Ugly Feelings: Thinking and Feeling in Contemporary Internet Culture
curated by Melanie Bühler:
How has contemporary Internet culture affected our emotional and cognitive capacities – our abilities to feel and think? Our minds, as Spinoza argued, operate first in the vague and blurry field of imagination. Here, feelings and thoughts converge before reason makes sense of them. This conference session, whose title is a direct reference to the book with the same title by Sianne Ngai, focuses on how networked culture can be perceived as an extended field of imagination – a sticky universe of emotions and ideas – and confronts the way in which digital platforms structure and organize this space.
Recent political developments, such as Brexit and the American presidential election, suggest that online culture has effectively created an environment of filter bubbles – affirmative echo chambers of like-minded people. Algorithms are the gatekeepers of these information streams with their very own agendas. Beyond these bubbles, it’s the surprising and emotionally potent that spread the most – the more outrageous the message, the more likely it is heard. If Google is knowledge, the brain that is picked the most, what does it mean when the search engine auto-completes the sentence ‘are Jews’ with the word ‘evil’ (as recently reported in the Guardian)? Has Google, with its self-proclaimed strategy of non-interference, actually paved the way for the normalization of prejudice, rendering the illegitimate legit?
Once a story or an image has nested itself within the popular imagination, it often doesn’t seem to matter if something turns out to be wrong. Apparently, then, feelings cannot be fought with facts. Accordingly, trolling and tweeting have become more effective strategies than official, less emotional and personalized modes of address. With fake news being spread and ‘alternative facts’ being promoted, anything is open for debate – it’s all just a matter of opinion. Has the kind of pluralism that Hal Foster diagnosed for the art of the ’80s (‘footloose in time, culture and metaphor’ – anything is permitted and nothing really means anything) become the reality of our information age?
What is happening to our brain – to the collective capacity to think, feel and imagine – in this setting? How do we think with and through the technologies that wire our brains together? How is truth afforded by technology and how does it intersect with the logic of a digital economy whose very currency – attention – is located in our brains? Where do the ugly feelings come from that have been harnessed so successfully in recent Internet-driven political debates? Have we entered a new age of propaganda, a new information era that radically retools the way we think and feel? What role does art and its related discourses (such as postmodernism and pluralism) play in this setting?
Melanie Bühler lives and works in Amsterdam and New York as an independent curator. She is the founder and curator of Lunch Bytes (www.lunch-bytes.com) – a project on digital art and culture that includes talks, discussions and an online platform for which she collaborates with institutions such as Goethe-Institut; Art Basel; CCA, Glasgow; ICA, London; and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D. C. among others. Her most recent exhibition projects include Inflected Objects #2: Circulation – Otherwise, Unhinged, Future Gallery, Berlin, 2016; Inflected Objects #2: Circulation – Mise en Séance, De Hallen Haarlem, 2016; Inflected Objects #1: Abstraction – Rising Automated Reasoning, Swiss Institute Milano, 2015; and BRANDS –CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY, SALTS, Birsfelden, Switzerland, 2014. She is editor of No Internet, No Art. A Lunch Bytes Anthology (Onomatopee, 2015) and her writing has appeared in various exhibition catalogues, publications and magazines.
With: Melanie Bühler, Hannah Barton, Jennifer Chan, Paul Feigelfeld, Daniel Keller, Elizabeth Orr, Özgür Kar and Timotheus Vermeulen
10:00 Walk-in & Organism by Alexandra Pirici and Basicyear
10:30 Welcome by Jorinde Seijdel
10:45 Introduction by Melanie Bühler
11:00 Paul Feigelfeld, Deep Shit: Paradigms, Paranoia and Politics of Machine Intelligence
12:00 Video by Jennifer Chan, Equality, 2015, 14.46 min.
12:15 Hannah Barton, Memes, Manifestations and Magical Thinking
13:00 Lunch break
13:45 Daniel Keller, The Basilisk
14:30 Timotheus Vermeulen, A Tale of One City
15:30 Video by Özgür Kar, Declassified in Part, 2016, 9.00 min., with Q&A
16:00 Elizabeth Orr, The Conveyor
Alexandra Pirici and Basicyear, Organism curated by Amelia Groom
Performative exercise in distributed, networked decision-making. A practical, corporeal enactment of a sort of hive-mind and intelligent mass, and a reflection on co-dependency, linking to a world-view that necessarily needs to change from anthropomorphic, fictional individualism and colonial ethos to mutual constitutive flows in an inter-connected global village.
Alexandra Pirici is a Bucharest based artist. She has a background in choreography but works undisciplined, across different mediums, from choreography to visual arts and music. Her works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale (Romanian Pavilion at the 55th edition of the biennial together with Manuel Pelmus), the 9th Berlin Biennale, Manifesta 10, Tate Modern London, the Centre Pompidou, Museum Ludwig Cologne, The 12th Swiss Sculpture Exhibition, the Van Abbemuseum, Hebbel am Ufer Berlin among others. She received the Excellence Award from the National Dance Center in Bucharest and in 2015 her public space performative monument Monument to Work has been acquired by the Public Art Agency for the Swedish state. In 2017 she is participating in the decennial international art exhibition Skulptur Projekte Münster.
Paul Feigelfeld, Deep Shit: Paradigms, Paranoia and Politics of Machine Intelligence
This lecture explores the infrastructuralization of artificial intelligence techniques and technologies including deep learning, convolutional neural networks, robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) along with the autonomization of capitalist processes in tools and entities like blockchains, the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) and Ethereum, approaching them in the context of their cultural, philosophical, political, social, economic and ecologic entanglements. Digital warfare from highly complex and clandestine weapon systems like Stuxnet to brute force Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks to algorithmic manipulation à la Cambridge Analytica (resulting in filter bubbles and targeted modes of address) call for highly urgent reforms in international law and war conventions, as well as new forms of critical practice and theory in all fields and across all disciplines.
Paul Feigelfeld studied Cultural Studies and Computer Science at Humboldt University in Berlin, where he worked for Friedrich Kittler and Wolfgang Ernst until 2013. Until the end of 2016, he was the academic coordinator of the Digital Cultures Research Lab at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Besides his academic work, he works as a writer, translator and editor as well as a curator and advisor for art institutions and universities. He is a guest professor at the Art Institute in Basel, fellow at TBA21 Academy and an advisory member of the Vienna Biennial Circle and teaches at various universities and art schools. Since its beginning in 2015, he is one of the coordinators of www.refugeephrasebook.de
Jennifer Chan, Equality (video screening)
Jennifer Chan’s video Equality draws on online footage that the artist has overlaid with the voice of artist Liam Gillick. The stream of diverse images – mundane, shocking, banal and touching – echoes the viewing experience of hanging out on YouTube with a stream of clips seamlessly integrating images of all kinds. The experience of easy watching is emphasized via the soundtrack: non-descript tunes akin to those played while waiting in airport lounges or being put on hold alternate with the type of vaguely evocative jingles that announce a sport event or accompany nature documentaries. In tandem Gillick is heard talking about the idea of the collective, labour, leisure and subjectivity as well as charts with contradicting messages such as: ‘I had a dream / Everyone was the same / They were different.’ The video raises the question as to how one can imagine a sense of belonging in an online setting, how affective relationships are enacted and identity models performed.
Jennifer Chanis an artist and web developer who makes stuff as social commentary on sex, success, love, equality, suffering and happiness. Her work has been featured in Rhizome, LEAP, Modern Painters, Dazed, Sleek and Artforum. She has had solo exhibitions at LTD (Los Angeles), Transmediale (Berlin), ohmydays (Singapore), Future Gallery (Berlin) and Gallery CC (Malmö). Solo screenings of her work have appeared at Vox Populi (Philadelphia), LTD (Los Angeles), The Nightingale (Chicago) and Images Festival (Toronto). Her work has been shown at NADA (New York), Museum of Moving Image (NYC), Moving Image (London), Furtherfield (London), Abandon Normal Devices (Manchester), Museum of Modern Art (Warsaw) among others. She has made commissioned artwork for Kunsthaus Langenthal and Mexico Projects, Leeds. Chan used to have many arguments about politics with strangers online and on paper. Her incendiary writing on race, gender, art and internet culture has been published by West Space Journal, Mousse, Junk Jet, Arcadia_Missa, dpi, Temporary Art Review, Rhizome, Art F City and You Are Here: Art After The Internet edited by Omar Kholeif. Chan grew up in Hong Kong and lives in Toronto.
Hannah Barton, Memes, Manifestations and Magical Thinking
‘Meme magic’ describes a power supposedly invoked from the proliferation of certain internet memes, which if tapped, causes URL (Uniform Resource locator) ideas to manifest IRL (In Real Life). The term – redolent of the New Age practice of Chaos Magic – first appeared in March 2015, after the co-pilot of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed his plane into a mountain. It became further formalized in 2016, evidenced by the emergence of the so-called ‘Cult of Kek’ – a quasi-ironic internet religion, crowdsourced by way of World of Warcraft, Italo Disco and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Cultists – who considered Pepe the Frog a potent sigil – were largely pro-Donald Trump and they sought to invoke Pepe’s power via propagation: they believed Trump could be memed into power. Communication technologies are imbricated in the production of counter-histories, conspiracy theories and divergent narratives. As such, meme magic is a practice with clear historic and cultural antecedents. Yet, when further considered in the digital context, meme magic has a distinct relation to the contemporary technological milieu. This presentation seeks to provide thematic exegesis in the dual contexts of anti-establishmentarianism and confirmation bias, while identifying meme magic as a digitally afforded disruptive practice.
Hannah Barton is a doctoral researcher within the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her academic interests include media theory, new literacies, and cultural studies, and she is producing a thesis that describes the cultural history of internet memes. Barton also currently holds a position at Tate Britain, having overseen a project that digitized and provided online access to Tate Archive collections. She teaches at Birkbeck, and writes occasionally on her research interests and related topics.
Daniel Keller, The Basilisk
Basilisks are a fabled chimeric reptile, known to be kings of serpents and said to have the power to kill anyone with a single glance. According to one version of the legend, the only person to successfully kill a basilisk did so by wearing a suit of mirrors, which reflected its toxic gaze back at the creature, turning it into stone. The Alt-Right’s ‘Cult of Kek’ is a semi-sarcastic 4chan-derived religion based around Pepe the Frog, Donald Trump and the frog-headed Egyptian god of chaos, Kek. The Kekist’s memes function much like the basilisk, harming the viewer with mere exposure. With social media having been elevated into the primary arena for political persuasion, it appears that, against all odds, alt-right shitposters’ ‘Meme Magick’ became a decisive force in 2016. In 2017, can we shine a mirror at this basilisk and learn how to apply these tactics to a metapolitical agenda that can stand in opposition to the chaotic nihilism of r/The_Donald, /pol/ - Politically Incorrect and Frog Twitter?
Daniel Keller is an artist and writer born in Detroit and based in Berlin. As half of the collective Aids-3D and as a solo artist, his work has been exhibited at: New Museum, New York; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; Fridericianum, Kassel; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Gallery, Berlin. He’s recently given talks at: 9th Berlin Biennial; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; DLD Conference, Munich; CODE_n Festival at ZKM, Karlsruhe; and Swiss Institute, New York. Keller co-organized TEDxVaduz at Kunsthalle Liechtenstein and is a contributor to Texte zur Kunst, Dis Magazine, Spike Art Online, Monopol and Frieze D/E. His text, ‘Timeline of the Alt-Fact’ will be published in the forthcoming issue of Texte zur Kunst and his ‘2017 Field Guide to American Toxic Masculinity’ in Monopol.
A Tale of One City
Taking cue from Ali Smith’s recent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Timotheus Vermeulen confronts the extent to which our present moment, political-economic as well as cultural, is at once defined by a sense of epistemological hermeticity, permanent closeness, and performative – and radical – openness: one global city that is simultaneously, or still, increasingly imagined as multiple, a node in a network of other nonexistent but invoked cities. He approaches this in addressing algorithms and altergorithms, post-truth and speculation (or simulation or risk society), flatness and depthness, postmodernism and metamodernism.
Timotheus Vermeulen is associate professor in Media, Culture and Society at the University of Oslo, where he co-directs the media aesthetics research group. He has authored and edited numerous books and articles on post-postmodern culture as well as on contemporary aesthetics, in particular film and TV. His latest book, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism, co-edited with Robin van den Akker and Alison Gibbons, is due to be published with Rowman and Littlefield in 2017. Vermeulen is currently working on a book project on the ‘as-if’ in contemporary art.
Özgür Kar, Declassified in Part (video screening)
This video presentation addresses the recent political reality in Turkey through different forms of evidence: official, classified documents on the state of affairs in the country are combined with amateur smartphone footage published online. The video parses these documents with their varied emotional registers, revealing fragments of online videos and written reports, moments of violence and solidarity contrasted by the bureaucratic documents whose form of power seems devoid of any emotion. The video thereby takes the viewer on a confusing, sad and violent journey, juxtaposing highly emotional footage sourced online with official content, pointed to the mediated political reality that the internet makes available.
Özgür Kar is an artist living and working in Amsterdam. His main area of interest is online video addiction, escapism and resistance fatigue. His recent video works deal with the state of complete immersion in the mediated realities of online video. His videos are based on user-created content and a mediated eye. They examine the current state of our collective anxieties, and today’s diminished “reality” through reassessing and rearranging the online artefacts of moving image. After graduating from Gerrit Rietveld Academie in 2015, he is now a participant in the Critical Studies Department of Sandberg Institute.
Elizabeth Orr, The Conveyor
As our identities operate simultaneously as audience, users, and labourers of the web, Elizabeth Orr presents the lecture/performance The Conveyor: adopting the metaphor of the infinite loop of a conveyor belt, The Conveyor is a meditation on the emotional resonance and perceptual planes of user interface experience (UX). Her presentation includes video, text and scenes from her recent project MT RUSH and her work-in-progress The Conveyor, suggesting a relationship between contemporary art, interface design and gender through kinetic metaphors of image consumption, making and production.
Elizabeth Orr is a filmmaker and artist. She has recently completed the near-future science-fiction film MT RUSH and is working towards her second solo show in September 2017 at Bodega in New York. Her work has been shown internationally at venues including: Artists Space Books & Talks, New York; If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, Amsterdam; Anthology Film Archive, New York; Recess, New York; and ICA Philadelphia. She has also been commissioned by MOCAtv and the Carpenter Center at Harvard University. She holds an MFA with Honors from Bard College Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and currently lives and works in Brooklyn.