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‘Open Source Thinking’, 2016

Sophie Knezic

Open Score: Art & Technology

Saturday January 30, 2016

New Museum

235 Bowery New York



It is now almost impossible to conceive of a pre-digital world where media technologies were primarily telephonic and televisual, and the notion of user-generated content – the sine qua non of the post Web 2.0 world – was much more than letters to the editor pages in broadsheets and magazines. All technology has a formative effect on culture as the granddaddy of media theory Marshall McLuhan well knew; technological and media extensions shape our cultural world, often in ways in which the individual is unaware.


With the intent to probe the impact of digital technology on culture at large, in January 2016 the New Museum in association with Rhizome launched the annual symposium, Open Score: Art and Technology. Back to back session panels examining the topics of the future of Internet art, the evolution of art criticism in the digital age, activist tactics emerging in this context and the new kinds of subjectivities formed by social media made for a suite of provocations, redrawing critical attention to media formats we have so readily adopted and now take for granted.


And not always in straightforward ways. As Jacob Ciocci noted, as forms of self-branding as well as communicative technologies, social media in the age of self-design precipitates new forms of self-love and self-hate. For Juliana Huxtable – a millennial who ate her Fruit Loops over Tumblr and LifeJournal – growing up with social media has led to a paradoxical state of over-exposure and evanescent memory-forms; an erosion of privacy through a youthful subjectivity digitally publicized as it matured simultaneous with platform and operating system updates that rendered defunct the websites on which fragments of her biography were electronically stored. If the Internet, as William Gibson most famously put it, is a ‘consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions’, then such virtual perceptions move in uncontrollable ways towards superannuated states, leading to dissolution and loss through the absence of more tangible modes of remembering such as the album, the archive or the souvenir.


The impact of social media on poetry was addressed by Cathy Park Hong: not only has poetic language become more efficient and succinct – in part due to the Haiku effect of Twitter – but also more emotive – in the wake of the explosion of emojis in sms messaging vernacular. Its tenses have also shifted from first-person singular to first-person plural in tandem with the new modes of collective action arising through hashtag activism. This potential for activism, Park Hong contended, is the boon of the Internet – its infinite digital spaces allowing for the recuperation and mobilization of the very notion of community.


Relatedly, the impact on art criticism of social media platforms highlighted the ways in which modes of critical discourse are diverging: ‘polite criticism’ in the pages of establishment publications such as Artforum and Art in America versus ‘impolite criticism’ in blogazines like Hyperallergic and the more immediate courts of Twitter and Instagram. Laura McLean-Ferris’s view that criticism in the conventional art press is suffering a condition of being overly careful echoes the more pointed prognosis delivered over a decade ago by James Elkins in his polemic 'What Happened to Art Criticism?' which argued that criticism has atrophied into a discipline that eschews judgment in favour of literariness and description.


Of course the underside of the age of digital communication is network surveillance, and it is axiomatic that in the age of meta-data every tweet, blog and sms is continuously captured allowing for historically unprecedented forms of social monitoring. Emergent forms of hacktivism – such as ‘data-arbitrage’: whereby masses of faux Facebook and Twitter accounts are forged to flood the Internet with false identities; or Turkopticon: a plug-in tool redressing the exploitative practices of certain employers registered in the crowdsourcing marketplace of Mechanical Turk – represent counter-measures to the reality of digital surveillance.


Art projects referred to as correctives to this new world order included Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite: masks designed to thwart biometric facial recognition software; and Unstoppable: bulletproof clothing designed to keep the wearer anonymous and safe. The positioning of anonymity as the ultimate antidote to surveillance, however, was queried by Rob Horning who astutely reminded us that the desire for digital visibility is inseparable from the reality of surveillance: the two are mutually constitutive.


Open Source concluded with ruminations on the very idea of the ‘platform’. Although understood in the digital sense as a software-based facility for the dissemination of information, goods and services, the term obviously has a pre-digital definition as a place for public discussion. In spite of the multifarious ways in which we are inextricably tied to the networked world, it was not lost on this observer at least, that discussion platforms with the real-time presence of speakers has the frisson of stimulation that we still crave. Perhaps no digital tool, platform or intervention can match the live theatre – or ‘cool media’ – of Socratic dialogue and debate.




Image caption:

Open Score: Art & Technology, panel discussion, Saturday January 30, 2016, New Museum.

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