Fudge the Facts

forever a pupil

Conversation with Nana Adusei-Poku and John Akomfrah

Nana Adusei-Poku in conversation with John Akomfrah, Witte de With, Rotterdam

What a fantastic way to end the year. It was a packed house at the Witte de With, and the event was the culmination of a tremendous amount of discussion and preparation by the PZI Interdepartmental Think Tank. In light of Stuart Hall’s passing in February 2014, we wanted to find a way of honouring and revisiting his work -  and the evening delivered just that.

For me the two most timely and memorable quotes of the evening were from The Stuart Hall Project, where Hall says “Race is the lens through which people come to perceive that a crisis is developing.” In the wake of Ferguson, no truer words could be spoken about current economic and social divides. And later John Akomfrah in conversation with Nana Adusei-Poku talked about the power of archives, and their capacity to speak, adding that “the archival trace is the monument of the diaspora.”

A big thanks to everyone in the Piet Zwart Interdepartmental Think Tank for making this event possible, and the Witte de With for being generous hosts.

Screening of The Stuart Hall Project followed by a conversation between John Akomfrah and Nana Adusei-Poku

John Akomfrah,The Stuart Hall Project (still), 2013. Film. Image courtesy of Smoking Dog Films.

Screening of The Stuart Hall Project, followed by a conversation between Nana Adusei-Poku (Research Professor in Cultural Diversity at Hogeschool Rotterdam and Witte de With’s Curatorial Fellow 2015) and director John Akomfrah.

Piet Zwart Interdepartmental Think Tank Event hosted by the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art 

Saturday, December 13, 2014, 3pm
Screening begins at 3:15pm, free

Witte de Withstraat 50

Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art hosts the screening of The Stuart Hall Project and a conversation with the director John Akomfrah, in collaboration with the Piet Zwart Institute and the Research Professorship for Cultural Diversity.

Stuart Hall (1932–2014) was a leading intellectual and cultural theorist in the UK for more than 50 years. He regularly appeared on television and radio, and fronted provocative, thoughtful documentaries. Not only was his work influential in terms of establishing the field of Cultural Studies, he also became one of the key theorists for a younger generation of intellectuals and artists throughout the Black Diaspora. Stuart Hall’s work embraces marginalized and situated knowledge, and examines what identity categories mean within a wider socio-political and academic discourse.

Director John Akomfrah, who belongs to this younger generation, comes to Rotterdam with his masterful film essay made entirely from Hall’s film, television, radio and photographic archives, and it is accompanied by a soundtrack from Hall’s musical hero, Miles Davis. Often using his own experience as a Jamaican-raised part Scottish, part African, part Portuguese Jew to make his point, Hall’s central argument is that a person’s identity is continually shaped by surrounding forces. Not only does this remarkable film work as both a portrait of Hall himself and his adopted country, it is also an intriguing insight into how the UK has for many decades used the documentary form to explore questions of identity.

This event is conceived by the Piet Zwart Institute’s Interdepartmental Think Tank. The group is composed of representatives from the Creating 010 Research Centre, staff members, students from each programme and the Director of the Piet Zwart Institute. Looking at how interests can be shared across courses, they plan interdisciplinary projects and public programming.

This afternoon is presented as part of Studium Witte de With, a collaborative education platform for art and theory which is intended to serve as a catalyst bridging various fields of knowledge across higher education. Studium Witte de With offers a broad program mapping and analysing the cultural and political ecology.

ART for MEMORY – Karen Bernedo and Orestes Bermudez Rojas (Peru) in Conversation with Renée Turner

This event hosted and organised by Castrum Peregrini in collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund and is part of Culture in Action 2014 Prince Claus Awards Week.
Lecture Conversation
Art for Memory
7 december, 19 uur
Entrance 5 euro; students 3 euro;
RSVP at E: productie@castrumperegrini.nl

Karen Bernedo and Orestes Bermudez Rojas will present their work and enter into a conversation with Renée Turner about the role of art in collective memory processes.

Karen Bernedo Morales is an independent curator and researcher. She is the director of Virtual Museum of Arts and Politica Violence and Member and co-foundator of Itinerant Museum of Art for Memory.

Orestes Bermudez Rojas as a visual artist and a member an co-foundator of Itinerant Museum Art for Memory.

Renée Turner is an American artist living in the Netherlands. She is the Director of the Piet Zwart Institute of the Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam, running four Master Courses founded on the complex social, cultural and political underpinnings of art.

Itinerant Museum of Art for Memory -Museo Itinerante de Arte por la Memoria-, one of the initiatives receiving the prestigious Prince Claus Award 2014.This collective has played a galvanizing role in recent years by using diverse art forms to challenge current memory practices in Peru, a country that faces multiple challenges in its efforts to overcome the recent conflict between government forces and insurgent groups that resulted in 70,000 deaths. The Itinerant Museum has traveled the length and breadth of Peru to bring the artwork to a broad audience and provoke new ways of thinking and talking about the violence that subsumed Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a project of hope that challenges us to think not only about the violence that was inflicted upon so many innocent people, but also about our own complicity in structures of violence.

The launch of SuperGlue

(box cover of SuperGlue mini-server)

Yesterday I moderated an evening with media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, digital folklore archivist and net art pioneer Olia Lialina, and the developers of SuperGlue, the follow-up to HotGlue. The event marked the launch of the platform, which enables users not only to design their own website within a browser interface, but also run it from a mini-server installed in their own homes.

Rushkoff was the first to speak via Skype, and he talked about the nature of early communication (IP to IP, the Well…), which although limited in terms of bandwidth (certainly no Skype video chats back then), was nonetheless a decentralized form communication. This model of a distributed network was contrasted to our current reliance on centralized media giants such as Facebook and Google; in other words, platforms that need to secure their ubiquity and dominance to both monetize and monopolize our data. For him projects like SuperGlue, offer a means of circumventing these monopolies, and remind us of network architectures, which have not disappeared but are underused.

Olia Lialina talked about the vernacular of the early web, a period she notes which squeezed many years into a few (a notion of condensed time perhaps). Moving through archived GeoCities homepages, she spoke about the commonalities and quirks indicative of early nineties webpages. Prior to the world of CMS skinned with CSS, this was the hallmark of an era of web design based on amateur enchantment, digital DIY, GeoCities clip art and slogans such as “Welcome to my homepage”.

Overall her talk was not about dwelling in nostalgia, but rather focused on celebrating the role of users in defining their own website identity without genericizing templates. This actually provided a smooth segway to SuperGlue and a discussion with some of its developers, Danja Vasiliev, Joscha Jaeger, Michael Zeder, Abigail Smith and Erwin Kho. (Teresa Dillon was unable to attend).

As a design tool, the interface offers different levels entry. Depending on your expertise (or even interest for that matter), you can design your site by dropping and dragging elements across a webpage, or work directly with html. Users can share visual elements and create their own repositories of what could be analogous to clip art – albeit with more contemporary streamlined aesthetics. But what is important to remember is that nothing is centrally stored – instead your storage unit is this mini-server, which as you can tell is plugged into the wall in much the same way as an Apple Airport Express.

(SuperGlue mini-server minus usb storage)

Why is this significant? Becuase it connects tools of design (software) to infrastructure (hardware/networks). While modest in capability, it will accomodate users with standard web traffic and relatively light content.  It’s  an option offering plenty of room for play, and as illustrated in the below promo video, it gives you more control of how and when you want to connect to the network. (see SuperGlue’s promo video)

Superglue animation from WORM on Vimeo.

At this juncture what is difficult to gauge is long term sustainability; by this I mean what will be the underlying supportive economy (gift, donation, cultural subsidies, user contributions in either labor or kind, or pure capital investment), which keeps SuperGlue up to date and operational. In the same way these questions are levied against platforms like ELLO, it’s important to ask the same about projects like these. If you migrate your content to SuperGlue, you want to know how long it will last, will the userbase be broad enough to fuel its development, and will it have the structural robustness to sustain changes in webstandards.  Or (and I say this without any sense of cynicism) is it something symbolic, a reference to a potential parallel network, which wakes us up, if even temporarily, from our blue and white Facebook slumber.

Ello, Ello, hello….. I’m beta testing

Of course everyone would love to see a rival to the behemoth Facebook, and moreover an alternative to the politics of datamining it engages in. No one wants to see their subjectivity and relations turned into capital or conceived as a profit-making scheme, especially when the dividends are not shared amongst its users.

However, as of yet there have been no viable candidates to challenge the platform. Suffice it to say; most us have a longing for things to be otherwise. As a result, with each offer of a new alternative, hopes run high, criticism about Silicon Valley’s economies are abundant, and upon implementation, expectations are quickly deflated. One need only look at Diaspora for an illustration of a similar narrative arc.

Now hopes are pinned on Ello, a platform with a manifesto stating: “Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold. We believe there is a better way. ”

Sounds good in promise. The platform is also initiated by Paul Budnitz, who it should be noted, studied photography, sculpture, and film at Yale University. This background places him slightly outside the tradition of computer science and engineering geeks (this is said with a great deal of affection). As an entrepreneur, he’s hip, he started Kidrobot, the company that gave us those cute little graffiti style plastic rabbits (call it the Swatch approach to toys and branding), and he even owns and runs a company that produces luxury bicycles (I’ll come back to this).

In other words, at least on the surface, he’s the opposite of Mark Zuckerberg, or someone like Larry Page; he’s the perfect poster child of what rhetorically, the creative industries would have us become. I say us, because I’m the director of a small graduate art institute. Anyone currently working within an art school knows the pressure to conform to the promises of the creative industries and is bombarded with its jargon. After all, this model moves us out of depending on classical patronage (something well worth interrogating), takes us away from the academic ivory tower and brings us into contact with what supposedly matters – big business, consumerism and as the term clearly states “industries”.

In this paradigm creativity and innovation go hand in hand. It’s the perfect formula, however the one thing we’re discouraged from questioning are the very foundations and economic underpinnings that drive these industries, or the fact that innovation (as conceived in this context) might be taking us to a place that is ultimately unsustainable for ourselves and the environment.

Suffice it to say, that while different from someone like Zuckerberg, Budnitz’s endgame however may ultimately be the same. Already, they’ve taken the route of all start-ups – investors have contributed a substantial amount of funding, and a large investment always means stakeholders will want something back. It’s unlikely, that the return will be about protecting user data or being satisfied with helping us better connect with our friends. With these kinds of platforms, the script (both embedded in the code and constructed norms of the behavioral regime) is somewhat predictable – it is inevitably connected to a bigger agenda and a larger economic structure.

So, why am I beta testing despite Ello? Am I being cynical…. can’t we just return to a decentralized model? Certainly the latter has its virtues and there are plenty of people out there championing that cause – look at Thimbl – it’s a great project, but that said it is exactly that, a project – of limited scope and reach, which operates on a representational register, pointing towards an Internet that was. This is different than a fully functional social network where my 90-year-old grandmother can connect to me as well as my more tech savvy friends.

Making compromises or at times feeling compromised seems to sum up the times we’re in. While riding my bike, I’m thinking about the implications of all of this. As someone who resides in the Netherlands, my bike is a necessity. It’s my primary mode of transportation. Admittedly, I find slightly irksome that I’m surrendering to someone who is turning bikes into luxury goods. But I suppose luxury bikes are better than gas guzzling SUVs in the scheme of things. And here’s the conundrum, I’m looking for alternatives; that is, social platforms that are functional, rather than symbolic. Whether Ello is more equitable, less exploitative of our data, and reliant on different economies has yet to be established – it might in fact be another gas guzzling (datamining) option. But without anything else out there, continuing to pedal is all I can do…..

The Fortune Cookie

V. Vale at PrintRoom

Yesterday at PrintRoom, a conversational drift with V. Vale, musician, writer and engine behind RE/Search Publications.

Endless threads were started, dropped, and taken up again – albeit in different directions. Much like the audience, the moderators, Karin de Jong and Florian Cramer could only surrender to Vale’s ebbs and flows.

While impossible to pinpoint an overarching theme, it was clear San Francisco’s Beat generation heavily influenced the Punk scene. Rather than being informed by nihilism and boredom – Vale’s Punk was infused with curiosity, channeling, chance, making things, and last but not least, anger.

Here are a few quotes I gleaned from his endless stream:

“Bruce Conner gave me this idea that maybe all undergrounds are the same…”

“It’s so fun to be an amateur anthropologist.”

“So, let me return to this idea that if all undergrounds are the same…well, they aren’t really…”

“Punk is really informed by paranoia.”

Walking Berlin

Moving through Berlin – I’m astounded by the construction and general gentrification.  If every construction site became a space of poetry – what an even more wondrous place this would be.



De Geuzen, Other Projects & Collaborations

Next to my other work, I've collaborated with Riek Sijbring and Femke Snelting under the name of De Geuzen since 1996. Below you'll find links to De Geuzen's main site and selected projects which have radically informed my thinking about visual research, digital writing and narratives. It is important to note that some of these works have collapsed with the evolution of the web, nonetheless I keep their traces online as an archive of an earlier internet.