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March 2021
“These are the Maiara, flying witches commemorated in local mythology on Alicudi, a remote Italian island historically afflicted with ergot-poisoned rye crops that, when milled and made into bread, dosed the entire starving and impoverished local populace with LSD.”
Charlotte Gush, Senior Editor at Manchester International Festival (MFI), on the folklore that inspired artist Tai Shani’s contribution to MFI’s Virtual Factory

Turner Prize-winning artist Tai Shani’s first online artwork, The Neon Hieroglyph, premieres as part of Manchester International Festival’s Virtual Factory series. Drawing on her research into ergot, a grain fungus from which LSD is derived, Shani composed nine episodic films that explore psychedelics as a catalyst for change in what the curators describe as “a dreamlike CGI journey that takes us from the cellular to the galactic, from the forests to the subterranean, from the real to the almost unimaginable.”

“Everything—capitalism, the economy, politics, the internet, supply chains—has become a terrifying, complicated mess that we can’t understand. But we can understand a ship blocking a canal.”
– Sci-fi writer Tim Maughan, on our fascination with the Ever Given grinding world trade to a halt. “It’s a relief to be able to point at something and know that it’s wrong,“ writes Maughan. “It’s a huge, dumb, obvious object wedged into a place it shouldn’t be.”
Catherine Mason
A Computer in the Art Room
Originally published in 2008, Catherine Mason’s chronicle of the birth of UK computer art between 1950 and 1980 is now available as an e-book with an updated introduction

“I’ve spent a lifetime wondering why the Amiga ‘Insert Workbench’ boot image looked kinda wonky,” confides Panic Inc. co-founder Cabel Sasser on Twitter. ”I always assumed it was hand-drawn pixel art.” It turns out it’s vector art. A surprised Sasser reveals that just 412 bytes of vector drawing instructions were needed to render the iconic (Sheryl Knowles-created) hand-held floppy disk. “Incredible!” Meanwhile, media artist Golan Levin verified the 1985 vector data with a “quick-and-dirty” Processing sketch.

“Technologies aren’t for anything. They emerge and are socially constructed as a mix of opportunity, problem-solving and chance, not some inevitable building block in the myth of progress.”
Tobias Revell, on the assumption “that crypto technologies have some sort of teleology—a preordained role in an inevitable story of humanity.” “Crypto still doesn’t have its shibboleth, its narrative monument, its imaginary—and if it does have one now it’s probably, unfortunately, Beeple.”

Opening at Galerie Anita Beckers in Frankfurt, Germany, Daniel Canogar’s solo show “Latencies” explores a world of transient, fleeting memories, shifting media and continuously increasing data streams. Next to signature works from the artist’s Small Data and Echo Series, the show features five pieces from the new Latencies Series (image: Monocle), for which Canogar mapped discarded parts like lenses, heat sinks, and shredded aluminium onto animated screens.

“The ‘softwalk’ has long been the artist’s designation for the way avatars in 1990s simulation games traverse their fictional universe: an even, smooth step, unperturbed by the specificities of the environments they cross.”
– Critic and scholar Timotheus Vermeulen, on Andreas Angelidakis’ solo exhibition “Softwalks” at Oslo’s Fotogalleriet, where the Athens-based architect-cum-artist transposes this digital attitude onto the real world
Stages #9
The Next Biennial Should be Curated by a Machine
The Liverpool Biennial journal on art and automation feat. new and existing texts by Nora N. Khan, Suzanne Treister, Magdalena Tyzlik-Carver, and others
Gerhard Mantz
Famous for his dystopian landscapes, German CGI artist Gerhard Mantz dies at the age of 71 in Berlin. A successful sculptor before embracing 3D modelling software in the 1990s, Mantz’ renders showed at MIT, MoMA, and the LA Center for Digital Art. He was also one of five artists exhibited at HaW’s “Natürlich Künstlich” in 2001, one of the first digital art shows in Berlin.
“How many people do you need to put together a Manhattan Project? The relevant question is: how large of a population do you need to draw from in order to recruit enough scientists to staff such an effort?”
– Sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, on why people and not AI, are the key to the fabled intelligence explosion. “This is how recursive self-improvement takes place—not at the level of individuals but at the level of human civilization as a whole.”

Indigenous computational media artist Jon M. R. Corbett is the subject of a fascinating interview with Daniel Temkin at Esoteric.Codes. Corbett delves into the syntax and epistomology underpinning his Cree#, Ancestral Code, and Wisakecak coding languages, which all circumvent the eurocentric (and latin alphabet) origins of “not just programming, but computing technologies in general.” His ambitious extending beyond software, he also speaks to his alt-keyboard design—based on the Cree Star Chart (image).

“Flare gas could just as well power carbon capture machines, water desalination plants, or data centres that support more widely used applications. There’s a social value in those things that I don’t see for Bitcoin.”
Alex Trembath, deputy director of the American clean energy think tank Breakthrough Institute, on Big Oil and Gas now also mining crypto

Commissioned for transmediale’s “For Refusal” program, !Mediengruppe Bitnik releases Refuse to be Human, a web extension that changes your browser settings to that of a Yandex bot. Like Google, Russia’s primary search engine Yandex uses web crawlers to index online content. “Surfing as a bot gives you access to the grey web,” write the Bitniks, “a layer of content only visible to bots.” Image: RYBN’s Double Negative Captchas (2020)—the bot test that directly inspired Bitnik’s work.

“Arcane financial maneuvers, only nominally attached to physical objects, regularly achieve a level of dematerialized abstraction to which most conceptual art only aspires: the transubstantiation of nothing into something.”
Travis Diehl, on the “metaphysical appeals” of NFTs and other high-stakes schemes attached to art
“Only off by a factor of roughly 125 trillion.”
– YouTuber stacksmashing, on how his Game Boy-powered Bitcoin mining rig compares to the competition. Whereas modern hardware mines at ~100 terahashes per second, the 1989 Nintendo handheld (controlled via a Raspberry Pi Pico) clocks in at 0.8. “It would take several quadrillion years to mine a single coin.”
“Sites like these are where online shopping leaves its physical footprint—where capital, battling over space, inscribes itself in the landscape.”
Charlie Jarvis, on how spaces of logistics keep eating into public lands to satisfy friction-free capitalism. “According to the real estate firm Knight Frank, every £1 billion spent online demands 1.3 million square feet of further warehousing.”
Jean-Pierre Hébert
An explorer of algorithmic aesthetics since the 1970s, computer art pioneer Jean-Pierre Hébert passes away in Santa Barbara, California. Known for his minimalist plotter drawings, sound and mixed media installations, the trained computer engineer also co-founded famed digital art group The Algorists in 1995. In 2012, SIGGRAPH recognized Hébert’s Lifetime Achievement in Digital Art.
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