Rebecca Morgan Frank
Oh You Robot Saints!
“Radical Curiosity: In the Orbit of Buckminster Fuller” opens at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. A reconsideration of the American architect’s legacy, it assesses his designs, which include the Dymaxion car and geodesic domes (image), in a moment of rising tides and strained infrastructure. Fuller’s focus on interdependence and systems let him “foresee the world’s problems and establish priorities,” note curators Rosa Pera and José Luis de Vicente.
“Transatlantic Visions,” an exhibition showcasing Juliette Lusven’s doctoral research on internet infrastructure, opens at Montréal’s ELEKTRA gallery. Its single installation Sonder (le monde) presents a visualization undersea cable infrastructure that spans the Atlantic Ocean overlayed with real-time geographic data, fusing topographic and satellite imaging with “microscopic captures of technological residues, sediments, and microfossils from the ocean floor.”
What comes after platform capitalism? An assemblage called ‘hyperstructures,’ according to Jacob Horne. In an essay published on his website, the co-founder of the NFT marketplace aggregator Zora outlines the frameworks he sees emerging around crypto protocols. Inspired by the utopian architecture of Paolo Soleri, Horne argues the permissionless nature of hyperstructures generates low-friction exchange, yielding more equitable outcomes for participants (versus web 2.0 platforms where the user is the product). Is this the frothy rhetoric we’ll hear as money flows into web3? Yes, but Zora’s manifesto claim that “platforms hold our audiences and content hostage” is not wrong.
“One and Zero Makes Two,” a solo show by Cem Sonel, opens at Anna Laudel Istanbul. Surveying the breadth of the Turkish artist’s practice, it juxtaposes whimsical street art with austere cellular automata. Produced under the moniker Code of Conquer, the latter body of work features dense red and green dot arrays splashed across MDF and LED displays (image), rejecting the notion that “absence refers to a deficiency in existence,” and breathing life into binary logic.
“Unruly Archives,” an exhibition surfacing traces of “the global footprint of warfare and organized violence,” opens at The Blackwood in Mississauga, Canada. Curated by Amin Alsaden, conflict-focused works by Emily Jacir, Walid Raad, and Zineb Sedira are included. Iraqi artist Ali Eyal’s contribution 6×9 doesn’t fit everything (2021, image), for example, chronicles the heartbreak and frustration he felt when ridiculed by U.S. soldiers, after his father’s car was incinerated.
Tokyo’s SAI gallery dedicates a new solo show—his largest yet—to the cyberpunk creations of Ikeuchi Hiroto, showcasing mechanical masks, VR headsets, wearable exoskeletons (made in collaboration with Skeletonics), and a futuristic vehicle (image). Ikeuchi, who rose to fame with robotic augmentations in the fashion world, combines ready-made plastic models with industrial parts, imparting decontextualised objects with new meaning through amalgamation.
In celebration of the 5th anniversary of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, a Studio Drift survey opens at the local MK&G museum. “Moments of Connection” is the Dutch art and architecture duo’s most expansive exhibition in Germany to date and includes Drift classics such as Fragile Future III (2005, image), Shylight (2006), and In 20 Steps (2015). A new commission, Breaking Waves, is set to premiere in April, illuminating the facade of the iconic opera house with a drone choreography.
In response to Lionel Dricot’s call for a “computer built to last 50 years,” Swedish programmer Carl Svensson argues that such a “ForeverComputer” already exists: the Commodore Amiga 1200 (image), a portable 32bit platform launched in 1992, meets Dricot’s criteria of being “sustainable, decentralized, offline-first and durable,” while offering many modern features and a massive software library. Bonus: “No notifications, no distractions, no surveillance.”
“Images of Resistance from Elsewhere,” an e-flux Video & Film screening program launches. Exploring the mediation of political struggle, it features films by The Otolith Group, Jocelyne Saab, b.h. Yael, and Mohanad Yaqubi that show conflict “from the point of view of the engaged observer.” Notably, it includes Harun Farocki’s War at a Distance (2003, image), which connects post-Gulf War military trends (missile cams, CGI, etc.) with industry and ideology. The online program runs through Jan 18.
For The Guardian’s Techscape newsletter, Chris Stokel-Walker asks “whither the bold claims of the charismatic tech CEO?” in the aftermath of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes being found guilty of fraud. Similar to deposed WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann, there was not much ‘there’ there with Theranos, who falsified lab results to prop up their medical diagnostic prototype to dupe investors. “Tech companies overpromise and underdeliver. They’ve spent decades doing it,” notes Stokel-Walker. However, while we’ve become jaded by the many Steve Jobs wannabes of recent years, he urges we avoid “slipping too far in the opposite direction” into cynicism, gesturing to “techno-utopian companies like BioNTech inventing new techniques to manufacture vaccines” as evidence we can (and should) still feel wonder.
Richard Nieva reports on SilentSpeller, a hands-free interface for inaudible texting. Developed by University of Tokyo PhD student Naoki Kimura, the prototype provides users with a 1164-word dictionary accessed through tongue movements detected by an existing smart retainer product. Working under the guidance of Google Glass technical lead Thad Starner, Kimura will present the project at CHI22 this spring; potential applications include aiding sufferers of Parkinson’s disease and other motion disorders.
Motherboard’s Matthew Gault reports that the Slovak Game Developers Association in collaboration with the Slovak Design Museum compiled English localizations of ten computer games created in former Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s. Programmed on Didaktik 8bit computers—Slovak ZX Spectrum clones—the games are considered “a key part of the history of home production,” notes the Design Museum’s multimedia curator Maroš Brojo. “Like other historical works, they belong to our cultural heritage.”
“Yesterday I spent 10 hours appreciating 100 people,” Lauren Lee McCarthy recaps her Zoom performance Appreciate You on Twitter. On Dec 21, the American media artist offered 100 five-minute appreciation sessions—“friends, acquaintances, and strangers all invited”—taking place over Dec 31 and bookable via (inexpensive) NFTs. “I could never have imagined 100 zooms flying by but they did,” writes McCarthy, Zoom screenshot attached. “My heart is full.”
For generative artists, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: #genuary. Starting today, thousands of creative coders including Nadieh Bremer, Jess Hewitt, William Mapan, and Frederik Vanhoutte take to social media to share wild geometries forged in Processing, p5js, openFrameworks and other tools, in response to daily creative prompts. Surprises are to be expected: Amy Goodchild, for example, went analog with markers to ‘draw 10,000 of something’ (image). Follow along!
Following Kyle McDonald’s example, Mexican-Canadian media art icon Rafael Lozano-Hemmer “demystifies” his studio’s funding structure with a money flowchart shared on Twitter. Public funding (green) “is the slowest but most reliable source,” notes Lozano-Hemmer, while private collectors (red) provide resources “the fastest but the most out of my control.” The spontaneous acts of transparency were triggered by questions about art as public service and who is in control.
Demosceners celebrate the 30th anniversary of the inaugural edition of The Party, a landmark meetup of ~1,200 young computer enthusiasts in Aars, Denmark, that would inspire similar creative gatherings—demoparties—across Europe for years to come. The three-day jam saw the release of many 16-bit classics such as Hardwired, Odyssey, and Voyage, and, expanding into rave and videogame culture in subsequent years, would draw up to 5,000 visitors before its demise in 2002.
“Hello, Robot. Design between Human and Machine,” opens at Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing. A collaboration between the Japanese auto manufacturer’s culture wing and Vitra Design Museum, it aims to “inspire in-depth thinking about the human-machine relationship, and interaction.” Spanning four thematic rooms, the show surveys the history of robots in science fiction, across industrial applications, ‘helpers’ and companions in domestic space, and the fusion of human and machine.
Art blogger Régine Debatty reflects on Éva Ostrowska’s series of post-internet wool tapestries, currently on view at the “Swipe Right! Data, Dating, Desire” exhibition at iMAL, Brussels (image: I am not the only one wondering…, 2019). Rather than using craft for romantic commentary, the French mixed media artist “holds a facetious and slightly cruel mirror to our new dating habits,” notes Debatty. “Her woolly compositions lay bare our insecurities, little infamies, and anxieties.”
Shortly after liftoff from a French Guiana spaceport, the James Webb Space Telescope departs Earth’s atmosphere. Outfitted with sophisticated infrared sensors, it’s en route to a distant solar orbit where it will study residual heat from stars and galaxies that appeared 13.7 billion years ago. Beyond the bevy of sensors, its 6.5 m primary mirror is seven times more effective at light gathering—it will see further into the past—than the long-ailing Hubble Telescope.
Psychologist Eiko Fried points out the curious path pattern 800 unsteered bicycles create when pushed in Matthew Cook’s 2004 computer simulation. In his paper “It Takes Two Neurons To Ride a Bicycle,” the CalTech mathematician and computer scientist demonstrated that a two-neuron network can learn how to cycle, displaying human characteristics: “Just as when a person rides a bicycle, the network is very accurate for long range goals, but in the short run stability issues dominate the behavior.”
Critic Andrew Russeth offers incisive analysis of Liz Larner’s “rare and admirable” restlessness. While known as an innovative sculptor, Russeth argues Larner’s passage through other fields warrants serious attention. Several 1980s works are discussed, including a microorganism decomposition study (image: Orchid, Buttermilk, Penny, 1987), and a kinetic device that rebuffed Survival Research Laboratories’ “outrageously macho robots.”
“Butterflies Frolicking on the Mud: Engendering Sensible Capital,” the Thailand Biennale Korat 2021 opens in Nai Mueang. Featuring 54 artists exploring the “capital of hope emerging from uncertainty,” its works include David OReilly’s meta-videogame Everything (2017), and a new interactive sculpture version of Keiken’s Wisdoms for Love 3.0 (2021, image) which positions NFT exchange as knowledge sharing (not commerce).
“S v Z,” a hometown solo show by San Francisco native Tauba Auerbach opens at SFMOMA. Documenting Auerbach’s study of how “structure, pattern, and gesture function at intricate and vast scales,” it offers a core sample of her voluminous output spanning painting and drawing, sculpture and installation, including her playful collaboration with Cameron Mesirow (image: Auerglass Organ, 2009), which provides the show’s soundtrack.
Multimedia and sound artist Kat Austen’s research on the effects of microplastics on plants is published in the journal “Science of The Total Environment.” In a pilot study done as part of her artwork Stranger to the Trees (2020-21, image: WRO Media Art Biennale), Austen and colleagues demonstrate that woody plants like silver birches uptake and ‘store’ microplastics in their root tissue, effectively cleaning contaminated soil.
Wired senior writer Kate Knibbs meets avatar artist LaTurbo Avedon (image), “a cross between the Japanese hologram pop idol Hatsune Miku and the pseudonymous British street artist Banksy,” in Second Life to chat digital mirrors, the metaverse, and NFTs. “There’s no separating the art from the artist,” Knibbs muses, after attempts to get Avedon to break character fail. “The artist is the art project, a sprightly-looking, nonbinary virtual being untethered from a human body.”
Exploring machine gaze resistance and “posthuman human vision,” the Domenico Quaranta-curated NFT exhibition “For Your Eyes Only” opens on Feral File. 13 artists including Moreshin Allahyari, Petra Cortright (image: smoking-vase-1), Jonas Lund, and Lev Manovich, submitted works, or “proofs,” in response to Quaranta’s thematic inquiry. “They can be paraphrased, explained, and described, but no description will ever exhaust them,” writes Quaranta.
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