To Know The Beast Intimately
Digital ProgrammeNew WritingThe Digital Image

To Know The Beast Intimately

Above image: Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Before it is won through conquest, what “ holds ” the invader is what lies ahead.

— Edouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990)

When hostility towards marginalised people heightens, resulting in blatant forms of fascism, the realm of representation is quick to be studied. Our knee-jerk reaction to the lack of representation or misrepresentation of minorities is predicated on notions that more “ good” representations of minorities will bring more empathy and prevent discrimination. While so much of the discourse on representation circles around questions of visibility, invisibility and hypervisibility, representing minorities in “ casual everyday situations” is in essence an effort to render them legible.

Representation has historically played a crucial role in the way minorities have gained rights through visibility. As minoritarian artists and writers, how do we discuss the inherent shortcomings of representation-as-tactic, and resist the exceptionalist tendencies it inevitably gives rise to? Instead of demanding the basic rights (to life, mobility, welfare and justice) for all, it is often the “ goodness” of the subjects that is used to argue against unjust and biased actions and discriminatory laws. Why should a deserving working engineer, college student, law-abiding citizen, father, mother, or any player of a recognisable and acceptable societal role (generally based on the Western heteropatriarchal understanding of humanity anyhow) be banned or discriminated against?

On the human-monster axis, legibility decreases as we slide from the human to the monster. The barbarian, the alien, the terrorist, the mysterious weirdo ought to evolve into (the late-capitalist version of) the human to become comprehensible: the one that consumes, whose attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s memory, who goes to sleep digesting data and wakes up looking at a screen.

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Legibility and visibility, although not mutually exclusive, are neither in direct causal relation to one another. More visibility does not necessarily render a subject more legible and vice versa. Empathy — any attempt toward peace that emphasises the “ similarity” and “ unity” of all humankind through representational means — operates on the basis of legibility.

If mainstreaming, as a mode of resistance, attempts, through art, popular culture and journalism to render a people “ normal” and “ peaceful”, Morehshin Allahyari’s Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj raises the question of how these notions of “ normalcy” and “ peace” are constructed. Instead of encountering a “ good” or “authentic” representation of a people, in Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj we find ourselves leapfrogging from the human towards the monstrous: the jinn.

In western orientalist representations, jinns are often depicted as either powerful male slaves who can make three wishes come true (think Aladdin) or subservient yet problem-solving females; predecessors of sorts to Siri or Alexa (think I Dream of Jeannie). Like everything else, jinns are also reduced to more tangible creatures for the western orientalist imagination: male jinns are racialised servants with superhuman capabilities but limited agency; female jinns are desirably naughty yet docile. Their gender is binary and, like “ us”, jinns have heteropatriarchal desires.

My upbringing was full of stories of Jinn-o-Pary[1] (Jinns and Fairies). Because jinns were invisible, fluid creatures anything one might need to be alarmed about would involve a jinn’s interference. Devil, the infamous jinn, was the shape-shifter who could manipulate you by “ getting under your cover” and entering your body. When getting close to danger — the edge of a cliff, a river or fire — it was Devil that would push you over, to fall, drown or burn.

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar, 1568

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar, 1568

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

According to the Quran, angels are made of light, jinns of fire and humans of clay (soil and water). Like humans, jinns have agency, while angels are not capable of wrongdoing; they’re purely good. Devil falls because he refuses to bow down to Adam, God’s magnum opus of a life in creation. Devil’s refusal to bow down to Adam was his refusal to accept the human’s superiority. In the quranic version, although Devil originally disobeys God, he remains in competition with Man’s power and stature for the rest of his life, not God’s:

And [mention] when We said to the angels, “ Prostrate to Adam,” and they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was of the jinn and departed from the command of his Lord. Then will you take him and his descendants as allies other than Me while they are enemies to you? Wretched it is for the wrongdoers as an exchange.[2]

Jinns look like humans until they are discovered; their identities revealed by their feet — animal like and twisted backwards. These moments of recognition when the human could tell they were enamoured, seduced or deceived by something not human, such as a jinn, were the climax of many of my childhood stories. What did the protagonist do once they realised the community or the person they were interacting or living with (sometimes for years) was jinn, not human? Once the jinn’s feet were revealed, what remained there to be seen? Was this moment of revelation one of immediate transformation, where from then on the human saw nothing but jinn? This is where all the stories ended, but where an exploration of Morehshin Allahyari’s Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj might begin.

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Morehshin Allahyari, She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj (video still), 2017. Courtesy the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery

Ya’jooj Ma’jooj: A tale of survivalism

Dhul-Qarnayn, a good fella, was asked to defend the people against Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj (Gog & Magog), the mystical mass embodying corruption, perversity, debauchery and immorality. A monster depriving the people of peace, spreading pure chaos. According to the Quran, Dhul-Qarnayn built a wall out of pieces of iron, and welded them together with melted copper. Perfectly sealed, the wall was not to be penetrated or climbed by Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, keeping them at bay as the people inside lived on happily ever after in isolated peace. In this tale, then, what Dhul-Qarnayn built was more than just a wall that he claimed he could destroy on God’s order; what he constructed was the idea of the wall as deterrent. The people from then on lived with the knowledge of a deterring technology called “ wall”.

Morehshin Allahyari’s video, She Who Sees The Unknown: Ya’jooj and Ma’joojshows the 3-D scanning of a Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj sculpture the artist previously made, intertwined with text she has written and collected from different sources. While there are numerous Quranic, as well as Biblical and Toratian allegorical and historical interpretations of Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, Allahyari’s rendition is one that takes a curious look at the monster that was created. Allegorical figures, like jinns, are temporal embodiments of human desires and emotions. The beast comes into being to tell a story about good and evil: the people and their invader, the land and its defender. Once the story is told, what remains of the beast?

Allahyari’s Ya’jooj Ma’jooj departs from this tale of survivalism to look at life on the other side of the wall, where creation is a site of simultaneous decadence and becoming. Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj, the plural that is also singular, the unit that embodies multiplicity, is constantly “ rendering,” yet never fully formed or legible. The ten-minute video is an extended gaze from when this encounter happened, when the people, Dhul-Qarnayn and Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj stared into each other’s eyes and began to see beyond the “ defended,” the “ invader” and the “ deterrence technology” of the wall. The moment of recognition is that of infinite reflection where one finally sees themselves in the other, yet one will not see the reflection until one stops to see through: ‘she to whom the image clung like a mirror‘.

—Gelare Khoshgozaran

Morehshin Allahyari’s She Who Sees the Unknown: Ya’jooj Ma’jooj, continues through 16 July on our Media Wall. A video interview with the artist produced by our Education team can be watched. For more information on the subject of the the digital image and the ethics of representation, visit our online platformUnthinking Photography. Book tickets for our upcoming event Trafficking of Cultural Goods: 3D Modelling and Digital Colonialism.

Gelare Khoshgozaran گلاره خوشگذران is an interdisciplinary artist and writer working across the mediums of video, performance, installation and writing. Born and raised in Tehran and living in Los Angeles, she envisions the city as an imaginary space between asylum as “ the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee” and the more dated meaning of the word, “ an institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill.” Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at the Queens Museum of Art, Museo Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, Malmö Konsthall, LACE, The LA Municipal Art Gallery, Southern Exposure, Human Resources, Interstate Projects and Thomas Erben Gallery, among others. Gelare was the recipient of the 2015 California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists, the 2015 Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, and the 2016 Rema Hort Mann Foundation Award for Emerging Artists. She is the co-founder and editor of contemptorary.org.

Notes

[1] جن و پری

[2] Sūrat l-Kahf, The Cave. Chapter 18, verse 50, Sahih International Translation.

How to See an Image in Data: Uncovering Representation in Digital Images
New WritingThe Digital Image

How to See an Image in Data: Uncovering Representation in Digital Images

Image: Meggan Gould, iPads: Mine, September 17, 2012. Courtesy Meggan Gould.

Following our recent exhibition programme on the historical relationship between drawing and photography, Nicole Sansone considers the contemporary digital image and its relationship to drawing, in respect to changes in our theoretical understanding of representation.

***

What is it about drawing and photography that seems to make them such a natural fit for each other? They work in very different ways: drawing erupts from the mechanical energy of the drawing body, while photography reveals itself in the contours of light and shade, over time. So, is the difference between these two mediums one in kindor in degree?

One similarity between drawing and photography is that they are two mediums that have lead the participation of the arts in the sciences. Sixteenth century anatomists and botanists often worked with artists and printers to produce images that would support their written work.[1] The mid-19th century text The Pencil of Natureoutlined all the ways in which photography could be useful to collectors for documenting their collections. These museological benefits proved doubly useful in the documenting of maladies. “ Photography became the paradigm of the scientist’s true retina” and a mantra for, among others, Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, whose pioneering work in neurology was heavily reliant on his photographic practice.[2]

This shared point of reference supports two ideas about the relationship between photography and drawing. First, that they share some quality, by virtue of the technical properties of their medium, that allows humans to see things for what they ‘really’ are. The second point, which follows from the first, is that photography and drawing can both be used as supplements and/or complements to the naked human senses. This is an idea that actually has much deeper historical roots that go back to Galileo’s use of the telescope to describe the surface of the moon. In the Siderius Nuncius, Galileo not only used drawings to enhance his textual arguments (which historians often credit as the first example of drawing entering into astronomy) but he spends a great deal of time in his writing elaborating how a telescope works, and what it might be used for. This three-pronged approach at laying out a scientific exegesis introduced the idea that the human senses alone were not sufficient in grasping all that the natural world has on display, and by extension, that human vision was in itself incomplete and perhaps not to be trusted.[3]

Today we continue this legacy of questioning the relationship between optics and representation but with an added emphasis on technology. The proliferation of digital images and the media that support them, and their move into mainstream politics and culture, all beg the question of where representation happens, and who — or what — controls it. Scholarship on issues of gender and sexuality, coloniality, and identity are useful here in thinking about the non-optic or extra-optic ways that an image can come into being. Through shared interest in vision as a mode of objectification, race and gender-critical scholars have posed effective challenges to the regimes of vision, representation, and reality.

Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova have taken this perspective as the foundation from which to argue for an expanded engagement with digital images and aesthetics. [4]  They credit these critical canons with opening up the field of image study to questions beyond representation and reality, and note that this line of inquiry also has a historical legacy in the philosophical investigation of the materiality of images themselves.[5] Freed from the dialectical questions of representation and reality we can begin to engage with digital images not as “ deceptive, unreal simulations, threatening embodied experience” but instead for the ways in which images more fully speak to the experiences and potentials of bodies — emotional, fleshy, gendered, etc. — in space.[6]

Parisi and Terranova believe that in place of questions of representation and reality what digital aesthetics can more productively address itself to are questions of affect and how affect as a digital aesthetic situates itself in sociocultural contexts. Central to the idea of affect is what Brian Massumi has noted as the gap between content and effect; that “ the strength or duration of an image’s effect is not logically connected to the content in any straightforward way.” [7] The break between content and effect (or our inability to reconcile the two) becomes more acutely linked to materiality in the digital image. In the digital image layers of abstracted code and logic become the viewable image, and the means by which that image appears on phones or screens is always hidden, out of view. This makes asking the question of where affective relations take place, or are organised, particularly tricky.

It’s also a question that becomes more important as we come to rely on larger data sets to make digital images. The 2009 unveiling of the Google Earth Engine revealed that Google had recently been successful in downloading and cataloguing over forty years of satellite data, elevation data and atmospheric data — petabytes of information. This information, they explained, “ had been difficult to get access to … and there’s so much data that even if you could access it, it’s very difficult to analyse.” [8] The tools that made this possible also power Google Earth and are key to Google’s philanthropic projects, tracking environmental risk factors such as malaria and deforestation, many times in conjunction with policy makers.

Hito Steyerl has written of the problematic use of big data at the levels of government and bureaucracy. She calls it apophenia, or the phenomenon of perceiving patterns in random data sets. Steyerl notes that in today’s society the picture that we create of ourselves and that is visible to policymakers and modes of governance is one that is taken as definitive, despite being admittedly “ probabilistic projections.” [9] “ In practice you become coextensive with the data-constellation you project,” Steyerl writes; “ Social scores of all different kinds — credit scores, academic scores, threat scores — as well as commercial and military pattern-of-life observations impact the real lives of real people, both reformatting and radicalising social hierarchies by ranking, filtering, and classifying.” [10]

Works by Nicholas O’Brien, Jesse Maclean, and the Scandinavian Institute for Computational Vandalism (S.I.C.V.)— which all featured in the exhibition Contours at The Photographers’ Gallery in spring this year — can elicit a number of different productive readings from the relationship between drawing and photography. I think where they are most usefully considered is in how they might be seen to take aim at precisely the gap between content and effect, material and meaning. Nicholas O’Brien makes use of a free version of a popular CAD modeling software often used by professionals engaged in spatial design. His movements and on-screen creations are perverted, unimaginable, un-realisable; their images, art. Jesse McLean assembles and dissembles images of Iraq to pull at the seams of the sociolinguistic qualifications that are supposed to give images in circulation meaning and potency. And yet arguably the effect of some images remain — harrowing and uncanny in their hollow incompletion. S.I.C.V.’s algorithm knocks down the mysticism that’s attributed to realistic capture and representation by playing on what Matthew Fuller has described as computers’ stupidity; stupid in the sense that “ Computers … do exactly as they are told. Their capacity for memory, like this function of stupefied perfect recall, is what makes them so effective for archiving, and indeed so disturbing as an agent of social control.” [11]

Seen in this way, the works in the exhibition adopt a variety of approaches and materials to challenge ideas of meaning: of what meaning is, how it is created, and how it functions materially. Drawing and photography has historically emphasised the importance of the image as the site for meaning. We look at a photograph to verify that something has happened. Police sketches are compiled from oral statements to help track down perpetrators. New media artists like those exhibiting in Contours add a healthy dose of skepticism to this practice, not by investigating the images they create but by searching out the logical boundaries of the image as it is being created. At what point can we say a digital process congeals into the image? As technology allows for images increasingly outside of the human sensible range — from satellites in space, from uninhabitable parts of the earth, from deep inside our bodies — keeping an eye towards the site of representation becomes our most important critical task.[12]

Nicole Sansone

Nicole Sansone is a PhD student in the Digital Culture Unit at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. Her PhD research explores the aesthetics and epistemology of sky imagery in landscape art and technoculture. Previously Nicole was a curator at IMT Gallery in London and the Assistant Curator of General Electric’s corporate art collection in New York. She has written for The Creator’s Project, Full-Stop, Furtherfield, V Magazine Blog, and Sluice__, among others. She is currently co-organising a symposium on simulation aesthetics, technology, and ecology to take place in London, Spring 2017.

Notes

[1] Mary G. Winkler and Van Helden Albert, “ Representing the Heavens: Galileo and Visual Astronomy,” Isis, n.d. The authors also note that this practice already in development in the late 15thcentury; see Schultz, Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy.

[2] For more on this, see: Georges Didi-Huberman and J. M. Charcot, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière(Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003).

[3] For more on this, see: Joseph Vogl, “ Becoming-Media: Galileo’s Telescope, ” trans. Brian Hanrahan, Grey Room, Inc., New German Media Theory, No. 29, no. Fall, 2007 (n.d.): 14–25.

[4] For an excellent overview of this argument see: Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova, “ A Matter of Affect: Digital Images and the Cybernetic Re-Wiring of Vision,” Parallax 7, no. 4 (October 2001): 122–27, doi:10.1080/13534640110089294.

[5] “ … it would be misleading to think of the material qualities of the image as a new phenomenon exclusively associated with the emergence of digital media, as if digitisation constituted a mere technical innovation in the homogenous negative tradition of vision and its relation to the body. … It is possible to refer to another history of images, vision and their relation to the body which is less concerned with central or subjective perspectives. Lucretius’s simulacra, for example, affirm the sensible qualities of images, sounds, and smells. Baruch Spinoza refers to images as compositions of ‘anonymous particles’ endowed with the power to affect. Bergson’s matter is defined as an ‘aggregate of images’, where a body is ‘an image which acts like other images, receiving and giving back movement’, and therefore a centre of action that cannot give birth to a representation. Walter Benjamin’s work also expresses a preoccupation with the tactile qualities of photography and its capacity to capture images which escape natural vision; and Luce Irigaray’s asserts that the shadows on the Platonic cave are no reflections of a higher reality but the essence of matter itself.” Quoted from ibid., 124–125.

[6] Ibid., 125.

[7] Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Post-Contemporary Interventions (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 218.

[8] Google Developers, Introduction to Planetary-Scale Geospatial Analysis with Google Earth Engine, accessed April 13, 2016,

[9] “ A Sea of Data: Apophenia and Pattern (Mis-)Recognition | E-Flux,” accessed May 20, 2016,

[10] Ibid.

[11] “ Vandalist Iconophilia,” accessed June 14, 2016,

[12] This is a lesson, in part, already explored in the dismanting of photography’s truth claim, and it is worth revisiting again with the rise of the digital image. For more on this, see and Susan Sontag’s On Photography; Tom Gunning’s What’s the point of an index? or, Faking Photographs; Lev Manovich’s What is Digital Cinema?, for e.g.

Notes on Photography and Death: Mourning, Spectacle, Evidence
New WritingThe Death DetectivesThe Digital Image

Notes on Photography and Death: Mourning, Spectacle, Evidence

Image: Marfa Ilinitchna Riazantseva, 1937 © Archives centrales FSB et Archives nationales de la Fédération de Russie GARF, Moscou, copies publiées à partir des archives de l’Association internationale Memorial, Moscou.

To coincide with The Death Detectives, a recent event at The Photographers’ Gallery, we have invited each speaker to contribute their thoughts to our blog. Here, Anthony Luvera shares his.

***

The inevitability and unpredictability of death is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. With much of the project of living spent seeking security and attempting to obtain and sustain control, it is the unknowingness of the timing and experience of death that makes it so confronting. Yet, attitudes to death are culturally constructed and coping mechanisms are formed through the meaning systems of social institutions.

The social theorist Chris Shilling has argued that ‘conditions of high modernity have made the modern individual’s confrontation with death especially difficult… Death has become a particular existential problem for people as a result of modern forms of embodiment, rather than being a universal problem for human beings which assumes the same form irrespective of time or place’ (2003: 153). When once the occasion of death was highly social, with public displays of mourning and events commonly taking place with the body of the deceased laid out to mark the occasion, now it is sequestered and privatised within institutions, and understood to be a problem for specialist knowledge and medical science. As the sociologist Norbert Elias observed, ‘never before have people died as noiselessly and hygienically as today… and never in social conditions fostering so much solitude’ (1985: 85). Where once religion provided a ‘sacred canopy… a shared vision of the world, the body and self-identity’ (Shilling 2003: 154) the increasingly secularised formation of Western societies has marginalised the communal spaces for death that once anaesthetised dread about the meaningless of living in the face of the unknowable event of death.

The photographic medium is underwritten by death, in both the production and consumption of images across the contexts of art, science, commerce and personal photography, and in analysis of the histories and ontology of the photograph. Deathly analogies and characterisations have riven considerations of the photograph since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century to today. From as early as 1840 when Hippolyte Bayard posed as a corpse in protest at the lack of recognition by the French government for his photogenic inventions, through to Andre Bazin who described photography as form of embalming life in his influential essay, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ (1960). Susan Sontag likened to the indexicality of the photograph to a death mask, writing ‘all photographs are memento mori that enable participation in another’s mortality’ (1977: 154). And more recently, historians such as Geoffrey Batchen (1999; 2004; 2009), Christian Metz (1985), Margaret Iversen (1994) and Audrey Linkman (2011) – to name a just a few – have all spoken of how the deathly qualities of photographs pose an uncanniness that might be seen as a return of the dead.

The strongest influence on the talk of death that circulates in ontological discussions about photography reverberates out of Roland Barthes’s, Camera Lucida (1980). In this text – arguably one of the cornerstones of contemporary photographic theory – Barthes has this to say:

All those young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know they are agents of Death. This is the way in which our time assumes Death… For Death must be somewhere in society; if it is no longer (or less intently) in religion, it must be elsewhere; perhaps in this image which produces Death while trying to preserve life. Contemporary with the withdrawal of rites, Photography may correspond to the intrusion, in our modern society, of an asymbolic Death, outside of religion, outside of ritual, a kind of abrupt dive into literal Death. Life / Death: the paradigm is reduced to a simple click, the one separating the initial pose from the final print. (Barthes 1980: 92)

Barthes stretches this death analogy throughout his meditation on the qualities of the photograph – written while in mourning for the death of his mother – leading a number of critics to attest it has produced an overbearing melancholic tone in much subsequent consideration of the photographic medium. He argues that the temporality peculiar to the photograph is best thought of as an expression of the tautology of the French grammatical term future anterior, which loosely translates as ‘That has been’. Photography is a past tense medium. As they can only ever be seen after the actual moment depicted, photographs will always intimate death.

Barthes’s comments about the marginalisation of space for death are just as relevant to our conversation here. As society has become increasingly secularised since the mid-nineteenth century – corresponding to the arrival of the photographic medium – space for Death is now primarily carved out in various forms of production and consumption of photographic representation. Communal responses and collective rites and rituals for death, dying and mourning have been tidied away while the hunger to view representations of death and dying has grown: reality programmes set in accident and emergency departments, documentaries about war, websites set up as spaces for memorialisation, and exhibitions in art and photography galleries – not to mention the deluge of violent films and television series that has arisen in recent decades. The forces of consumption that drive the production of the spectacle of death in contemporary culture might be likened to a fissure that forges its way around a blockage, as public audiences continue to seek out systems and spaces to try to obtain knowledge of death.

So, how are we meant to view photographs of death when they are displayed in public? Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence is an exhibition of images produced for very different contexts to the one in which they are now on show. The curator Diane Dufour contends this is an exhibition about the visual systems that gave rise to the production and articulation of the images – the product of professional practices of “ evidence” as constructed for the various quantitative purposes of judiciary systems. The crux of this is the interplay of a reliance on the image as documentation and the image as persuasion when tied to specific narratives, measurements, calculations, diagrams, testimonies or the architecture of a courtroom. While all photographs provide evidence of a sort – this happened then – the truth claims of the images in this exhibition are especially vulnerable when seen out of their original contexts. For as much as these images purport to show or reveal something about the act or effect of violent crime, it is what they lack that reveals both the ability and the ineptitude of images to harbour notions of truth.

As a consideration of the role of images in the construction of evidence, Burden of Proof – by stealth or design – appears to me to do just as much to provide space for death as it satiates a public desire to see and to try to know death. To view images of or about death may not necessarily get us any closer to the truth of death, but the sting of their temporality is acute as they evoke the deathly riddles of the ontology of the photograph.

Anthony Luvera

Anthony Luvera is an Australian artist, writer and educator based in London. He is Course Director of BA (Hons) Photography at Coventry University. His photographic work has been exhibited widely in galleries, public spaces and festivals, including the British Museum, London Underground’s Art on the Underground, National Portrait Gallery London, Belfast Exposed Photography, Australian Centre for Photography, Malmö Fotobiennal, Brighton Photo Fringe, PhotoIreland and Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographie. His writing appears regularly in a wide range of publications, including Photoworks, Source and Photographies. Anthony also facilitates workshops and gives lectures for the public education programmes of the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, and Barbican Art Gallery.

References

Bazin, A. (1960) ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’. Film Quarterly 13 (4), 4-9

Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Jonathan Cape

Batchen, G. (1999) Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Batchen, G. (2004) Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance. Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum and Princeton Architectural Press

Batchen, G. (ed) (2009) Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Elias, N. (1985) The Loneliness of the Dying. Oxford: Blackwell

Iversen, M. (1994) ‘What is a photograph?’. Art History 17(3), 450 – 463

Linkman, A. (2011) Photography and Death. London: Reaktion Books

Metz, C. (1985), ‘Photography and Fetish’. October (34), 81-90

Shilling, C. (2003) The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography. London: Penguin

Seamless Transitions: An Interview with James Bridle
Digital ProgrammePhotography Science and TechnologyThe Digital ImageVideo

Seamless Transitions: An Interview with James Bridle

Seamless Transitions is a new commission by London based artist, writer and technologist James Bridle, currently exhibiting as part of The Photographers’ Gallery digital programme.

Bridle’s work engages with the invisible yet pervasive technologies that we encounter every day. Utilising a variety of platforms from software to social media, photography and installations, Bridle explores how technology both affects culture and reproduces and shapes political power.

“ …just as these image-making technologies structure our perception of the world, they can also allow us to see inside places and processes that would otherwise remain invisible.”

The Guardian

Copy, trade, locate: Artie Vierkant’s Exploits
Artist ProfileThe Digital Image

Copy, trade, locate: Artie Vierkant’s Exploits

nstallation view at Neu Galerie, Paris, 2013

nstallation view at Neu Galerie, Paris, 2013

When art is being created online now, reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, more often than not without the direct support of institutions or museums, what will the art history books contain in the future? Will the whole process of canonising artists become redundant as new forms of technology and  culture consume and re-configure what we now call art history, a currently institutionalised phenomenon?

Due to the change objects and images have undergone as we have moved from using analogue to digital technologies, so too has the entire notion of ownership and authorship been opened up for reconsideration. Who owns what is created online? How do we value immaterial things? Can we tell the difference between what exists physically and what has been rendered in computer-generated form?

New York based artist Artie Vierkant’s practice combines the digital with the quasi-sculptural in a world of online networks and aesthetics. His practice moves from the Internet to the art gallery and back again: on websites, Tumblr pages, a variety of social media platforms and galleries in both America and Europe, the artist responds to the meaning and integrity of a number of things including contemporary art, photography, corporate style, copyright, patenting, trademarking and intellectual property.

As part of our Artist Profile section, we asked Vierkant to introduce his new project Exploits, which is featured here with some images of the work installed at his recent exhibition at New Galerie, Paris.

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

‘The basis for the series Exploits is intellectual property, which I seek to engage with as a material to be used as any other. Existing intellectual properties – patents, trademarks, copyrights – are located, and a negotiation takes place between myself and the property owner for the purchase or license of said property, toward the fabrication of derivative works. The IP in question is taken as a set of negotiated guidelines within which physical works may be produced, but also as a set of norms to be deviated from. Each negotiation is unique: the property owner may set legal barriers to the contexts in which the IP can be presented, limit the amount of derivative works that may be produced to a set number, or to a period of time.

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation view at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Further a certain IP itself may be valid for use only within certain contexts – a Trademark specifically for apparel, for example. These stipulations are negotiated through legal counsel and manifest in each case in a unique contract between myself and the IP holder. Intellectual property becomes within this series a symbolic object underscoring the relationship between the social structures that formalize what would otherwise be abstract (the virtual, the ‘immaterial’) and the manifestation of those structures through physical objects and imagery. The model and the depiction. In each case, the IP is one which has already been registered by another entity – Exploits is the process of locating objects which already exist as territories, and transposing said territories into another context through a transaction.’

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

Installation views at New Galerie, Paris, 2013

www.artievierkant.com

Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson
Artist ProfileDigital ProgrammeQuestion and AnswerThe Digital Image

Free lunch on Google: an interview with Andrew Norman Wilson

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

Stock Fantasy Ventures Image Concept Proposal, 2013

American artist Andrew Norman Wilson combines image-making with corporate critique in the age of both the conference room and the Internet. The artist’s complex practice engages with digital culture and technology under a market economy. By humorously examining the visual and written/spoken language of various marketing and communication methods used by big businesses within the worlds of computing, technology and media,Wilson creates a complex artistic parody in which the rhetoric of corporate capitalism can be questioned and new works of art created simultaneously. 

Ahead of his talk at The Photographers’ Gallery on Wednesday 4th December, the gallery’s blog editor Daniel C. Blight interviewed the artist.

Daniel C. Blight: Can you describe your work and your motivations for making it?

Andrew Norman Wilson: The work I understand to be on the more strategic-intentional end of the spectrum is focused on the relations, processes, and materiality of entities that constitute what is inappropriately called corporate globalisation: labor contracts and conditions, networked communications, flows of capital, media formats, commercial imagery, etc. With this work I try to approach these entities self-reflexively, often through direct involvement – being employed, paying for connection, negotiating investments, writing to customer service.

I also make work that slides towards the more affective-intuitive end of the spectrum. This process of making allows for an incongruous set of elements to mutually resonate and become something more unpredictable. Seduction is given a lot of weight here, both in process and presentation. Through these defective meditations, I’m attempting to create experiences where affect is given primacy to engage what our bodies are dealing with or will be dealing with in the near future. We’re entering a stage of molecular engineering, synthetic biology, sensory augmentation, avant-garde pharmaceuticals, and so on. This new biology, and any new work of art, requires us to abandon a lot of what we think we know, and make singular judgements that cannot be subsumed under pre-existing criteria. Aesthetics precedes cognition in such cases, because we are dealing with practices that can only be comprehended through the new categories that they themselves create.

DCB: As you suggest, your work seems to function in two ways: intentions you have to create strategies for making work which question market-driven business within neoliberal politics, but also this intuitive strive to create affect in some form (you make great looking pictures). Can you say something about the wider relevance of political critique in contemporary art practice, and also something about the way that you are considering the affect or element of seduction your work has on the viewer, as you are making it?

ANW: I maintain a continued interest in the socio-economic transformations made possible through the application of neoliberal policies. In particular – the effects this has had on labour, consumption, and flows of capital. I’m finding that the theoretical language of critique, negativity, and ideology feels inadequate for what I’m after. In contrast to distanced political critique, things get much more interesting to me when I can embody an economic position, relationship, or logic of production and then play with it or turn it against itself. This then takes our conceptions of “ the global” or “ venture capitalism” or “ technological progress,” and accompanies them back to the multitude of actual rooms in which these things are actually produced with all the actors that produce them – human and nonhuman.

The complex nature of contemporary production renders conventional representation and documentation difficult. What do “ the cloud,” venture capital, or the exhaustion of an informational labourer actually look like? For questions such as this, creating work that functions more so on affective registers feels necessary. I’m working on a new video called Uncertainty Seminars that employs corporate aesthetics across several sections, conflating modes of address from avant-garde cinema and video art with contemporary therapeutic and motivational techniques. It looks and sounds like a corporate self-help seminar from an unknown market that, with much ambivalence, addresses forms of uncertainty in personal, professional, and civil life.

“ MEG TAKES ONE LAST SIP OF PINOT GRIGIO AND BLASTS HER MALICIOUS PLOT OF FAKE T.J.MAXX ADVERTISEMENTS TO HER INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF HACKERS, BUT MEG’S GRANDMA SITS ON THE INFO FOR FAR TOO LONG BECAUSE SHE’S BUSY MAKING A GOLF DATE ON HER CORDLESS SO DR. ERIN SWOOPS IN WITH PREVENTATIVE MEASURES BEFORE THE VIRUS GOES LIVE – CASE CLOSED.”

DCB: You make some specific points and criticisms of capitalism, the global nature of markets and of technological progress. What led you to wanting to make work that considers these things? Do you feel that because of the current disparity between the rich and the poor (which is now greater than ever), as an artist – someone of relative privilege and education – it is your responsibility to engage with these issues? In this sense what social dimension does your work have?

ANW: I don’t think about it so much as a responsibility. It’s more so a matter of what I’m seduced by. I’m often drawn to conflict and it’s conditions – whether it be political, economic, ecological, bodily, molecular, etc. – because the stakes seem higher to me than brush stroke or melodrama. I have a personal stake in things like population density and complex financial products, and so does my dad, Masoumeh Ebtekar, everyone in that movie Krippendorf’s Tribe, this man, a woman in Mexico who once helped me pull my van out of the mud with her truck, and so on.

After studying public communications and journalism, I decided to become an artist because I felt like I could choose the matters I wanted to engage with. I haven’t been an artist for long but I see it as this lifelong project through which I’m creating modifiable and modular principles for a social reality that I want to inhabit, and collaborating with other principles when it seems appropriate. While restrictive at times, I find this way of life extremely liberating. On a practical survival level it allows for aberrant solutions to the restrictions, such as stealing from solvent multinationals. The practical solutions afford a way of life that extends into artistic engagements with matters on a range of scales that include social dimensions.

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

North Of England Institute of Mining Engineers Transactions Volume9_306, 2013

DCB: So in a sense, you came to art-making from a place where your experience of labour and society were far from ideal, and you now want to suggest new ways, however small or modifiable, in which our current social reality in the West might be re-thought? I hear something interesting happened when you worked for Google – how did this effect your practice and your current mode of thinking?

ANW: It made me realise that hot lunch as an artist rarely comes for free and can’t compete with the Google cafe hot lunches I used to eat every day on their tab. But the way I’m able to think and make now is much more exciting.

http://andrewnormanwilson.com