Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2H2K - June 2050 - Visual Remediation

Daniel Libeskind, “Leakage,” from Micromegas Drawing Series, (1979) 

“I hate my job.” Cory wasn’t talking to anyone, not that anyone around her would know. They’d assume she was “on the phone.” What does that phrase mean? she wondered. Telephone language is so strange. Why isn't my phone on me? She was idly twisting her pRime, worn on her left ring-finger, as an engagement ring. Shouldn't I be "in" the phone or "over" the phone? She looked down at her pRime, as slim gold band, its polished surface broken by a series tiny rectangular apertures and a thin stem. Like a tiny erection. It was her "phone" her "computer" her "camera" "secRetary." She pinched the band as hard as she could, almost as if she meant to bend it. Its everything to me, she thought with a flush of something like shame, or maybe pride. She pushed the feeling away, thought again about being on the phone - wondered how that had come to function as a statement of distanced speaking. The experience of being two places at once - "Hi, this is Cory. Where Are you?" - A physical problem solved by language.  She started to compose a queRy, knowing she'd be able to find a dozen scholarly papers and probably some good lectures on the history, theory, and comparative linguistics of "telephone language" - but then stopped herself. Stay in the moment.

2H2K - June 2050 - Bohème Rule: An Introduction

Luke Wilson in Idiocracy (2006) 

Last Monday I was getting on the elevator with my neighbor (an older artist), her daughter (a ballet dancer), and her grandson (a toddler). I asked after their Thanks Giving holiday, and my neighbor said it was great, that because her daughter took charge of cooking she had time to relax and "get some work done." It made me laugh, and I told her that she sounded like every artist I've ever met - a joke she and her daughter both understood. Unlike most worker who, Marx rightly pointed out, are "alienate from their labor" - who work in order to afford time to do things other than work -  artists work to afford to work. Marx argued that "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” But I am not concerned with what artists make as individuals, but how and why they work as a class. And what it would mean if the Bohème became societies new Middle Class.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2013

2H2K - May 2050 - JailbiRd

Eastern State Penitentiary (1829-1971) via Wikipedia
[This is the fifth short story in a series, the 1st story is here, the 2nd is here, the 3rd is here, the 4th here.] 
The subway car was packed with campers heading for a day beach. The kids were rowdy, moving back and forth, yelling at one another in their excitement. Dean had gotten a seat at the end of the row closest to the door. This meant his back was against the side of the subway car, which was fine. But it also meant the the two boys to his right, whose seats were facing the back of the car, were crowding him with their knees. The boys were playing some sort of game that had them both slouched, jerking unpredictably, and waving their hands almost constantly.

2H2K - May 2050 - Decayed Roués Robots: An Introduction

Lumpenproletariat according to Akira Kurosawa and The Economist
Years ago I went with a group of mostly french friends to see a performance of Charles Aznavour, a French crooner of Armenian extraction who is best described as the French Frank Sinatra. One of the guys with us that night was from the Armenian consulate and when Aznavour announced he was going to sing about his homeland, our Armenian friend stood and with the other Armenians in the audience, went wild. Not to be out done, when Aznavour introduced a song about Paris my expat Parisian friend, and the other displaced Parisians filling the hall, stood and sent up a great cheer. A little while later Aznavour explained that his next song was about "the love that dare not speak its name" - and a gay couple in our row stood and loudly cheered. Everyone smiled. Finally Aznavour announced that he would sing his song La Bohème about struggling artists, and I stood, all alone and cheered. My friends, the gay guys, and everyone around us looked at me like I was a little nuts. Which was just about right. We have always been a marginal group at best, but as we look forward to the "end of work" - or as it is more recently been dubbed, "the end of jobs" - the Bohème may become a force for change - not as a heroic avant-guard leading the Proletariat to violent revolution against their Capitalist overlords, but something more akin to the growth of the Petite Bourgeoisie consumer class - aka the middle class - during the Post War years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Ideas Need Tall Buildings: Gentrification vs Integration - Flying Wedges vs Rooted Anchors

Alfredo Brillembourg presenting Torre David at this year's CTsummit

Last week I wrote a post for ArtFCity titled "A Look at The Creative Time Summit: Gentrification, Gentrification, and Gentrification." I was asked to do something relatively short and straightforward but managed to write myself into a corner, turning the post into something long, difficult, even a little scary. "Gentrification" is an umbrella term that covers a constellation of assumptions and biases - the great majority of which I find wrong-headed and vexing. According to Wikipedia, the term "gentrification" was coined by the British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964. That it is a derivative of "gentry," itself, clearly signals that ownership was core to its original meaning. It was used by Glass to refer to the threat posed to lower-class worker residents, who depended on public housing, by the then fast-growing middle-class residents who, increasingly, could afford to own housing. Gentrification names a brand of class conflict, not an invasion of a bourgeois horde. But not surprisingly Americans have ever used the word gentrification the way the Brits originally intended. In the US race has always been a stand in for class. So US speakers use "gentrification" as a coded way to say "white people" much the same way they use "urban" as a coded way to speak of "black people." And like all coded language, the term "gentrification" obscures and disguises more than in communicates.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombie Popularity

Sears launches Zombie Shopping Department. via Laughing Squid

I was interviewed about The Political Economy of Zombies today and was asked why I thought zombies are so popular now. I suppose I should have been prepared for that question, but it's not something I tried to explain in my essay (or the intro), It didn't even occur to me explain it to myself - I was more concerned with what it meant, not why it was happening - and I think those are two different things. Zombies are grotesque, morbid, and in-and-of -themselves, dull (one might say lifeless). So asking why they are so popular is seems worth thinking about.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2H2K - April 2050 - tuRing

People's Meeting Dome - Kristoffer Tejlgaard and Benny Jepsen
[This is the fourth short story in a series, the 1st story is here, the 2nd is here, the 3rd is here] 
 David was uncrating a crew of carpenteRs when he heard a child laughing behind him. Before he could stop himself, he turned and looked for the little girl his ears were telling him was standing behind him in the yard. By the time he realized that he had once again been chumped by the Cardiff ringtone, he was staring at the empty space where the girl should be. Not only were his ears telling him exactly where she was standing (a bundle of PVC conduit where the water and electric emerged from the cement slab foundation), but the sound of the girl’s laugh allowed him to picture exactly how tall the little girl would be. It creeped him out.

2H2K - April 2050 - Robots are Marxist: An Introduction

First horseless carriage in Vancouver (1899)

"Can't get there from here" is the punch line of an old joke about a driver asking a farmer for directions (my father used to tell it, with great effect, using a thick New England accent). There is, in linguistic circles, a question of whether or not there are certain ideas that can't be conceived of without the language needed to describe them, having been developed in advance. Call it a cognitive chicken-and-egg, can't get there from here, conundrum. As I began thinking about what city life might be like in the year 2050, I found myself wondering how people will speak of robots when everything is a robot. Just as we no longer refer to "horseless carriages," I don't expect anyone to refer to "driverless automobiles" forty years from now. Rather than invent a new word (carbot? cardroid?) or repurpose an old one (automatautobot?) I decided instead that it made more sense to invent a new way of speaking; to have English speakers use tone to change meaning: so a driverless car became a caR, a robotic carpenter became a carpenteR, and an automated operator - like the kind we interact with more and more today - became an operatoR. What ended up happening is that my mind went in an entirely unexpected direction. Instead of thinking about questions of Artificial Intelligence, I found myself wondering about Artificial Labor. The difference is subtle but turned out to be helpful making the leap past the naysaying Yankee.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Robert Kirkman: Zombie Utopian

The Walking Dead as drawn by Robert Kirkman via Wikia

I am vindicated, or at least justified, or perhaps I've just had a bias confirmed. A friend of Felix Salmon's forwarded on this quote from a Rolling Stone interview of Robert Kirkman; the artist who created the original Walking Dead comic book and also writes for the TV series:
Sometimes I think about how life now is not cool. We made a mistake at some point in our history, a hundred years ago, when we were living in houses that we built, growing food that we ate, interacting with our families and living our lives. Looking back on that era, it seems kind of appealing. That's a life that makes sense. Now, we're doing jobs that we don't enjoy to buy stuff that we don't need. I don't mean to sound like Tyler Durden, but it seems like we've screwed things up. There doesn't seem to be any kind of movement to continue evolving how we live, who we are and what our purpose is as human beings. That's unfortunate. So it's fun to look at the world of The Walking Dead and see those things taken away. Is life going to be better? A lot of people think the show is very bleak and depressing. And it is, oftentimes. But I can see where the story is going to go in the next ten years, and I think about it optimistically. Maybe it's going to make us better people by the end of it.
As I explained in my Introduction, there was a lot of material I'd have liked to include in The Political Economy of Zombies, and couldn't. But when I was writing the essay I did make an effort to track down a copy of The Walking Dead, I was curious to read it, had heard good things, but I was upstate staying at a cabin at the time, no comic book stores. I now feel honor bound to buy the book - but even if I didn't, I would. Kirkman sounds like a interesting guy, with an amazing project. "I'm 34 years old. By the time I'm 65, I might actually get pretty far." Kirkman says. "There could be an issue 700 of The Walking Dead that's about people delivering mail. That is exciting to me." - That's exciting to me too. I admire that kind of life-long fidelity to an artistic project, especially a utopian one.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2H2K - March 2050: WildcRaft

Boston Dynamic's "Big Dog"

[This is the third short story in a series, the first story is here; the second is here]
  “What’s it called again?” Little Jo asked.
E.J. had turned away. The back of his t-shirt was printed with the slogan “laboR wants to be FREE.” He wore baggy jean, that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks and heavy boots made of thick leather, or something very much like it. He was using the his heel of his boot to roll the next log out of the tall grass. Once there was enough room on either side to plant his feet, he lifted the –
“It's a ‘godevil’ or a ‘splitting maul,’” he told her, without looking back. He sounded a bit peeved at being interrupted. Jo smiled and made a sound of approval. She had gone off topic, and interrupted his train of thought, she knew what to expect. E.J. would take his time before returning to the subject. Go ahead, she thought, have a good sulk. Her smile widen.

2H2K - March 2050 - Automation & Feminization: An Introduction

Interior of Amazon’s giant "fulfilment centre" (Photo by Ben Roberts) via James Bridle

Besides the trends of population growth and urbanization that have defined modernization - that perhaps are modernization, two other trends have ghosted the swelling of our global population and our cites; automation and feminization. Trends that started very gradually in the later Middle Ages and in the past fifty years have flowered into the promise of Artificial Intelligence and Feminism. That may sound to some like an arbitrary matching as well as a horribly mixed metaphor (to flower is to deliver on the promise of the bud, after all), but I'll argue that it's neither. Automation begins with relieving workers from drudge work. Though we see Hollywood images of oiled, muscle bound slaves, pulling things with ropes, the greater burden of drudge work has always been borne by women. We have both AI and Women's Liberation, and both remain a promise yet to be fulfilled.

Friday, September 27, 2013

2H2K - February 2050: The Slab

“The Falls” at Lake Las Vegas, Henderson, Nevada (2011). [Photo by Michael Light] via Design Observer

[The following is the 2nd short story in a series, the overall project is introduced here; the first story is here; the third is here]
David felt like he had an iron bar passing latterly through his chest. The bar wasn't a romantic metaphor, it was a feeling. Closing his eyes, it took shape; about as big around as his heart, and heavy. David could feel the bar’s weight, as clearly as if it were held in his hand. The most gruesome part of the bar was it’s length. It was longer than his chest was wide. Long enough that the bar extended beyond his body, protruding invisibly through his biceps. Like Frankenstein's neck bolts writ large, he thought. David knew what it was: a chill. In his mind's eye he saw it extending from the sides of his arms as two cylinders. He felt it pulling warmth from his heart, radiating it uselessly into the desert air.

2H2K - February 2050 - And its Discontents: An Introduction

Abandoned Spanish housing estates (Photographs by Simon Norfolk/Institute) via The New Yorker
[Part 2/12 - Return to Part 1/12]

I like to date the beginning of modernity to August 3rd, 1492 - the sparking of the Colombian Exchange that Charles C. Mann writes about in his 1st and 2nd books so persuasively. This was the moment when the relatively densely urbanized Europeans made contact with the long isolated Americas, and set off a global trade in plants, animals, diseases, technologies, and ideas. Many of the founding works of modernity were laid down in the opening years of the Exchange: Michelangelo’s David (1504), Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513), Sir Thomas Moore's Utopia (1516), and Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (1517). It was the moment that gave rise to the densely urbanized world we live in now. And 2050 is the moment that will give rise to what comes next, what comes after modernity.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2H2K - January 2050: LoaneRs

Carnegie Library (1913)
[The following is the first of 12 short stories, introduced here.]
Little Jo watched David as he barked commands at a cloud of invisible avataRs - or at least invisible to her. Her phone was dead, the only image she could see in her frames was a light indicating that they were searching for a connection. Little Jo couldn’t see what her fiancé was hearing or see what he was seeing; but she could imagine: the persistently polite, but helpless, scrum of telleRs, cashieRs, and operatoRs. And even though she couldn’t see his face from where she was standing, David’s frustration filled the large front room of the rental shop.

2H2K -January 2050 - Object Orientated Speculative Fiction: An Introduction

My sculpture, Die Die Die (2003), set just about where Frank Gehry's Downtown Guggenheim was slated to go.
This past spring I started a collaborative project with my friend Greg Borenstein. Greg came to me with an image: one of my sculptures scaled up until it dwarfed the New York skyline. Because of my interest in urbanism and SciFi, he wondered if I might work with him to imagine an urban future. While I had no idea this project was coming my way, I was immediately ready with two preconditions: No flooded cities and no dystopia. Not because I don't believe in Climate Change, or I because shit isn't horribly fucked up and might get much worse, but mostly, because in the realm of SciFi both mean streets and flooded streets are cliche. And while I am well aware that near-future predictions are some of the hardest to make (and for SciFi authors, some of the hardest to make convincingly), I had a very particular bracket of time I was interested in setting our project within. There are a number of demographic trends, all converging around the year 2050, that could easily make the second half (2H) of the 21st Century (2K) the most remarkable period of modernization we have seen yet.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Political Economy of Zombies: An Introduction

Google search "Dawn of the Dead" 
Today is the 2nd anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests, and coinciding with the debut on Blu-ray of Brad Pitt’s zombie apocalypse epic, World War Z. This is an entirely arbitrary coincidence, except for the fact that the literary site, The Airship Daily is publishing a piece I wrote equating zombies with anti-capitalist revolution, and the zombie apocalypse with utopia; admittedly strange bedfellows - but not absurd. [Update: Felix Salmon wrote a terrific post in response to the essay for Reuters and David Graeber gave it an amazing endorsement via twitter.] Both neoliberalism and zombies are everywhere and unavoidable, and both mean something, something about us and the times we live in. The essay that The Airship has posted is plenty long, but I thought I’d post here a bit about why I chose to write about zombies: a genre, that growing up, I had actively avoided.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay Marriage is The Future

Rev. Robert L Powers (far right) singing with his fellow clergy in Selma Alabama, showing their support for Martin Luther King (1965)
  Three years ago, almost to the day, I posted a text my father, the Rev. Robert L Powers, wrote based on a homily he delivered at a wedding he presided over (and which I attended as his assistant - in full alter boy drag) early that year. As the Supreme Court hears arguments for, and against, gay marriage, I felt it was important to repost my father's thoughts (this time in their entirety). My Father went on to practice psychology, so besides my sister's wedding, this was one of the few occasions I saw him marry anyone. It was the wedding of a young man to a young woman. I am not sure why he decided to speak to them, their frat-boy and sorority-girl friends, and their somewhat bewildered families, about gay marriage - but I am very proud he did. I am aware that most of the religious voices we hear in the debate over gay marriage are those that preach hate and fear in the name of tradition. There was no place for marriages of any any kind in the early church, because as my father explains, “'The future' did not exist in the devout imagination" of those times. But over the millennia the future has seeped into the deepest corners of the "devout imagination" (and sex with it). As my father makes clear, those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history - the traditions they cling to aren't timeless, and there is no place for them in any future - no matter how devout.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Exposure: A Teachable Moment.

Out in the Cold: Robert Smithson, Proposal for a Monument at Antarctica (1966) Mark Quinn, Self (1999)
This past Monday, Nate Thayer posted an email exchange in which he was approached for a 1200 word piece on "basketbal diplomacy", but was also informed by Olga Khazan, the new Global Editor of The Atlantic: "We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month." I caught wind of this kerfuffle yesterday when my twitter feed blew up. Felix Salmon noted: "There seem to be two kinds of websites: 'We're small, we can't pay you', and 'we're big, plz write for the exposure'." Nate Silver weighed in as well, warning: "If an editor offers no cash but says you'll get lots of exposure, you usually won't get very much exposure." And Matt Yglesias chipped in ironically (sarcastically? facetiously?): "Just discovered that many colleges run professional football teams whose players are unpaid and work for the exposure." This outrage was not contained to the wonk's corner of the blogosphere however, the pretense of "exposure" as pay got under the skin of the art people I follow as well. I was glad to see the outrage was shared by the art writer, Carolina Miranda, but also by the gallerist Magda Sawon. Sawon would seem to have no skin in the game, but does, because artists are the ultimate "freelancers." It was good for me personally to see the outrage reach the artworld, because late last month I had a similar exchange via email, and had been trying to decide if I should to post it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Art of 8-Bit History

Luke Skywalker filtered by 8-bit Avatar Maker
"What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles either" Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
A few years ago I began a project to explain Modernism via the original 1977 Star Wars movie. This is not an even match up. To understand everything you need to know about Star Wars takes 2 hours, but to understand even a small corner of Modernism is a project that can eat up ones entire adult life (ask me how I know). What I ended up doing, was viewing the movie under a critical microscope, breaking it down moment by moment and enlarging on every detail. Modernism, meanwhile I was forced to reduce to a few key players, some illustrative anecdotes, and iconic art works and architecture. A friend who came to one of my talks about the project took issue with art historical liberties, he felt, I was taking. But in truth, I wasn't changing the facts of the story; I was changing the resolution of the story. The history I lay out may not have the richness of detail we find in an heavily annotated academic survey, but just as an 8-bit portrait is still a photograph, an 8-bit history is still a history. Likewise, the "truth claims" of Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Lincoln, and even Django Unchained shouldn't be dismissed because those films simplify complicated histories. While these films can never provide full historical resolution, they remain important looks at important moments.