[-empyre-] Response to Anna: Nick Knouf, MAICgregator

Nicholas Knouf nknouf at wellesley.edu
Thu Sep 15 16:06:08 AEST 2016

Hi Anna and Tim, and others on the list,

Thanks for mentioning MAICgregator! And thanks again Anna for writing
about it in your recent book. Indeed, MAICgregator is no longer actively
updated, not because of some of the issues that Tim and Anna have
raised, but rather for more mundane ones, namely the difficulties of
keeping net.art active. MAICgregator functioned by screen-scraping
websites (that is, using code to "read" and collect data from other
institutions' websites), and to keep that code current would nearly be a
full-time job. I kept up with it for a number of years, but once I
finished my PhD I realized I simply did not have time to do this
anymore. There is code deep in MAICgregator that was specific to the
design and layout of tens of different websites, and keeping track of
changes in each of those websites would itself be nearly a full-time
job. There's the additional issue that browsers themselves, such as
Firefox, are developing at such a rapid pace as to make it nearly
impossible for a single developer to keep up. Further restrictions by
browser manufacturers on what extensions (like MAICgregator) can do also
makes the net.artist's life difficult. So it has to do with obsolescence
and speed rather than the challenges of working with finance-as-topic
within the art world.

But there is a separate challenge for any artist---not just a
net.artist---in working with financial data, and it is something I touch
on a bit in my recent book _How Noise Matters to Finance_. There I write
about the work of the French collective rybn and their FLASHCRASH
SONIFICATION, which is one of the few pieces that I know of that
directly addresses contemporary high-frequency trading. Their piece
sonifies the activity of a number of stock exchanges on May 6,
2010---the date of what is now called the "flash crash"---in order to
provide an affective account of that day where the stock exchanges had
tremendous swings both down _and_ up. While the blame for these swings
cannot be placed squarely on the actions of high frequency trading
programs, these algorithms did contribute to the volatility.
Nevertheless, the piece enables one to experience the noisy activity of
the markets through sound, attuning one to the activity of the machinic.

But their piece is only made possible through the free release of a
large amount of financial data from a company called Nanex, a firm that
has been highly critical of the move towards high frequency trading.
Access to financial data is big business, and without Nanex's release of
this data rybn's project would not have been possible. Indeed, when I
was looking at working with stock market data a number of years ago, I
discovered that it would be financially infeasible. To get access to the
amount of data I would need would cost me thousands of dollars a month
in access fees, thousands of dollars a month for computing resources,
and likely thousands of dollars a month to hire a specialized
programmer. Needless to say I did not, and do not, have those kinds of
resources. Older projects, like the famous _Black Shoals Stock Market
Planetarium_, required agreements with major stock exchanges for access
to their data feeds. It's an open question as to what sorts of things
those exchanges would allow an artist to do with their data.

I speak only for myself, but the challenges in working with financial
data as an artist are thus not concerns or fear about the subject matter
itself, but rather more mundane questions of access and resources. And I
think it's in the more mundane issues that we find the crux of the
matter, and the difficulty I personally have with making net.art (or
computational art in general) today, and that is uninteresting
complexity. Paradoxically, when we now have access to things like
arduinos or easy-to-program-in environments like Processing, I find it
more difficult to make work I find interesting, especially if it falls
outside of the confines of what these environments provide for by
default. Building a website that wants to do something other than what
WordPress or tumblr allows now requires the use of HTML frameworks,
Javascript, and a large amount of backend code. Keeping up with all of
the changes in these libraries is itself a full-time job. (Something
interesting to consider is whether or not the proliferation of internet
art on platforms like tumblr or Instagram is due in part to the
uninteresting complexity of building websites from scratch today.)  If I
step away from my iOS code for a few months I find that most of it won't
compile anymore, there are new APIs to use, and Apple has changed the
process for uploading apps to the AppStore, yet again. While it was
complex to write code a decade, two decades, three decades ago, I feel
as if surmounting that complexity through a kind of understanding was
possible. Today the parts are so integrated, so often changing, that it
takes a team of people working full-time to understand the full stack.
Perhaps that means the net.artist needs to collaborate more, to hire
people who devote their entire time to keeping up with these changes. To
me these constant changes are uninteresting complexity. I'd rather learn
and work with other things, other complex systems, things that change at
a time scale or rhythm more suited to my body and my way of knowing and
being, instead of a temporality dictated by trends, capital, or CPUs.
I'm working out what those things and systems are, for me personally,
over the coming year.



On 9/14/2016 11:43 PM, Anna Munster wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Yes MAICgregator is a great example of how the question of finance totally subtends all kinds of relations across the net, especially pedagogical/knowledge ones! I also think this work was way ahead of the game in that it perhaps signalled how an activism might arise around ‘outing’ all kinds of knowledge-based institutions’ ‘investments’ in dirty monies. Recently this has upscaled to demands that universities and colleges divest from dirty financial networks.
> If Nick’s around I’d love to hear from him about where he’s going with the finance-knowledge-network relationship and why he deactivated MAICgregator…is finance too touchy a subject for art?
> cheers
> Anna
> Anna Munster
> Associate Professor,
> Faculty of Art and Design
> P.O Box 259
> Paddington
> NSW 2021
> Australia
> a.munster at unsw.edu.au
> http://sensesofperception.info 
>> On 15 Sep 2016, at 7:52 AM, Timothy Conway Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Thanks so much for joining us, Anna, and for focusing our attention on net.art focusing on the finances of the web.  While not directly in with Heath Bunting's piece, which I'm very pleased to see recalled, you have me thinking fondly of Nick Knouf's MAICgregator (http://maicgregator.org) that is a Firefox extension that aggregated information about the embeddedness of colleges and universities (I seem to recall that he focused on US institutions) in the military-academic-industrial contex. The software provided an overlay on university homepages of the data culled from government funding databases and news sources, etc., as well as information about university trustees.
>> I recall Nick's being aggressed quite harshly by one of my colleagues for the "terrorism" of his project (whose aim was to reveal the disguistes of terrorism of a different sort).  I'm hoping that Nick will see this post and perhaps comment in more detail on this fascinating and innovative piece (which seems to be no longer active).   I seem to recall that Anna might have written something about this piece in her last book as well?
>> Cheers,
>> Tim
>> Timothy Murray
>> Professor of Comparative Literature and English
>> Taylor Family Director, Society for the Humanities
>> http://www.arts.cornell.edu/sochum/
>> Curator, Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art 
>> http://goldsen.library.cornell.edu
>> A D White House
>> Cornell University,
>> Ithaca, New York 14853
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Nicholas Knouf
Assistant Professor, Cinema and Media Studies Program
Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481
Office: Clapp 306 (2016–2017 academic year)   Office Phone:
781.283.2105   Fax: 781.283.3647
PGP: 0xAB50A0D9
/How Noise Matters to Finance
available now!
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20160915/d0859f0f/attachment.html>

More information about the empyre mailing list