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

Byron Rich byroncbrich at gmail.com
Sun Sep 30 23:37:02 AEST 2018


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:
>>
>>
>>
>> SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POETIC
>>
>> CAN BECOME POLITICAL
>>
>> and
>>
>> SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POLITICAL
>>
>> CAN BECOME POETIC
>>
>>
>>
>> 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/>

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