“You feel like an alchemist. And you are. You type esoteric words—near gibberish—into a line-by-line text interface, and with a rush not unlike pulling Excalibur from the stone you’ve just scaffolded a simple application that can instantly be accessed worldwide.”
– Writer and technologist Craig Mod, on the “healing powers” of programming JavaScript
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The Shape of Light, a moving image work by Ellen Pau created especially for the media façade of newly-opened M+ museum, opens in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. Co-commissioned with Art Basel, the short film deploys the Buddhist Heart Sutra’s rumination on form and emptiness in a CGI narrative about elemental transformation. With the film, Pau offers “a gesture of guidance and hope” for her native city’s citizens, presumably alluding to their steadily eroding self-governance.

“Earth Indices: Processing the Anthropocene,” a show by Giulia Bruno & Armin Linke working in consultation with the Anthropocene Working Group, opens at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Foregrounding imagery that translates evidence of the earth’s transformation into “data that can be interpreted” (image: Line Scans of Antarctica Ice Core, 2022), the show reveals the “instruments, procedures, and practices” that produce geological knowledge, write the curators.

“I think of this as a monument that has been purpose-built to be torn down. It shouldn’t be the job of artists to save the planet, but sometimes we can create social and conceptual infrastructure to guide attention and action.”
– American artist Kyle McDonald, on his new cryptoart piece Amends, that seeks to offset the climate footprint of three major Ethereum-based NFT marketplaces once—if ever—the cryptocurrency switches to the less energy-intensive proof-of-stake consensum mechanism
In her latest entry to “Weaving Variations,” HOLO’s dossier on generative art pioneer Vera Molnar, art historian Zsofi Valyi-Nagy examines Hommage à Barbaud, a 1974 tribute to the French founder of algorithmic music, Pierre Barbaud. “By dedicating a work to Barbaud, Molnar immortalizes the impact of algorithmic music on her work, and on early computer art more broadly,” writes Valyi-Nagy.
“I’m starting to accept that the 1995-2020 period didn’t happen, and that generative art emerged out of nothingness in 2020 after being dormant for 40-50 years. People keep telling me, so it must be true.”
– Digital artist Marius Watz, decrying widespread amnesia in this current moment of generative (crypto) art. A big reason is “very bad discoverability,” notes fellow aughties innovator Karsten Schmidt. Due to link rot and software obsolescence, most works done in Director, Flash, Processing, and Java in that era are “GONE.”

Kyle McDonald announces Amends (2022), a project mitigating NFT marketplace emissions. When Ethereum abandons the proof-of-work consensus mechanism later this year, three digital sculptures (CGI by Robert Hodgkin) will be auctioned on Open Sea, Rarible, and Foundation. Priced at $17 million total (and rising), proceeds will go to air and ocean carbon capture projects. Owners can exchange their digital sculpture for a physical one—if they burn their NFT.

The U.S. debut of Neural Swamp (2021), a multi-channel video installation by American artist Martine Syms made for The Future Fields Commission, opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the work, three characters trained on Syms’ voice engage in awkward, disjointed dialogue in a narrative ostensibly about golf (bolstered by related videogame footage), demonstrating the frustrating isolation of communication where “neither listening nor comprehension is possible.”

“Until all energies used to extract and process these four indispensable materials come from renewable conversions, modern civilization will remain fundamentally dependent on fossil fuels.”
– Czech-Canadian scientist and policy analyst Vaclav Smil, on how cement, steel, plastics, and ammonia—the “four pillars of modern civilization”—are (largely) incompatible with a net-zero emission future

“If a Token Could Speak,” a show of video works by Sophie Auger that “put the NFT and the traditional art world in perspective,” opens at Montreal’s ELEKTRA Gallery. In Catalog (2022), the Quebec artist gets meta, tokenizing 3D models of the exhibition press release, archive, and making-of documentation—and puts everything up for sale on the blockchain; while an eponymous work (2022, image) demonstrates how even a ‘poor‘ image can attain “the same value as a rare work of art.”

“The evidence now suggests a 3 to 4 degree warming by mid-century, not accounting for tipping points—which could easily be 5 or 6 degrees.”
Benjamin Sovacool, University of Sussex energy researcher and one of the lead authors of the recent IPCC Working Group III report, on the damning implications of current climate legislation implementation gaps. “Even if we were to meet 100% of the 2015 Paris accord, we’d still be pretty far off from 2 degrees,” says Sovacool.
“It takes at least 10 hours to produce 1 kWh on a bike generator. The electricity price in France is roughly €0.20 per kWh, so that’s what you would earn that day!”
Kris de Decker, Barcelona-based journalist and Low-Tech Magazine founder, on how the taxation of labour—instead of energy—is driving automation

With a market capitalization of $2.4 trillion, Saudi Aramco replaces Apple as the world’s most valuable company. Meta, Netflix, Robinhood—tech stocks are tanking right now and Apple is down 20% this year. There is more at play here than investors exhibiting a newfound skepticism towards Big Tech’s bottom line—or optimism that the oil sector will clean up its act. The Russian incursion into Ukraine has sent oil prices—commodities—soaring, further exasperating supply chain woes brought on by the pandemic. “There’s panic selling in a lot of tech and other high-multiple names, and the money coming out of there seems headed for energy in particular,” notes Tower Bridge Advisors’ James Meyer on the cynical flow of capital back to fossil fuel.

“It stopped being something that resided only within the skull, only within the individual, and became something that mattered when it emerged between bodies, between species, between beings. Something that’s active in the world.”
– British artist and writer James Bridle, discussing broader definitions of intelligence laid out in his newest book Ways of Being with musician and 5×15 interlocutor Brian Eno
“The funniest, saddest aspect of this boom is that the digital and internet artists who had long awaited a salable moment performed a sort of due diligence, or conceptual laundering, for the nothings to come.”
– Artist and writer Elisabeth Nicula, on watching digital artists ‘pivot to NFTs’ and lend credibility to the cryptoart scene. While critiques are plentiful, Nicula offers new insights, discussing NFTs alongside the extractive nature of land art and the idea of ‘the void.’
Anne-Katrin Weber
Television before TV
A transnational study of “new media and exhibition culture” in the late 1920s and 1930s, where television met its first audiences
“Deploying more capital—steady lads.”
– Terraform Labs CEO Do Kwon, reassuring investors that the stewards of the Terra cryptocurrency ecosystem are working to quell a major crash. Second only to Ethereum in total value locked, Terra’s $40 Billion in assets are in freefall due to its central UST stablecoin ‘depegging’ from the U.S. Dollar.

“The Artwork as a Living System,” a retrospective of works by Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, opens at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. Included are early A-Life works (image: Interactive Plant Growing, 1992) through the duo’s recent focus on augmented reality—14 interactive installations in total. “Few artists have shaped the transition from the moving image media phase to the living image media like Sommerer and Mignonneau,” note the curatorial team.

Hertrich & Miyazaki
Following the Elephant-Nosed Fish
A research-driven reimagination of the human sensorium that is part theory-poetry and part theory-fiction

The culmination of the Studiotopia program, which embedded 13 artists in labs for 17 months, “Colliding Epistemes” opens at Bozar in Brussels. For their residencies, artists including Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, Kuang-Yi Ku, and Sandra Lorenzi (image: How to read poetry to cancer cells?, 2022) were paired with quantum physicists, molecular biologists, and other niche researchers, yielding works about “the collision of disciplines, methodologies, and mindsets.”

“Crypto-toys collapse the distinction between a financial and an emotional investment—a necessary maneuver for a digital asset class ultimately backed by nothing more than flows of sentiment.”
– Writer and researcher Richard Woodall, on why some of the biggest NFT projects look like they were made for children. Juvenile aesthetics help “compensate for a lack of utility or fundamental value,” notes Woodall, “encouraging buyers to imbue them with sentimental worth.”

The Processing Foundation, a champion of software literacy within the visual arts and developer of the eponymous creative coding toolkits, announces that it received a record-breaking $10 million in donations in 2021, a majority of which came from artists donating cryptocurrency. This generous support has “allowed the Foundation’s work to become sustainable for the first time,” writes Executive Director Dorothy R. Santos, citing particularly giving artists such as Joshua Davis, Monica Rizzolli, Jared Tarbell, and Lia. Santos further announces that the foundation’s board decided to suspend new Ethereum donations over environmental concerns. Support for Tezos, a more energy-efficient cryptocurrency, will continue.

Bringing together 18 immersive installations that ponder planetary co-existence, “Our Time on Earth” opens at the Barbican, London. To mitigate dread and paralysis felt in the face of compounding environmental crises, guest curators Caroline Till and Kate Franklin selected works that “carve out space to imagine a constructive way forward.” Case in point: SuperfluxRefuge for Resurgence (2021), a interspecies dinner table “where all living beings are considered equal.”

“It is about what we pay attention to, what we understand as an emergency, and what we deem worthy of preemptive action. The siren is a portal, a metaphor to start thinking around that.”
Aura Satz, about her longtime research project and forthcoming feature film Preemptive Listening, in which the London-based artist worked with collaborators to “compose new sirens” that “forge a new tentative of understanding of emergency signals”

Alice Bucknell’s dark eco-fiction Swamp City (2021), in which the American artist and writer imagines the Florida Everglades as a near-future luxury retreat, takes over HOXTON 253, London. For this UK premiere, the gallery space is transformed into the offices of The Evergreen Group, the mock real-estate vendor behind Swamp City, complete with property listings, promotional pamphlets, 3D printed models, and slick prints “to lure in its millennial clientele and investors.”

“Enough risks were found that maybe it shouldn’t generate people or anything photorealistic.”
– AI researcher Maarten Sap, on OpenAI’s latest image and natural language model DALL-E 2 showing bias “toward generating images of white men by default, overly sexualizing images of women, and reinforcing racial stereotypes.” People with early access to DALL-E 2 were told not to share photorealistic images in public, in large part due to these issues, reports Wired’s Khari Johnson.

Metaverse Petshop, a beta version of a new project by Japanese duo Exonemo debuts at NADA New York. The “playable installation inspired by the relationship between information space and real space” lets participants purchase a CGI dog, release it from its ‘cage,’ and take custody of the pup on their smartphone. The work-in-progress will be presented at an upcoming solo show, and the duo envisions future iterations of the installation will allow users to “mint NFT pedigrees.”

“Though she used only traditional artists’ tools before working with an electronic computer in 1968, Vera remembers inventing systematic methods for making art from an early age.”
– Art historian Zsofi Valyi-Nagy, revealing rare archival material from generative art pioneer Vera Molnar’s early years in Hungary

In the first of six performances, Kerry Guinan’s The Red Thread links six industrial sewing machines at Dublin’s The Complex with six counterparts at a garment factory in Bangalore, India. “The kinetic installation appears to be self-operating, but there are puppeteers in hiding,” the Irish artist notes about the workers over 8,000 kilometers away. By eliminating that distance, she hopes to “make visceral the extraordinary scale, and underlying humanity, of the globalised economy.”

“It seems possible that too much globality in terms of trust leads to loss of granularity and silencing of difference, and too much locality leads to a disturbing filter-bubble effect.”
Sarah Friend, on turning trust into data. In her essay, published as part of Process and Protocol festival, the Canadian software artist digs into trust network taxonomies and reveals how Circles UBI, a community-based currency that Friend co-founded, applies “trust networks and decentralization to a social problem.”
Britt Wray
Generation Dread
An analysis of mounting environment-related fears and anxieties, in the wake of the escalating climate crisis

Monira Al Qadiri’s single-channel video Behind the Sun (2013) opens at Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC) Project Space in Ottawa. Drawing on the Kuwaiti artist’s firsthand experience of the Gulf War, the video juxtaposes amateur VHS footage of burning oil fields with audio of Islamic television program monologues. Qadiri recalls the carnage as the “classic image of a biblical apocalypse … the earth belching fire and the black scorched sky felt like a portrait of hell as it should be.”

“The thing about the Amiga bassline is that it was constant volume, it didn’t waver. So when you pulled it up to the maximum volume that you could press on to vinyl, it made it, well, phat as fuck.”
– UK jungle and drum’n’bass legend Gavin King, aka Aphrodite, reminiscing about making music with his Commodore Amiga 1200 home computer in the early ’90s

Tamlin Magee revisits the 16-bit heyday of the early ’90s, when the sound and sampling capabilities of Amiga home computers were central to a burgeoning electronic music scene. “It was the poor man’s studio,” recalls Marlon Sterling, AKA drum’n’bass producer Equinox, whose recently released Early Works 93-94 were made using the OctaMED music tracker when he was only 15. (image: Sterling during an Amiga music restoration session with fellow UK producer Bizzy B)

April 2022
“So, how do you build a metaverse? Rule one: spend twenty years.”
– Media artist Claudia Hart, chronicling her decades building in virtual space. Speaking at VR WSPark, an online exhibition space curated by Snow Yunxue Fu, Hart ruminates on the iterations of her Dolls (2014-) project, which blends CGI, costume design, and choreography in mixed-reality performance.

“A Sea of Data,” German media artist Hito Steyerl’s first solo show in Asia, opens at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Named after an e-flux essay by the artist, the exhibition includes 23 works, spanning 1990-2000s video art through her more recent (often iconic) installations (image: Hell Yeah We Fuck Die, 2016). It also includes a debut: Animal Spirits (2022), commissioned by the MMCA for the show.

As part of her eponymous solo exhibition, American software artist Lauren Lee McCarthy performs a new iteration of her 2020 COVID response piece I Heard Talking Is Dangerous at EIGEN+ART Lab, Berlin. Whereas the original performance had McCarthy trigger text-to-speech monologues from her phone, Proceed At Your Own Risk invited the gallery audience to use the same technology (via a custom web app) to talk back.

“If Tiktaalik is our ancestor, then perhaps our holding it accountable for the chaos it sowed is an expression of love.”
– Science reporter Sabrina Imbler, on the meme-ification of a 375-million-year-old transitional fossil. “The memes yearn to thwack Tiktaalik with a rolled-up newspaper or poke it with a stick,” writes Imbler, ”anything to shoo it back into the water and avoid our having to go to work and pay rent.”

“SKIN DEEP,” a Jonas Blume solo show, opens at Scope BLN in Berlin. Curated by Tina Sauerlaender, the exhibition lives up to its name, presenting works by the American artist exploring the “use of skin as medium to reflect on the relationship between reality and image world.” Included is motorized torso Partially True (2022) and creepy diptych Yes. (Double David) (2022, image). Collectively the works present the artist’s body “in an estranged and uncanny haptic beyond resemblance.”

“Tech companies provide isolated, insecure, overworked individuals with a false sense of mastery that replenishes their capacity to provide exploited labor of their own.”
– American author Grafton Tanner, on the emergence (and history) of the “userverse,” a “customized surrogate world” of “unchallenged mastery” and “concealed labour,” where critique is “downplayed as adjustment difficulties: Give it time, and the technology will eventually work for everyone.”
Anicka Yi
A monograph of Korean bio-artist Anicka Yi’s work, coinciding with her eponymous show at Milan’s Pirelli HangarBicocca

Putting ecology-focused works by the Dutch and British artists in conversation, “Dialogue: James Bridle and Jonas Staal“ opens at Berlin’s NOME gallery. Stall’s “Comrades in Deep Future“ marshals a coalition of “extinct plants, neo-constructivist ammonites, and insurgent octopi“ into “a popular front of earth workers,“ while Bridle’s “Signs of Life,“ showcases a series of sustainable design ‘tributes’ (image: Windmill 03 (for Walter Segal), 2022).

Are the aesthetics of an immersive installation intellectual property? According to recently surfaced Los Angeles court documents the answer to that question is maybe. Spurned by similarities between a pair of their works and installations at the Museum of Dream Space (MODS) in Beverly Hills, teamLab are suing for copyright infringement. The prolific Japanese studio claims motifs from “Transcending Boundaries” (2017) and “Crystal” (2015), have been copied by exhibition designers at the American venue. The case may set an interesting legal precedent, as “streams of light and water cascading down the wall onto the ground” is not exactly ingenious—but immersive installations are big business now. Either a summary judgement will be issued in a few weeks, or the case heads to trial this summer.

“Simulating Gestures,” a show in which Jessica Field questions the visibility of the artist’s hand in digital art, opens at Toronto’s Pari Nadimi Gallery. Field’s explorations of emergence are demonstrated here, by works including a simulation pitting artificial agents against one another (to make aesthetic decisions), and a recent drawing series where AI personas sketch “emotionally infused ideas to communicate” (image: Shame is only heavy when it hurts, 2021).

The 59th edition of the Venice Biennale opens. Some highlights: central exhibition “The Milk of Dreams” includes early computer art by Vera Molnar; Iceland’s pavilion, for which Sigurður Guðjónsson zooms into infinitesimal metal dust; Malta’s pavilion, where Arcangelo Sassolino reimagines a Caravaggio scene in dripping molten steel (image: Diplomazija Astuta, 2022); and Uzbekistan’s pavilion, which honours the 8th-century polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi.

“We still haven’t seen it yet. Maybe the next internet will be mystical and poetic, be ethereal, offer new ways of connecting, and be less capitalist. We don’t know yet.”
– Greek artist Angelo Plessas, pushing back against cynicism towards future iterations of the internet. In (refreshingly optimistic) conversation with Informer’s Roddy Schrock, Plessas outlines how networks facilitate identity construction and spiritual nourishment. [quote edited]

Showing the “divergent realities generated by the use of fossil fuels” worldwide, “Fossil Experience” opens at Berlin’s Prater Galerie. Participating artists include Marjolijn Dijkman, Monira Al Qadiri, and Rachel O’Reilly. Global North and South are represented, with Kat Austen’s This Land is Not Mine (2020-) chronicling waning coal production in Western Europe, and Ayọ̀ Akínwándé’s Ogoni Cleanup (image, 2020) resuscitating a Big Oil-ravaged Niger Delta river.

“Part of the ambiguity of large climate change sculptures is that they face outward. They position climate change as a simplified standoff between people and the wilderness, without asking which people are most affected and which people are most responsible.”
– Critic Hua Xi, in a searing analysis of recent large-scale sculptures addressing climate change by artists including Simone Leigh, James Plensa, and Kara Walker.

“Emo Gym,” a show inviting artists to “confront, dissect, and possibly embrace the vulnerability of our times,” opens at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary. Participating artists include Chloë Cheuk, Yim Sui Fong, and Eason Tsang ka wai contributing installations and video works. Of note: recent RCA grad Michele Chu‘s inti-gym (2021, image), a cozy tunnel that offers enclosure and respite for ‘intimacy fitness,’ an affective counterpoint to the physical regime of traditional gyms.

“People are going to be doing their regular work, that’s what’s being recorded and reproduced … every time there’s movement, you know, it’s kind of mirrored in Ireland.”
– Irish artist Kerry Guinan and Deepa Chikarmane, factory director of Pret Interpret Clothing, about how Guinan’s exhibition “The Red Thread” will link six sewing machines in Bangalore, India, with respective counterparts at Dublin’s The Complex from May 4th to 10th
Dragona & Parikka (ed.)
Words of Weather
A Daphne Dragona and Jussi Parikka edited glossary of climate and environment, with entries by Holly Jean Buck, Pujita Guha, Karolina Sobecka, and others
“Different possibilities are revealed, and others are destroyed. It breaks down the illusion of absolute truth. For me, this is a step forward in understanding ourselves, the world, and our place in it in new plural and relational ways.”
– British scientist-turned-artist Libby Heaney, on the implications of quantum computing. In her latest immersive installation Ent-, Heaney explores a “quantum aesthetic” that “reveals the pluralities at the heart of all matter.”
Augmenting “Variations,” a major Vera Molnar retrospective exhibition at the Beall Center for Art + Technology in Irvine, California, art historian Zsofi Valyi-Nagy unravels the many threads that run through the work of one of generative art’s foundational figures.
“The experience of AI in everyday life renders us default Surrealists, deferring to opaque automatic processes that no longer need be arduously evoked with Ouija-esque analog rituals.”
Real Life Editor Rob Horning, on the parallels between automatic writing and the artistic exploration of language models like GPT-3 and DALL-E. Unimpressed, he characterizes AI-generated prose and images as “estranged from human agency yet nonetheless has some perceivable sense to it that a reader can extract, or project on it.”

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