[-empyre-] FW: Welcome Byron Rich to the September discussion

Byron Rich brich at allegheny.edu
Mon Oct 1 11:08:51 AEST 2018

I think that Derek’s perspective ties things together nicely and leaves us
at the perfect place to end. Derek and I sat down and chatted trying to sum
up our thoughts with some semblance of brevity.

Paul offered us an entry point via an embodied experience with Alex
offering a theoretical footing that gives context to Paul’s personal
experience as artist/human navigating uncertainty with the border as an
ideological and physical barrier. Paula’s historical lens provided an entry
point for Jennifer’s critical take on the technological imperative of the
surveillance state. Finally, Derek leaves us as artists, theorists, and
historians with a provocation to examine our own place among a class,
alongside the technocrats, treating borders less as a fixed entity, but
with a critical and reflexive lense.

To any interested folks, please reach out to any of us with further
questions or ideas.

All the best,


On Sun, Sep 30, 2018 at 9:37 AM Byron Rich <byroncbrich at gmail.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi all,
> I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who participated this
> month. I very much appreciate where the conversation has gone, and I hope
> continues to go. I hope that we can possibly continue it via email, as
> there is still much to discuss. It's been fun to watch a critical analysis
> and dissection of such a nebulous starting point.
> Renate is going to be introducing October's editor today, so this formally
> brings to a close the September discussion.
> Thanks to Renate and the -empyre team for having myself and our invited
> panelists!
> All the best,
> br
> On Sat, Sep 29, 2018 at 9:06 AM Stirling Newberry <
> stirling.newberry at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Borders don't just "contain national identities, laws, economic
>> opportunities, etc" but mold and constrain them as well. Some examples are
>> Catalonia is separate from Spain (even for the people who are Spanish,
>> which is half the population) Scotland as distinct from England, Native
>> Americans as opposed to "Americans" (whatever the really means), Māori in
>> New Zealand and many etc.
>> Borders are always flexible, the is a difference between, for example,
>> Ireland and the Northern Ireland and between Luxembourg and Belgium or the
>> United States and the internally domestic dependent nations. A border
>> varies between people because they have different priorities as to what or
>> who cannot be crossed.
>> On Fri, Sep 28, 2018 at 7:07 PM Derek Curry <derekcurry638 at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> Hello everyone, this has been an interesting discussion.  Thanks for
>>> inviting me, Byron!
>>> Many good points have been made here.  I like Paula’s examples of
>>> Christian Phillip Müller’s work (unintentionally) revealing how a physical
>>> body in space can be rendered invisible, it contrasts nicely with
>>> Jennifer's example of border agents using data to track individuals in
>>> space.  It reminds me of Deleuze's statement that "Individuals have
>>> become '*dividuals*,' and masses, samples, data, markets, or '*banks*.'"
>>> Paul’s point that the geopolitical demarcation between the US and Canada is
>>> not something that can be seen physically, but can be rendered by a GPS, or
>>> possibly surmised from a map is also apt.  Geopolitical borders are
>>> theoretical and technological constructs, the result of measuring devices
>>> and political decisions, which often have no physical analogue, such as a
>>> coastline or river.  They exist only on, and perhaps because of, maps.
>>> Though, even maps can be ambiguous at times as Francis Alÿs demonstrates
>>> in his *The Greenline* (2004).  In the video, Alÿs is seen walking
>>> along the armistice border that separates Israel from its neighboring
>>> states. The armistice line was drawn by Moshe Dayan, the commander of the
>>> Jerusalem front in the Arab-Israeli War, with a somewhat think green marker.
>>> The width of the marker on the map left some ambiguity as to where
>>> specifically the armistice border is, and the Six Day War in 1967 resulted
>>> in a question of whether or not the border is still recognized.  In my
>>> opinion, this is one of the heaviest topics related to a border a
>>> contemporary artists can deal with.  The video is historically
>>> informative, text explaining the history of the line and an image of the
>>> map are shown, but no political position is taken. The video begins with
>>> the statement:
>>> and
>>> This raises the question of not only what constitutes a border or a
>>> nation state, but what the role of an artist or theorist should be in
>>> dealing with a subject like this.  Given that borders are not just
>>> geopolitical constructs, but contain national identities, laws, economic
>>> opportunities, etc., it is difficult to imagine a single artwork that could
>>> deal with all of these aspects.  Displaced bodies—migrants, refugees,
>>> or blue collar workers who have lost their jobs as a result of
>>> globalization—are much easier to depict in a viscerally compelling way than
>>> the techno-political causes of their displacement.  New media works on
>>> this topic are usually very compelling; John Craig Freeman’s *Border
>>> Memorial*, which Byron has already mentioned, is one of my favorite
>>> works on this subject, and the Electronic Disturbance Theater’s *Transborder
>>> Immigrant Tool* is in my list of favorite hacktivist works.  And I can
>>> think of works that address the technological or political nature of
>>> borders.  Julian Oliver’s project *Border Bumping* (2012-2014)
>>> demonstrates this by showing how your cell phone may enter a country long
>>> before you do.  But I struggle to think of artworks that embody the
>>> complex dynamics that are (at least part of) the root cause of
>>> displacement, such as automation or outsourcing of a job or free trade
>>> agreements.  For example, the effects of NAFTA on the agricultural
>>> industry in Mexico, which is one of the main causes for migration to the US
>>> is rarely addressed directly in the visual arts even though there is a
>>> plethora of academic literature on the subject.  The simultaneous
>>> inability of Mexico to impose tariffs on imported agricultural goods
>>> imported from the US, particularly corn, a traditional staple of a Mexican
>>> diet, combined with the heavy subsidization of these crops by the US
>>> government resulted in a large percentage of rural Mexican farmworkers
>>> unable to find employment.  As viscerally compelling as images of
>>> migrant workers from Mexico are, why someone would leave their family and
>>> community and risk their life crossing a desert to work under the threat of
>>> arrest and deportation for less than minimum wage is seldom addressed in
>>> artworks.  This techno-political situation is often the subtext for
>>> many artworks—the explicit connection of EDT’s *Floodnet* to the
>>> Zapatistia uprising on the day NAFTA took effect (Jan. 1, 1994) is one
>>> example.  But a clear understanding of cause-and-effect requires
>>> specialized, if not esoteric, knowledge that is not easily represented.
>>> If an understanding of (and control over) the complex interrelations
>>> between politics and technology is relegated to politicians and
>>> technocrats, what agency do artists have in these situations?  Are they
>>> to be relegated to the role of documenting the effects of a complex
>>> problem, or can they participate in creating solutions?
>>> The struggle between technocrats and the power elite is elucidated quite
>>> well in Habermas’s “Technology and Science as Ideology”.  This is an
>>> oversimplification, but, Habermas describes how the technocrats and power
>>> elite are often at ideological odds, but must make compromises in order to
>>> maintain their own positions in society.  In his definition of
>>> technocrat, Habermas includes the scientific management of society—so
>>> economists, social scientists, and some bureaucrats also fall under this
>>> rubric.  Technocrats are the class that currently define what a border is
>>> in the physical, economic, and technological senses.  Technocrats are
>>> ultimately beholden to the power elite, but they do have a range of choices
>>> they can make within a set goal.  For example, how much leeway does
>>> software developer at Google have when determining the location of a border
>>> on Google Maps?  These choices can sometimes soften the control the
>>> power elite has over the general public.  This raises the question, if,
>>> as Byron and Paula suggest, it is the artists rather than the technocrats
>>> who are willing to enact radical measures against authority, is there a way
>>> for artists to have more agency in this situation?  Can artists have
>>> influence over the type of domination enacted by the power elites and the
>>> technocrats they employ?  Or, are artists also beholden to the power
>>> elite for their own consecration so that they may stop short of a full
>>> critique when it implicates the individuals who fund the biannuals they
>>> participate in, or sit on the boards of the museums they hope will one day
>>> host their retrospective?
>>> My own opinion is cynical in this regard, having developed
>>> intellectually under institutional critique artists—most notably Andrea
>>> Fraser.  But, I also don’t see why artists can’t also be members of the
>>> technocratic class.  I consider myself to be a fringe member of this
>>> class as my artwork often utilizes financial technology or
>>> machine-learning, and I sometimes teach graduate-level analytics courses.
>>> To be clear, I am *not* suggesting that addressing complex
>>> sociopolitical problems with  technological solutions is the correct course
>>> of action.  But rather, that artists and other creative practitioners
>>> could, or rather *should*, contribute a self-reflexive voice to the
>>> conversations regarding technological solutions that are already happening.
>>> Documenting problems after the fact, like the previously mentioned work
>>> of Laura Poitras and Trevor Paglen, is a good, if not necessary start.  But,
>>> if artists are going to enact truly radical change—we need to play a role
>>> in the development and critique of new technology before it is implemented.
>>>  It is often said that the technology we experience on a daily basis is
>>> at least ten years old.  If artists are not on the forefront of what is
>>> being developed for the next decade, we may be essentially relegated to the
>>> role of creating eloquent, compelling critiques of the previous decade.
>>> Like Alÿs’ video, these critiques may be poignant, poetic, and
>>> politically relevant, but they are unlikely to enact real change.
>>> What constitutes a border and what a border will mean ten years from now
>>> is currently being negotiated inside the campuses of multinational tech
>>> companies, in lobbying firms that carry sway over elected officials, as
>>> well as in public and private universities and think-tanks like RAND.
>>> While access to many of these spaces and individuals is extremely
>>> difficult, these are the spaces where radical change is possible to enact.
>>> It is here that ideas are still in flux, emerging, and malleable.  What I
>>> am advocating is currently beyond my own capabilities, but my hope is that
>>> there are already creative practitioners infiltrating these spaces and
>>> impacting what borders will become in the future.
>>> On Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 3:02 PM Paula Burleigh <pburleigh at allegheny.edu>
>>> wrote:
>>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>>> First, apologies for my terribly delayed response, but I have been
>>>> reading contributions by Alex, Paul, and Jennifer with great interest!
>>>> Byron, thanks very much for the invitation to participate here.
>>>> To briefly return to Paul’s initial post, I was so struck by the image
>>>> of the bikini-clad teenager, unaware that she was traversing an
>>>> international border (and certainly of her own privileged position that
>>>> allowed her to do so unchecked). It reminded me in a strange way of Green
>>>> Borders (1993) by Christian Philip Müller, who dressed as a hiker and
>>>> illegally crossed, on foot, eight natural borders between Austria and its
>>>> neighboring nation states. Müller took notes on which disguise was most
>>>> advantageous in terms of avoiding detection at each crossing, presumably
>>>> information to be used by others attempting to cross unnoticed on foot. But
>>>> Müller could have dispensed with the nine specific disguises, simply
>>>> acknowledging that the guise of a white European man could do wonders for
>>>> rendering a body safely (in)visible. In spite of the artist’s intentions, I
>>>> wonder whether this work simply flaunted presentation privilege as opposed
>>>> to doing anything to undermine established mechanisms of power.
>>>> I bring this up not to denigrate the work of one artist, but, returning
>>>> to Byron’s prompt, to consider the role artists increasingly play in
>>>> revealing and combating the spread of misinformation intended to
>>>> destabilize democratic institutions. Müller’s 1993 work strikes me as
>>>> coming out of a moment when it was enough to simply highlight the ways in
>>>> which individual bodies are subject to exercise of state power when
>>>> attempting to cross geopolitical borders. While far right, anti-immigration
>>>> sentiments are nothing new in Austria, I wonder how this work would read
>>>> now. Indeed Alex as you point out, the concept of “carrying capacity,” i.e.
>>>> the population level sustainable by a demarcated environment, has been
>>>> wrenched from ecological discourse and and co-opted to maintain population
>>>> homogeneity since the 1970s. But with the rise of power/influence of the
>>>> FPO in Austria and other nationalist parties like it throughout Europe, not
>>>> to mention the current American administration, one feels as though we’ve
>>>> crossed a threshold into unprecedented territory.  I find that I
>>>> increasingly interested in the way that artists don’t simply reveal
>>>> systemic power structures that oppress vulnerable populations, but stage
>>>> interventions to provide tools for systemic subversion. When Jennifer asks
>>>> how the public is to maintain oversight, I immediately think of works by
>>>> Trevor Paglen and Laura Poitras (most well known is their contribution to
>>>> the Citizenfour documentary on Snowden), whose practice both reveals and
>>>> perhaps takes steps towards dismantling what Paglen has called “the
>>>> geography and aesthetics of the American surveillance state.”
>>>> On a spectrum, there’s much distance to travel between Müller hiking
>>>> across borders largely unmolested by authorities, and Paglen/Poitras
>>>> working with a whistle blower. Paul and Alex, I’m curious to hear more
>>>> about your respective practices and how you see the role of the artist
>>>> changing in this current fraught moment (or perhaps it’s not changing at
>>>> all?). To place an ethical imperative on art seems like an undue burden,
>>>> but as Byron has pointed out, it does seem to be the artists rather than
>>>> the technocrats who are willing to enact radical measures against
>>>> authoritarian overtures in our political landscape.
>>>> Best,
>>>> Paula
>>>> On Sat, Sep 22, 2018 at 11:51 AM Gradecki, Jennifer <
>>>> j.gradecki at northeastern.edu> wrote:
>>>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>>>> Borders are simultaneously demarcated, and controlled, in physical and
>>>>> virtual space. When we attempt to cross borders, data and information that
>>>>> has been collected about us becomes part of the assessment process.
>>>>> Individuals are profiled in various ways—their country of origin, the
>>>>> social media networks they belong to, GIS data from their cellphone, their
>>>>> research interests, suspicious bodily movements as they wait in line for
>>>>> security—all of this captured data, and more, becomes part of our data body
>>>>> that shadows us as we travel.
>>>>> Data are central to the work of intelligence agencies and border
>>>>> patrol agents. The massive scale of surveillance in both virtual and
>>>>> physical space produces enormous amounts of data and information that
>>>>> agents feel they need to collect, share, and process. Leaked documents and
>>>>> ethnographic reports show that intelligence agents are afraid that they may
>>>>> not be sharing enough information with one another, and yet they
>>>>> simultaneously feel that they are drowning in too much information, and
>>>>> struggling to make meaning out of noise. This “collect it all” and “share
>>>>> it all” approach has resulted in the accumulation of more information than
>>>>> can be processed by human agents, leading to the perception of a need for
>>>>> automated processing, or what are sometimes referred to as “next generation
>>>>> information access” (NGIA) systems, to algorithmically process the massive
>>>>> troves of data they have collected, with the belief that software will find
>>>>> patterns that human analysts cannot perceive. This fear of not collecting
>>>>> or sharing enough data emerged following the intelligence failures of 9/11.
>>>>> Data are understood by intelligence agents to be raw facts and meaning
>>>>> is thought to be mechanically and objectively found by the analyst or
>>>>> algorithm. While these assumptions reflect an empiricist epistemology, I
>>>>> have found that intelligence analysts generally find it hard to articulate
>>>>> an epistemological methodology of their practice, even while they disavow
>>>>> deduction and intuition, which are central to their practice. This may
>>>>> leave agents susceptible to dominant epistemological shifts and arguments
>>>>> coming from other fields, like data science and Artificial Intelligence
>>>>> (AI), that bring their own sets of assumptions as they promise to provide
>>>>> technological solutions to ease the difficulties of mass surveillance.
>>>>> Companies like IBM promote their black boxed “smart algorithms” to analysts
>>>>> who do not understand how these technologies work, even while they rely on
>>>>> these technologies to make judgments.
>>>>> It is with all of this in mind that I turn to a specific instance of
>>>>> automated judgment and border surveillance. Palmer Luckey, the founder of
>>>>> Oculus, along with former executives from the CIA-funded tech company
>>>>> Palantir are currently in the process of developing Virtual Reality that is
>>>>> augmented by Artificial Intelligence to automate judgments in the
>>>>> surveillance of the border between the US and Mexico. Luckey’s defense tech
>>>>> company, Anduril, has pitched this cybernetic surveillance agencement to
>>>>> DHS as the technological version of Trump’s border wall. According to
>>>>> Luckey, the technology desired by the DOD can be described as “Call of Duty
>>>>> goggles” where “you put on the glasses, and the headset display tells you
>>>>> where the good guys are, where the bad guys are, where your air support is,
>>>>> where you’re going, where you were.” Far beyond a cybernetic aid for
>>>>> improving the perception of movement, the ideal version of this technology
>>>>> would employ Artificial Intelligence to automate judgments at the border,
>>>>> to help determine the “bad guys”. As proprietary technology, it is not
>>>>> clear what kind of data or algorithms will be used to determine who is
>>>>> supposedly good or bad. This is yet another black boxed smart algorithm
>>>>> being sold as a technological solution to the problems produced by the
>>>>> massive scale of surveillance that US agencies are attempting to undertake.
>>>>> There are several assumptions with this virtual (not to mention
>>>>> gamified) border security: that data can provide evidence of a threat to
>>>>> national security, that judgments at the border can and should be
>>>>> automated, and especially, that someone who risks their life to cross the
>>>>> border must be a threat. Trump’s Great Wall is founded on both xenophobia
>>>>> and ignorance about the broader conditions that prompt people to risk their
>>>>> lives to cross the border. The DHS and DOD appear to be taken in by the
>>>>> data science rhetoric used by companies like Anduril. Border agents should
>>>>> not use black boxed “smart algorithms” to automate judgments, especially
>>>>> judgments that contain this many assumptions. This leaves me with one
>>>>> looming question: how can we, the public, have meaningful oversight over
>>>>> proprietary public-private technological solutions to border surveillance?
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> empyre forum
>>>>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>>>>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>>>> --
>>>> Paula Burleigh, PhD
>>>> Allegheny College
>>>> Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History
>>>> Director, Bowman~Penelec~Megahan Gallery
>>>> E: pburleigh at allegheny.edu
>>>> P: 814-332-3383
>>>> Doane Hall of Art, A206
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> 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
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> --
> *Byron Rich Assistant Professor of Art*
> *Director of Art & Technology*
> *Affiliated Faculty - **Integrative Informatics *
> *Allegheny College*
> Doane Hall of Art, A204
> Meadville, PA
> (o) 814.332.3381
> www.byronrich.com
> *Interim Chair of **Exhibitions** & Events - New Media **Caucus*
> www.newmediacaucus.org
> *Editor - Empyre Soft Skinned Space*
> www.empyre.library.cornell.edu/ <http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/>
> Click here
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> schedule an appointment.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu


*Byron Rich Assistant Professor of Art*
*Director of Art & Technology*
*Affiliated Faculty - **Integrative Informatics *

*Allegheny College*
Doane Hall of Art, A204
Meadville, PA
(o) 814.332.3381

*Interim Chair of **Exhibitions** & Events - New Media **Caucus*

*Moderator -empyre soft skinned space*
www.empyre.library.cornell.edu/ <http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/>

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