me_gloves

On the 25th & 26th of March I attended the Microbes As Material workshop hosted by Rod Dillon, Jen Southern, Abandon Normal Devices and Lancaster University. I joined 5 other practitioners who responded to the open call, along with students from the University’s fine art department.

Our introduction to microbiological activities was two fold: an aerobics enactment of the ‘plating out’ colony counting protocol used for establishing the number of bacteria in a suspension, and experiments in the ‘sensor’ that is an open petri dish. I’m going to focus on recapping the former activity as this was fresh territory for me. The protocol involved diluting down a suspension of microbes which were deemed to have surpassed the ‘log phase’.

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I travelled to Transmediale 2015 to chair a panel, in part as commemoration of AVANT’s launch in 20141
and in part to elaborate on a topic close to my active research interest in data subjectivities. Transmediale is a Berlin-based festival and year-round project that has been running for 28 years. In the course of its history media art has emerged as its central concern. This was my third time in attendance and a back-to-back visit from last years ‘Afterglow’ festival. Elvia Wilk has a great review of the festival on Rhizome that details Transmediale’s return to form following a dip in 2014. This years Transmediale was themed CAPTURE ALL, and its conference programme, screenings, performances, exhibition and admirably robust workshop programme all responded to this theme.

When quantification becomes part of our daily routines, we more or less consciously contribute to a permanent capture of life into data. Value can now potentially be extracted from everything, and productivity can be measured in all fields of life … Life is increasingly governed by a logic of CAPTURE ALL as a never-ending enterprise of predictive control.

Transmediale Festival

The entire festival ostensibly followed a three threaded specification of the Capture All thematic, into the threads Capture Life, Capture Work, Capture Play. In my experience this division only played out in conference and panel discussions. The panel which I proposed didn’t fit neatly into any one of the aforementioned categories and instead set out to map and explore data doubles, (or as they are elsewhere designated; data shadows, data dopplegangers or digital dossiers2). I define “data doubles” as aggregated data profiles, abstractions construed through, and which operate by, probabilistic analysis of population scale cohorts. These data doubles come to bear upon, and exert agency over, a given person’s range of action. In short, data doubles are actors in informatic society. (more…)

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This prompts suspicion that the microbes can reaggregate, but that approximating the grain is harder than getting close to a kombucha like mother

Some updates on how the deconstituted kefir powder is faring in its sugar umwelt

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I’ve been directed towards Jack Burnham’s writings as part of the background literature for my PhD. So it piqued my interest when a data artist I hold in high esteem, Jer Thorp, drew upon Burnham in a piece written in 2013.

Burnham was briefly prolific (during the late 60’s and early 70’s) and quite prescient when he wrote about Real Time Systems and their attendant “systems aisthetics“. The nascent systems he described are predecessors of the networks that are oft examined by contemporary ‘critical (infrastructure) theorists’. Burnham also conceived that ‘software’ transformed where the work of art, and by extension the artists work, resided. As Thorp quotes:

The specific function of modern didactic art has been to show that art does not reside in material entities, but in relations between people and between people and the components of their environment.

I believe it’s both of those aspects that Thorp picks up on in his short take on the API. The API’s basic purpose is illustrated, and its link to prior instantiations of netart (such as agit prop plugins) is affirmed. He concludes by asserting:

Promisingly, the API also offers a medium in which software artists can work entirely apart from visual esthetic.

Positing ‘middleware’ (specifically the middleware of distributed systems) as a site for new aesthetic possibilities is something work ruminating upon, if not subscribing to forthwith.

Amid the myriad TRENDS forecasts littering the web this week, one caught my eye: “The Emergence of the Casual Programmer” by Robert Tuttle.

Tuttle cites an impending business logic fomented by the Internet of Things (AKA Ubiquitous Computing, AKA the Future of the Smart Fridge): that the logistics of  “anticipating use cases and integration points of thousands of new connected products coming to market” is too great for any one vendor. So the solution is to crowdsource the IoT.

Curiously the author seems to think that this will happen via some sort of IFTTT style arrangement:

“casual programming” experiences — giving every day, non-programming people the tools, services, and APIs usually reserved for the hackers and technology elite in friendly and accessible forms.”

And there’s nothing to say that it won’t – IFTTT is successful and the ‘piping’ model of interconnected services is viable (as evidenced by Yahoo Pipes before it and similar endeavours such as Huginn). BUT I’m not sure what that means for the systems aesthetics once heralded by Burnham. IFTTT operates at the logic of a GUI, adhering to a regime of occlusion as described by Munster [2013]. Remarking on the contrast between the GUI and the command line interface that preceded it she notes:

In a sense, then, the operation and performance of computational systems was more visible — although to a smaller and more elite group of people — if more cumbersome to operate.

Once the obstacle to use posed by the terminal was abstracted by the GUI a new paradigm of interactions, services and users resulted.  Tuttle describes an experience of an API as ‘consumed’ rather than one where you apprehend the ‘exposed’ ‘end points’. ‘Casual programming’ has the air of ‘iteracy’ or ‘procedural literacy’ about it: parallel moves aimed at emphasizing the ubiquity of programming to our quotidian lives, while keeping the gritty details of implementation at arms length. A design pattern for digital citizens that forecloses potential aesthetic relations to ensconcing flows of information.

I hope to see more work in the vein of Thorp’s advocacy of the API. I also hope that we don’t see a dichotomy enforced between ‘consuming user’ and artists engaged in tactical API exposés.

I wanted to see if it was possible to revive the kefir I had allowed to dry out

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I added a modest portion of the overall kefir grains, as you can see above. Following one set of rehydration instructions I proceeded to bathe them in water until they plumped up. Some grains are near transparent in contrast to deep brown grains – the latter came from a batch that had been dried out without a thorough rinsing.

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As the grains began to rehydrate something curious occurred. I don’t know what it is, but it bears closest resemblance to how DNA looks when one conducts the DIYBIO protocol to extract DNA from your cheek cells.

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24 hours later the grains were plump and had lost much of the brown sugar intensity in colour

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Some of the strands remained. Next step was a bath in the brownest sugar to hand.