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Hervisions - The Art of No Likes, Text Bytes

One’s innate human anxieties have been acknowledged, branded, hyper contextualised and plagiarised into a system of standardisation with a target to control and perform elitism within the attention economy. Numbers matter and smart people know how to make figures happen. The illusion of control is a freedom that we buy into willingly. Everyone is feeding a system that’s set up to protect the totalitarian vision of these populist markets.  The semantics have shifted from feed updates to “Likes“ becoming the decisiveness that defines our political age. People on the margins navigate systems that are designed to include and concurrently exclude. Cult of self is a clever marketing paradigm to keep order in our inherent needy psychological states.

Social media as a digital terrain mines new colonies, but who are the archeologists of the future and how does that reprimand the disparity and inequality of these landscapes of populist and elitist systems? Through disrupting the formats of centralised engagements we aim to forge new methods of connections.

Zaiba Jabbar

Reading List

CRITIQUE is 

to free oneself from a stage of ignorance and dependence; a state of what Kant calls self-imposed immaturity.

 

CRITIQUETTE is

knowing when you should(not) divulge observations, of personal thoughts or otherwise, to someone who is part of the social bubble of self-imposed narcissism and/or “social media K-Hole”. 

Rebecca Edwards

In 1954, a social psychologist named Leon Festinger concluded that people evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to other people for two reasons: first, to reduce uncertainty in the areas in which they’re comparing themselves, and second, to learn how to define themselves. He called this concept social comparison theory. He went on to say that as humans, the more similar we are to another person in some way we think is important, the more we tend to compare ourselves to that person. In other words, we are more likely to compare ourselves to a colleague or friend at a similar level (in age, vocation, appearance etc), than we are to compare ourselves to a CEO, or someone with more experience or wealth than ourselves. 

Rebecca Edwards

Anonymity and Radicalized Movements on the Internet

Chloe Alexandra Thompson

 

// looking at a history of social media startups and forums of communication (twitter, FB, anonymous forums such as 4chan/reddit). // media can be used to track behaviors. data from a profile can be an easy tell of what kind of behaviors / activities / activism a person may engage in. // literacy as it pertains to cultural placement, interactions and organizing. 

questioning based on current events: can we communicate on a wider than person to person scale without aiding that which we claim to oppose? 

what is working for whom? 

how is what we are posting online affecting those who share circles with us and who are members of vulnerable populations? when do we also become members of monitored groups or otherwise vulnerable through sharing and representation? how should we operate in the nu-realm of CIA hacked cellphones, social media presence providing a means for detainment at borders, and electronic communication placing people directly in harms way? should we withdraw from wide reach and unvetted readers to form collective forums of care / resource sharing / education? can we push for dialogue without the reward of a viewable transcript? 

what is pushing for a dialogue, or doing actions with little record attached; is anonymity a goal to work toward while working for social change? 

while contemplating routes to take in building a forum for community based organizing and communication i was looking at how we interact with various social media. it seems that most people interact with social media based on consumption of content. the more inter-personal relationships that are present on a given platform (be those IRL relationships or relationships with internet personae), and the more feedback is ready available (gains), the more they may interact with said platform. 

i read a survey while navigating building a platform for communication that is outside of commercial ownership. 30.9% of those who responded to a question regarding having a distributable PIN rather than a screen name for contact (increased privacy and removal from association) stated that they were on the fence about this – which could be considered a means of placing convenience before privacy. collectively it seems we have turned our backs on the white pages and phone listings, opting instead to hand out emails and social media handles. why are we so ready to hand out our personal information under an assumption that our digital legacy is inherently removed from the personal when this is obviously not the case? 

at this point i should acknowledge that nothing digital is private. the notion of privacy is quite flawed when we are using tools that can easily be accessed through hacking, subpoena, war-rant, or theft. in short, if the information that we are wanting to share could put someone in harms way, why are we sharing it in indelible ink with our IP addresses, social media handles and email addresses attached? 

as a developer i have created databases to store and reference information. these can hold references for files, be used for tracking user profiles, posts, activities. databases are necessary to link information with people and store content. centralized modes of keeping data can be dangerous if the data is sensitive, not properly protected, and also affiliated with people directly and traceable (as most data is). thinking in terms of making a platform for radical communication, database security seems to be a priority; part of this security measure would include not being openly centered on political organizing as a strategy. existing alternative forums allow for this kind of activity to happen (diaspora, discourse, formerly ello, private servers, forums, etc.), without the provider constantly data mining, and selling information on the behavior of itʼs users. 

this brings the work back to the idea of privacy. ideas of ownership and clout as it relates to ideologies / activist performance have become evident. social media becomes a direct link to capital socially, professionally, and monetarily. by stepping away from engagement with these platforms do we as people disappear? does our work and effort disappear? how do those who donʼt want to be a part of larger grassroots orgs (or for whom these donʼt exist) maintain and access larger networks of responsive people? 

a model of communication / organization that i have found intriguing is 4chan / instances (anon)ymized forums. this forum is used to communicate through use of coded language, which sows seeds of shared ideals widely. the public facing shell is a community, and may also connect members to other sub-communities through mutual interests. these sub-com-munities may exist within similar websites, through facebook groups, closed servers, and/or in the dark net. these groups may / may not exist with any real agenda of organization. 

4chan (/pol/) is an example of online ‘community building’ which has occurred outside of a centralized rhetoric of neoliberalism (or more realistically, renewing a historically centralized rhetoric of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy); resulting in a large semi-organized grouping which can operate through some degree of chaos / disassociation. this looks like a group of individual folks enacting, raids, DDoS (denial of service attacks), trolling which potentially leads to doxxing, and sharing mis-information which is tailored to their wants en masse through output including memes, alt-right news sources and media, and slang which changes hate speech to avoid anti-trolling machine learning. the platform / pol/ created has been successful in engaging a large-enough-to-not-be-easily- trackable populous with a specific code of ethics and rhetoric. the results have been shown to create political change.i doubt that i am alone when i state that my personal opinion of 4chan is that it is a stew-ing ground for white supremacist actions, hate and disgusting behavior; unfortunately it is also a highly effective platform for radicalized communication. 

we exist in a time where BIPOC voices are being silenced through comment removal on FB by “anti-racist” algorithms that are supposed to protect them, citizens are being held up at the border for their art practices, and visitors are being judged for entry based on their online presence. the idea of a platform which is removed from direct affiliation with the individual and is more concentrated on dialogue and action than recognition may be extremely valuable. 

offline considerations in this time of polarization and censorship: publications, zines and other print media are highly valuable, art shows and works which include coded or implied dialogue around issues, and also real discussions of these issues will become even more important than they have been in the past. offering up art spaces to meetings, to protests, to community care, to residencies on activist art seem like somewhat viable options for progress. creating a more anonymous space centered around a new means of meme. a potential jumping off point being the creation of cover stories (or a coded language) for organizing resistance. 

as a result of the work that our modern culture of hate has done to spread hate in coded language, there is now an open source program for finding this speech called Hatebase. Hatebase is a dictionary interface which uses text analysis of speech and written content (transcripts of spoken content [web, radio], tweets, and articles) and identification of hate speech patterns within it to predict potential regional violence, it is an “online repository of structured, multilingual, usage-based hate speech”. 

this raises more questions: what can we do as artists, community members, and organizers to come up with a coded language to speak about safety while protecting people from institutional violence? how do we restructure our work without the privileges of “free speech” we have relied on for so long? how will these algorithmic means of tracking speech affect organizing in the future, and are they affecting it now? this writing raises more points of questioning than it does obvious solutions in hopes that subsequent dialogue can occur within communities that we are a part of. 

contemplating assemblage: or a collection of tactics refusal: not based in denial ours is a history of embedded signifiers / constructs. see: coded language 

radical: relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far- reaching or thorough communication: means of connection between people or places, in particular. 

context: the way we say things, and how the way we say things changes in different settings consider: context while interacting daily with devices of mass surveillance consider also: the privacy we give up for convenience reading list / jumping off points (2016): Dismaga-zine – Politics of Post-Representation, Wretched of the Screen: Hito Steyrel, Steyrel, The Intercept: The CIA Didnʼt Break Signal or WhatsApp, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Nucleus Accumbent Response to Gains in Reputation for the Self Relative to Gains for Others Predicts Social Media Use, Politico: World War Meme, Ben Schreckinger; MIT press, The World Made Meme: Ryan Milner, A Longitudinal Measurement Study of 4chanʼs Politically Incorrect Forum and its Effect on the Web: Gabriel Emile Hine et. all, Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding: Diana I. Tamir et. all 

(2020 tools update): Encrypted Text / Call: signal.org/en/Encrypted Instant Messaging: riot.im Encrypted Docs: cryptpad.fr graphitedocs.com myBB Self-Hosted Forum Security Guide: docs.mybb.com/1.8/administration/security/ protection/ Discord Pod-Based Social Network / Community: https://discord.com/ Cyber-Security for “Dummies” paloaltonetworks.com/content/dam/pan/en_US/assets/ pdf/education/cybersecurity-for-dummies.pdf Tor Browser: https://www.torproject.org/ download/ VPNs https://www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/the-best-vpns-for-tor/ 

*The essay was the initial inspiration for the interactive online performance Haptic Paradigm which took place on the 30th September 2020 from 7 – 10pm BST. Made as a sonic landscape by interdisciplinary artist/sound designer Chloe Alexandra Thompson and visual realm by Brenna Murphy built in collaboration with Johnny Ray Alt.

Zen and the Art of Instagram Maintenance: An Inquiry into Value

Off Site Project

 

Cross-pollinating Post-Internet ideologies with an over quoted Zen Buddhist proverb results in the hybrid quandary: “If your art gets less than 20 likes did anyone see it?”

Since the chronological feed was switched for an algorithmically determined system in 2016, speculation has fed an unhealthy mythologisation of Instagram’s code. Influence cabals were formed to ensure Like thresholds were met within the first 30 minutes, superstitious of post being lost beyond the algorithm’s eye. Rumour spread that comments didn’t count unless they contained more than three words and that the system preferences videos over photos.

With tooth combs we turned to the four-headed metrics tapping View Insights to divine meaning from: Likes, Comments, Reshares and Saves. New god to lay offerings before.

Inevitably, our experiences lead to the extrapolation of ‘rules’, presumptions which become hardwired into our brains, thanks to push-notifications and the small jolts of dopamine they trigger. Living hand-in-hand with a sophisticated feedback system creates a plethora of problems for contemporary art curators, exploration and discovery has been condensed into small black devices, making the act of uncovering tales all too easy and by contrast ensuring other routes are less appetising. Inadvertently, this easiness fabricates an aesthetic echo chamber into which certain artists are funnelled by the Instagram-ability of their endeavours.

Staring at our little black box companions, it is impossible to know the scale of the problem. The code is locked away and even if we were to read it, we couldn’t reason out the multi-dimensional decisions it has cumulatively made for us in all the years it has been our bedfellow. What lies outside the echo chamber is an unknown unknown, what lies within is subject to metricised scrutiny, because, if we’re honest, we’re more likely to show an artist with four figure Followers.

What we need are new ways of navigating. Games we can lay over existing algorithmic rules, which complicate the playing field and ensure we bypass the machines insatiable desire to show us what we want. Or at least what it thinks we want.

__________

This text serves as a short preface to the paper Volume: Social Media Metrics in Digital Curation by Pita Arreola-Burns & Elliott Burns (aka Off Site Project), which was presented at the DRHA2020 Conference, 7-9 September 2020, University of Salford.

Volume: Social Media Metrics in Digital Curation is supported by a survey of curators working with digital platforms and online galleries. Many thanks to: Arebyte  GalleryDe:FormalDigital Artist ResidencyGalerie GalerieGreen Cube GalleryGoing Away TVisthisit?MOCA KittengaleNmenos1Rhizome Parking GarageSilicon Valet, SKELF, Specter WorldThe Wrong Biennale and Ypuccko.

On immortalizing physical memories by digitizing their symbols 

Doreen A. Ríos

 

<< ‘all that is solid melts into air’. The real was only virtual after all.>> 

Roy Ascott quoting Karl Marx 

 

 

[Image credit: Julieta Gil,  Nuestra Victoria, Our Victory]

 

What does it mean to, purposely, use hard power in order to try and erase a socio-political memory? is it possible to resist said hard power from within its nodes of implementation? These questions have been explored heavily for the past decades in relation to the capability of using the internet and its tools in order to resist the growing surveillance state. In light of these circumstances it makes sense to bring in the term of the post-digital. 

Post-digital, once understood as a critical reflection of “digital” aesthetic immaterialism, now describes the messy and paradoxical condition of art and media after digital technology revolutions. “Post-digital” neither recognizes the distinction between “old” and “new” media, nor ideological affirmation of the one or the other. It merges “old” and “new”, often applying network cultural experimentation to analogue technologies which it re-investigates and re-uses. It tends to focus on the experiential rather than the conceptual. It looks for DIY agency outside totalitarian innovation ideology, and for networking off big data capitalism (…) (Ulrik, Cox, Papadopoulos 2013). 

Inserting the term post-digital in contemporary art practice that explores tactical media and ways of resistance, results in an interesting production that focuses mainly in understanding the new materialities that the post-digital condition offers, uncovering the processes that have been systemically (and purposely) hidden in black-boxes, as well as leaving behind the naïve excitement towards technological innovation and using the technology most suitable to do the job, rather than automatically ‘defaulting’ to the latest ‘new media’ device (Cramer 2013). 

These practices – heavily enhanced after the revelations provided by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden regarding NSA’s digital surveillance systems – reveal a general disenchantment with the digital and provide an open door for a more in-depth critique, as well as understanding its role in the current socio-political situation. Providing an interesting framework for adding several layers to its materiality, which not only look after unboxing obsolete notions of digital objecthood, but that point to a better understanding of the ecologies of the digital. 

Furthermore, it is crucially important to critically explore the economies of the like, understanding the politics behind the use of certain websites / social media platforms and, most importantly, to build from within a network that avoids the latter. While thinking about the ways in which certain social media platforms use hard digital power in order to censor, remove, polarise and, eventually, radicalise their users by manipulating the content that makes it to the front lines for each profile, we should be aware of how to pinch our filter bubbles. It is precisely through community-oriented websites, and the conscious approach to said social media platforms by demetricating ourselves / poisoning our data / opening for a radical awareness of the political values within. 

Post-digital thinking then becomes the key area for resisting by expanding the materialities of the memories that are trying to be removed from the collective imaginary. Here, the transaction of digitising and releasing a file(s) that represents and archives memories such as those of protests, public acts, testimonies, etc. becomes a statement that flows beyond the claws of hard power by being distributed, mainly, through a community that is more than nodes in a network. Therefore, resistance becomes an ever-growing community sharing memories and expanding the dialogue beyond the limits of their materiality. 

Affinity Patterning

Rachel Falconer

 

[Image from https://possible.social/join, Portal Constellation by Sarah Friend and participants]

 

Webrings were and potentially still are a system of linked websites that aggregate together similar content and interest groups. Seeded across the digital commons, webrings took on the guise of an affinity network; a systemic nebulous chain of association that we can now import seamlessly into the logics of the Economy of Like….

The seminal figurehead of the Ringmaster either created a piece of code by designing their own system or, back in the 1990s when Sage Weil launched WebRing, they could choose to form a webring from one of the organisations spawned alongside Weil’s original system such as RingSurf, WebRingo, Alt-Webirng, Looplink etc.

Webrings offered a decentralised p2p mode of content discovery and mutual support via the meshing and linking together of a co-dependent community of affinity – acting as an open standard for online publishers on platforms to seed across users and create an entangled network of mimetic interest groups. Bound together, through a single looping digital chain, webrings offered up a holistic content discovery system for the lone-rangers that stumbled upon them.

The social, cultural and niche leverage binding together these affinity groups complimented the early DIY spirit of the web, enabling similar websites to intimately tie together in order to bounce visitors from one site to the next.

For users, webrings created a context of discovery and structured serendipity through these webs of association.

The decentralised nature of webrings progressed the idea of a bottom-up method of curating the Web before Google’s overlords entered the game.

However the grand narrator / gatekeeper / arbiter of taste figure of the Ringmaster is still reductive in their reach, and perhaps there is room for a re-imagining and re-casting of a more distributed mode of authorship and agency around the governance of webrings. What would the interrogation of the fiction of agency do to these walled gardens of affinity?

Barad’s framing of agential realism here – in Meeting the Universe Halfway – could play out through our authorial remix. Here agency is assigned not just to humans but to systems where humans, machines and software together are able to produce and generate transformative practices.

The webring in this relational recasting then could be seen not just as a system of affinity and grouping together of Likes, but as actively influencing how and what can be generated and archived / stored based on distributed value chains and dynamics within the dominant system itself.

Could webrings be open systems? Or systems with their own logic / power dynamics?

 

“ Networking is both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy – weaving is for oppositional cyborgs”
A Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway

[Incomplete set of webring installation pictures. Courtesy of Sarah Friends Portal Constellation]
1. webring installed on anti-materia.org, website of Doreen Rios
2. webring installed on a.pureapparat.us, website of Xuan Ye
3. webring installed on ourmachine.net, website of Kei Kreutler
4. webring installed on dietrichmeyer.info, website of Dietrich Meyer
5. webring installed on kevinclancy.studio, website of Kevin Clancy
6. webring installed on rozina.neocities.org, website of Rozina Aamir

2 Lizards – Algorithmic Desires

Sara Sassanelli

 

Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki’s 2 Lizards (2020) is an Instagram-based video series which was released by the Brooklyn-based artist-filmmakers from the beginning of lockdown until early July. The videos, nuanced by an emotive soundtrack, are a diaristic portrayal of two anthropomorphic lizards in isolation who navigate the various seismic changes of 2020.

The lizards have the resource to work from home, where they isolate and find ways to pass the time. The tone of the episodes reflects the different moods many encountered in lockdown – at the intersection of privilege and isolation, where a very specific kind of boredom rubs up against the psychological effects of misinformation.

I first came across 2 Lizards via an instagram DM sent by a friend, who, when asked, couldn’t remember how they had originally found it. I continued to follow the episodes as they were released – watching them on my phone from bed, either early in the morning or late at night. This felt like the correct context for consumption, as the 2 Lizards stories seem to exist in a somewhat lethargic universe. There’s a slightly unreal, slow pace to the lizards’ speech and movements, a sluggishness which reminded me of the atmosphere of the first lockdown – where indistinguishable days passed with a thick feeling of inactivity and anxiety.

As we watched the lizards navigate an eerily empty New York City in their lowkey way, the pace of the videos seemed to mimic the zoned-out, distracted way we scroll through Instagram. The volume and plurality of information, coupled with the temporally expansive experience of scrolling can mask the rigid organisation of our feeds. A combination of unseen but predictable algorithmic desires (desires conditioned by pre-determined algorithms) influence the affect of image-based information. This predetermined process has underscored most recent online cultural consumption and shaped the architecture of our lives in insidious ways. How can an economy produced by likes, comments and digital traffic be undercut by content or user behaviour? This question remains at the core of an aspiration to redistribute and decentralise information. Very much a product of its context, 2 Lizards both relied upon and navigated this architecture.

Each episode was a reflection of the news in America. With a slight delay, just a few weeks after a major occurrence, 2 Lizards portrayed the chaos that was coming to define the feeling of the summer. The series also did something else; more than just simply reflecting on the times, it also provided speculative interventions. A few episodes in, the pace picks up as the deployment of police in the US heightens. Episode 7 features a mouse news anchor who refuses to interview a pig chief of police on live news. The anchor, wanting to provide a platform for Black Lives Matter protesters, resists the producer’s orders to prioritise interviewing the police chief. This intervention is a reminder of the severe misrepresentations of the recent BLM protests and abolitionist thought, as well as the constant erasure of histories of resistance.

Episode seven ends with a fly protester talking to camera on the streets of New York. The fly asks: Who will still be protesting in the streets when the energy dies down? Who will remain committed to the abolitionist work of dismantling the police and white supremacy?

In this moment, there’s a sense of self-awareness within the script, as these were the exact kinds of questions that were circulating Instagram – across stories, posts and comments – following the first wave of BLM protests. This felt like a knowing nod to the inertia often induced by ‘learning’ politics on social media, where pre-determined, algorithmic systems of sharing momentarily create a sense of action and participation among online communities, but dissipate quickly, just like the action of the scroll. Thinking about ‘likes’ as an economy, it’s easy to see how the aesthetisation of movements, such as abolition can escalate. To quote writer and cultural critic Sita Balani ‘there’s a sort of new-age-ification of the politics of abolition happening. it’s similar to the banalisation and commercialisation of ‘decolonial’. And it’s not happening at the hands of institutions but of a kind of influencer crowd. The state (processes of deportation, detention, harassment, criminalisation at every level) drops out of the picture, and ‘abolition’ becomes an attitude, a radical orientation, rather than a set of concrete politics.’[1] 2 Lizards holds both, the recognition that social media can support the conditions for shared desire and an activation of new socialities, but also that anti-anti-racist, anti-capitalist action and organising happens on the ground.

In the eighth and final episode of the series, a racoon friend of the lizards is unable to stay in the city and has to return to their parents’ home overseas, unsure of whether they will be able to return to New York on their visa. This ending gestures towards the long-term forms of displacement that have been exacerbated by Covid-19, but that also existed before. As 2 Lizards makes clear, the multiple crises that unfold over the course of the series – whether interpersonal, personal or global – are not new; they are just being revealed differently and are underpinned by unwilling or disinterested governments. Closing the series, the two lizards watch fireworks from their rooftop, a gentle reminder of a kind of hope, found in kinship, friendship and quiet forms of solidarity.

[1 – @sitainshort, 25 August 2020, 11:08AM GMT]
All images courtesy of the artists Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki’s 2 Lizards (2020)

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