[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3 on -empyre-: Internet/Online Representation

abram stern (aphid) aphid at ucsc.edu
Thu Apr 16 19:55:51 AEST 2015

Hi all, excited to be part of the discussion here.  Thanks, Soraya, for the

My work primarily addresses the politics of the archive, particularly
looking at how the material of public media (in particular,
government-produced, public domain documents) are produced/reproduced and
distributed.  I'm interested in the way in which democratic institutions
present themselves, through online archives and collections, to their
publics.  Most of my projects have been implemented as prototypes, trying
to imagine how open and participatory archives might operate in the same
institutional context as what I critique.  I'm increasingly interested in
how these records provide opportunities to re-present, reconfigure and
detourn the performance of politics into more critical engagements with
issues these institutions seem unable to address on their own.

I'm about a year into my current project, The Unreliable Interrogator,
which is still very much a work in progress.  It's a return to internet art
for me after a decade of more traditional research projects and
prototypes.  The Interrogator's focus is the online Hearing Archive of US
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).  The SSCI is the main
oversight body of the US intelligence apparatus (oversight denoting both
the act of overseeing and a failure to notice).  The Committee's website,
which still bears a Copyright notice from 2006, only lists hearings from
2009 forward despite containing hearing data back to 2002 (if you know
where to look!).  Hearing videos exist, but hide behind broken and absent

The first part of this project is a process of media archaeology and
interrogation: locating and downloading videos, testimony PDFs and
associated metadata (witness names, titles and so on) and converting, when
necessary, to more legible or open formats before publishing to the
Internet Archive.  This excavation serves as a platform -- for media reuse
but also for critique: an interrogation of mediality, the formats deployed
by the committees are also products of ideology and deserve scrutiny for
the way in which they delimit who may read, write and archive content
through the use of Digital Rights Management, network throttling and other

The second part of the project uses the reconstituted archive discussed
above as a platform for a different mode of media interrogation.  Using
widely available tools and public APIs, I am deploying visual, auditory and
textual analysis on records of the SSCI.  One mode utilizes facial feature
detection, locating a speaker's face in video through which various
demographic information can be derived (race, gender, age -- very
unreliably) and compared against witness and committee composition data
(all white, until this year when Hirono joined the Committee). Another
visual analytic mode uses cut detection to determine when camera changes
occur, which also signal a change in speaker, allowing for a rough mapping
of the discursive shape of a hearing.  An audio analytic searches for
content that won't occur in a transcript, off-mic chuckles, breathing, and
silence.  Testimony PDF text is compared against a list of terms the
Department of Homeland Security apparently uses to monitor social networks
for threats.

This "work" is distributed, and takes place in the web browser of each
visitor for as long as they let it run, in a way like SETI @ HOME (I
suppose both seek intelligence in unlikely locations /rimshot); data
gathered is broadcast to a server which will collect and publish reports
nightly.    I'm reluctant to link to things that barely or don't work, but
here's a prototype of the audio analysis module that should run in an up to
date chrome or firefox: http://unreliable.interrogator.us/sound/ht.html

In terms of key challenges, I've been stuck on something Trevor Paglen said
at UC Berkeley last year at an event on Pan-Optics: (paraphrasing; the talk
wasn't recorded)  "Representational media is slowly being replaced by
operational media, which is made for and by machines with us as its
subjects and targets."

There's more, but this is already running longer (and later!) than I
intended. Looking forward to the discussion!

Best regards,

On Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 9:41 PM, Andre Brock <brocka at umich.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello, all!
> Thank you for inviting me to this discussion, and "hey!" to my
> co-panelists this week!
> My intellectual investment in this area has changed over the last decade.
> When I first started researching online Black identities, my intention was
> to follow the path blazed by folk like Dr. Everett, Alondra Nelson, and
> Lisa Nakamura - to highlight that minorities (in my case, African
> Americans) were always already part of the burgeoning online spaces hailed
> as Web 2.0.  I felt then, as i do now, that it's important to interrogate
> digital interfaces for the meanings their designers impose, while also
> mining discourses created by users of those interfaces to see how they
> adapt themselves to the new medium.  Over the last few years, i've examined
> browsers, video games, and Twitter to see how digital representations of
> Black identity have been composed, contested, and destroyed.
> Given the proliferation of attention towards Black digital activity over
> the last few years, from the Commander-in-Chief on down to Black Twitter
> and even back to HotGhettoMess.com, I've become interested in a different
> take on Black online representation.
> As more and more Blacks access online spaces, segments of Black online
> users have begun to articulate a growing technocultural politics of
> respectability.  The "New" New Blacks (h/t Ms. Anna) are much more
> interested in political and polite representations of Blackness online, and
> in the process deprecate the gossip blogs, ugly BlackPlanet pages, and
> ratchet-ass tweets and images that signaled the spread of Black culture to
> online venues.  My current work has me investigating the way that
> perceptions and arguments about Black Twitter use have shifted over the
> last few years - from celebrations of folk culture and 'individual'
> blackness to an insistence on 'proper' political uses of the service.
> I'm especially pleased to be part of this discussion, as I have of late
> been pondering my role/stake as an internet researcher pursuing questions
> of African American identity in various digital spaces.  I have three
> questions about identity, representation, and the digital/Internet that are
> pulling in me in multiple directions, and it is my hope that my
> articulation of them can push this conversation in interesting directions.
> 1) Whither identity in post-PC, post-racial (heh) cyberculture and the
> continual fragmentation of online representation?  Are we our devices?  Our
> wearables?  Our profiles?
> 2) Isn't it past time that research into performances of identity and
> online representation start addressing Whiteness?  Particularly in the
> light of GamerGate, MRAs, and #alllivesmatter, where is the corresponding
> research into how racial ideologies shape White online identity, especially
> since the aforementioned online movements draw heavily upon
> digitally-mediated beliefs about race and gender?
> Brenda Laurel's excellent commentary last week referenced race and
> GamerGate, but I am always troubled when deviant activities are assumed to
> be perpetrated by deviant society members.  Brenda's (if i may be so bold)
> argument that GamerGaters are men with "poor educations and a degree of
> poverty" seems to let 'brogrammers', Kleiner Perkins VCs, and other highly
> educated wealthy white (and non-whites afflicted by false consciousness
> (yeah, I said it) men and women off the hook.  Just like Klansmen were
> usually highly respected businessmen in their communities, much of the
> racist and sexist online activities we see daily are done by elites, not
> just by the dispossessed.
> *Kishonna, i know that your work addresses race and gender specifically
> WRT gaming, but (correct me if i'm wrong) not many folk are making
> connections between XBL gamer behavior and GamerGater behavior.*
> 3) With the maturation of minority political activism in social networks
> (#blacklivesmatter) and near parity in material access/broadband access
> through mobile devices, is it time for new media/internet research to move
> past online identity politics and online representation?  /sarcasm
> If so, where do we go from here?
> That's all i have for now...i look forward to seeing what's on the minds
> of my co-panelists and the empyre audience.  Thanks for having me!
> PS - Ms. Anna, congrats on the new publication!
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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