house sparrow

digital, noise, utopian matters

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the sparrow has moved house

I'm all in one place now.
find me over here...

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Today I found a mutant stem of wisteria growing outside my office. It reminded me that I need to get back to the Steichen essay. Thanks to Max Bellamy for the photos.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Yesterday David Green I hosted the *Illustrating the Unseeable: Reconnecting Art and Science* Symposium here at the School of Art. The initial impetus for the event was a desire to find out what was happening in Dunedin in the fields of art/science collaboration. We scheduled 18 short presentations into the day in an attempt to make the synergies appear in the spaces inbetween. The day was full, challenging and consistently engaging. The level of research was fantastic and the connections formed were dynamic and definitely ongoing. I was unable to do my usual 'live blog' of the event as the multiple hats of hostess and chair were enough, and it was wonderful to immerse myself in the flow of ideas. So today I'm still processing. Here are few (very personal) impressions.

The day began with Phil Ker the COE of Otago Polytechnic talking about the importance of applied research in Polytechnics. Adopting a clear political stance, Phil commented on the continual erosion of the funding for tertiary environments, and the importance of events that actually side-stepped the funders and returned us to core values.
I then presented an introduction where I framed my own thoughts about art and electronic media by connecting Lorraine Daston's work on curiosity and wonder with the histories of media arts via a discussion of frequency, resonance, method, sense and knowledge. I strung together a series of examples that for me operated at this edge of wonder, both scientific and artistic. Our poster image was David Haines and Joyce Hinterding's EarthStar (image above) and I located this as a central work where experimental method is key, and where there is an opening up of visuality to other senses.
I ended my presentation with this statement from Lorraine Daston:
“The idea of representation [is] being thrown overboard because to visualise something is the same act as making the object itself. It no longer makes sense to talk about a nature which we then try more or less faithfully to represent. It only makes sense to talk about the creation of an object to manufacture for the very act of visualising it.”
and this work by semiconductor:

We then moved onto our first set of short presentations.

(photos of presenters by Max Bellamy)

unseen: art-science-analogy

I had grouped the first four speakers through the rubric of "culture".
Geoff Wyvill from Computer Science at the the University of Otago  presented a picture of words and language. Beginning from the premise that 'we' are not very good at speaking to each other, and highlighting the impossibilities of some language when it attempts to be precise, he made the observation that artists and scientists need to be clear, consise and direct in their language. He used some examples of Picasso's paintings and described the manner in which Picasso allowed us to see around a figure, to use multiple cameras (as it were). The suggestion was that although we want to be able to bend light and see from outside a singular body, our langauge still has to retain a simplicity if we are to communicate.

Bridie Lonie from Art Theory at the School of Art demonstrated that language itself is very specific and particular and can contribute its own thought and method to the obects of sight. Framing her discussion with three words: representation, deployment and participation, Bridie constructed a specific kind of narrative from Hans Holbein to Steve Kurtz and CAE (yes, in under 10mins) where the tools of observation and perception were shown to be integral to both science and art. Bridie's talk served to re-knit science and art via language, as if the disciplinary boundaries of the previous 300 years were merely a structural anomoly.

Mike Paulin from the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago introduced me to the world of Evolutionary Perception. Mike's work with dogfish has contributed major shifts in our understanding of perception but also in the very structuring of the world. Using complex visualisation tools Mike demonstrated that sharks *know* where they are on the planet at any one time by using magnetic feedback to identify their latitude. Mike has been able to date the perceptive ecology of early evolotion to the precise (give or take a millenia) date when perception evolved: seeweed that 'chooses' its rock.

Peter Stupples from Art Theory at the School of Art followed with a very tightly woven discussion of art and neuroscience. What is central to Peter's work is the way it uses knowledge of neuroscience to redress anomolies and assumptions in art history. This is really important, as art history itself as a discipline needs to be opened up to a cross-displinarity. Using research by Antonio Damasio and Barbara Maria Stafford as his building blocks, Peter showed that an artist  is not simply 'influenced' by exposure to (in this case) a piece of Maori carving, but that multiple and complex situational and perceptive influences are at play. It is no longer a game of drawing direct lines. I was reminded of some of Bruno Latour's early work where  science is opened up to critique as a 'discipline'.

unseen: collaboration and knowledge

The second grouping of speakers focused on the knowledges that can be gained through collaboration.
Felicity Molloy, currently teaching in Massage Therapy at Otago Polyetchnic, gave a performative discussion of an early project conducted at Unitec. SpaceMaking involved groups of students from dance and architecture in the generation of reflexive collaborative works that in the process intruduced new frameworks to each other's disciplines. The openness to different forms of practice and different ways of knowing was obvious in the stunning images of dancers entwinned in architectural 'muscles.' Felicity also introduced the potential for somatic ways of knowing, where knowledge is more than skin-deep.

Artist Claire Beynon demonstrated that intensity with which collaboration can generate new thought. Working closely with scientist Sam Bowen, Claire has developed forms of tacet knowledge that go beyond what either discipline can contribute alone. Dealing predominantly with aesthetic surfaces drawn from her experiences at Antarctica, Claire took us on a journey through working methods that showed the art object slipping and sliding between multiple plates. This was also a deeply scientific process where wonder dominated certain processes and miniature creatures were found to behave aesthetically, selecting one red stone to finish their constructions.

Julian Priest ostensibly presented a report from Riga. Tracing the history of the international festival for new media culture symposia at rixc   he articulated a key understanding for the day: that the methods of art and science that we were discussing were not science journalism. That form of objective distance and study is not the creation and generation of new thought or new ways of knowing and doing. Drawing on his history as a network activist, and the kinds of collaboration that he ends up conducting between the two halves of himself, Julian ended with a discussion of energy. Thinking through the operations of energy as not just force, but a movement where the transference is not always uni-directional Julian argued that  tactics are essential to constructing different ways of knowing.

unseen: building blocks - genesis

During lunch Amos Mann performed "ring",  a silent performance that connected the magic of illusion with the concentration of experiment. Using the basic tools of newspaper and glue stick Amos turned moebus strips into fluid flexible and unpredictable shapes. (two circles make a square!)
Mike Paulin also used the lunch break to demonstrate another form of magic: robots formed from a toothbrush and cellphone. Dancing their miniature way across the floor the robots gave a literal meaning to the notion  of animation.

The next group of presentors engaged the process of making. Dunedin artist Nicola Gibbons discussed her painting practice and the influences  of health and medicine on the formal aspects of the surface she creates. Her works oscillate between the marco and micro, cells could be the mooon; the surface of jupiter could be blood within a kidney. Nicola's work suggested that abstraction is a way of knowing. Nicola also introduced the connections she has been making with the Otago Science Festival.

Andrew Last  from Jewellery at the School of Art, talked through the complex process of a commission for Octa associates. Initially a direct relationships between on screen imaging and off screen moulding seemed straightforward. After pouring over eleven moulds for a silver 'goblet' based on the digital design, two have been successful. In unpacking the process Andrew highlighted the role that materiality actively plays in the generative process of form. It was a reminder for me that digital materiality holds its own characteristics that do not always translate.

Stu Smith from ARL (Animation Research Limited) was similarly translating ideas from a commercial brief into a visual form. Working on a brief for added information visuals for television coverage of Formula One races, Stu has been attempting to make visual the sensation and feel of the race car. This initially took the form of mapping the G-forces as the car went round and round and round the digital track I couldn't help but feel the forces of movement, however the arrows telling me of it seemed unconvincing. When Stu re-worked the brief to focus on accelleration and braking suddenly the image came to life. Red and green are such clear indicators of momentum, and together with the speeding car visual sensation translated into felt and experienced momentum.
Peter Batson from Deep Ocean Quest Productions has the tools to visualise things that cannot be seen, and that have only been experienced by a very few. Using some of the world's most sophisticated deep sea devices Peter is capturing footage of creatures that maybe mimic those of our imagination, or at least occupy the worlds of Jules Verne. Peter presented some maps of the earth that shifted the idea of a blue planet to that of a black planet where ability to see is limited to our terrestial existence. Although google earth gives us the illusion that there is nothing left to explore, Peter showed that we can only see the thinnest slice of the universe.

Chris Ebbert from Design at Otago Polytechnic showed that computer programmes do not always beahve predicitabily, and demonstrated his explorations of car modelling that involve letting the computer take over some of the 'decision-making' processes. By accepting the conclusions that the computer has come to, Chris showed that the process of making sense is not only a  human characteristic. His dream is to generate virtual cars that may be available for purchase in virtual environments such as Second Life.

unseen: object and perception

The final session for the day returned us to the tactics of perception.
Alistair Regan from Design at Otago Polytechnic presented some of his early works conducted in Sweden where the control rooms of large industrial environments were revisited in order to make them more sensory. Alistair focused on the multiple inputs that a person employs as they recieve, process, and react to information. The experience highlighted the role of the peripheral in understanding. The sonic environment  of an industrial workplace was found to be as important as the data filled screen. Important in Alistair's work is a shifting of the notion of feedback from a one-to-one correspondence. Through the design process feedback was found to be multi-sensory and locative.

Pete Gorman from the Dunedin School of Art presented some of his early research into the sonification of geological matter. Begining with the pseudo-scientific discovery that he could insert two metal rods into the ground and locate the hum of electrical mains, Pete is now working towards the sonification of rocks through a kind of activiation of their 'voice'. This is not about anthropomorphising the rocks though, Pete is searching for a way to engage the tacet knowledge of an form of engaged ecology.

Medical Practicioner Paul Trotman  presented some clips from his TV film "donated to science" that explores the kinds of boundaries that may or may not be crossed when engaging with death. The film follows two people who have donated their body to science, firstly by interviewing them about their decision, and them by interviewing medical students who are engaging in two years of dissection. The film ends with the students viewing the initial interviews. This is a deeply complex film and the differeing emotions are clear in the shifting perceptions of the medical students. The film will screen on TV later this month.

Karsten Schneider from Natural History New Zealand is also working amidst the rules and constructions of television production. Karsten told a story of his own realisation that television was a productive and compelling medium for expression in its own right. Working with zoological studies in eco-location Karsten then developed a practice in 3D animation that pushes at the boundaries of what exactly natural history can be. He showed extracts from Dark Days in Monkey City a series that shifts our understandings of both documentary and representation by employing strong fictional elements to attempt to tell a 'true' story.

Mark McGuire from Design Studies at the University of Otago introduced three projects that engage the politics of visuality. Core to these works is the information that visual things can give us that is just not possible by any other means. Nele Azevedo's Melting Man project is an eloquent installation that does not *tell* us about climate change but shows it through ice and heat. Similarly Eve Mosher's High Waterline Project invoves a simple line, a marker that cuts through communities and records wet and dry. Mark highlighted that these works are not illustration, but actually events that trip associations, works that make us think by thinking themselves.

The final plenary wass chaired by Marcus Turner from Natural History New Zealand. David and I had asked Marcus to try to track the day and draw from it a series of threads. Marcus talked us through all the presentations pulling out the core idea about method and experimentation: that a testtube does not equate with scence. This was an important reminder of the sometimes too easy conflation of technology with science, and a need for clarity and specifity with not only our tools but also with the way we discuss them.

Leoni Schmidt the Head of the Dunedin School of Art closed the conference by reintroducing the notion of eco-location as a method for connectivity. By sending messages out into space networks can be bought into being, and interactions can occur.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Utopias ~ how to dream them? How to build them? | Pool

Utopias ~ how to dream them? How to build them? | Pool

Although this link/title is to Nigel Heyller's new project, the title resonated with a day I just spent up at the University of Otago listening to presentations about eResearch. yup. Electronic research is something new, big, fast and its coming our way! It means we will be able to collaborate in ways only hiterto imagined, huge scale multi-media lectures will occur, (PhD's may even include images) research will become open, and we, well, we will share stuff. What was so disturbingly utopian about the vison presented was not only that the day felt it had already passed, but that the very subject of study was never engaged. What exactly are we going to do with these "fat pipes" that can now access the multi-power of supercomputers? Here the by-line becomes important - how to dream them? how to build them?
I went along to the eResearch day because Zita has sugested that we potentially access the KAREN network to form our contribution ot the electrosmog festival next March. And yes KAREN is there; it is fast, and currently only 0.2% of it is being used. The faciliators (the company who own KAREN) REANNZ want us to use it, but can't quite come up with 'how'. The scientists are doing a good job. KAREN allows people to share vast amounts of data, they can run simulations, the earth can shake in real time as models are trialled. The same goes for the historians, eResaerch allows them to share vast databases of information. The realisation dawned on me ... science and history can share the supercomputer because they both deal with data. But where does this leave the data-light disciplines of art? Do we have any need for supercomputing and access to vast bandwidth? And what if the very topics we want to study themselves are digital? Do we feed the digital data down the digital data tube? and what does it look like when it comes out the other end?
Science in this model is about sight. If we can see it we will understand more. If we can grasp at a data-set from over here and mix it with one from over there, we will be able to see something new. The visualisations proved the point. The historians shared the same approach. If we can overlay the demographic information of pre-revolutionary Paris with a database of music and images, we will know something we didn't previously.
The problem comes in the generation of the data, and the reliance on repeatability. Data is not static unless we make it be. Data is always selective, as are our methods. This vast coming together of resources and information (which is not the same as data) means that the way knowledge is constructed is changing. And this was certianly acknowledged. But what was not acknowledged was that our methods need to change too. Images are not simply there to illustrate. Images contribute knowledge. They are not there to be picked apart for historical fact, they are there because an artist has made a particular series of decisions about how best to do what it is they do - visually. And more often than not has streatched the 'truth' along the way.
eResearch in the academy does not yet seem to engage digital materials as materials for study, but as material sthrough which study occurs.
There is something that art (and more particularly the methods of art history) can contribute to this vision, and it is a wealth of content and analysis that say don't trust the utopian agenda, epecially when it is driven by a technology based on scale.

KAREN network:
history and networked digital media:

Monday, August 24, 2009

testing and erratic errors

I'm just starting work on my book chapter for Mark Nune's "Error" project, and really enjoying re-reading the texts from the m/c issue.

It is also really nice to be rethinking et al.'s pieces and wondering about how they anticipate so many of the things I want to write about now. Walter Benjamin has popped his head up and is whispering in my ear about testing. I tried to think this through in some work around digital materiality and now realise it should have been done here in relation to discussions of noise and information not there. Benjamin argues that without testing (a form of experimental method) cameras really would have not changed, and the concept of the masses would not have quite emerged in the form it did. I'm thinking about this as I read the latest Cabinet (do these really just get better and better? about "testing" and realising that the test is the ultimate encapsulation of error and that the APU in the fundamental practice (et al. Venice 2005) are themselves a form of test. They test us as viewers but they also test the boundaries of the space, and the operations that can and can't occur within them. In the Cabinet are the usual suspects: phrenology, ink blots, monkeys, spcae travel, and cats, but also an article on Conlon Nancarrow a composer who labouriously re-worked player piano rolls. And it is Nancarrow's approach to experimentation that excites me as a way into my piece on et al. noise error and information. Dolven writes in the article "Nancarrow offers an occasion for thinking about why you would ever want to sound like a machine. Machines, after all, are mostly built to imitate us, right? What are we up to when we try to imitate them back?" I think that what we are up to is thinking through the processes of information as a structure rather than as a form of communication. It is in this structure that Nancarrow finds his method of scoring and replaying the pianolo roll and that et al. embrace as the APU simultaneously engage and repulse our attentions. In Cabinet Williams describes Nancarrow's work : "If you don't listen, you are lost, and if you listen too much, you are lost as well, so it's a very strenuous state of mind."(p.50). Once in an exam room, I found the sonic space of the room begin to take over my thoughts so much that after an hour I was fully attuned all the bodies, all the sounds, all the movements both inside and out. I was receptive, yet error ridden. I had made the wrong choice by paying attention to sound. It goes without saying that I did not do well in the exam. Testing in this sense becomes about pushing at the boundaries of listening and not listening enough especially in our engagements with technologies. I've also just come home after a lecture by Simon Ingram about his painting machines. And I was struck by the need to continue to discuss these works within the discources of painting. Of course this should not be abandoned, and I wanted to ask, lets think more about the machine. In Deleuze and Gauttari's machinic sense, is not every painting made by a painting machine? The creature that paints is no more mystical to me than the robot that completes instructions. More subjective, less subjective...All these paintings (which I do really love) are instructional projects. Sets of questions, problems to be solved, tests for either the human who paints or the robot who paints. It is no surprise then that one begins to imitate the other. Dolven again: "Do we become more mechanical at the point of our intersection with a machine?" (p.52). The structures of information encompass those of noise, yet we continue to hold onto this idea of a pure space where we can understand what each other mean. We can't really do this without testing, checking, confirming, questioning, and here error comes into its own....But you said ... no I said... but what I meant was... wern't you listening?...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

list processing from june

I've been scanning through a few months of empyre listings, that all seem somehow relevant to what I am thinking at the moment but in an uncertain way. So bear with me as i think through some things here. As I read copy and paste the things that stick I wonder about the very act of copying. Just watched RIP! a remix manifesto last night and there is something inportant in here. I'm not doing well at crediting properly these fragments of discussion, they are of course all available on the empyre list archives, they can be traced. So in terms of citation that is ok. I feel a tempered responsibility to credit the voices here too. Although maybe not it is an overhead conversation anyway. Something that has happened in the halls outside. And this is my reading rather than their writing after all.
Presence and trace must connect into the discussion of relational aesthetics. What types of relationships are being formed? To what ends? Are all relationships good? And where is the power? If the relationship is formed through conversation then there is an equal play, but who prepared the field., or established the ground rules? someone has to. It is the conversation that can become truly generative.

Nick Knouf writes about John Law who describes how, "Method, then, unavoidably produces not only truths and non-truths, realities and non-realities, presences and absences, but also arrangements with political implications. It crafts arrangements
and gatherings of things---and accounts of the arrangements of things---that could have been otherwise" (_After Method_, 143).

There is The FLOSS+Art book
(, available from the Pirate Bay:;
We in western cultures tend to think primarily of
objects as commodities but they are of course also generators of

Knouf talks about Michel Serres' quasi-object as the ball that holds everyone in place in the soccer game. I'm thinking that in some way Zidane himself becomes that quasi-object in Parreno's film. This can be extended into Bruno Latour's - work we have never been modern. Some of the material I was reading last week about ecology made a similar argument: that it is in the separation of nature from culture that we are able to not care. If this is actually an impossible task then yes we must engage we must do something. There is no impenetrable dividing line. the link to Latour's text is here.

And then indeterminancy appears amidst the discussion. Nathan and I are scratching around a project on indeterminancy. and it has grown out of nathan's work with graphic scores and my ongoing trouble with noise. The score is a most inexact reproduction, it is an impossible tool. But the invention of other systems is no more exact and involves the same ability to translate the language: i can't read stockhausen - I will need to follow up on Simon Yuill's text as I absolutely agree notation is not the solution, and changing graphic style does not change the problematic of performance/ reproduction and improvisation.

Sean Cubitt appears asking: "what might a digital resistance look like?": "The question is how do we operate now: Tactically? Strategically? And how do we minimise or at least delay the assimilation of whatever we invent into the reproduction of

There are two potential answers posted by Caludia Costa Pederson: 1. Wafaa Bilil and his use of multiple platforms and 2. PUKAR collective and their gendered strategies for loitering videogame installation.

Both engage the structures of capital without buying it, and I think it is important to engage.