Isn’t Even My Final Form
Due in summer 2021, the next print edition of HOLO will be a different beast. Follow the transformation via production notes, research snippets, and B-roll material.
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“The magazine had become a research vessel, encouraging all aboard—artists, designers, writers—to explore new territory through experimentation and collaboration. Thus far, we filled two hefty compendiums that each mark a point in time.”
Labyrinthine TXT “3” featuring words from Harold Cohen’s paper “What is an image?” (1975) is a generative type experiment by NaN.
Ten years ago, this very season, the first outlines of a yet to be named print magazine were being sketched—counter-intuitively so, as the first iPad had just been released and fast-paced digital publishing was all the rage. This new imprint would also be a misfit in other ways: neither art, design, science, nor a technology magazine, it was conceived as something in between—a magazine about disciplinary interstices and hybrid creative practices that are tricky to pin down. More interested in research, process, and entangled knowledge, it should not only explore but embody how niche developments influence other fields and, eventually, shape popular culture. Smart, methodical, and beautiful, the magazine should also have a lot of heart—and speak to many people.
Thousands of copies later, we’re still amazed at how HOLO resonated. It’s been described as “heavyweight in scope and literally” (Monocle), an “essential tool” (Jose Luis de Vincente) and an “extraordinary record” (Casey Reas), “that links discourse past, present, and future” (Nora O’Murchu). Over the years, HOLO visited the studios of interdisciplinary luminaries such as Ryoichi Kurokawa, Vera Molnar, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Katie Paterson; it featured analysis by erudite thinkers including James Bridle, Georgina Voss, and Geoff Manaugh; and experimental designers like Moniker, Coralie Gourgeochon, and Karsten Schmidt added touches that push what you can do in print (e.g. why wouldn’t you visualize every glyph on every page on intricate character distribution maps, or use reader-generated input to ‘grow’ cover art?). In short: the magazine had become a research vessel, encouraging all aboard to explore new territory through experimentation and collaboration. Thus far, we filled two hefty compendiums that each mark a point in time.
“Going forward, the lion’s share of the pages will be dedicated to the magazine’s research section—rigorous investigations that have always been at HOLO’s heart.”
HOLO 3 will follow in that same tradition. But it will also break new ground—it has to. Similar to how the first issue filled a void in the blog and publishing sphere, the next one will have to speak to current needs. HOLO 2.5—this website—is an important step in that direction (read more about our online publishing intentions here). It’s the online home we long felt HOLO needed, and a framework that will help us situate and evolve the printed magazine.
Going forward, HOLO will be published annually, synthesizing a year’s worth of observations into a timely theme. Hence, the lion’s share of pages will be dedicated to the magazine’s research section—rigorous investigations that have always been at HOLO’s heart. Other sections will become more dynamic and move faster as we reimagine them on this site: Stream, the magazine’s year-in-review fold-out timeline, has already become a living archive; Encounters, our signature series of long-form interviews, will follow soon. This diversification of our editorial activities—sustained focus on the one hand, agility and nimbleness on the other—will allow us to bring you more content more frequently. Most importantly, it will make HOLO a better magazine.
HOLO 3 will be published in the summer of 2021. Until then, we’ll use this space to share production notes, research snippets, B-roll material, and select stuff from the bin—after all, a lot of work has been done already and some of it in vain. We hope you’ll follow along as we venture into uncharted territory—to explore both disciplinary interstices and HOLO’s new printed form.
HOLO 3 will become available as part of a new Reader account model to be launched in early 2021. If you previously ordered HOLO 3 together with HOLO 2, you will receive your copy automatically. For details on the new model—and how to become a HOLO Reader—see The Annual and our note on HOLO blog.
“With HOLO 3, we are outgrowing a rigid formula. Years into navigating disciplinary interstices, we began to notice—and question—some of the hard lines we’d drawn in our magazine.”
HOLO’s transformation begins with its core architecture—the ‘spaces’ that organize content into thematic and/or functional sections and provide the editorial framework of the magazine. They dictate not only how we navigate—and fill!—a publication; they set the pace for how things flow from page to page.
In HOLO 1 and 2, the architecture reflected what the magazine was designed to do: meet creative practitioners in their studios and explore emergent themes. Both issues (Model 1) feature two sizeable clusters of Encounters (A1, A2)—long-form interviews and studio visits—separated by a sprawling research section, Perspective (B), containing essays, surveys, and commentary. More complementary, Grid (C) set foot into nascent hybrid spaces—digital art galleries, creative incubators at scientific institutions—while Frames (D) examined emergent tools and tech. Stream (F) compiled news gathered during production and closed each issue by situating it in time.
With HOLO 3, we’re outgrowing that rigid formula. Years into navigating disciplinary interstices, we began to notice—and question—some of the hard lines we’d drawn in our magazine (e.g. why are artists and designers segregated from, for example, curators, researchers, and toolmakers?) Eager to build bridges within the magazine’s architecture, we became increasingly interested in aligning things with an overarching theme. Hence, a lot of work went into streamlining and consolidating—from tightening studio visits while expanding the space for inquiry (Model 2) to tying Grid and Frames closer to the research section (Model 3). The work on HOLO 2.5 was pivotal—as it came into focus, so has HOLO 3. The more we leverage this expanded online space for episodic interviews, profiles, and news, the further future print editions can lean into a single unifying theme (Model 4). Like a yearbook, “The Annual” will dig deep into a pressing topic, drawing on and responding to the stories we now share on HOLO.mg.
“What if, instead, we turned the annual publishing cycle into a research method, one that looks beyond a single topic and more at the state of things at large?”
If anything, this production diary is a testament to just how much our thinking around print evolves with our online publishing. Take HOLO 3’s rejiggered framework, for example: in the previous entry, we argued that “the more we leverage this expanded online space for interviews, commentary, and news, the further future print editions can lean into a single unifying theme.” Energized by this new editorial architecture—see the aforementioned entry for fancy flow charts—we were eager to “dig deep into a pressing topic.” We hit a wall, instead: how can we pick a single theme with so many simultaneous urgencies? What’s the longevity of a timely research topic in light of mutating global crises and rapidly evolving tech? And, when examined within a thematic framework, wouldn’t AI, blockchains, the climate collapse (and a host of other forces shaping culture) yield a different periodical each year? That got us thinking.
What if, instead, we turned the annual publishing cycle into a research method, one that looks beyond a single topic and more at the state of things at large? Perhaps, this… Annual could bring together a wide range of luminaries to comment on ‘emerging trajectories’ across an expanse of entangled fields? Offering a yearly reality check, they could help us parse the present moment and better understand what lies ahead. We were intrigued!
But who’d get to be in this illustrious circle? In the past, we prided ourselves in carefully matching topics and contributors rather than soliciting ideas through open calls. It yielded the cohesiveness and journalistic flavour that, we’d argue, readers have come to appreciate about our magazine. But there’s something to be said about openness and making room for perspectives other than our own. Ten years into running HOLO in the same (fixed) configuration, it was high time for new and different voices to lead the way.
I am thrilled to join HOLO as the Editorial Lead for this year’s Annual. I’m Nora; I’m an editor, writer, critic, teacher, and curator. For ten years on, I’ve been editing and writing about the cultural impacts of technology, with a focus on developing what Sara Watson describes as “constructive technological criticism.” My hope has always been to expand the terms of what writing about and through technological and mediated culture can be. I’m particularly excited to join the thoughtful team at HOLO in producing the Annual to continue such work.
In working with, writing about, and teaching artists, technologists, and all in between, I keep returning to the importance of carefully weighing the language we use about technology. Right there—that “we”—is a bad tic that’s entered my own writing, influenced by years of reading technological criticism and essays that posit a “We” of our collective relationship to techne. As we are flooded cognitively by algorithmically-generated and human-generated discourse, I am especially interested in tracking, noting, the ways criticality is abraded by not just platforms, but also by the frameworks and terms of critique on offer. Even as critical analyses of the stakes of “new and emerging technologies” have become more common, sought out, and lauded as very necessary, there is ever the language of magic and enchantment entering alongside, almost hand in hand with developments in AI and machine learning.
Myths unfold in real-time alongside critical ‘reveals,’ unveilings, and clarifications. Binaries around understanding or misunderstanding proliferate. Cultural gaps between the humanities and the sciences expand even as artists and interdisciplinary practitioners work to collapse them. Many examples of extreme computational power increasingly claim space outside of, or beyond, language, critique, and historical understandings of power, sovereignty, and narrative. In this year’s Annual, we’ll engage with the new responsibilities that critics, theorists, programmers, technologists, and artists have to make sense of the mess, to cut through the confusion and obfuscation ever unfolding around computation. In the process, maybe we’ll even find ways to not say “the intersection of art and technology,” and revel instead in all the ways that technology has always drawn on artistic research, and artistic production has been technological or systematic.
The process of thinking through should take place in public, and is made more rich by being in public. Over the next few months, I hope to share the thinking and conversations around the development of the Annual as a print publication and archive, along with emerging experiments, works, and framings. I will talk through these tensions, between legibility and obfuscation, right here on the blog. We’ll talk about the debates and questions driving the issue, and how they’re being explored on the editorial and research side. I want you to be witness to the process of developing the frame and core themes for this year’s Annual, and to that end, I hope to be in conversation with you, and hear your thoughts. Please feel free to e-mail me here at email@example.com about anything that sparks your interest in these posts.
Next up on the blog: an announcement of our Research Partner. The Research Partner is a vital part of the development of our theme: they are a sounding board and challenge. I will share reflections on my conversations with them, and further down the line, the invited artists, scholars, thinkers who will appear in the issue. Whether we will be talking through predictive methods and histories of algorithms, or broader cultural myths of the role of technology and creative practice, this blog will be a form of representing process in public, of making the collaborative process of producing a magazine—so often hidden in the back alleys, in shadows—fully legible. I’m delighted to share the process with you. Let’s begin.
In taking on the charge for this year’s Annual, I’ve tried to consider what it is one even might want to read in this year, of all years. What do we need to read, about computation, or AI ethics, or art, systems, emergence, experimentation, or technology? Where do we want to find ourselves, at any muddy intersections between fields, as we bridge so many ongoing, devastating crises?
I suspect I might not be alone in saying: it has been immensely, unspeakably difficult this year, to work, to write, and to think clearly and deeply about a single thing. To locate that kernel of interest that may have easily driven one’s writing, thinking, reviewing, in any other year. Such is the impact of grief, collective trauma, and loss: we put our energies into mental survival, not 10,000 word essays about ontology or facial recognition.
And yet many of us have persisted: giving talks, filing essays, publishing books, putting on shows while masked in outdoor venues, projecting work onto buildings, playing raves in empty bunkers, speaking on panels with people we’ll never meet. I have watched my favourite thinkers show up, to deliver moving performance lectures, activating their theory within and through this moment.
There was beauty, still. Watching poets and thinkers show up on screens to read from their work, addressing the moment, mirroring it, demanding more from it, in the middle of so much heartbreak. We watched Wendy Chun speak on “theory as a form of witness.” We watched Fred Moten and Stefano Harney challenge us to abandon the institution, abandon our little titles and little dreams of control. People we read, we continued to think with and alongside them. We tried to find ways to put their ideas into practice in our day to day.
This isn’t to valorize grinding despite crisis, but instead see the work as something done in response to and because of the crushing pressure of neoliberalism, technocracy, and surveillance, as all these forces wreak havoc in the collective. Maybe some of you have found something moving in this effort. I found it emboldening.
Like most begrudging digital serfs, each day I also consumed way more content than I could ever handle. I followed the algorithm and was led by its offerings, trying to make sense of what is offered. As a critic tends to do, I also found myself tracking patterns. Patterns in arguments, patterns in semantic structures, patterns in phrases traded easily, without friction, between headlines and captions.
I found myself frustrated with the loops of rhetoric within the technological critiques I’ve made myself for a while now. In 2020, into 2021, there are ever more frantic discussions of black-boxed AI, “light” sonic warfare through LRADs used at protests, and iterative waves of surveillance flowing in the wake of contact tracing. Debates repeat: about human bias driving machine bias, about the imaginary of the clean dataset. Each day has a reveal of a new fresh horror of algorithmic sabotage. Artistic interventions, revealing the violence and inner workings of opaque infrastructure—seemed to end where they began.
It felt more important, this year, to connect our critiques of technology to capitalism, and to understand certain technologies as a direct extension—and expression—of the carceral state. I cracked open Wendy H.K. Chun’s Updating to Remain the Same (2016) and Simone Browne’s Dark Matters (2015) and Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism (2018) again, and kept them open on my desk most of the year. When I read of both police violence and hiring choices alike offloaded onto predictive algorithms, I open Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression or Merve Emre’s The Personality Brokers. There were gifts—like Neta Bomani’s film Dark matter objects: Technologies of capture and things that can’t be held, with the citations we needed. I learned the most out of centering critical theory/pop sensation Mandy Harris Williams (@idealblackfemale on Instagram) on the feed.
I looked, in short, for the wry minds and voices in criticism, in media studies, in computational theory, in activism, and who also flow easily between these spaces and more, who have been thinking about these issues for a long time. A few had quieted down. Others had never really stopped tracking the patterns or decoding mystification in language. For years in the pages of HOLO, writers and artists have been investigating issues that have only built in intensity and spread: surveillance creep, digital mediation, networked infrastructure, and the necessary, ongoing debunking of technological neutrality.
We started this letter with noting patterns. Language patterns are the root of this Annual’s editorial frame. The language of obfuscation and mysticism, in which technological developments are framed as remote, or mystical, as partially-known, as just beyond the scope of human agency—crops up in criticism and discourse. One hears of a priestlike class in ownership of all information. Of systems that their creator-engineers barely understand. Of a present and near-technological future that is so inscrutable (and monumental) that we can only speak of the systems we build as like another being, with its own seeming growing consciousness. A kind of divinity, a kind of magic.
Right alongside this mythic language is also the language of legibility and technology’s explainability. A thing we make, and so, a thing we know. These languages are often side by side in the media(s) flooding us. Behind the curtain is the little man, the wizard, writing spells, in a new language. Legions of artists have worked critically with AI, working to enhance and diversify and complicate the Datasets. We’ve read about diligent work of unpacking the black boxes of artificial intelligence, of politicians demanding an ethical review, to ‘make legible’ the internal processes at play. Is legibility enough? Legibility has its punishments, too. In 2020, Timnit Gebru, Google’s former Senior Research Scientist, asked for the company to be held accountable to its AI Ethics governance board. This resulted in Gebru’s widely publicized firing, and harassment across the internet. The horror Gebru experienced prompted critical speculation and derision about AI Ethics, a refinement in service of extraction and capitalism. It’s almost like … the problems are systemic, replicated, trackable, and mappable across decades and centuries.
As we are trawled within these wildly enmeshed algorithmic nets, how do we draw on these patterns, of mystification and predictive capture, to see the next ship approaching? To imagine alternatives, if escape is not an option? What stories and myths do we need to tell about technology now, to foretell models we need and can agree on wanting to live through and be interpreted by?
To start to answer this question, over the past month, we have asked contributors to respond to one of four prompts, themed Explainability and Its Discontents; Enchantment, Mystification, and Partial Ways of Knowing; Myths of Prediction Over Time; and Mapping and Drawing Outside of Language. They have been asked to think about models of explainability, diverse storytelling that translates the epistemology of AI, and myths about algorithmic knowledge, in order to half-know, three-quarters know, maybe, the systems being built, refined, optimized. They’ve been asked to consider speculative and blurry logic, predictive flattening, and the cultural stories we tell about technology, and art, and the space made by the two. Finally, to close the issue, a few have been asked to think about ways of knowing and thinking outside of language, in search of methods of mapping, pattern recognition, and artistic research that will help us in the future.
We can’t do this thinking and questioning alone. In the last weeks, we’ve gathered a first constellation of forceful responses—and the momentum is building. We are thrilled to begin to map these spaces of partial and more-than-partial knowing, and see what emerges, along with you all.