people, unseen, and unspoken except by a select few; one could argue this is a space outside a commonly shared, legible written language. As Jackie and Mimi note in their pieces for the Annual, we live out the dictates of bureaucratic and computational decrees we can’t discern or necessarily read; in this sense, these are spaces outside of shared language.

“This past summer, I watched Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent. I wept at the scale of loss of Indigenous knowledge, lost because it was unreadable.”
Still from Embrace of the Serpent, a 2015 adventure drama film dedicated to lost Amazonian cultures directed by Ciro Guerra, and written by Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
“In 2017, there were an estimated 40 people left who could speak Ocaina, one of many endangered Amazon Indigenous languages.”

This past summer, I watched Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent with friends in San Miguel de Allende. I wept, in no small part because of the brutal depiction of the reality of the rubber holocaust in the Colombian Amazon, but also because of the film’s peripheral hints at the scale of loss of knowledge, lost because it was unreadable, or not in the language of the colonizer. The scale is shattering to try to wrap one’s mind around. The German and American ethnologist and ethnobotanist depicted in the film journey in pursuit of a hallucinogenic yakruna plant. Along the way, they gather Ocaina symbols, depict and mark down ‘the sense’ of rituals. Any Ocaina knowledge that can‘t be ‘put in the box’ or marked in the book in language, is not.

What goes in the travel journals and what is left out, never written down? In 2017, there were an estimated 40 people left who could speak Ocaina, one of many endangered Amazon Indigenous languages.

In Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human (in which Kohn investigates how “a forest is alive and thinking, as is a dog, a jaguar, a peccary, and a plant,”) we find a central anecdote about jaguars early on. Kohn’s research was in Peru, where he is asked by the Runa (a Quechua speaker’s term for him or herself, referring to “people,”) to sleep with his face up so jaguars passing could recognize him, look at him looking back, and not attack. This is taken up as a moment of clear nonhuman communication, pre-linguistic or beyond language:

“Settling down to sleep under our hunting camp’s thatch lean-to in the foothills of Sumaco Volcano, Juanicu warned me, ‘Sleep faceup! If a jaguar comes he’ll see you can look back at him and he won’t bother you. If you sleep facedown he’ll think you’re aicha [prey; lit., ‘meat’ in Quichua] and he’ll attack.’ If, Juanicu was saying, a jaguar sees you as a being capable of looking back—a self like himself, a you—he’ll leave you alone. But if he should come to see you as prey—an it—you may well become dead meat.”

This is a complex anecdote. When the Runa asked Kohn to sleep face up, the notion implied is that the jaguars needed to see people, but as what? As other conscious beings? As beings worthy of living? Or beings that aren’t worth the risk of being attacked? We place our linguistic and value frameworks on the jaguar. Further, Kohn needed to go to sleep trusting this knowledge, that the jaguar sees the sign of human eyes looking back and then has a way of understanding, or— intuiting?—or perceiving, the sign of his open eyes. I wish to better understand, here, how the jaguar really understands, perceives and sees a world of implied signs, and how nonhuman life forms process signs. In other words, I want words for what there are not yet, quite, words for.

“If we want to understand how the magic of intelligence can be encoded in numbers, we should give up asking where. To attempt to locate consciousness in a network of interlinked signals, whether simulated or real, is to search for a mind within a mind.”

The third prompt of the HOLO Annual is “Mapping and Drawing Outside Language,” and gathered in response are Francis Tseng, Nick Larson, and K Allado-McDowell. In a conversation with research partner Peli Grietzer, we hoped for invited contributors to respond to a prompt around mapping and ways of understanding that are not necessarily based in language.

In shaping this prompt, Peli had introduced us to a piece of writing by Alex Graves of DeepMind, titled “Magic Numbers.” In it, Graves asks, how might we locate “the locus of creative magic within the billions of numbers processed by artificial neural networks?” How can “simple mathematics … cast the same spells as the grey stuff in our skulls?” What forms of mapping and drawing outside language do you deploy? They go on to write:

If we want to understand how the magic of intelligence can be encoded in numbers, we should give up asking where. To attempt to locate consciousness in a network of interlinked signals, whether simulated or real, is to fall into the homunculus fallacy, the search for a mind within a mind. Instead we should embrace the quality of quantity, the necessity for life of patterns too intricate to put into words, and patterns of patterns, and so on up. The reductive drift of Western thought has tended to leave the celebration of complexity to artists and poets: Hopkins’ “pied beauty” or Whitman’s “I contain multitudes.”

While we were initially thinking of computational drawing and mapping practices that capture the complexity of the mind, Tseng, McDowell, and Larson all came to mind. They’ve worked through this notion through their respective practices, based in social justice and equity-driven modeling, AI aesthetics and research, and subtle investigations of the relationship between interfaces, image compression and degradation, and ideology, respectively. Get to know this heady group more formally below:

Respondents: Francis Tseng, K Allado-McDowell, Nick Larson
Francis Tseng (US)

Software engineer and lead independent researcher at the Jain Family Institute
Nick Larson (US)

Artist and designer
K Allado McDowell

Writer, speaker, musician, and author of Pharmako-AI (with GPT-3) and The Atlas of Anomalous AI (with Ben Vickers)

Francis Tseng is a software engineer and lead independent researcher at the Jain Family Institute, where he presently works on topics such as Brazilian municipal social wealth modeling and Half-Earth game design. His seasonal interests include agriculture/food, repair, thermal comfort, and simulation. In the past he was a co-publisher of The New Inquiry, where he contributed to projects such as White Collar Crime Risk Zones and Bail Bloc. He’s usually happy to help with projects that lay the ground for a better world (whatever that means), so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Nick Larson is an artist and designer currently based in Providence, Rhode Island. His work investigates moments of noise, static, and ambiguity in the world around him. His practice involves image processing, compression, degradation, and multimedia composition. For inspiration, he loiters in ambiguous moments in search of hyperbole and melodrama. He is currently researching the aesthetics of online misinformation, conspiracy, and extremist ideologies.

K Allado-McDowell is a writer, speaker, and musician. They are the author, with GPT-3, of the book Pharmako-AI, and are co-editor, with Ben Vickers, of The Atlas of Anomalous AI. They record and release music under the name Qenric. Allado-McDowell established the Artists and Machine Intelligence program at Google AI. They are a conference speaker, educator and consultant to think-tanks and institutions seeking to align their work with deeper traditions of human understanding.

In our next post, we’ll introduce the final prompt, around Explainability, which in many ways was the start and remains the core of the HOLO Annual. Stay tuned!

Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation Exhibition Reminds Us of the Physical Dimension of (Digital) Information

Featuring 12 international artists including Memo Akten, Ralf Baecker, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Anna Ridler, Tomás Saraceno, and Theresa Schubert, “New Elements” opens at Moscow’s New Tretyakov Gallery. Organized in thematic sections—“The Autographic World,” “Material Computation,” and “Digital Materiality”—the works curated by Laboratoria Art&Science Foundation remind viewers of the physical dimension of information and “how to close the gap between data and the world.”

“The GoldenNFT Project” Has Designs to Use a Blockchain-Based Art Winfall for Good

“If everything goes according to plan and Peng! sells NFTs worth 628,453 EUR, a family of five from Afghanistan will be able to start the visa process in Portugal.”
– Art blogger Régine Debatty, summarizing The GoldenNFT Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Peng! Collective to use NFT profits from a roster of artists including Nora al Badri, !Mediagroup! Bitnik, the Yes Men, and UBERMORGEN to fund a family of refugees’ migration to the EU through a (wealth privledging) “golden visa” program.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation Acquires the Lillian F. Schwartz Collection

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan, announces the acquisition of the Lillian F. Schwartz collection. Comprising films and videos, 2D artwork and sculptures, personal papers, and computer hardware, the material documents the “expansive and inquisitive mindset” of the Bell Labs veteran. Born in 1927, Schwartz was “present at the birth of digital art” and pioneered “computer-based work at a time when artists had to defend it as a viable medium.”

Researchers Use AI to Unravel the Secrets of Spider Web-Making

“Now we’ve defined the entire choreography for web building, which has never been done for any animal architecture at this fine of a resolution.”
Andrew Gordus, behavioral biologist at Johns Hopkins University, on using AI and night vision to study spider leg positions during web construction. The resulting model, published in Current Biology, can predict web-building stages based on leg posture—a first step towards recording how tiny spider brains can support such complexity.

Fluxus Pioneer Mary Bauermeister Awarded New German State Art Prize

Mary Bauermeister (*1934), whose experimental practice helped shape the Fluxus movement, is announced the first recipient of a new art prize issued by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The award honours Bauermeister’s legacy of drawings, paintings, and mixed-media installations that explore entanglements in science, music, and mathematics. “She has always worked transdisciplinary long before this became a category,” said Hendrik Wüst, the state’s Minister President.

ConstitutionDAO Makes a Bid for Meta-Governance

“In 1788 the Constitution became the law of the land when it was ratified by 9 of the 13 original states. In keeping with this tradition, the Constitution DAO multi-sig wallet requires 9 of 13 signatures to approve transactions.”
ConstitutionDAO, in an FAQ post explaining how the multisignature wallet at the heart of their project requires consensus. The DAO is currently crowdfunding $20M in ETH to (attempt to) buy a first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution in a Sotheby’s Auction.

MOT Shouts “Viva Video!” In Celebration of Shigeko Kubota’s Life and Legacy

“Viva Video! The Art and Life of Shigeko Kubota,” the first major survey of the work of the pioneering artist in Japan in three decades, opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT). A fixture in Fluxus, Kubota made pioneering contributions to video sculpture, exploding the screen into scenes and structures bathed in shapes and colour. “Viva Video!” includes the triumphant Skater (1991-2, image), the cascading Niagara Falls (1985), and her signature Duchampiana series (1970-90).

Troika’s Anthropocenic Salt Waterfall Spills Crystals into Pants, Lungs, and Lunches

Part of the London-based collective’s ongoing eco-fiction project Untertage where salt emerges as an agent of cultural evolution, Troika’s No Sound of Water opens at Arte Abierto, Mexico City. Taking the form of a towering salt waterfall that is juxtapozed with Troika’s Terminal Beach (2020), the installation channels “the extractive technologies that have contributed to the planet’s transformation.” Over time, salt crystals spill across the exhibition space, and into people’s pants, lungs, and lunches.

Artist Duo Pakui Hardware’s Hybrid Creatures Made of Wasp Nests, Glass, and Steel Enter Zoological Museum

A new installation conceived for (and inspired by) the Tadas Ivanauskas Zoological Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania, artist duo Pakui Hardware’s Skewed Taxonomy opens as part of this year’s Kaunas Biennial. The sculptures, hybrid creatures made of wasp nests, stainless steel skeletons, glass body parts, and textiles, are integrated into the museum’s insect section and invite viewers to speculate on life “born from human activities merging with the evolution of the natural world.”