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Relational Aethetics

The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things

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Cyberman with Gargoyle
Cyberman Helmet, 1985, Courtesy Chris Balcombe, Photo: Chris Balcombe
Singing Gargoyle, England, c. 1200, Courtesy of Sam Fogg, London

Curated by Mark Leckey

Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey has curated an exhibition that explores the magical world of new technology, as well as tracing its connections to the beliefs of our distant past.

Historical and contemporary works of art, videos, machines, archaeological artefacts and iconic objects, like the giant inflatable cartoon figure of Felix the Cat – the first image ever transmitted on TV – inhabit an “enchanted landscape” created in the Pavilion’s galleries, where objects seem to be communicating with each other and with us.

In Leckey’s exhibition “magic is literally in the air.” It reflects on a world where technology can bring inanimate “things” to life. Where websites predict what we want, we can ask our mobile phones for directions and smart fridges suggest recipes, count calories and even switch on the oven. By digitising objects, it can also make them “disappear” from the material world, re-emerging in any place or era.

In this timeless exhibition, “the real and the virtual co-exist”, Leckey has said. Perhaps technology has created its own form of consciousness – an animistic future. While we already live in the realms of what used to be science fiction, we seem to have simultaneously gone back to our ancestral past – a time when ancient civilisations believed spirits inhabited plants, animals, geographic features and even objects.

Leckey’s theatre of “things” is presented in specially designed environments. Works by artists such as William Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Martin Creed, Richard Hamilton, Nicola Hicks, Jim Shaw and Tøyen are displayed alongside a medieval silver hand containing the bones of a saint, an electronic prosthetic hand that connects with Bluetooth, a bisected 3D model of Snoopy showing his internal organs, and many other treasures that all share connections. Loosely divided into four themes or scenes – the Vegetable World, Animal Kingdom, Mankind and the Technological Domain, Leckey’s exhibition is a collection of not-so-dumb things that all talk, literally or metaphorically, to each other.

Mark Leckey was born in Birkenhead in 1964. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2008 he won the Turner Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include Work & Leisure at Manchester Art Gallery (2012), and See We Assemble at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2011). The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things is the latest in a series of artist-curated Hayward Touring exhibitions.

‘The status of objects’, Leckey argues, ‘is changing, and we are once again in thrall to an enchanted world full of transformations and correspondences, a wonderful instability between things animate and inanimate, animal and human, mental and material’. Our hyper-rationalism of modern technology has paradoxically produced its opposite, an ‘irrational’ magical realm – or as Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist, described “a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again”.

A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London

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Woofer Design by Sander Mulder
© Sander Mulder

De La Warr Pavilion
Marina
Bexhill On Sea
East Sussex
TN40 1DP
Box Office and information:
01424 229 111 or boxoffice@dlwp.com

Sat 13 Jul 2013-
Sun 20 Oct 2013
Tickets: Free entry

Booking & Information:
01424 229 111

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THE TURING NORMALIZING MACHINE

by Yonatan Ben-Simhon and Mushon Zer-Aviv

An experiment in machine learning & algorithmic prejudice

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From: http://mushon.com/tnm/

In the 1930s British Mathematician Alan Turing studied normal numbers. During World War 2 he cracked the Nazi Enigma code, and then laid the foundations for computing and artificial intelligence. In the 1950s he was convicted of homosexuality and was chemically castrated. And in June 7th 1954, depressed by the anti-homosexuality medical treatment, and alienated by the society who deemed him abnormal, Alan Turing ate a cyanide laced apple.

In the following decades many of Turing’s ideas have materialized through the digital revolution, while many of them are still being researched. Inspired by Turing’s life and research we seek to finally crack the greatest enigma of all:

“Who is normal?”

The Turing Normalizing Machine is an experimental research in machine-learning that identifies and analyzes the concept of social normalcy. Each participant is presented with a video line up of 4 previously recorded participants and is asked to point out the most normal-looking of the 4. The person selected is examined by the machine and is added to its algorithmically constructed image of normalcy. The kind participant’s video is then added as a new entry on the database.

As the database grows the Turing Normalizing Machine develops a more intricate model of normal-appearance, and moves us closer to our research goal: to once-and-for-all decode the mystery of what society deems “normal” and to automate the process for the advancement of science, commerce, security and society at large.

The abnormal,
while logically second,
is existentially first.

Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, 1966.

Conducted and presented as a scientific experiment TNM challenges the participants to consider the outrageous proposition of algorithmic prejudice. The responses range from fear and outrage to laughter and ridicule, and finally to the alarming realization that we are set on a path towards wide systemic prejudice ironically initiated by its victim, Turing.

by Yonatan Ben-Simhon and Mushon Zer-Aviv. [contact]

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Harlem Shake: could it kill sampling?

An unexpected viral dance craze shot Baauer’s Harlem Shake to the top of the Billboard charts. Almost immediately, legal letters began to arrive. So, can cut-and-paste culture continue to flourish on the internet?

Sampled from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/mar/13/harlem-shake-internet-killing-sampling?CMP=twt_gu

by Dorian Lynskey

The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013 17.03 GMT

Baauer

Brooklyn-based producer Baauer could not have anticipated the success of Harlem Shake. Photograph: Jen Maler/CAMERA PRESS/Jen Maler

It didn’t take long for Baauer, AKA Brooklyn producer Harry Bauer Rodrigues, to realise the downside of freak success. Almost as soon as his bass-heavy minimalist dance track Harlem Shake was propelled to the top of the Billboard charts last month by a viral dance craze and a change in chart rules that took into account YouTube views he wascontacted by representatives for retired reggaeton artist Hector Delgado and Philadelphia MC Jayson Musson. Without realising it, both men were collaborators on a hit. It was Delgado who sang “Con los terroristas” on his 2006 single Maldades, and Musson who rapped “Do the Harlem Shake!” on Miller Time, a 2001 track by his group Plastic Little. Both vocal hooks were fundamental to the success of Baauer’s record but neither performer had been approached or paid.

On the surface, Baauer’s failure to license the samples would appear to stem from some combination of naivety, laziness and stupidity, but nothing about Harlem Shake is straightforward. At the beginning of February, this year-old underground club track suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to tens of thousands of people (including Egyptian protesters, Manchester City players, Stephen Colbert and The Simpsons) filming themselves dancing like idiots to a 30-second excerpt. By 20 February it was No 1 off the back of 103m YouTube views in a single week.

Link to video: Manchester City perform their version of the Harlem Shake

Had Baauer known a year ago that this would happen, he would doubtless have been more careful, but nobody saw it coming. The record got away from him, upending his assumptions and making him yet another name in the long and controversial history of sampling: a bewildering grey area shaped by legal confusion, financial necessity, technological advances, arguments over artistic freedom, and old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants chutzpah.

Hip-hop began in the early 1970s as a DJ-driven artform, with MCs initially employed as energetic hypemen. So when it eventually graduated from the club to the recording studio, the principle of rapping over other people’s records was a given, and the only obstacle was technological. The primitive nature of early samplers forced producers to use stiff programmed drums (think of any early Run-DMC or Beastie Boys single), rather than fluid breakbeats. But the release of samplers such as the E-mu SP-1200 and the Akai MPC60 in the late 80s revolutionised the form, enabling producers to ransack their record collections for ideas. Albums such as De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique worked dozens of samples into collages of psychedelic complexity. Public Enemy claimed that they had used so many sources in their 1989 hit Fight the Power that even they couldn’t identify them all afterwards.

Sometimes the original artists were paid and credited, but usually not. This wasn’t legal, it was just the way things were done. In retrospect, it seems startlingly blatant. Did MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice really not think to clear the huge and obvious samples (from Rick James and Queen respectively) that underpinned their breakthrough hits? No, because hardly anybody did. It was a free-for-all.

Gilbert O'Sullivan

Use of a song by Gilbert O’Sullivan caused problems for rapper Biz Markie. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/Getty Images

The Wild West era waned with Hammer and Vanilla Ice’s expensive retroactive settlements and ended decisively in 1991 when a federal court found rapper Biz Markie and his record label guilty of copyright infringement against singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan“Thou shalt not steal has been an admonition followed since the dawn of civilisation,”wrote Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy. “Unfortunately, in the modern world of business this admonition is not always followed.” When Markie was ordered to pay damages and remove the offending track from his album, the music industry panicked and insisted that artists declare all their samples in advance, thus making De La Soul-style collages prohibitively expensive and dramatically affecting the sound of hip-hop. These days, big stars rarely cross the line deliberately. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s recent scuffle with soul singer Syl Johnson arose from a paperwork error at their record label. Generally, the system works: in 2010 Johnson boasted that his house had effectively been paid for by the Wu-Tang Clan.

The Biz Markie case changed the practice of sampling but without establishing a watertight precedent or inspiring any clarifying legislation. Subsequent cases have only complicated the issue.

The problem for artists is that the criteria are nebulous and the judgments subjective. In the US, the “fair use” doctrine grants exemptions from copyright law in certain circumstances, for example if the new work is considered “transformative” rather than merely “derivative”, and doesn’t affect the value of the original work. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Florida rap group 2 Live Crew in a1994 case because their unlicensed copying of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman was deemed a parody and therefore permissible under fair use. But artists who sample cannot be sure what qualifies as fair use until a case goes to court, so in practice it becomes a question of weighing risks against rewards.

Even apparently legitimate samples can be contentious. The Beastie Boys licensed the recording of jazz flautist James Newton‘s 1978 track Choir for use on 1992’s Pass the Mic but not the publishing rights, so a court had to decide in 2004 whether the six-second sample (“three notes separated by a half-step over a background C note” in the court’s words) counted as a significant part of Newton’s composition. The judge decided it did not.

The Verve, famously, were not so lucky when they lifted a loop onBittersweet Symphony from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s coverversion of The Last Time by the Rolling Stones.

They did, in fact, license the sample but ABKCO, which owned the rights to the record, claimed the Verve had used “too much” of it and won, in an out-of-court settlement, 100% of the publishing as well as a songwriting credit for Jagger/Richards, even though the sampled section owes nothing to the Stones’ own recording. The extremity of the settlement called into question the very nature of authorship.

Kraftwerk

A sample of Kraftwerk has been the subject of a lengthy wrangle in the German courts. Photograph: EMI

Sampling lawsuits require judges to make aesthetic calls that don’t always make sense. In a longrunning wrangle between Kraftwerk and two German hip-hop producers over a two-second drum loop from 1977’s Metal on Metal, Germany’s supreme court decreed that an unlicensed sample was only permissible if the same effect could not be achieved without sampling. After several expert witnesses banged pieces of metal together and fed the sounds through sampling technology available at the time the hip-hop track was made, the court decided that it was indeed possible and ruled in Kraftwerk’s favour.

But the court misunderstood the philosophy behind sampling. Producers such as DJ Shadow use samples precisely because they want to play with the aura of the original text. As sampling pioneer Steinski told the Guardian five years ago, “You want the thing; you don’t want the almost-thing”. By the German court’s criteria, Warhol should have painted his own pictures of Marilyn Monroe.

This would be a ruinous and artistically tone-deaf legal precedent.

So the law is a mess but the law isn’t all that counts. Most of the time the key question is what you can get away with, and it’s often a great deal. When bedroom producers began disseminating free online “mash-ups” of famous records a decade ago, the record industry initially responded with a flurry of cease-and-desist letters, but it soon realised that there was nothing to be gained by playing corporate Goliath to legions of plucky Davids. Danger Mouse’s 2004 release The Grey Album, a flagrantly illegal mash-up of Jay-Z and the Beatles, led not to a court case but a prolific, Grammy-winning career producing the likes of the Black Keys, Beck and Gorillaz.

Even more provocatively, US DJ Girl Talk, who describes himself as “taking a Warhol approach”, has released five albums, either free or on a pay-what-you-want basis, based on recontextualising chunks of instantly recognisable hit singles. Copyright reformers are eager for an artist or label to take the bait and sue Girl Talk, hoping that the case would clarify “fair use” in their favour, but the industry realises that is wiser to leave the arty outlaws alone while continuing to make money from licensing samples to mainstream artists.

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean came under threat after using a sample of the Eagles on his 2011 mixtape ­Nostalgia, Ultra. Photograph: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

The same goes for online “mixtapes”: albums, often stuffed with unlicensed samples, that are given away online to whet appetites for official releases. R&B star Frank Ocean’s 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra used huge slabs of music from artists including Coldplay and MGMT but only his sample-cum-cover of the Eagles’ Hotel California inspired a threat of legal action. Frank Ocean’s defence was typical of the mixtape-and-mash-up generation: “Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything, I’m paying homage.” Cooler heads seem to have prevailed and the threat has gone no further. Nobody wants to be painted as a multimillionaire killjoy, especially when there’s no money to be made even if they won.

For now, the not-making-a-dime defence seems to be keeping potential litigants at bay, enabling a return to the unshackled creativity of the late 80s, but it is a precarious freedom. A single lawsuit, and a ruling more in line with Judge Duffy’s “thou shalt not steal” views than those of the copyright reformers, could bring the shutters clanging down.

For producers who choose to sell their copyright-flouting work, the situation is even hazier because their only defence is obscurity. Most independent labels lack the staff to vet and clear samples, and most of their artists lack the funds, so some choose to release the records anyway and, perversely, hope they don’t become attention-grabbing hits. Sometimes producers don’t even know what they’re meant to be clearing. The labyrinthine nature of the internet makes it easy for someone to come across samples via a trail of links without thinking to note their origin. Baauer’s claim that he can’t remember where he came across Hector Delgado’s vocal could be disingenuous but it’s at least possible.

It was success that got him into trouble. When Harlem Shake was first released on an underground EP in May last year, the samples predictably went unnoticed. Only when it took off last month did Delgado and Musson become aware of the record, and by then there was clearly big money involved. Understandably they both want their cut, although, interestingly they disagree on the ethics of illegal sampling. Musson responded equably, “I’m cool with it. That’s how artists do,” while Delgado complained: “It’s almost like they came on my land and built a house.”

Even if nothing is certain in the field of sampling law, the lesson of Baauer’s case is clear: thou can indeed steal as long as the people you’re stealing from don’t smell a payday. The same sample of Delgado’s voice that appears on Harlem Shake had been used three years ago in a remix by DJ duo Philadelphyinz. They haven’t heard from Delgado’s representative yet, but their remix wasn’t a hit.

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David Hammons performing ‘Bliz-aard Ball Sale’ (1983), Cooper Square, New York City
Courtesy Migros Museum, Zurich © David Hammons. Photo: Dawood Bey

From An Interview with David Hammons:

1. I CAN’T STAND ART ACTUALLY. I’VE NEVER, EVER LIKED ART, EVER. I NEVER TOOK IT IN SCHOOL.

2. WHEN I WAS IN CALIFORNIA, ARTISTS WOULD WORK FOR YEARS AND NEVER HAVE A SHOW. SO SHOWING HAS NEVER BEEN THAT IMPORTANT TO ME. WE USED TO CUSS PEOPLE OUT: PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT OUR WORK, DEALERS, ETC., BECAUSE THAT PART OF BEING AN ARTIST WAS ALWAYS A JOKE TO US.

WHEN I CAME TO NEW YORK, I DIDN’T SEE ANY OF THAT. EVERYBODY WAS JUST GROVELING AND TOMMING, ANYTHING TO BE IN THE ROOM WITH SOMEBODY WITH SOME MONEY. THERE WERE NO BAD GUYS HERE; SO I SAID, “LET ME BE A BAD GUY,” OR ATTEMPT TO BE A BAD GUY, OR PLAY WITH THE BAD AREAS AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

3. I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY BLACK PEOPLE WERE CALLED SPADES, AS OPPOSED TO CLUBS. BECAUSE I REMEMBER BEING CALLED A SPADE ONCE, AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT MEANT; NIGGER I KNEW BUT SPADE I STILL DON’T. SO I TOOK THE SHAPE, AND STARTED PAINTING IT.

4. I JUST LOVE THE HOUSES IN THE SOUTH, THE WAY THEY BUILT THEM. THAT NEGRITUDE ARCHITECTURE. I REALLY LOVE TO WATCH THE WAY BLACK PEOPLE MAKE THINGS, HOUSES OR MAGAZINE STANDS IN HARLEM, FOR INSTANCE. JUST THE WAY WE USE CARPENTRY. NOTHING FITS, BUT EVERYTHING WORKS. THE DOOR CLOSES, IT KEEPS THINGS FROM COMING THROUGH. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE THAT NEATNESS ABOUT IT, THE WAY WHITE PEOPLE PUT THINGS TOGETHER; EVERYTHING IS A THIRTY-SECOND OF AN INCH OFF.

5. THAT’S WHY I LIKE DOING STUFF BETTER ON THE STREET, BECAUSE THE ART BECOMES JUST ONE OF THE OBJECTS THAT’S IN THE PATH OF YOUR EVERYDAY EXISTENCE. IT’S WHAT YOU MOVE THROUGH, AND IT DOESN’T HAVE ANY SENIORITY OVER ANYTHING ELSE.

THOSE PIECES WERE ALL ABOUT MAKING SURE THAT THE BLACK VIEWER HAD A REFLECTION OF HIMSELF IN THE WORK. WHITE VIEWERS HAVE TO LOOK AT SOMEONE ELSE’S CULTURE IN THOSE PIECES AND SEE VERY LITTLE OF THEMSELVES IN IT.

6. ANYONE WHO DECIDES TO BE AN ARTIST SHOULD REALIZE THAT IT’S A POVERTY TRIP. TO GO INTO THIS PROFESSION IS LIKE GOING INTO THE MONASTERY OR SOMETHING; IT’S A VOW OF POVERTY I ALWAYS THOUGHT. TO BE AN ARTIST AND NOT EVEN TO DEAL WITH THAT POVERTY THING, THAT’S A WASTE OF TIME; OR TO BE AROUND PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT THAT.

MY KEY IS TO TAKE AS MUCH MONEY HOME AS POSSIBLE. ABANDON ANY ART FORM THAT COSTS TOO MUCH. INSIST THAT IT’S AS CHEAP AS POSSIBLE IS NUMBER ONE AND ALSO THAT IT’S AESTHETICALLY CORRECT. AFTER THAT ANYTHING GOES. AND THAT KEEPS EVERYTHING INTERESTING FOR ME.

7. I DON’T KNOW WHAT MY WORK IS. I HAVE TO WAIT TO HEAR THAT FROM SOMEONE.

I WOULD LIKE TO BURN THE PIECE. I THINK THAT WOULD BE NICE VISUALLY. VIDEOTAPE THE BURNING OF IT. AND SHOOT SOME SLIDES. THE SLIDES WOULD THEN BE A PIECE IN ITSELF. I’M GETTING INTO THAT NOW: THE SLIDES ARE THE ART PIECES AND THE ART PIECES DON’T EXIST.

8. IF YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE THEN IT’S EASY TO MAKE ART. MOST PEOPLE ARE REALLY CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR IMAGE. ARTISTS HAVE ALLOWED THEMSELVES TO BE BOXED IN BY SAYING “YES” ALL THE TIME BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BE SEEN, AND THEY SHOULD BE SAYING “NO.” I DO MY STREET ART MAINLY TO KEEP ROOTED IN THAT “WHO I AM.” BECAUSE THE ONLY THING THAT’S REALLY GOING ON IS IN THE STREET; THAT’S WHERE SOMETHING IS REALLY HAPPENING. IT ISN’T HAPPENING IN THESE GALLERIES.

9. DOING THINGS IN THE STREET IS MORE POWERFUL THAN ART I THINK. BECAUSE ART HAS GOTTEN SO….I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK ART IS ABOUT NOW. IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. LIKE MALCOLM X SAID, IT’S LIKE NOVOCAINE. IT USED TO WAKE YOU UP BUT NOW IT PUTS YOU TO SLEEP. I THINK THAT ART NOW IS PUTTING PEOPLE TO SLEEP. THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT AROUND IN THIS TOWN THAT IT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. THAT’S WHY THE ARTIST HAS TO BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT HE SHOWS AND WHEN HE SHOWS NOW. BECAUSE THE PEOPLE AREN’T REALLY LOOKING AT ART, THEY’RE LOOKING AT EACH OTHER AND EACH OTHER’S CLOTHES AND EACH OTHER’S HAIRCUTS.

10. THE ART AUDIENCE IS THE WORST AUDIENCE IN THE WORLD. IT’S OVERLY EDUCATED, IT’S CONSERVATIVE, IT’S OUT TO CRITICIZE NOT TO UNDERSTAND, AND IT NEVER HAS ANY FUN. WHY SHOULD I SPEND MY TIME PLAYING TO THAT AUDIENCE?

DAVID HAMMONS 1986

NICOLAS BOURRIAUD: POSTPRODUCTION

CULTURE AS SCREENPLAY: HOW ART REPROGRAMS THE WORLD

For all those interested in Relational Aesthetics…see: Bourriaud-Postproduction2 PDF

Excerpt:

It is no longer a matter of starting with a “blank slate” or creating

meaning on the basis of virgin material but of finding a means of insertion

into the innumerable flows of production. “Things and thoughts,”

Gilles Deleuze writes, “advance or grow out from the middle, and that’s

where you have to get to work, that’s where everything unfolds.”01

The artistic question is no longer: “what can we make that is new?”

but “how can we make do with what we have?” In other words,

how can we produce singularity and meaning from this chaotic mass

of objects, names, and references that constitutes our daily life?

Artists today program forms more than they compose them: rather

than transfigure a raw element (blank canvas, clay, etc.), they remix

available forms and make use of data. In a universe of products for

sale, preexisting forms, signals already emitted, buildings already

constructed, paths marked out by their predecessors, artists no longer

consider the artistic field (and here one could add television, cinema,

or literature) a museum containing works that must be cited or “surpassed,”

as the modernist ideology of originality would have it, but

so many storehouses filled with tools that should be used, stockpiles

of data to manipulate and present.”

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Double Hammonds

David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 1983

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